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

Saturday, July 28, 2018

week ending Jul 28

Trump poised to take control of the Federal Reserve - President Donald Trump has multiple reasons as to why he should take control of the Federal Reserve. He will do so both because he can and because his broader policies argue that he should do so. The president is anti-overregulating American industry. The Fed is a leader in pushing stringent regulation on the nation. By raising interest rates and stopping the growth in the money supply it stands in the way of further growth in the American economy. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve is required to have seven members. It has three. Two of the current governors were put into their position by President Trump. Two more have been nominated by the president and are awaiting confirmation by the Senate. After these two are put on the Fed’s board, the president will then nominate two more to follow them. In essence, it is possible that six of the seven Board members will be put in place by Trump. The Federal Open Market Committee has 12 members and sets the nation’s monetary policy. Seven of the 12 are the members of the Board of Governors. Five additional are Federal Reserve district bank presidents. Other than the head of the Fed bank in New York, who was nominated by the president, the other four can only take their positions as district bank presidents if the board in Washington agrees to their hiring. One of these, the Fed Bank president in Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, is already arguing for no further rate increases. In the second quarter of 2018, the growth in non-seasonally adjusted money supply (M2) has been zero. That’s right, the money supply did not grow at all. This is because the Fed is shrinking its balance sheetultimately by $50 billion per month. In addition, the Fed has raised interest rates seven times since Q4 2015. Supposedly there are five more rate increases coming. This is the tightest monetary policy since Paul Volcker headed the institution in the mid-1980s. It will be recalled his policies led to back-to-back recessions. Current Fed monetary policy is directly in conflict with the president’s economic goals. Moreover, the Treasury is estimating it will pay $415 billion in interest on the federal debt in this fiscal year. A better estimate might be $450 billion if rates keep going up. There are a lot of bridges and tunnels and jobs that could be created with this money.

Dollar regains strength, nudges yen and yuan out of spotlight - The U.S. dollar strengthened over the course of Monday trading after starting the day weaker and leaving traders to focus on Japan’s yen and China’s yuan.The greenback edged higher after starting the day in negative territory, combating a hangover from President Donald Trump’s comments late last week, in which he voiced his displeasure with Federal Reserve rate increases and called China and the European Union currency and interest rate manipulators, pushing the dollar lower.The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, +0.04%  was up 0.2% at 94.631, while the broader WSJ Dollar Index BUXX, +0.04%  was 0.1% higher at 88.36. Over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump supported the Fed’s independence. “The U.S. dollar index has recouped its morning’s losses and is now higher on the day,” said David Madden, market analyst for CMC Markets. “Traders are still mindful of comments from President Trump that he feels China and the European Central Bank are manipulating their currencies. The U.S. president has also been critical of the Federal Reserve, and he would prefer the monetary tightening policy to be put on hold.” Earlier on Monday, Trump took aim at Iran, which also weighed on the buck. Trumptweeted an all-caps warning to Tehran.  Earlier, “the anti-dollar flows were fanned by yet another Trump Twitter tantrum this time pertaining to Iran as the president went on an all caps tirade warning Iran not to threaten the U.S.,”

Chicago Fed "Index points to a rebound in economic growth in June" -- From the Chicago Fed: Index points to a rebound in economic growth in June: Led by improvements in production-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) rebounded to +0.43 in June from –0.45 in May. Two of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index increased from May, and three of the four categories made positive contributions to the index in June. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, edged up to +0.16 in June from +0.10 in May.  This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.

June 2018 CFNAI Super Index Moving Average Improves? - The economy's rate of growth marginally improved based on the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) 3 month moving (3MA) average - and economic growth remained above the historical trend rate of growth. The single month index which is not used for economic forecasting which unfortunately is what the CFNAI headlines. Economic predictions are based on the 3 month moving average. The single month index historically is very noisy and the 3 month moving average would be the way to view this index in any event. There was insignificant downward revision to May's data. So in the final analysis, the index is actually lower now than what was published last month. So the rolling average index is either up or down - depending on how one views it. The three month moving average of the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) improved from +0.10 (originally reported as +0.18 last month) to +0.16.   PLEASE NOTE:

  • This index IS NOT accurate in real time (see caveats below) - and it did miss the start of the 2007 recession.
  • Expectations from Nasdaq / Econoday was 0.10 to 0.40 (consensus +0.23) - the actual was +0.43 for the single month index which is not used for economic forecasting.
  • This index is a rear view mirror of the economy.

Technical Note: GDP Release and Revisions -- With the GDP release on Friday, the BEA will release the 2018 Comprehensive Update. This will include changes in how GDP is calculated, revisions to previous years, and the third phase of removing residual seasonality.  A few key points:
1. The entire series of GDP (annually all the way back to 1929, and quarterly back to 1947) will be updated with new seasonal adjustments.
2. Forecasts of Q2 GDP could be off significantly.
3. The BEA will now release GDP Not Seasonally Adjusted (every year GDP NSA declines in Q1).
From the BEA: Preview of the 2018 Comprehensive Update of the National Income and Product Accounts In July, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) will release the initial results of the 15th comprehensive, or benchmark, update of the national income and product accounts (NIPAs). Comprehensive updates are usually conducted at 5-year intervals that correspond with the integration of updated statistics from BEA’s quinquennial benchmark input-output accounts; the last comprehensive update was released in July 2013. Comprehensive updates and, to a lesser extent, annual updates, provide the opportunity to introduce major improvements to maintain and to improve the NIPAs as outlined in BEA’s strategic plan. The changes are generally of three major types: (1) statistical changes to introduce new and improved methodologies and to incorporate newly available and revised source data, (2) changes in definitions to more accurately portray the evolving U.S. economy and to provide consistent comparisons with data for other national economies, and (3) changes in presentations to reflect the definitional and statistical changes, where necessary, or to provide additional data or perspectives for users.  This article describes the major changes that will be introduced in the NIPAs as part of the upcoming comprehensive update.

BEA: Real GDP increased at 4.1% Annualized Rate in Q2 -- Note: This release includes the 2018 Comprehensive Update to GDP, and includes revisions to previous GDP releases.  From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product: Second Quarter 2018 (Advance Estimate) Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter of 2018, according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent (revised). ... The increase in real GDP in the second quarter reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, nonresidential fixed investment, federal government spending, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by negative contributions from private inventory investment and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.  The estimates released today also reflect the results of the 15th comprehensive update of the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPAs). The updated estimates reflect previously announced improvements, and include the introduction of new not seasonally adjusted estimates for GDP, GDI, and their major components. For more information, see the Technical NoteThe advance Q2 GDP report, with 4.1% annualized growth, was close to expectations.  Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased at 4.0% annualized rate in Q2, up from 0.5% in Q1.   Residential investment (RI) decreased 1.1% in Q2. Equipment investment increased at a 3.9% annualized rate, and investment in non-residential structures increased at a 13.3% pace.

Q2 GDP Advance Estimate: Real GDP at 4.1% --The Advance Estimate for Q2 GDP, to one decimal, came in at 4.1% (4.06% to two decimal places), an increase from 2.2% for the Q1 Third Estimate. had a consensus of 4.1%. The base year for the chained figures has changed to 2012 and revisions were made.Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release: Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter of 2018 (table 1), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent (revised). The Bureau emphasized that the second-quarter advance estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see "Source Data for the Advance Estimate" on page 2). The "second" estimate for the second quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on August 29, 2018. [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.22% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 1.66%. Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 13.8% below trend.A particularly telling representation of slowing growth in the US economy is the year-over-year rate of change. The average rate at the start of recessions is 3.35%. Six of the eleven recessions over this timeframe have begun at a higher level of current real YoY GDP.

Q2 GDP: likely as good as it is going to get this year  -- This morning's preliminary reading of Q2 2018 GDP at +4.1% was generally in line with forecasts. The coincident data, as I've reported in my "Weekly Indicators" column, as well as things like industrial production, the regional Fed reports, and real retail sales, have all been very positive for the past few months. So, "hurrah!" for the growth of one to four months ago. One point widely notied, which I'll also repeat: exports added about 0.5% more than usual to the GDP number. This was almost certainly producers trying to get ahead of Trump's trade wars, and will likely subtract an equivalent percentage over the next quarter or two. In other words, GDP ex-trade war was about 3.6% annualized. But will it last? As usual, my attention is focused not on where we *are*, or more properly, recently *were*, than where we *will be* in the months and quarters ahead. There are two leading components of the GDP report: real private residential investment and corporate profits. Because the latter will not be released until the second or third revision of the report, I make use of proprietors' income as a more timely if less reliable placeholder. So let's take a look at each. Real private residential fixed investment actually declined slightly (blue). Measured by the more precise method of its share of the GDP as a whole (red), residential investment it was even more significant: According to Prof. Edward Leamer, this typically peaks about 7 quarters before the onset of a recession. As it has not made a new high since five quarters ago, and must be considered a signficant leading indicator of recession at this point. On the other hand, proprietors' income rose about 1.3% nominally in the second quarter. The below graph compares it with the less timely but more accurate corporate profits: In short: one long leading indicator declined, the other rose. When discussing Q4 2017 GDP six months ago, I indicated that I wasn't expecting due to the relative flatness or restrained growth in housing for most of 2017. The below two graphs show the leading relationship between housing permits (using the less volatile single family measure) and GDP broken up into two roughly 30 year periods: To reiterate what I said three months ago in response to Q1 GDP, while the economy is very likely to continue to grow through 2018, together this most recent data suggests a more questionable picture heading in 2019.  There is nothing in this morning's strong Q2 GDP that causes me to change that view.  All of the long leading indicators with the possible exception of corporate profits (for which proprietors' income is a less reliable proxy)  have continued to weaken, and there has been accumulating evidence in the monthly and even weekly reports that the important component of housing is at best very weakly positive and may even have tipped over to negative.

Q2 GDP Comes In At 4.1%, Highest Since 2014 But Misses "Terrific" Expectations - No surprises here: last night, President Trump predicted today's Q2 GDP print would show the U.S. economy is in "terrific" shape, said that "if [GDP] has a four in front of it, we’re happy" and called recent economic figures "unthinkable".. and he was right... if just barely. Moments ago the BEA reported that Q2 GDP came in at 4.1%, well below whisper numbers of a 5%+ print, and just below the consensus estimate of 4.2% (if smack in the middle of the 3%-5% forecast range), but still the highest since 2014 and nearly double the revised Q1 print of 2.2%.  On a nominal dollar basis, the US economy is now above $20 trillion, doubling in size since the start of the century. Looking at today's report, on the positive side, personal consumption rose 4.0% in 2Q after rising 0.5% prior quarter. On the not so good side, the key driver behind the GDP surge was exports -mostly the scramble to ship soybeans to China ahead of the tariffs - which contributed over 1.06% to the bottom line, and the biggest annualized export growth since 2013.  But the big surprise is that despite expectations of a major inventory stockpiling, non-farm inventories actually subtracted -1.02% from the bottom line number, suggesting that there was less stockpiling ahead of trade war than some expected, or alternatively, it means that subsequent revisions to the Q2 GDP print will be blow outs and will approach 5% as the correct inventory growth numbers are factored in. Some other highlights from the report:

  • GDP price index rose 3% in 2Q after rising 2.0% prior quarter
  • Core PCE q/q rose 2.0% in 2Q after rising 2.2% prior quarter
  • Final sales to private domestic purchasers q/q rose 4.3% in 2Q after rising 2.0% prior quarter
  • Nonresidential fixed investment, or spending on equipment, structures and intellectual property rose 7.3% in 2Q after rising 11.5% prior quarter

GDP report shows booming 4.1 percent growth, as Trump touts 'amazing' numbers - Fox News - The U.S. economy grew by 4.1 percent in the second quarter of 2018, marking the fastest economic expansion in nearly four years, according to a highly anticipated estimate released Friday by the Commerce Department. President Trump touted the "amazing" growth during remarks at the White House shortly after the report's release, cheering a shrinking trade deficit and claiming the country is on track to hit the highest annual growth rate in over 13 years. “We’ve accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions,” Trump declared. “Once again, we are the economic envy of the entire world.” The White House pointed to the gross domestic product (GDP) numbers, considered an official economic scorecard, as a strong indication that its tax cuts, commitment to deregulation and tough trade policies have paid off. The GDP broadly reflects the goods and services produced in the country."As the trade deals come in one by one, we’re going to go a lot higher than these numbers, and these are great numbers,” Trump said Friday. The figures may reflect a temporary boost due to short-term factors, but lend a powerful midterm-season talking point to congressional Republicans hitting the campaign trail during the summer recess. Democrats for months have downplayed and criticized the GOP-authored tax cuts as favoring the wealthy, but Republicans maintain that Americans have broadly benefited. Despite analysts' cautionary words, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters Friday that they believe the growth is "sustainable" and the report does not reflect a "one-shot" surge. As reported by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the growth from April to June was the largest since the economy's roughly 5 percent surge in the third quarter of 2014, which was the greatest economic expansion since the third quarter of 2003.  A Reuters survey of economists had predicted the April-June GDP increase at 4.1 percent, and the report met expectations.

Today’s GDP Number: Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain - Pam Martens - The much anticipated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) number for the second quarter of 2018 was released at 8:30 a.m. this morning. President Trump had played advance man for the number during a rally yesterday saying some were predicting it could be over 5 percent but he would be happy if it had a 4 in front of the number. The number came in at 4.1 percent with the first quarter GDP being revised up to 2.2 percent. While the President would like to see this as a lasting trend owing to the brilliance of his economic policies, experts say the U.S. is far more likely to revert back to the trend of growth in the 2 percent range. The Federal Reserve is projecting a GDP rate of 2.8 percent for all of 2018; 2.4 percent in 2019; and back to the sluggish 2 percent GDP in 2020 – the type of tepid annual growth that has plagued the country since the epic Wall Street crash of 2008 delivered the worst period of wealth destruction since the Great Depression.   Trump achieved this one-quarter number on the back of a trillion dollar tax cut passed last year and a $300 billion stimulus boost passed in February of this year to spread over this year and next. The outsized GDP number was also likely buoyed by corporations rushing to stock up on materials needed to run their businesses before the new tariffs kick in.What there is no dispute about is that the Trump administration’s fiscal policies are going to lead to their own headwind to growth – mushrooming national debt and higher interest payments on that debt. At the end of the third quarter of 2001, in the administration of George W. Bush (a Republican), the U.S. national debt stood at $5.8 trillion. On the same date in 2008, four months before Barack Obama (a Democrat) assumed the presidency, the national debt stood at $10 trillion. Four months before Obama left office, the national debt stood at $19.57 trillion, just shy of a doubling of the national debt in just eight years – a stunning rate of growth. Currently, the gross Federal debt is $21.27 trillion. According to a report released last year by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the annual Federal budget deficit is projected to cross the $1 trillion mark by 2020, in part because of the tax cuts. That means the U.S. Treasury will be bringing ever increasing amounts of Treasury debt to market and that increased supply is likely to put upward pressure on interest rates.

Q2 GDP: Investment - The first graph below shows the contribution to GDP from residential investment, equipment and software, and nonresidential structures (3 quarter trailing average). This is important to follow because residential investment tends to lead the economy, equipment and software is generally coincident, and nonresidential structure investment trails the economy.In the graph, red is residential, green is equipment and software, and blue is investment in non-residential structures. So the usual pattern - both into and out of recessions is - red, green, blue. The dashed gray line is the contribution from the change in private inventories. Residential investment (RI) was decreased in Q2 (-1.1% annual rate in Q2).  Equipment investment increased at a 3.9% annual rate, and investment in non-residential structures increased at a 13.3% annual rate. On a 3 quarter trailing average basis, RI (red) is up slightly, equipment (green) is solidly positive, and nonresidential structures (blue) is also up. Recently real RI has been soft. The second graph shows residential investment as a percent of GDP.Residential Investment as a percent of GDP decreased in Q2, however RI has generally been increasing.  RI as a percent of GDP is only just above the bottom of the previous recessions - and I expect RI to continue to increase for the next couple of years. The increase is now primarily coming from single family investment and home remodeling. Note: Residential investment (RI) includes new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement, broker's commissions, and a few minor categories. The third graph shows non-residential investment in structures, equipment and "intellectual property products".  Investment in non-residential structures - as a percent of GDP - picked up.

Another look at GDP (Dan here….Lifted from comments here)

  • Spencer says: You can download the most recent GDP in excell form directly from the BEA.  In the 2nd quarter exports accounted for 1.12 percentage points of the 4.1% surge in real GDP. That is almost 30% of growth.  Apparently the big jump in exports was due to large purchases of soy beans in May, before new tariffs were imposed. This was obviously a one time unusual event that will quickly reverse and dampen real GDP for the rest of the year. The y/y growth in real GDP is now 2.8% VS 2.6% in the first quarter. Interestingly, from 2012 to 2016 under Obama there were 6 quarters when the y/y growth in real GDP exceeded 3%.
  • rjs says:  Soybean sales would be in exhibit 7 of the trade report: ..there was a $1,956 million increase to $4,142 million in our exports of soybeans… i’d note that there were concurrent big decreases in our exports of oil & oil products which could reverse as well… meanwhile, an inflation adjusted $58.2 billion downward swing in inventory growth subtracted 1% from the 2nd quarter’s growth rate…the -27.9 bilion Q2 inventory figure was the worst contraction going back at least 6 years (looking at the extent of the pdf table)…so just a modest increase in inventory growth in Q3 could add that 1% right back…that would cover the expected reversal of your exports…so other components being equal then, we could see another +4% in Q3… note, my inventory GDP numbers are at an annual rate, soybeans are unadjusted for May only…

Q2 Real GDP Per Capita: 3.41% Versus the 4.06% Headline Real GDP - The Advance Estimate for Q2 GDP came in at 4.1% (4.06% to two decimals), up from 2.2% in Q1. With a per-capita adjustment, the headline number is lower at 3.41% to two decimal points.  Here is a chart of real GDP per capita growth since 1960. For this analysis, we've chained in today's dollar for the inflation adjustment. The per-capita calculation is based on quarterly aggregates of mid-month population estimates by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which date from 1959 (hence our 1960 starting date for this chart, even though quarterly GDP has is available since 1947). The population data is available in the FRED series POPTHM. The logarithmic vertical axis ensures that the highlighted contractions have the same relative scale. The chart includes an exponential regression through the data using the Excel GROWTH function to give us a sense of the historical trend. The regression illustrates the fact that the trend since the Great Recession has a visibly lower slope than the long-term trend. In fact, the current GDP per-capita is 8.4% below the pre-recession trend.

‘A storm is brewing’ in the US economy, says economist Diane Swonk - Even if there isn’t a full-blown trade war, the uncertainty surrounding tariffs can hurt the U.S. economy, economist Diane Swonk told CNBC on Tuesday. The tariffs, along with a strengthening dollar and rising rates, all undermine the competitiveness of manufacturers and other exporters, she said in an interview with “Closing Bell.” “The U.S. economy has a bit of a cushion, and we can weather the storm for a bit. But the storm is still brewing and the undercurrents are clearly forming,” said Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. Trade tensions have been rising between the U.S. and the rest of the world. China has been President Donald Trump’s frequent target. Last week, the president told CNBC he is “ready” to put tariffs on all $505 billion of Chinese goods imported to the United States. Washington has already slapped tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese products. Beijing hit back with retaliatory tariffs on the same amount of U.S. goods. The Trump administration has also placed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from several nations, including key allies such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union. Swonk said while the tariffs implemented so far are not that big, the threat of tariffs undermines confidence. “If we were to have a full-out trade war tomorrow, which I don’t think we’re going to have, then you could see a recession in 2019 and that would be fairly substantial,” she said. “If we are to continue to have this uncertainty then you have over time a corrosive effect that builds up in 2019 with less investment,” she added.

Trade War Would Lower Global GDP By 0.4%; US, Mexico, Canada Most Affected: Fitch - Rating agency Fitch has warned that escalating global trade war could cut world GDP growth to 2.8% from 3.2%, and notes that the U.S., Canada and Mexico would be most affected by escalating trade tensions.Looking at the most vulnerable countries, Fitch sees GDP growth 0.7% below baseline forecast in 2019 for the U.S. and Canada, and 1.5% in Mexico, with GDP staying significantly below its baseline in 2020, according to Bloomberg.In its analysis, the Fitch forecast includes the impact from tariffs, but non-tariff barriers related to Nafta’s collapse could be at least as significant.Curiously, Fitch said China would be less severely affected, with GDP growth about 0.3% below the baseline forecast, which however is not reflected in the market, which recently entered a bear market on escalating growth conerns as a result of trade war. Fitch also predicted that China would only be affected directly by U.S. protectionist measures.Meanwhile, Fitch sees the U.S. being affected by both its imposition of import tariffs and the simultaneous retaliatory measures from countries or trading blocs.Separately, even countries not directly involved in the trade war would see their GDP falling below baseline, with net commodity exporters would be more severely hit, while some net commodity importers would benefit from lower hard commodity prices.Last week, Fitch said that the global trade war kicking off between the United States and China will not trigger a spate of credit rating downgrades, Fitch’s top sovereign analyst says, but warned the dollar’s growing strength could. This makes intuitive sense because as we also reported last week, a majority of companies have complained that the negative impact from FX has so far outweighed trade war, although after today's poor results from GM, Ford and Fiat that may be about to change.

On The Deficit, GOP Has Been Playing Us For Suckers -- To say we're all being played by House and Senate Republicans and the Trump administration when it comes to the deficit is my polite way of saying that the GOP is operating the federal equivalent of a huge budget bunco game.Think of it as three-card monte with you betting billions on which card is the queen of hearts and you'll get the idea.Still not sure what I mean? Start here.The Congressional Budget Office last Monday released a report that for the first time officially projected the federal deficit rising to almost $1 trillion in 2019 and then staying at or well above that previously unfathomable level every year through 2028.As I first pointed out in this post, these projections almost certainly underestimate the actual deficit that will occur because CBO assumes that current law will be followed. In this case, that means assuming that the individual cuts put in place by last year's tax bill that are set to phase out will, in fact, expire as scheduled. As Catherine Rampell noted in the Washington Post last Friday, if, as seems likely, the cuts are extended, the budget deficit will be an additional $2.6 trillion higher than what CBO estimated.Just a few months after the tax bill was signed, the GOP-controlled Congress agreed to increase federal spending and the budget deficit by another $130 billion or so. Think about this. The same congressional Republicans who over the previous eight years wanted everyone to believe they were fiscal conservatives hell-bent on balancing the budget and not increasing the national debt, sponsored, passed and then danced around the fire because of legislation that will result in a permanent $1 trillion deficit and a debt that will soar to close to 100 percent of GDP by 2028.

U.S. House passes defense bill restricting drawdown of troops in S. Korea-- The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a defense authorization bill that restricts any drawdown of American troops in South Korea. The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, which approves US$716 billion for defense in fiscal year 2019, passed the House by a vote of 359-54. Upon Senate approval, it will be sent to U.S. President Donald Trump to sign into law. The bill notes that about 28,500 American troops are currently stationed in South Korea as a demonstration of the U.S. commitment to the bilateral alliance. Their "significant removal" is "a non-negotiable item as it relates to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization" of North Korea, the bill says under a section describing the Sense of Senate on U.S. military forces on the Korean Peninsula. In a conference report accompanying the legislation, Congress also prohibits the use of the funds to reduce the troops' number below 22,000 without certification from the secretary of defense that "such a reduction is in the national security interest of the United States and will not significantly undermine the security of United States allies in the region." The defense secretary would also be required to certify that he has "appropriately consulted with allies of the United States, including the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Japan, regarding such a reduction." The restriction comes as Trump has repeatedly indicated a willingness to eventually pull out American forces from South Korea. Critics say such a move would play into the hands of China and North Korea, which wish to see U.S. troops removed from near their border.

House Democrats vote for record US military spending -- By an overwhelming bipartisan vote Thursday, the US House of Representatives approved the largest military authorization bill in American history. The National Defense Authorization Act approves $716 billion to fund US military aggression around the world, and gives President Trump the power to order cyberwarfare attacks on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea without further congressional action. The NDAA passed on a roll-call vote of 359 to 54. House Republicans backed the legislation by a near-unanimous vote of 220-5. House Democrats supported it by the margin of 139-49. The entire House Democratic leadership backed the military authorization bill: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Deputy Minority Whip James Clyburn, and Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.  The final form of the NDAA was approved by a House-Senate conference committee on Monday. A statement issued by the conference committee leaders, including Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and three Republicans, hailed the bill, claiming, “This legislation will strengthen our military’s readiness, provide our troops a pay raise, support effective implementation of the National Defense Strategy, drive further innovation in emerging technologies to secure our military advantage and continue to reform the Department of Defense.”

Corporate tax collection rate at historic low - The rate of tax collection from US corporations has dropped to a near-record low, according to a report by The New York Times.Trump’s tax cuts, passed in December of last year, have caused a dramatic drop in the money being collected from major corporations, leaving their rich shareholders wealthier and the federal government deeper in debt. According to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the reduced corporate taxes will produce an additional $1 trillion in federal debt over the next decade.Between just January and June of 2018, money gained from corporate taxes had dropped almost $50 billion from the year prior, a drop of one third. This huge sum, now in the pockets of the big companies, is not far behind the federal education budget of $68 billion a year.The historic low in tax collections from US corporations, however, is not simply a national phenomenon caused by Trump. A new study by Ludvig Wier, an economist at the University of Copenhagen, has found that between 1985 and 2018 the average corporate tax rate has fallen from 49 percent to 24 percent. Speaking to the Washington Post, Wier remarked that “Corporate taxes are going to die in 10 to 20 years at this rate.”Wier notes that in the face of offshore tax havens there is intense pressure on nations to lower their corporate tax rates. His paper estimates that in 2015 more than $600 billion of profits from corporate firms were transferred to several key tax havens. Wier’s paper, which was written with Gabriel Zucman, the University of California, and Thomas Tørsløv, the University of Copenhagen, states, “The massive tax avoidance—and the failure to curb it—are in effect leading more and more countries to give up on taxing multinational companies.” The Trump White House and congressional Republicans falsely presented the $1.5 trillion tax cut as a means of helping the American worker. The reality is that the money corporations have gained from the cut have gone to share buybacks and dividends. These financial maneuvers are parasitic mechanisms that enrich the shareholders of corporations while taking money out of production and investment into the economy. This bonanza to the financial elite is expected to exceed $1 trillion this year, the highest ever.

 $52,000/Second: Ron Paul Warns Washington's Spending Its Way To A Fiscal Crisis --According to financial writer Simon Black, the federal government is spending approximately 52,000 dollars per second. This, not last year’s tax cuts, is the reason why the national debt has reached a record 21 trillion dollars, which is more than America’s gross domestic product (GDP). Another ominous sign is that this year both Social Security and Medicare will have to draw down on their reserve funds to be able to pay benefits. The Social Security and Medicare trust funds will both soon be bankrupt, putting additional strains on the federal budget and American taxpayers.The excessive debt caused by excessive spending will inevitably cause a major economic crisis. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, there is little to no desire in Washington to cut spending. Instead, both parties are committed to increasing spending on warfare and welfare while ignoring the looming entitlements crisis. Examples of fiscal irresponsibility on Capitol Hill are easy to find. For instance, even though the Untied Stares is currently spending more on its military than the combined budgets of the next seven highest spending countries, Congress recently increased military spending by 82 billion dollars. This brings the total the US spends on a futile effort to police and democratize the world to 716 billion dollars. The US House has also recently passed a farm bill that increases spending by more than 3 billion dollars over the next five years. This bill does not take a step toward ending subsidies to wealthy farmers and even continues providing farm subsidies to non-famers! Pressure on Congress to increase spending on farm subsidies is likely to increase as famers becomes collateral damage in President Trump’s trade war.

This Is What’s Actually Happening When The Government Auctions Bonds - Bloomberg -- Thanks to the tax cuts, the U.S. deficit is expected to surge again. And of course that's brought greater attention to the government's semi-regular Treasury auctions. But the government borrowing money isn't like a household borrowing money, and analogies between the two can be misleading. On this week's Odd Lots podcast, we speak to Brian Romanchuk, the author of and a long time financial industry veteran, about what's actually happening when the government taps the debt market.

Watchdog finds $15.5 billion “wasted” on 11-year presence in Afghanistan - The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on Wednesday released its initial estimate of how much money it says was wasted there — which amounts to $15.5 billion over 11 years, reports NBC News.  The watchdog organization calls this figure "likely … only a portion of the total waste, fraud, abuse and failed efforts." President Trump has criticized a continued U.S. military in Afghanistan as there has been American troop presence in the country for 17 years. "Trump considered pulling out U.S. forces in his first year in office before reluctantly agreeing to extending and expanding the mission after a protracted internal debate," NBC adds.

US Sells More Weapons in 6 Months Than All of 2017 - The U.S. is accelerating its international arms sales, and has sold as many weapons in the first six months of 2018 as it did in the entirety of 2017, according to the head of the country’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency.Speaking with Defense News, Lieutenant General Charles Hooper said America has signed off on $46.9 billion worth of arms sales so far this year, compared with the $41.9 billion sold in all of 2017. President Donald Trump’s administration is pushing the defense industry to sell more weapons as part of its drive to grow the U.S. economy, and this determination to put American arms all over the world is paying dividends, at least for the U.S.Speaking at the British Farnborough International Airshow, Hooper said America’s allies were champing at the bit for more hardware. “In fact, now they’d like to know: ‘How is this is going to affect me, how can I take more advantage of receiving the best equipment and best capabilities from the United States?’” he explained.Defense deals bring in big bucks, but they can take a while to get over the line. So much so, that a lot of the deliveries being made now would have been agreed during President Barack Obama’s tenure.Regardless of which president has overseen the boon,  Hooper said, “Defense exports are good for our national security, they’re good for our foreign policy. And they’re good for our economic security. And as the administration and our leadership has said, economic security is national security.”

Congress Officially Blocks F-35 Shipments To Turkey After Mattis Pleads Not To -- It finally happened, even after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged Congress not to bar Turkey from purchasing the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter, arguing in a letter sent to lawmakers as they deliberated the move that such a drastic action would trigger an international "supply chain disruption" that would push costs for the already exorbitant $100 million aircraft higher.On Tuesday Congress inserted a ban on planned F-35 Joint Strike Fighter deliveries to Turkey's military into the final draft of the Pentagon’s budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year.Over the past year there's been increased wrangling and noise over the program to equip Turkey with the advanced fighter jet as US-Turkey relations have steadily deteriorated and as Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have come into Russia's geopolitical orbit.The key stumbling block to Turkey obtaining the F-35s that it has already paid for is Ankara's moving forward on acquisition of Russian S-400 air defense systems. The House and Senate adopted the legislation after months of State Department warnings to Turkey that "there will be consequences" should its S-400 contract with Russia, said to be worth $2.5 billion, continue moving forward into acquisition phase.State Department officials have gone so far as to warn of sanctions in recent months, rare to the point of being unheard of when it comes to NATO allies, specifically over fears that Russia would get access to the extremely advanced Joint Strike Fighter stealth aircraft, enabling Moscow to detect and exploit its vulnerabilities. Thus Russia would ultimately learn how the S-400 could take out an F-35.  However, the ban is only temporary, until such time as the Pentagon delivers "an assessment of a significant change in Turkish participation in the F-35 program, including the potential elimination of such participation," according to the language in the legislation.

The Kremlin Is Celebrating Helsinki. For Now. - The reaction in Moscow was of a piece with the atmosphere after Trump’s victory in November 2016, when Russian officialdom celebrated for days. And it’s not hard to understand the current triumphant mood in Moscow. If the Kremlin’s entire goal for the meeting was simply to embarrass the United States, Trump couldn’t have done a better job. He publicly ridiculed the findings of the U.S. intelligence community about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and poured scorn on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the issue.   But the Kremlin may soon come to regret that it held the summit in the first place. Trump’s disastrous performance is likely to lead to unintended consequences that ultimately harm Russia.Both sides went into the Helsinki summit on July 16 with low expectations, and actual deliverables from the meeting were sparse. Putin and his team know all too well that divisions between Russia and the West on issues such as Ukraine, Syria, and sanctions run deep and have no quick fixes. Going into Helsinki, the only area that appeared remotely promising involved restarting high-level dialogue on the badly damaged arms control regime, agreeing to renew the START agreement, and resolving mutual accusations of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.That’s why the Kremlin’s game plan for the summit was simple: The goal was merely to leverage the symbolic benefits of putting Trump and Putin together on the world stage and to have the two presidents give a green light to long-overdue talks on strategic arms control. Follow-up efforts were geared primarily to the only functioning channel of communication, the military-to-military dialogue overseen by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Judging by Trump’s and Putin’s statesmanlike opening statements, these goals were achieved, though as always, the devil will reside in the details.

Let’s See Who’s Bluffing in the Criminal Case Against the Russians -  It was a remarkable moment in a remarkable press conference. President Donald Trump had just finished a controversial summit meeting in Helsinki with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, and the two were talking to the media. Jeff Mason, a political affairs reporter with Reuters, stood up and asked Putin a question pulled straight out of the day’s headlines: “Will you consider extraditing the 12 Russian officials that were indicted last week by a U.S. grand jury?”  The “12 Russian officials” Mason spoke of were military intelligence officers accused of carrying out a series of cyberattacks against various American-based computer networks (including those belonging to the Democratic National Committee), the theft of emails and other data, and the release of a significant portion of this information to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The names and organizational affiliations of these 12 officers were contained in a detailed 29-page indictment prepared by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and subsequently made public by Assistant Attorney General Rob Rosenstein on July 13—a mere three days prior to the Helsinki summit.  Vladimir Putin responded, “We have an…existing agreement between the United States of America and the Russian Federation, an existing treaty, that dates back to 1999, the mutual assistance on criminal cases. This treaty is in full effect. It works quite efficiently.” Putin then discussed the relationship between this agreement—the 1999 Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty—and the Mueller indictment. “This treaty has specific legal procedures,” Putin noted, that “we can offer the appropriate commission headed by special attorney Mueller. He can use this treaty as a solid foundation and send a formal and official request to us so that we would interrogate, we would hold the questioning of these individuals who he believes are privy to some crimes and our enforcement are perfectly able to do this questioning and send the appropriate materials to the United States.”

 Trump, Aides Diverge Further on Russia (WSJ) As the administration prepares for another summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, there is division within the U.S. ranks over Moscow’s intentions and whether the two sides will be able to cooperate on a range of issues including the conflict in Syria. Mr. Trump has expressed hopes of working more closely with Russia in Syria, where Moscow has played a central role in cementing President Bashar al-Assad’s power. The administration raised the issue with Mr. Putin’s government during and after their meeting in Helsinki last week. But the U.S. general overseeing the fight against Islamic State expressed doubt about deepening cooperation with the Russian military. “I’ve watched some of the things that Russia has done, it does give me some pause,” Gen. Joseph Votel said in an interview en route to Afghanistan. .Gen. Votel heads the U.S. Central Command, which also oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, including Syria, where Russia has been carrying out air strikes to help Mr. Assad’s forces reclaim territory from Syrian rebels. A parade of top officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Justice Department and intelligence agencies, as well as U.S. lawmakers, have issued warnings in recent days about Russian interference in U.S. elections. Mr. Trump and others in the White House say they have raised concerns about interference, and are focusing on other issues. The skepticism has frustrated Russian officials who had hoped for an opening between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin to see eye to eye on thorny regional issues, terrorism and arms control. Seeking to capitalize on the Helsinki meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday about potential cooperation in Syria and demanded the release of Russian citizen Maria Butina, who was arrested last week and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent. Mr. Lavrov called the accusations against her “fabricated.” A statement from the U.S. State Department on Sunday said the men discussed Syria, counterterrorism and business-to-business ties but made no mention of Ms. Butina. Before last week’s Helsinki summit, Syria was seen as a potential area of cooperation between the two countries, especially since the U.S. is no longer providing covert support to Syrian rebels opposed to Mr. Assad. Mr. Trump has said he would like to eventually remove the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops in the country. The White House’s paramount concern in Syria has been finding a way to evict Iranian forces. National Security Adviser John Bolton voiced hopes earlier this month that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin might work together to scale back Iran’s role. But no agreement to reduce Iran’s role was announced in Helsinki. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed skepticism at the policy symposium that Russia would help. 

Putin drives wedge between Trump and GOP -- Congressional Republicans want nothing to do with Vladimir Putin — and some hope President Donald Trump yanks his invitation for the Russian president to visit Washington this fall. “I’m not sure that’s such a great idea at this point,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said in a Monday interview. “Putin has proven to be a very hostile actor with respect to the United States, and so I would prefer that he be kept at an arm’s length until his behavior improves.”  Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) sounded a similar note on Monday: “I’m just expressing my preference that it be put on the back burner," he said.  Toomey and Cornyn said out loud what most in the GOP are thinking. But many Republicans otherwise eager to spurn Putin, particularly after Trump’s cozy meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last week, aren’t ready to cross their party’s leader by prodding the White House to roll the welcome mat back up.  That leaves Republicans in a rhetorical bind as the White House takes further steps to schedule a second Trump-Putin meeting in the U.S. capital this fall. They want Trump to think twice about the visit, or at least impose conditions that would keep Putin at bay, but they also want to preserve his presidential prerogative to keep a dialogue open.  Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Trump ally who raised eyebrows last week with his subtle criticism of the first Putin meeting, said he has “mixed emotions” about a follow-up visit.  “I don’t particularly want to see a grand ceremony for Putin, but I don’t have any problem with the two leaders sitting down and hopefully having a better discourse than they’ve had until now,” Hatch told reporters, adding that “I do hope the president rethinks what he said” in Helsinki.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a longtime Russia hawk who is considering teeing up fresh action on sanctions against Putin in the coming weeks, made his position clear. "There is no invitation from Congress" to the Russian president, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.

Here's The Real Reason The US Must Talk To Russia - Pepe Escobar - Future historians may well identify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s landmark March 1 speech as the ultimate game-changer in the 21st-century New Great Game in Eurasia. The reason is minutely detailed in Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning, a new book by Russian military/naval analyst Andrei Martyanov.  Martyanov is uniquely equipped for the task. . He belongs to an extremely rarified group: top military/naval analysts specializing in US-Russia. From quoting Alexis de Tocqueville and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace to revisiting the balance of power during the Soviet era and beyond, Martyanov carefully tracks how the only nation on the planet “which can militarily defeat the United States conventionally” has reacted to a situation where any “meaningful dialogue between Russia and America’s politicians is virtually impossible.” What is ultimately revealed is not only a case of disregarding basic Sun Tzu – “if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” – but most of all undiluted hubris, turbocharged, among a series of illusionistic positive feedback loops, by Desert Storm’s “turkey shoot” of Saddam Hussein’s heavily inflated, woefully trained army. The United States’ industrial-military-intel-security complex profits from a compounded annual budget of roughly US$1 trillion. The only justification for such whopping expenditure is to manufacture a lethal external threat: Russia. That’s the key reason the complex will not allow US President Donald Trump even to try to normalize relations with Russia. Yet now this is a whole new ball game as the US faces a formidable adversary that, as Martyanov carefully details, deploys five crucial capabilities.

  • Command, control, communications, computers, intel, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities equal to or better than the US.
  • Electronic warfare capabilities equal to or better than the US.
  • New weapons systems equal to or better than the US.
  • Air defense systems that are more than a match for US airpower.
  • Long-range subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles that threaten the US Empire of Bases and even the entire US mainland.

Pompeo spars with senators at testy hearing | TheHill: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to tell lawmakers Wednesday what exactly President Trump discussed in private with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Helsinki, adding to tension and uncertainty on Capitol Hill over the administration’s Russia policy. Pompeo’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grew heated at times as he tangled with lawmakers over what the two leaders talked about during a one-on-one meeting that lasted about two hours with only translators present. Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at the top of the hearing that Congress had “little idea” of what agreements were reached in Helsinki “even though the president has already extended an invitation to Putin to come to Washington to discuss the ‘implementation’ of these undefined agreements.” A top concern of senators on both sides of the aisle is whether Trump talked about relaxing sanctions on Russia, which could have bearing on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 election. Pompeo insisted that U.S. policy on Russia sanctions has not changed since Helsinki, but he refused to say whether Trump and Putin mulled the possibility of easing penalties Congress imposed last year in response to Russia’s election interference. 

Trump considers stripping security clearances of national security critics --President Donald Trump is considering pulling the national security clearances of top-level former intelligence officials for making what the White House described Monday as "baseless accusations" against him.Those ex-officials include former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former NSA Director Michael Hayden, former U.S. national security advisor Susan Rice and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Some of them said they no longer have security clearances, however.All of those federal officials served during the Obama administration, and all have been vocally critical of Trump since leaving their posts in government."The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they've politicized, and in some cases monetized, their public service and security clearances," Trump's press secretary,Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told reporters during a press briefing at the White House."Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence," she added, appearing to read from a prepared statement.Sanders was responding to a reporter's question about a tweet from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., earlier that day announcing his intention to ask Trump to revoke Brennan's security clearance. Paul had asked on the social media platform whether Brennan was "monetizing" his security clearance, making "millions of dollars divulging secrets to the mainstream media with his attacks" against Trump.

Trump rips into 'The Amazon Washington Post' after report on North Korea talks - President Donald Trump is again taking aim at Amazon for "using" the U.S. Postal Service as its "delivery boy," raising the possibility of antitrust claims against the company.Trump railed against the e-retailer and The Washington Post — owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — in a series of tweets Monday morning, claiming the newspaper has "gone crazy" against Trump in the months since Amazon "lost the Internet Tax Case in the U.S. Supreme Court." Shares of Amazon fell nearly 2 percent in early trading Monday before paring half the losses.In resurfacing his criticisms Monday, Trump hinted at future antitrust action against the company.His administration has been notably tough on antitrust matters,blocking chip company Broadcom's proposed acquisition of Qualcommand challenging telecom giant AT&T's merger with Time Warner.Trump frequently links Amazon to The Washington Post, combining criticism of the newspaper's coverage with claims of unfair business practices by the online retailer. Earlier Monday, Trump fumed on Twitter about reports that said he wasn't happy with the way talks with North Korea were progressing.The Washington Post reported that Trump asks his aides for daily updates on the negotiations and is frustrated with the lack of rapid progress, as well as coverage of the Singapore summit in June, which yielded no concrete results.

New Satellite Imagery Reveals North Korea Dismantling Key Nuclear Facilities - Contrary to MSM reports from three weeks ago citing anonymous US officials, North Korea is actively dismantling key facilities related to their nuclear program, according to satellite imagery analyzed by 38 North, an important first step towards fulfilling commitments made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a June 12 summit in Singapore with President Trump.  new commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (North Korea’s main satellite launch facility since 2012) indicates that the North has begun dismantling key facilities. Most notably, these include the rail-mounted processing building—where space launch vehicles are assembled before moving them to the launch pad—and the nearby rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles. -38 North    These facilities are believed to have played a substantial role in North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program. Photos taken between July 20 and July 22 reveal the deconstruction, including the facility's rail-mounted transfer structure and other features.  Commercial satellite imagery of the launch pad from July 20 shows that the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure has been moved to the middle of the pad, exposing the underground rail transfer point—one of the few times it has been seen in this location. The roof and supporting structure have been partially removed and numerous vehicles are present—including a large construction crane. An image from two days later shows the continued presence of the crane and vehicles. Considerable progress has been made in dismantling the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure. One corner has been completely dismantled and the parts can be seen lying on the ground. In both images the two fuel/oxidizer bunkers, main processing building and gantry tower remain untouched. -38 North

Proof Kim really IS dismantling his nuclear arsenal: Satellite images show the North Korean dictator’s bomb factories lying ruined after his pledge to Trump at historic Singapore summit -  Satellite images appear to show that North Korea has started to dismantle a key nuclear test site.The images come more than a month after Kim Jong Un pledged to denuclearize his country following a historic summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore.  The accord did not specifically spell out any time scales for the process or how it would be carried out.  But new satellite images, which have not been verified by outside experts, appear to show the dismantling of facilities at the Sohae satellite launching station. Sohae has been the main site for North Korea's satellite launches since 2012. It is believed to have played a large role in developing the country's intercontinental ballistic missile program, according to 38North, which released the satellite images.  The new images, which were reportedly taken on July 20 and July 22, appear to show that the rail-mounted environmental shelter at the site has been dismantled and moved.Space launch vehicles were assembled at the shelter - which hadn't been moved since December 2017 - before they are moved to the launchpad, according to 38North analyst Joseph Bermudez Jr. The image also appears to show that the test stand superstructure has been completely dismantled and that the base is being removed.

North Korea still producing fissile material despite pledge, Pompeo says - North Korea is still producing fissile material for nuclear bombs in spite of its pledge to denuclearize, according to US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Asked at a Senate committee hearing whether this was the case, Pompeo responded on Wednesday by saying: “Yes, that’s correct ... Yes, they continue to produce fissile material.” Pompeo declined to respond when asked whether North Korea was continuing to pursue submarine-launched ballistic missiles or whether North Korea’s nuclear program was advancing generally. Pompeo said he would be happy to answer the latter question if necessary in a classified setting but suggested public statements on the issue would not help “a complex negotiation with a difficult adversary”. Pompeo defended what he termed progress in talks with North Korea stemming from an unprecedented 12 June summit between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in sometimes testy exchanges with skeptical lawmakers. He said the United States was engaged in “patient diplomacy” to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but would not let the process “drag out to no end”. Briefing on his 5-7 July visit to North Korea, Pompeo said he had emphasized this position in “productive” discussions with his North Korean interlocutor, Kim Yong-chol. He said Trump remained upbeat about the prospects for North Korean denuclearization, but Kim needed to follow through on his summit commitments. Pompeo said US-North Korea policy was guided by a principle stated by Trump on 17 July that “diplomacy and engagement are preferable to conflict and hostility”. Trump has hailed his summit with Kim as a success, but questions have been growing about North Korea’s willingness to give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States. Kim committed in a summit statement to work towards denuclearization but Pyongyang has offered no details as to how it might go about this.

U.S. launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s leaders (Reuters) - The Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups, U.S. officials familiar with the matter said. More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, is meant to work in concert with U.S. President Donald Trump’s push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions. The drive has intensified since Trump withdrew on May 8 from a 2015 seven-nation deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The current and former officials said the campaign paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations. The White House declined comment on the campaign. The State Department also declined to comment on the campaign specifically, including on Pompeo’s role. A senior Iranian official dismissed the campaign, saying the United States had sought in vain to undermine the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He spoke on condition of anonymity. “Their efforts will fail again,” the official said. A review of the State Department’s Farsi-language Twitter account and its ShareAmerica website - which describes itself as a platform to spark debate on democracy and other issues - shows a number of posts critical of Tehran over the last month. Iran is the subject of four of the top five items on the website’s “Countering Violent Extremism” section. They include headlines such as “This Iranian airline helps spread violence and terror.” In social media posts and speeches, Pompeo himself also appeals directly to Iranians, the Iranian diaspora and a global audience. 

Iran's Rouhani warns against U.S. "economic war" with Iran - (Xinhua) -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday warned the United States against any conflict with Iran, saying that U.S. should avoid starting an economic war with the Islamic republic, according to Press TV. "The Americans should learn very well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars," Rouhani said at a meeting with the Iranian diplomatic missions in foreign countries. Following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to quit the historic Iranian nuclear deal on May 8, the United States vowed to reimpose sanctions lifted under the accord on Iran and inflict punishment on nations that have business links with the Islamic country. The White House has announced that it would bring Iran's oil sales down to "zero." The Iranian officials described the U.S. move as an economic war, said the report. Rouhani said such threats against Iran would have adverse effects. "Threats will further unite us," he said, vowing to "certainly" defeat the United States. "That will cause some costs for us, but the benefits will be greater," he added. He said that the U.S. latest conspiracy has been to attempt to wear the Iranian nation down and lead it into submission. However, "you must know that the Iranian nation is honorable and will never be servile to anyone," he said.

Iran's Rouhani warns Trump about 'mother of all wars' (Reuters) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday cautioned U.S. President Donald Trump about pursuing hostile policies against Tehran, saying “war with Iran is the mother of all wars”, but did not rule out peace between the two countries. Iran faces increased U.S. pressure and looming sanctions after Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats, Rouhani said: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” the state new agency IRNA reported. “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries, at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests,” Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to reported efforts by Washington to destabilize Iran’s Islamic government. In Washington, U.S. officials familiar with the matter told Reuters that the Trump administration had launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups. Current and former U.S. officials said the campaign painted Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations. Rouhani scoffed at Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway. “Anyone who understands the rudiments of politics doesn’t say ‘we will stop Iran’s oil exports’...we have been the guarantor of the regional waterway’s security throughout history,” Rouhani said, cited by the semi-official ISNA news agency. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday backed Rouhani’s suggestion that Iran may block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted. 

Trump Warns Iran of ‘Consequences’ If It Threatens the U.S. (WSJ) —The Trump administration exchanged threats with Iran, turning to a longstanding security concern and a top foreign-policy focus of President Donald Trump’s key supporters. In a Twitter message addressed “To Iranian President Rouhani,” Mr. Trump wrote: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” The tweet late Sunday night appeared to refer to comments by President Hassan Rouhani warning the Trump administration against continuing hard-line policies against Iran. “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Mr. Rouhani said earlier. The comments were tougher than usual for the Iranian president, who is seen in the Iranian context as a moderate. Iranian officials on Monday warned they would retaliate against any U.S. military action. Mr. Trump’s threat wasn’t accompanied by any U.S. military preparations. The U.S. military has been gradually easing its posture in the Middle East region in recent months, reflecting what Pentagon officials said was a drop-off in unsafe or provocative Iranian acts toward ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz since late last year. As of Monday, the Pentagon hadn’t begun to move any U.S. forces or shift military posture near Iran. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders dismissed suggestions from some Democrats that the president was trying to distract from his political troubles at home, including negative reaction to his rapport during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Helsinki “The president is responding to Iran and he’s not going to allow them to continue to make threats against America,” she told reporters Monday. “If anyone’s inciting anything, look no further than to Iran...The president has the ability, unlike a lot of those in the media, to focus on more than one issue at a time.” 

Trump tells Iran 'never, ever threaten' U.S., or suffer consequences (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump told Iran it risked dire consequences “the like of which few throughout history have suffered before” if the Islamic Republic made more threats against the United States. His words, spelled out in capital letters in a late night Twitter message, came hours after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told Trump that hostile policies toward Tehran could lead to “the mother of all wars.” Despite the heightened rhetoric, both sides have reasons to want to avoid starting a conflict that could easily escalate. Trump’s comments come in the context of a barrage of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups, according to U.S. officials. Iran has faced increased U.S. pressure and possible sanctions since Trump’s decision in May to withdraw the United States from a 2015 international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. In his message directed at Rouhani, Trump wrote: “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!”. Earlier on Sunday, Rouhani had told a gathering of Iranian diplomats: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret.” “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” said Rouhani, quoted by the state news agency IRNA. Rouhani left open the possibility of peace between the two countries, at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But Iran’s most powerful authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday negotiations with the United States would be an “obvious mistake”. Rouhani also scoffed at Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway. A senior commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards reacted angrily to Trump’s threats by saying Tehran would continue to resist its enemies, Iran’s Students news Agency ISNA reported. “We will never abandon our revolutionary beliefs ... we will resist pressure from enemies ... America wants nothing less than (to) destroy Iran ... (but) Trump cannot do a damn thing against Iran,” Brigadier General Gholamhossein Gheybparvar said.

John Bolton backs Trump’s Iran threat: ‘They will pay a price’ -- Donald Trump plans to make Iran pay a price few countries have ever paid before, according to the US national security adviser, John Bolton, who doubled down on a late-night tweet in which the US president threatened Tehran.   Bolton’s statement was designed to show that Trump’s unexpectedly belligerent tweet was not a random act, or empty bluster but part of a considered move by the US administration to step up the economic, political and psychological pressure on Iran.Iran dismissed the US president’s threats as psychological warfare designed to appeal to his electoral base ahead of the midterm elections.But Bolton, a well-known hawk on Iran, told reporters in Washington: “I spoke to the president over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price few countries have ever paid.”The hostile rhetoric between Washington and Tehran escalated after the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, told the US that it shouldn’t “play with the lion’s tail”. Late on Sunday, Trump posted a tweet in capital letters warning Rouhani of “unprecedented consequences”. His attack sent the Iranian national currency into a tailspin when trading opened on Monday, exacerbating months-old fluctuations that have prompted protests in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.  The rial, which has been rapidly depreciating against the dollar after Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal in May, hit a fresh all-time low. On Monday, $1 bought 92,000 rials on the black market, though many exchange bureaux had stopped trading.

 Senate Panel Told Iran Sanctions Disrupt Global Oil Markets, Jul 24 2018 - Senate hearing on C-Span - Energy industry leaders and policy experts testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to discuss factors impacting global oil prices. Speakers discussed changes in the U.S. oil and gas industries, the future of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the potential impact of Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz to oil trading. At the start of the hearing, committee members considered and voted on four Energy Department nominees. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) chaired this hearing and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) served as the ranking member.

US Preparing To Bomb Iran's Nuclear Capabilities As Soon As Next Month: Report - As the White House convenes a policy meeting on Iran Thursday involving senior Pentagon officials and cabinet advisers under national security adviser John Bolton, and after a week of intense saber-rattling by President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, a new bombshell report by Australia's ABC says the White House is drawing up plans to strike Iran's alleged nuclear facilities as early as next month.Senior figures in the Australia's Turnbull government have told the ABC they believe the US is prepared to bomb Iran's nuclear capability. The bombing could be as early as next month. —ABC reportCrucially, Australia is part of the so-called "Five Eyes" global intelligence partners which includes the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and plays in a key role in hosting top-secret facilities that guide American spy satellites. According to the breaking report, ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] has learned the following based on statements of key senior defense and intelligence officials:

  • Senior Government figures have told the ABC they believe the Trump administration is prepared to bomb Iran
  • They say Australian defence facilities would likely play a role in identifying possible targets
  • But another senior source, in security, emphasizes there is a difference between providing intelligence and "active targeting"

The report cites high level Aussie government officials who say that secretive Australian defense and intelligence facilities would likely cooperate with the United States and Britain in identifying targets in a strike on Iran. One particular facility, the Pine Gap joint defense facility in the Northern Territory, would play a significant targeting role in joint US-led strikes on Iran, according to the report, it's "considered crucial among the so-called 'Five Eyes' intelligence partners... for its role in directing American spy satellites."

Mattis Rejects Viral Australian Report On Impending US strikes - A day after an Australian ABC report went viral with the claim that the White House has drawn up plans to strike Iran's alleged nuclear facilities as early as next month, Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Friday morning it's a "complete fiction".The Australian Broadcast Corporation report cited high level defense and intelligence figures: "Senior figures in the Australia's Turnbull government have told the ABC they believe the US is prepared to bomb Iran's nuclear capability," and perhaps most alarmingly added, "The bombing could be as early as next month."Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin questioned Mattis about the report on Friday:I asked Mattis about report US preparing strikes against Iran. MATTIS: "I have no idea where the Australian news people got that information. I am confident it is not something that is being considered right now. I think it is a complete, frankly, it's fiction."

NATO Trump'd - Those of us who regard NATO as one of the primary sources of international instability thanks to its wars of destruction in the MENA and provocation of Russia were looking forward with delighted anticipation to Trump's appearance at the NATO summit. We were not disappointed. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Trump came late to the meeting where Ukraine and Georgia were banging on about the Russian threat, started ranting about spending and blew up the decorous charade. Ukraine and Georgia were then dismissed and a special meeting was convened. (A side effect of his "creative destruction" was that the Ukrainian President delivered his speech to a practically empty room). He started his assault before the meeting, opening Twitter fire on Germany, returning to the attack in his breakfast meeting with NATO's GenSek:Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting from 60% to 70% of their energy from Russia, and a new pipeline, and you tell me if that's appropriate because I think it's not and I think it's a very bad thing for Nato.  Good fun for some of us but a stunner to the Panjandrumocracy: "meltdown", "tantrum", "latest diplomatic blowup", "making bullying great again" and so on.As ever, Trump's statements were extreme and his numbers might not stand up to examination but most commenters (typically) left out the context. Which was a piece by German Chancellor Merkel herself in which she called for NATO to focus on the threats from Russia: "the alliance has to show determination to protect us”.This gave Trump the opening to pose these questions (posed in his own way, of course, in a strategy that most people – despite the example of North Korea – have still not grasped).

    • 1. You tell us that NATO ought to concentrate on the Russian threat. If Russia is a threat, why are you buying gas from it?
    • 2. You tell us that Russia is a reliable energy supplier. If Russia is a reliable supplier, why are you telling us it's a threat?
    • 3. I hope you're not saying Russia is a threat and its gas is cheap but the USA will save you.

Europe Can't Rely On The US To Maintain World Order, Merkel Warns - Having been called a "foe" by President Trump last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that she was right to say a year ago that Europe could no longer rely on the United States to impose order on the world, and that it needed to take matters close to home into its own hands. “We can’t rely on the superpower of the United States,” Merkel told a news conference in Berlin.   As AntiWar's Jason Ditz notes, Merkel did not elaborate on exactly what this “order” meant, but it comes in the context of recent polls showing German voters resistant to her desire to increase military spending. This suggests Merkel is trying to sell increased armament as a way to intervene regionally. Merkel also said she intends to continue to work on improving Germany’s relationship with the United States. This appears to be an uphill battle, with the two nations at odds over a number of issues, but she insisted ties are “crucial.”  Just last week, President Trump said he has “a big problem” with Germany, and the US was threatening to sanction German companies for investing in a Russian energy pipeline. Trump expressed particular anger at the pipeline, saying it means Germany is effective “captive” to Russia.  Putting this accusation into context, Statista's Sarah Feldman points out that Germany secures roughly three fifths of its energy needs from foreign sources. A fifth of its overall energy consumption comes from natural gas.  In practice, the pipeline issue is more about the US wanting to increase LNG exports to Europe than being worried about Russia increasing trade ties there. Where US and European interests don’t align, however, it seems to fuel tensions, and that’s liable to mean Angela Merkel faces an uphill battle in improving relations.

Republican Senators Introduce Bill To Snuff Out Europe's Independence -  In a meeting with Russia’s ambassadors and permanent representatives on July 19, President Vladimir Putin said that “the principles of competition and openness in global trade are increasingly being replaced by protectionism, while economic gain and expediency are being swapped for partisan agendas and political pressure. Economic ties and entrepreneurial freedom are being politicized.” He feels that Russia must counter this trend. There is ample evidence to prove his point.  There is a large group of US lawmakers chomping at the bit to support anything that would bring Europe to heel and hurt Russia.  Their target is the Nord Stream 2 gas project that has a pipeline running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany with an annual capacity of 55 billion cubic meters. That joint venture between Russian energy giant Gazprom and the French company Engie, Austria’s OMV AG, the British-Danish Royal Dutch Shell, and Germany's Uniper and Wintershall is expected to be operational by the end of 2019. The US president has the authority to impose sanctions on the project under the CAATSA sanctions law, but there is a risk that he will not. And so some US lawmakers believe that should be rectified by making those punitive measures mandatory.   On July 18, Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), to allow NATO member states to — in his words — “escape from Russia’s political coercion and manipulation.” That’s too much of a good thing, but then nobody in Europe asked for such “help.” The senator’s website claims “the Energy Security Cooperation with Allied Partners in Europe Act, or the ‘ESCAPE Act,’ enhances the energy security of NATO members by providing those countries with reliable and dependable American energy. It also mandates sanctions on the Nord Stream II pipeline that would carry natural gas from Russia to Germany, along with other Russian energy export pipelines.”In short, the legislation is intended to provide Europeans with guidance on what to do, as they clearly lack the ability to understand what’s good for them without the benefit of highly valuable advice from overseas. They just fail to see the need to “diversify their energy supplies and routes in order to enhance their energy security,” as that insidious “Russian President Vladimir Putin uses his country's natural gas to ‘extort and threaten’ US allies.” Gullible enough to be easily manipulated, Europeans are too short-sighted to realize they are being “threatened.”  America’s Republican senators know better.

The first casualties of the trade war are Trump supporters - Estimates project that Trump’s tariffs will reduce U.S. economic growth by between 0.3 and 1.3 percent — economists expect 2.4 percent growth next year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, America’s business voice, states thatthese actions threaten 2.6 million U.S. jobs. Some 468,790 U.S. jobs are estimated to be lost from the steel and aluminum tariffs alone. O BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink stated that intensifying trade tensions could reduce stock prices by 10 to 15 percent, spur a broad market downturn and slow down the U.S. economy. In June, investors withdrew $12.4 billion from global stocks, the fastest withdrawal since the 2008 financial crisis. That same month, the market values of U.S. corn, soybeans, and wheat crops dropped $13 billion, about 10 percent. Reflecting a 25 percent Chinese tariff, U.S. soybean prices fell by 16 percent to their lowest level in 10 years, after having exported some $12 billion to China last year (56 percent of all U.S. soybean exports).   According to Rusty Smith, a corn and soybean farmer in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, this price drop is “like $100,000 that has disappeared into thin air. We were already in the red, and now it’s even worse.” Bloomberg Economics estimates that all these tariffs could cost the global economy $470 billion, reduce global trade by 3.7 percent, and shrink the U.S. economy by 0.9 percent by 2020.  In the U.S., who will be most affected? The emerging conclusion is Republican states, Trump voters and small business people. Moody’s Analytics projects that China’s tariffs will significantly affect 20 percent of the counties that voted for Trump (with a total population of 8 million Americans), as opposed to only 3 percent of the counties that voted for Hillary Clinton (1.1 million total population). Soybean farmers in the Great Plains, car manufacturers in the Midwest, and oil producers in the Dakotas and Texas have all been hit by China’s tariffs, and they are predominantly from red states. 

 Mr. Juncker Goes To Washington, Hopes To "De-dramatize" EU-US Relations ---Just ahead of his meeting with top eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker set for Wednesday where the European Commission President hopes to calm the escalating trans-Atlantic trade fight, Donald Trump tweeted out "Tariffs are the greatest!"   In reference to what promises to be a contentious meeting with Washington's "foe" - as Trump called the EU in a recent interview, Trump greeted Tuesday morning with a key theme of his presidency: "Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs... Remember, we are the “piggy bank” that’s being robbed..." and also "Countries that have treated us unfairly on trade for years are all coming to Washington to negotiate." Juncker told reporters last week he is "upbeat and relaxed"; however, we don't need a crystal ball to know that things are likely not going to go well at the meeting, as Bloomberg reports that the European Commission President "won’t be coming to the White House with a 'great deal' on trade to counter Donald Trump’s recent criticism of the European Union and his claims it runs a $150b surplus with the U.S.," according to an unnamed European official.   The last time the two met face to face, at the recent G7 summit in Quebec, the EU’s most senior official told fellow European leaders that Trump had called him a "brutal killer" — though possibly in the spirit of jesting, over what Trump identified as unfair EU trade policies and fines on American tech companies.  Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Union trade commissioner who is accompanying Juncker on his trip, indicated he would attempt to persuade Trump against his threat of raising tariffs on European car imports, possibly wrecking a $1 trillion trade relationship which the EU says will be disastrous for both sides of the Atlantic, with 15 million jobs on the line.

EU Plans $20 Billion In Retaliatory Tariffs Hours Before White House Meeting - Shortly ahead of when European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom are set to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House, scheduled for 1:30pm ET, Reuters reports "the European Commission is drawing up a list of $20 billion of U.S. goods to hit with duties if Washington imposes tariffs on imported cars."Malmstrom made the announcement soon after arriving in Washington, in an early Wednesday interview telling Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, "We hope that it doesn’t come to that and that we can find a solution. If not, the EU Commission is preparing a rather long list of many American goods. It would be around $20 billion."There's little that's expected from the meeting, where it appears the European side has set the bar low at simply damage control attempting to de-escalate and in one European official's words "de-dramatize" what's been a quickly escalating tit-for-tat trans-Atlantic trade crisis.In their last minute floating of a $20 billion list to the media of what Malmstrom described as "more general goods such as agricultural products, machinery, high-tech products and other things," the European Commision appears fully aware they are dealing with a US president that likes to negotiate from the extremes and move in from a more powerful and threatening position. While the European side has emphasized Wednesday's White House visit is in the spirit of "dialogue" and not negotiation, it's tried lay down its own extreme scenario of how far Europe is willing to go:The Commission briefed EU countries last week on the bloc’s possible response, saying in theory it could hit 9 billion euros of U.S. goods, according to EU sources. However, some EU diplomats said the Commission was also looking at going for double that amount - to the level Malmstrom is suggesting - at half the duty rate.

Trump Plans 25% Tariff On Up To $200BN In Foreign Cars As Advisors Helpless To Stop Him - With Trump's meeting with Jean-Claud Juncker set to begin any minute where the discussion of potential tariffs on European cars will be among the most heated topics, WaPo reports that "several" of President Trump’s senior economic advisers believe he plans to impose a 25 percent tariff on close to $200 billion in foreign-made automobiles later this year, three people briefed on discussions said.Trump has said imposing tariffs on foreign cars could push Americans to buy more U.S. automobiles, helping U.S. workers. But critics believe tariffs would drive up the cost of all cars and pass those inflated prices on to consumers.Putting the $200BN number in context, the US imported a record $192BN in new passenger vehicles in 2017, in other words Trump plans to tax all foreign auto imports. Of course, it is common knowledge by now that the E.U. charges a 10% tariff on imports of U.S. automobiles, while the US has a far lower 2.5% tariff on European cars, however it charges a 25% tariff on light truck and sport-utility vehicle imports from other countries.As the WaPo explains Trump wants to move forward despite numerous warnings from GOP leaders and business executives who have argued that such a move could damage the economy and lead to political mutiny.However, as his increasingly belligerent tweets demonstrates, which compare tariffs to Muhammad Ali, Trump has become increasingly defiant in his trade strategy, following his own instincts and intuition and ignoring advice from his inner circle. As a result, he has told advisers and Republicans to simply trust his business acumen, a point he tried to reinforce Wednesday morning in a Twitter post.“Every time I see a weak politician asking to stop Trade talks or the use of Tariffs to counter unfair Tariffs, I wonder, what can they be thinking?” Trump wrote Wednesday. “Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off?” Meanwhile, ahead of Juncker's visit, Trump said that Juncker has come to negotiate with him over trade matters, "suggesting that his hard-line stance had forced other leaders to offer concessions." Or maybe not, because so far there is little evidence that this trade approach is working:

Trump, EU agree to work on lowering tariffs, averting a potential trade war - President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the United States and the European Union had launched a "new phase" in their relationship, saying that the two major economies would start negotiations immediately on a number of areas that include working toward "zero tariffs" on industrial goods, and further cooperation on energy issues."We agreed today, first of all, to work together towards zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsides for the non-auto industrial goods," Trump said at a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.Juncker said the two leaders also agreed that as long as negotiations were ongoing, "we'll hold off further tariffs and reassess existing tariffs on steel and aluminum" put in place by the Trump administration. "This was a good, constructive meeting," he added.Key details of the agreement were still unclear late Wednesday afternoon, but a deal not to impose further tariffs while negotiations are underway would avert a trade war between the United States and Europe. It would also represent a victory for the European Union, which had been bracing for new automobile tariffs as high as 25%.The major averages rallied Wednesday afternoon on early reports of the trade agreements.The Dow Jones Industrial Average popped more than half a percent to a session high Wednesday afternoon. The NASDAQ rose about 1 percent. The euro also rose, hitting a session high against the dollar. The agreement surprised policy experts in Washington and Brussels, many of whom had been closely monitoring Trump's escalating rhetoric on trade. On Tuesday, Trump wrote a tweet that appeared to dismiss the possibility of a before the meetings had even begun. "The European Union is coming to Washington tomorrow to negotiate a deal on Trade," he tweeted. "I have an idea for them. Both the U.S. and the E.U. drop all Tariffs, Barriers and Subsidies! That would finally be called Free Market and Fair Trade! Hope they do it, we are ready - but they won’t!"

Trump-Juncker meeting: US and EU strike deal to avoid trade war - The US and EU have agreed to try and create an environment of zero tariffs, barriers or subsidies – an undertaking that appears to have diminished the prospect of a prolonged trade war between the two groups.In a surprise announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said they had reached an understanding on lowering barriers between the two sides, whose annual trade in goods and services is worth more than $1 trillion.“We agreed today, first of all, to work together towards zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods,” said Mr Trump, with Mr Juncker by his side. “We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans.” He added: “This was a very big day for free and fair trade.”  In turn, Mr Juncker said he “had the intention to make a deal today and we made a deal today”. He said while negotiations were ongoing, “we will hold off further tariffs” and reassess existing tariffs on steel and aluminium.  Ahead of their appearance at the White House, it was reported that the two men had agreed the EU would increase its imports of soybeans and liquefied natural gas. Markets jumped on the news of the deal. “We had a big day, very big,” Mr Trump said. “We set out to launch a new phase of close friendship between the United States and the European Union, strong trade relationships where both of us will win.”  The import of soybeans is a boost to American farmers, who have seen prices plummet after China slapped a retaliatory tariff on American goods including soybeans, in the wake of US tariffs on aluminium and steel.   The agreement is likely to dispel fears of an escalating trade war in the wake of Mr Trump’s decision to place a 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminium imports. The EU subsequently retaliated with tariffs on a number of US goods.

Backing off auto tariffs, US and EU agree to more talks - (AP) — President Donald Trump and European leaders pulled back from the brink of a trade war over autos Wednesday and agreed to open talks to tear down trade barriers between the United States and the European Union. But while politicians and businesses welcomed the deal Thursday, the agreement was vague, the negotiations are sure to be contentious, and the United States remains embroiled in major trade disputes with China and other countries. In a hastily called Rose Garden appearance with Trump, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the U.S. and the EU had agreed to hold off on new tariffs, suggesting that the United States will suspend plans to start taxing European auto imports — a move that would have marked a major escalation in trade tensions between the allies. Trump also said the EU had agreed to buy "a lot of soybeans" and increase its imports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. And the two agreed to resolve a dispute over U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday addressing steel and aluminum tariffs and counter tariffs would be covered in the first phase of talks between the U.S. and the EU. He reiterated that no new tariffs would be imposed during the negotiations and if the US concluded an agreement, "there would be no car tariffs on the EU."

The Trump-Juncker agreement: A manoeuvre in the global trade war - The deal on trade struck between US President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in talks held in Washington on Wednesday does not signify an end to the conflict between the US and the European Union. Rather, it is a manoeuvre by Washington in the ongoing and deepening global trade conflict. It is particularly aimed at strengthening the US in its battle against China by offering the EU some limited concessions.The threat by Washington to impose a 25 percent tariff on imports of cars and auto products has not been removed, but only suspended while negotiations go ahead on broader trade relations, including working towards zero tariffs on all non-auto industrial goods.But the very exclusion of auto products means such discussions will take place under conditions where the auto tariff threat could be raised again at any time.The tariffs on steel and aluminium, which have sparked retaliatory measures from the EU, will remain, but will be reassessed in the course of discussions conducted through a US-EU executive working group that will be set up.The outcome of the talks represents a significant backing down by the EU, which had earlier said it would not engage in negotiations with a “gun at its head.” But that is exactly what has taken place. The EU had called for an exemption from the steel and aluminium imposts and the removal of the auto tariff threat and declared that any negotiations had to be mutually beneficial, i.e., that there had to be concessions from the US. These demands have not been met. According to the Juncker-Trump statement, there will be no abrogation of the “spirit” of the agreement “unless either party terminates the negotiation.” This leaves the way open for the US to simply pull out at any time.

Idiocy is Believing the *EU* Will Buy More US Soy - Don't count on so-called Trump "friend" Jean-Claude Juncker to somehow get the EU to buy boatloads of American soy. The stock market is not very smart: Late yesterday when it was announced that the US and EU had arrived at a temporary "ceasefire" on slapping additional tariffs on each other as they negotiate some nebulous trade deal--I hesitate from calling it an agreement--US stock markets rallied. However, there is significantly less than meets the eye here. Consider that most sensitive and vulnerable of products, the humble soybean.Actually, there are no tariffs being applied to the foodstuff already, hence there is no way of securing additional EU market access or purchases short of subsidizing them. Moreover, the EU isn't China where one guy from the Communist Party can order his minions to buy as much soy as necessary to appease Trump if the Reds felt like doing so. Last I checked, it was made up of 28 (soon-to-be 27) independent countries. Anyway....But a mere handshake agreement to send more soybeans across the Atlantic won't make up for a reduction in exports across the Pacific.For starters, that's because the European Commission doesn't actually have authority over how many soybeans Europe imports. It doesn't procure soybeans for European markets and it doesn't tell European businesses where to buy their soybeans.Of course, there are other ways that governments can encourage businesses within their borders to purchase materials from certain sources. Lowering trade barriers is one way to do it. If the Trump-Juncker agreement would lower European tariffs on American-grown soybeans, for example, that might do the trick of getting Europe to buy more American beans. Except, well, the European Commission currently doesn't charge any tariffs on American soybeans. Which means European businesses already have access to all the American soybeans they would want. It's hard to see how—short of subsidizing demand across the pond—Juncker will follow through with his promise to have Europe buy more soybeans.That brings me to another point unmentioned in the Reason blog post excerpted above: Most of the soybeans planted in the United States are genetically modified (GM). Think something on the order of 93%. While the US has been wanting to crack open the EU market for GM soy for the longest time, the EU has always been reluctant about doing so. Not only do they plant far less of the stuff--negligible quantities, really--European consumers generally disdain GM unlike the vast majority of indifferent American consumers. This case has been a long-running saga at the WTO. And because European consumers dislike GM foodstuffs, it's unsurprising EU regulations are quite stringent on their importation (e.g., labeling that these are indeed GM):

Goldman: Ceasefire With Europe Will Make Trump's Trade War With China Even Worse - The market was euphoric when Trump and Juncker yesterday announced a temporary ceasefire and de-escalation in the trade war between the US and Europe, announcing an agreement to negotiate tariff reductions and to increase US exports to the EU. It also lowered the risk of US tariffs on European auto imports, which is why the European auto sector is surging 2.3% this morning. That's the good news. The bad news, according to Goldman, emerges when looking at the fine print, or rather lack thereof: as Goldman economist Alec Phillips writes, "the lack of specifics in today’s US-EU announcement raises the possibility that the negotiations could falter at a later stage, as US-China negotiations did earlier this year." But a far bigger risk is that the agreement with Europe, which saw Juncker explicitly siding with the US on several occasions against China, "is also likely to embolden the White House to use proposed tariffs to try to win concessions from other trading partners, like China. The recent announcement of supplemental agricultural subsidies to counter the effects of retaliatory tariffs pushes in this direction as well." This will only be accentuated by China's last-minute decision to scuttle the Qualcomm-NXP merger which Trump has pushed for in recent months and was seen as China's olive branch in exchange for Trump letting ZTE "live." And even tough China's commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng says at briefing today that the Qualcomm-NXP deal is about market monopoly and has nothing to do with trade tension between China and the US, that's a flat out lie. In other words, Goldman warns against believing that recent positive developments regarding US-EU trade should be interpreted as a reduction in risk in the other major trade dispute, with China. "In fact, they likely mean the opposite."

Trade war risks becoming a dangerous currency war as China weakens yuan the most in 2 years - On the surface, the tit-for-tat trade war between the U.S. and China appears to be turning into a currency war.President Donald Trump called out China and Europe Thursday and again on Friday for manipulating their currencies and keeping them low against the dollar. Hours after Trump's comments were first aired on CNBC Thursday, the People's Bank of China set the dollar's reference rate at 6.7671 yuan, steering the currency 0.9 percent lower and weakening it the most in two years. Trump followed his comments with a tweet Friday morning that criticized China, Europe and others for "manipulating" their currencies.   China, the European Union and others have been manipulating their currencies and interest rates lower, while the U.S. is raising rates while the dollars gets stronger and stronger with each passing day - taking away our big competitive edge. As usual, not a level playing field...@realDonaldTrump   The dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of currencies, was more than 1 percent lower since Trump's comments on Thursday. Strategists said the trade war appears to be moving toward a currency war, but whether it becomes one has yet to be seen. "It’s starting to smell like it. We've had a trade war that's been going on for awhile, and now we're starting to hear talk about 'you shouldn't be doing that with your currency," said Jens Nordvig, CEO of Exante Data. The yuan has been weakening against the greenback both because of trade wars and due to the fact that U.S. interest rates are rising more than others, driving up the value of the the dollar.  China's central bank sets a daily exchange rate for the yuan based on recent prices, and allows trading against the dollar in a band that could be as much as 2 percent above or below that level. Strategists have said China did not seem to be intentionally weakening the currency, but it was not taking action to stop its decline, as it might have done previously. However, Thursday's sharp adjustment looked like it was sending a message.

CIA official: China wants to replace US as world superpower -- The goal of China's influence operations around the world is to replace the United States as the world's leading superpower, the CIA's Michael Collins said Friday. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum during a session on the rise of China, Collins, the deputy assistant director of the CIA's East Asia Mission Center, said Chinese President Xi Jinping and his regime are waging a "cold war" against the US."By their own terms and what Xi enunciates I would argue by definition what they're waging against us is fundamentally a cold war, a cold war not like we saw during the Cold War, but a cold war by definition. A country that exploits all avenues of power licit and illicit, public and private, economic and military, to undermine the standing of your rival relative to your own standing without resorting to conflict. The Chinese do not want conflict," Collins said. "At the end of the day they want every country around the world, when it's deciding its interests on policy issues, to first and foremost side with China and not the United States, because the Chinese are increasingly defining a conflict with the United States and what we stand behind as a systems conflict."By looking at the writings of Xi, whose "thought" or world view was recently enshrined in China's constitution, it's clear, Collins says, that the threat China presents is the greatest global challenge the US currently faces. "It sets up a competition with us and what we stand behind far more significantly by any extreme than what the Russians could put forward," Collins said.

China Says It Has "No Intention" To Devalue Yuan To Boost Exports - China said on Monday that it has "no desire" to devalue the yuan to help exports, noting that the value of its currency is driven by market forces and after Washington said it was monitoring the currency’s weakness after President Donald Trump took issue with the yuan’s month-long losing streak. At a daily news briefing on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was asked about comments on Friday by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who told Reuters the yuan’s weakness would be reviewed as part of the Treasury’s semi-annual report on currency manipulation, which is due on Oct. 15. "The exchange rate of China’s RMB is determined by the market. There are ups and downs. It’s a two-way float,” Geng said adding that "China has no intention to use means like the competitive devaluation of its currency to stimulate exports." The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that "threats and intimidation will never work on our Chinese people and we are confident of our ability to uphold our interests" after Trump said he was ready to impose tariffs on all $500 billion of goods imported from the country. Urging the U.S. to "remain calm and maintain a rational attitude", Geng said that "the U.S. is bent on provoking this trade war. China does not want a trade war but we are not afraid of one." Mnuchin’s comments were the first since the early days of the Trump administration in 2017 that raised the prospect of designating China as a manipulator. Neither the People’s Bank of China nor the State Administration of Foreign Exchange responded to Reuters requests for comment on Mnuchin’s remarks. Earlier this month, the United States imposed tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports. China promptly levied taxes on the same value of U.S. products. China's yuan, battered by the trade brawl and strong dollar, has lost more than 7% against the greenback since the end of the first quarter. After initially gaining in Monday trading, the offshore Yuan slumped as the dollar rose, and was last trading at the PBOC's "revised red line" of 6.80. 

"Worst Case Scenario" Looms As Chinese Overwhelmingly Ready To Boycott US Goods In Trade War -- Despite soaring trade policy uncertainty and a collapsing yuan, "the equity market has largely looked through the marginal risk from tariffs", according to Goldman's David Kostin . However, Kostin cautions that this may be a mistake, however not due to the quantitative aspects of the trade war, namely the downstream impact of tariffs, but the qualitative, and thus much more ambiguous, implications.   In other words, it's not tariffs that investors should be worried about: as the Goldman strategist writes, "a greater risk lies in potential government intervention" and lists the following examples: Geopolitical tension can manifest itself in ways beyond tariffs. As precedent, China publicly encouraged consumer boycotts that led to a plunge in Japanese auto sales (in 2012) and South Korean products (in 2017). Last week, China issued a temporary injunction on some of Micron’s (MU) chip sales due to alleged patent infringement. The stock fell by 6%. MU downplayed the impact on sales and the share price has since recovered. So there we have it, instead of a 10% tariff on all US imports being the so-called "worst case scenario," Goldman is warning that a much bigger problem for the US economy (and markets) is if the Chinese begin to boycott US goods, period.  Which is why the news today, via The Financial Times, that a new survey finds that a majority of Chinese consumers would be prepared to boycott US goods in the event of a trade war with Washington. The survey found that 54 per cent of 2,000 respondents in 300 cities across China would “probably” or “definitely” stop buying US-branded goods “in the event of a trade war”. Just 13 per cent said they would not. The remaining 33 per cent said they were unsure or did not at present buy US branded goods, according to the survey, conducted for FT Confidential Research (FTCR), a research unit at the Financial Times. The survey was carried out between June 27 and July 10, mostly before the US imposed 25 per cent tariffs on $34bn of Chinese goods on July 6. The move elicited an immediate tit-for-tat response from Beijing.

 White House used Chinese-made silverware at Made in America Product Showcase: report | TheHill - The White House reportedly used Chinese-made silverware while serving refreshments on Monday at its annual Made in America Product Showcase, which is meant to show off American-made products. According to, Matt Roberts, president of New York–based Sherrill Manufacturing, the last flatware maker in the U.S., said the White House used Oneida Ltd. flatware, which now sells flatware made overseas, at the annual showcase. The news outlet reported that Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) and Sherrill Manufacturing have made repeated efforts to convince the White House to purchase American-made silverware. The effort reportedly has bipartisan support, with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also asking President Trump to buy the firm's Liberty Tabletop utensils for use at state dinners. Greg Owens, co-founder and CEO of Sherrill Manufacturing, told that he was contacted by the Trump administration in the past about purchasing its flatware, but said he never heard back from officials. "With all of the things going on in the world, forks and spoons in your kitchen are not exactly the top priority at the White House," Roberts said. 

Why Treasury Hasn’t Labeled China, EU as Currency Manipulators -- President Donald Trump said Friday that “China, the European Union and others have been manipulating their currencies and interest rates lower,” returning the spotlight to the issue. Mr. Trump was alleging that these economies take policy measures to lower the value of their currencies relative to others to make their exports cheaper on world markets. The U.S., by contrast, allows the value of the dollar to be determined by global financial markets.As a candidate, Mr. Trump repeatedly promised to designate China a currency manipulator—a label that would potentially open the country up to economic penalties. But his Treasury Department has three times declined to do so. The action would come in one of the Treasury’s semiannual foreign exchange reports; the next one is scheduled for October.Treasury hasn’t labeled any nation a manipulator because none of them meets its three-part test. These are the three components:

  • 1.) An economy must have a significant trade surplus with the U.S. of at least $20 billion. China and the European Union easily clear this hurdle. China’s is over $300 billion and the EU’s is over $100 billion (with Germany responsible for about $66 billion).
  • 2.) The economy must have an overall current account surplus of at least 3% of its gross domestic product. In other words, the country must have a large trade surplus not just with the U.S., but with the entire world, too. The EU and Germany easily meet this threshold. In April, the EU had a current account surplus of 3.5% of GDP. For Germany, the figure was 8.1%. But China’s current account surplus has been shrinking. Despite running a massive surplus with the U.S., its total global surplus was just 1.4% in the twelve months through April, according to Treasury’s measure.  So China doesn’t meet this threshold.
  • 3.) To be a manipulator, an economy must conduct “persistent, one-sided intervention” in the currency market. On this score, neither the EU nor China comes close.   The European Central Bank, which sets monetary policy for most of the countries in the EU, does not intervene in foreign currency markets at all. China intervenes in foreign currency markets but over the past year it has not done so on a large scale and not in a single direction. Under the Treasury’s framework, if China buys a certain amount of its currency and sells the same amount, the two moves would cancel each other out. Over recent months, China’s moves have had little net impact.

Financial Times: Chinese Officials “Awed” by Trump’s “Skill as a Strategist and Tactician” -  A Financial Times article, The Chinese are wary of Donald Trump’s creative destruction, by Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, is so provocative, in terms of the contrast with Western perceptions of Trump, that I am quoting from it at some length. According to Leonard, quite a few key players in China see Trump as having a coherent geopolitical agenda, with reducing China’s influence as a key objective, and that he is doing an effective job of implementation. From his Financial Times piece:I have just spent a week in Beijing talking to officials and intellectuals, many of whom are awed by his [Trump’s] skill as a strategist and tactician…..Few Chinese think that Mr Trump’s primary concern is to rebalance the bilateral trade deficit….They think the US president’s goal is nothing less than remaking the global order.They think Mr Trump feels he is presiding over the relative decline of his great nation. It is not that the current order does not benefit the US. The problem is that it benefits others more in relative terms. To make things worse the US is investing billions of dollars and a fair amount of blood in supporting the very alliances and international institutions that are constraining America and facilitating China’s rise.In Chinese eyes, Mr Trump’s response is a form of “creative destruction”. He is systematically destroying the existing institutions….as a first step towards renegotiating the world order on terms more favourable to Washington. Once the order is destroyed, the Chinese elite believes, Mr Trump will move to stage two: renegotiating America’s relationship with other powers. Because the US is still the most powerful country in the world, it will be able to negotiate with other countries from a position of strength if it deals with them one at a time rather than through multilateral institutions that empower the weak at the expense of the strong. My interlocutors….describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can.   But they also see him as a strategist, willing to declare a truce in each area when there are no more concessions to be had, and then start again with a new front.

China has no idea how to play Trump, and is doing what it always does when it smells trouble - Thanks to US President Donald Trump and his “America first” policy, the global economic and trade outlook perhaps has never been so uncertain. Nowhere are these economic and policy shock waves being felt more than in China. And, Beijing is responding the same way it does every time it anticipates trouble – by pumping cash into its system. It has already used targeted reserve requirement cuts for select banks. This week the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) pushed US$74 billion into the system to get funds to the small-business sector. The State Council also announced US$200 billion of infrastructure spending to boost what were weak infrastructure numbers, while the currency fell to 6.8 to the dollar to take the edge off tariffs. It’s a playbook we have seen before. Following the global shock in 2008 due to the financial crisis, Beijing panicked when a reported 20 million migrant workers had or were at risk of losing their jobs. After years of trying to bring financial discipline to the banks, they opened the credit spigot and let the money flow. That stimulus, hailed at the time as the saviour of global growth, is now one of the main causes of the debt dependency which Beijing still struggles to rein in. To some, Beijing’s rapid fiscal and monetary moves may seem like strength: it is proactive, decisive and has the financial capacity to act to avert the worst. But in reality, it is a sign of utter confusion. Trump has clearly thrown China off kilter.

Qualcomm deal scuttled: China hits back at US in trade war - China has hit back at the US in its ongoing and deepening trade war, with Beijing effectively scuttling a $44 billion takeover by the American technology giant Qualcomm of a Dutch chipmaker NXP Semiconductors. Qualcomm announced late Wednesday that it was pulling out of the deal after it became clear that the Chinese government was not going to sign off on the takeover. China was the last of nine national jurisdictions whose approval was needed under anti-monopoly provisions for the deal to go ahead.At $132 billion last year, China is the world’s largest semiconductor market with most of the revenue going to companies based in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the US.According to widespread reports, Chinese regulators responsible for vetting takeover deals had signed off on it earlier this year and it was only waiting for the final go-ahead from the Beijing government. But the approval never came and just hours before the deadline was due to expire Qualcomm announced it was pulling out.The official Chinese government position is that the lack of approval had nothing to do with the China-US trade conflict. “As far as I know, the case is a matter of antitrust law enforcement,” a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said. But as one source told the Financial Times, echoing reports in other media, “all the technical issues had been resolved” and that from Qualcomm’s perspective “everything that was needed to be done was done.”

U.S. Senate quietly votes to cut tariffs on hundreds of Chinese goods (Reuters) - As trade tensions escalate between Washington and Beijing, the U.S. Senate quietly passed legislation on Thursday that would lower trade barriers on hundreds of items made in China.  With no debate, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would cut or eliminate tariffs on toasters, chemicals and roughly 1,660 other items made outside the United States. Nearly half of those items are produced in China, according to a Reuters analysis of government records. The United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, are increasingly at loggerheads over trade. U.S. President Donald Trump has announced a series of punitive tariffs on Chinese imports in a bid to halt a Chinese surge in high-technology industries that threatens to displace U.S. dominance. China has retaliated with its own duties on imports from the United States. The White House has not publicly taken a position on the so-called miscellaneous tariff bill, which has now passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives unanimously. The two chambers need to resolve minor differences before they can send the legislation to Trump to sign into law. Supporters of the bill have said it would boost the economy by getting rid of tariffs set up to protect industries that no longer exist in the United States. The National Association of Manufacturers has said U.S. businesses pay $1 million a day on such import duties. “It makes no sense because it is a direct and punishing tax on making things in America and for creating jobs in America,” the trade group’s president, Jay Timmons, said in a prepared statement celebrating the bill’s passage. Among the beneficiaries are companies that have moved production offshore. Hamilton Beach Brands Holding Co (HBB.N), for example, would pay reduced tariffs on Chinese-made toaster ovens, steam irons and other household appliances it used to make domestically. 

2.5 Billion Pounds of Meat Piles Up in U.S. as Production Grows, Exports Slow -- Meat is piling up in U.S. cold-storage warehouses, fueled by a surge in supplies and trade disputes that are eroding demand. Federal data, coming as early as Monday, are expected to show a record level of beef, pork, poultry and turkey being stockpiled in U.S. facilities, rising above 2.5 billion pounds, agricultural analysts said. U.S. consumers’ appetite for meat is growing, but not fast enough to keep up with record production of hogs and chickens. That leaves the U.S. meat industry increasingly reliant on exports, but Mexico and China—among the largest foreign buyers of U.S. meat—have both set tariffs on U.S. pork products in response to U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum and other goods. U.S. hams, chops and livers have become sharply more expensive in those markets, which is starting to slow sales, industry officials said. The meat industry’s growing production already is filling the specialized warehouses built to store meat and other goods. “We are packed full,” said Joe Rumsey, president of Arkansas-based Zero Mountain Inc. The company’s five storage facilities serve as way stations for turkeys and chicken strips between processors and retailers, holding around 250 million pounds of products on any given day. Growing meat stockpiles may bring down prices for meat-hungry U.S. consumers, along with restaurants and retailers. But slowing overseas sales and rising domestic stockpiles threaten profit for meat processors and prices for livestock and poultry producers. Since the end of May, prices of lean hog futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange have dropped 14%. .The combination of trade risk and expanding meat supplies could result in “one of the biggest corrections we’ve seen in the industry in several years,” said Christine McCracken, protein analyst at Rabobank, one of the world’s largest agricultural lenders. Some hog farmers and pork processors are beginning to scale back. Maschhoffs LLC, a privately held hog-farming company based in Carlyle, Ill., has put on hold $30 million in investments planned to expand its breeding operations and upgrade truck washes and other biosecurity measures. “We’ve got too much capacity built in this industry if we’re not going to be exporting more product,” said Ken Maschhoff, the company’s chairman. He is instead considering expansion into Eastern Europe or South America—places where the company’s hogs perhaps can’t be raised as cheaply as in the U.S. but where he said trade policy isn’t so “geopolitically charged.”

Trade war bailout: Trump to offer $12 billion in emergency aid for farmers hurt by tariffs - The Trump administration plans to offer up to $12 billion in aid to farmers hit by tariffs on their goods, an emergency bailout intended to ease the pain caused by Trump's escalating trade war in key electoral states, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters Tuesday."President Trump has promised since day one that he had the back of every farmer and rancher," Perdue said. He said the assistance was a short-term solution, but that it would offer "Trump and his administration time to work on long-term trade deals."The announcement came Tuesday afternoon, hours after the president proclaimed on Twitter that "Tariffs are the greatest!" The aid will be facilitated by the Commodity Credit Corp, an agency set up during the Great Depression, and will not require congressional approval. The aid will come from a mix of programs overseen by the USDA, including direct payments to producers of some goods, including soybeans, as well as distribution assistance for producers of goods that can be easily provided to food banks, such as fruits, nuts, rice, legumes, and some meats. A third program, looking to build international markets, is open to producers of all commodities.  Shares of Deere & Company, the Illinois-based tractor maker that owns the brand John Deere, were up more than 3 percent after news of the bailout plan was reported earlier Tuesday. President Donald Trump has hit several of America's major trading partners with tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of goods, and has shown few signs of slowing. Earlier this month, 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports of machinery and electronics went into effect, prompting Beijing to respond with dollar-for-dollar tariffs on American exports of soybeans and other goods. Trump has threatened to impose broader tariffs on as much as $500 billion of Chinese goods, which has alarmed economists as well as farming groups. The administration released a list of $200 billion in Chinese goods that would receive a 10 percent tariff on July 10.

Trump's $12 billion aid to farmers hurt by tariffs is a bribe. -- What do soybean farmers have in common with Stormy Daniels? They’re being paid to keep quiet after getting screwed by Donald Trump. The administration announced Tuesday that it will provide $12 billion in temporary aid to agricultural producers who have been swept up in the president’s widening trade war.  Trump’s trade policies have faced especially harsh criticism from farmers, as countries like China and Mexico have retaliated against the administration’s aggressive use of tariffs by placing their own taxes on U.S. agricultural exports, including soybeans,dairy, pork, and more. The new bailout package is presumably meant to hush some of those complaints by providing a lifeline to producers whose overseas sales are imperiled. The government is pursuing a three-part scheme in which it will pay farmers directly, buy excess food, and use trade promotion efforts to open up additional foreign markets. As the Washington Post reports, it is being pitched as a specifically short-term effort, “intended to keep farmers afloat this harvest season until what officials predicted would be a successful conclusion to trade negotiations.”  The plan will not require any new money from Congress. Instead, the administration intends to tap the Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation, a program created during the Great Depression that can borrow up to $30 billion to keep farmers financially afloat. This idea has already drawn fire from farm-state Republicans, who’ve argued that Trump would be better off avoiding the tit-for-tat tariff battles in the first place. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts told the Washington Post in April that he had seen the CCC misused in the past, and that while he wouldn’t oppose Trump’s plan, he was unsure how it would work.  Nebraska’s Ben Sasse was a bit more colorful today. “This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches,” he said. “This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again.” Further condemnation came from Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who reportedly dismissed the aid as a government handout. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, meanwhile, reportedly thinks other industries set back by tariffs, including her state’s seafood industry, get the short end of the deal: “What about the manufacturing sector? What about the energy sector? The oil and gas industries?”

US Farmers Revolt: "We Don't Want Handouts" --Bloomberg reports that farmers across the United States are pushing back against the Trump administration's pledge to provide $12 billion in assistance to farms impacted by the ongoing trade war. Neal Bredehoeft, a corn and soybean farmer in Missouri, summed up the current sentiment across the Midwest. In interview after interview, farmers delivered essentially the same response to President Donald Trump’s pledge yesterday to provide $12 billion in assistance: It’s nice to know you’re thinking about us, Mr. President, but what we want is a quick return to free trade. It’s “better to get our income from the marketplace than from the government,” Bredehoeft said. –Bloomberg   We assume this means farmers, or at least Neal and whoever else Bloomberg is talking about, will promptly refuse their portion of up to $20 billion per year in federal agriculture subsidies.The planned assistance will be a mix of direct payments to farmers, purchases of various commodities for food-aid programs, and "the stepped up promotion of new export markets,"  According to Bloomberg, however, "The package has offended the sensibilities of many farmers who supported both Trump and a party that historically champions small government and free trade"  Agriculture is the third-biggest U.S. export industry. American farmers ship about one-third of their output abroad, generating an estimated $21 billion trade surplus this year, though that’s now under threat after China imposed tariffs on U.S. soybeans and other farm products. “We want access to markets,” Stan Nelson, a fourth-generation corn and soybean farmer in Middletown, Iowa, said by phone as he was en route to check in on his combine at the local tractor dealer in preparation for the fall harvest. “We don’t want government payments, but we do appreciate President Trump recognizing the concern out in the country.” –Bloomberg “We would prefer trade not aid,” said Dave Struthers, a soy farmer who also raises 6,000 hogs a year in Collins, Iowa. “We’d like to see things figured out on these trade issues.”

Like a Soviet-type economy’: GOP free traders unload on Trump -- President Donald Trump’s bailout for the ag industry is driving his many Republican trade critics to exasperation. Pro-free trade Republicans were already furious with Trump's escalation of tariffs against U.S. allies and China — a multi-front trade war they say is hurting U.S. farmers and manufacturers. But the administration’s response Tuesday — announcing plans to send $12 billion to farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs to ease the pain — is the opposite of conservative, free-trade orthodoxy, they said. “This is becoming more and more like a Soviet type of economy here: Commissars deciding who’s going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they’re going to sprinkle around benefits,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “I’m very exasperated. This is serious.” “Taxpayers are going to be asked to initial checks to farmers in lieu of having a trade policy that actually opens and expands more markets. There isn’t anything about this that anybody should like,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 GOP leader. He suggested the new spending might need to be offset by cuts in other funding areas. Trump’s move on Tuesday highlighted what’s become the largest and most painful divide between his presidency and the congressional GOP: his protectionist trade policies. And a number of senators have been itching to tie the president’s hands from making unilateral tariff policy with legislation that would require Congress to approve of unilateral tariffs that are imposed with the justification of national security. That proposal doesn’t yet have enough GOP support to pass the Senate, and it appears Trump’s bailouts to farm country are intended to tamp down GOP criticism of Trump’s trade policies. But the president’s move had the opposite effect, enraging his harshest critics and worrying farm-state senators like Thune. 

Kudlow: $12 Billion Farm Subsidies Temporary; "Nobody's Really Thrilled About This" - Back in the saddle after a June heart attack, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CBS This Morning on Wednesday that a planned $12 billion stimulus package for US farmers hurt by a growing trade dispute is a short-term solution and does not portend the Trump administration making a habit of aid programs. "What we’ve put on the board is what I think is a temporary assistance measure, I don’t think it’s going to get near to $12 billion," said Kudlow. "Nobody’s really thrilled about this. We’re just trying to protect American agriculture from some of the unfair trading practices."Kudlow said the attempt to shore up markets is a reaction to a “broken” system of world trade that has worked against the U.S. in the past. He called for patience in allowing the U.S. to achieve reciprocity in trade. –Bloomberg    “No one is thrilled with subsidies, I get that,” Kudlow said. “On the other hand, we need a backstop for our patriotic farmers who have been hurt.” Some Congressional GOP panned the plan, saying it failed to address the underlying issues of the White House's brewing trade wars. Extra farm aid would be a balm to producers who are seeing prices drop and inventories rise because of disputes with China, Canada and other trade partners who are significant purchasers of U.S. pork, soybeans and other products.While the overall economic impact of tariffs on steel and aluminum and Chinese imports already implemented by President Donald Trump is expected to be muted, American industry has warned it could hurt their earnings and lead to higher prices for consumers. On Wednesday, General Motors Co. cut its profit forecast this year on surging metals prices.Bloomberg   That said, extra farm aid would help producers of targeted goods, such as pork, soybeans and other crops.

US Wheat Exports Losing Ground To Russia As Mexico Seeks Alternatives - Russia briefly surpassed the United States as the top global wheat supplier in 2016, and the two top global suppliers have been neck and neck since, but recently the US market share has been on a dramatic decline due to Mexico increasingly turning to alternative suppliers like Russia amidst escalating trade tensions with its northern neighbor. This despite soaring Russian prices and a new setback to the Russian crop from drought. The US has been Mexico's primary supplier since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, but American suppliers are alarmed as Mexican millers begin looking elsewhere with the threat of tariffs looming, a trend since Donald Trump famously labelled NAFTA "the worst trade deal ever" signed by the US, followed by his April 2017 threat to pull out and has since called to renegotiate.   A recent Reuters report finds that "the U.S. market share decline is accelerating as Mexico casts about for more alternative suppliers in Latin America and elsewhere to hedge against the risk that U.S. grains will get more expensive if the Mexican government imposes tariffs, according to interviews with three large Mexican millers, international grains traders, the top Mexican government agricultural trade official and government and industry data analyzed by Reuters shows."

We "Displaced The Political Establishment", Mexico's Leftist Leader Tells Trump - Though maverick leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador confidently pledged during his campaign to "put (Trump) in his place," the incoming president of Mexico has revealed that he sent a letter to President Trump in hopes of jump-starting a new relationship between the neighboring countries.The letter was reportedly delivered via a delegation of senior US officials that met him in Mexico City on July 13, and its contents read aloud by Obrador's proposed foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard at a press conference on Sunday. It suggests that the U.S. and Mexican administrations should work together on key issues of trade, migration, development and security after cooperation in these areas have reached their lowest point in decades, and further floated the idea of establishing a fund toward that end.  "I am encouraged by the fact that we both know how to fulfill what we say and we have faced adversity successfully. We managed to put our voters and citizens at the center, and displace the political establishment," Lopez Obrador wrote to Trump while playing on the sense of both leaders having general "outsider" status. It appears the conciliatory letter could already be making a positive impact, as Trump on Monday afternoon announced he's currently talking with Mexico about "very dramatic" trade action, according to Bloomberg. Speaking at the White House "Made in America" event, the president said further that Mexico's President-elect Obrador is "a terrific person" after the two spoke "at length on a call". Lopez Obrador's letter further called for joint efforts by U.S., Mexico, and Central American countries to seek initiatives that would directly engage the root causes of migration, identified by Obrador as the result of trends in poverty and violence that pushes people from their homes. Crucially, the president-elect called on Trump to pursue renewed NAFTA negotiations, stalled after a year of talks involving wide disagreements over such issues ranging from auto-content rules to a sunset clause.

Government Says Half of Separated Kids Under 5 Won't Be Reunited --About half of the children under age 5 separated from adults who crossed the southern U.S. border illegally will not be reunited with their families, the Trump administration said Tuesday. The government was ordered by a federal judge to reunite 103 children this month. Today the government said it reunited 57 children and determined the other 46 are ineligible for reunification. The reasons given range from violent criminal histories to findings that the adults were not parents; several adults have been deported or are in criminal custody.

 Trump administration deported up to 463 immigrant parents without their children - As many as 463 immigrant parents may have been deported without being reunited with their children, according to filings made by the Trump administration in federal court on Monday. Previously, the government had admitted to only 12 parents being deported without their children.The official status of the 463 parents remains uncertain. Federal lawyers stated in court Tuesday that they were reviewing these cases individually to determine whether these parents were deported or had “voluntarily” elected to leave without their children. Officially, about 130 of this group have agreed to be deported while leaving their children in the United States, either to stay with relatives or to exhaust their legal avenues to asylum.The total number of parents and children separated under President Donald Trump’s infamous “zero tolerance” policy initiated in May has been constantly shifting in government accounts, with the total number of children being given as anywhere from between 2,000 and 3,000 over the last month. The uncertain and shifting figures demonstrates not only the government’s bureaucratic incompetence but a cruel indifference to the fate of families caught in Trump’s anti-immigrant dragnet.The 463 are part of a larger group of 917 parents whom the government has deemed either “ineligible” or “not yet known to be eligible” to be reunited with their children. Other parents have been denied access to their children on the pretext of criminal records, communicable diseases or other issues, according to USA Today.The Trump administration has reunited only 1,012 children with their parents since a federal judge ordered a halt to its cruel and vindictive policy of separating families of undocumented immigrants after being detained. The federal government has declared only 1,637 of 2,551 separated migrant children to be “eligible” for reunification, and it is likely the government will fail to meet tomorrow’s court-imposed deadline to reunify all of these children with their parents.The fact that hundreds of parents were deported without their children raises the terrible prospect that they may never see their children again, or at best only after a lengthy bureaucratic delay.

A 6-Year-Old Girl Was Sexually Abused in an Immigrant-Detention Center -According to immigrant-rights advocates, a 6-year-old girl separated from her mother under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy was sexually abused while at an Arizona detention facility run by Southwest Key Programs. The child was then made to sign a form acknowledging that she was told to maintain her distance from her alleged abuser, who is an older child being held at the same detention facility. The girl, who is only identified by the initials D.L., and her mother had been fleeing gang violence in their native Guatemala. According to the family, the pair entered the United States at a point of entry in El Paso, Texas, on May 24, where they presented Border Patrol authorities with paperwork claiming that they had “credible fear” that returning to Guatemala would result in harm. On May 26, government officials separated D.L. from her mother and sent her to Casa Glendale, a shelter outside of Phoenix operated by Southwest Key Programs. It was there that the alleged abuse occurred. Before D.L. was taken away, her mother provided authorities with the phone number of D.L.’s father, an undocumented immigrant living in California. On June 11, D.L.’s father received a phone call from Southwest Key explaining that a boy had fondled his daughter and other girls. According to family spokesperson Mark Lane, D.L.’s father was told not to worry, because Southwest Key was changing some of its protocols and such abuse would not happen again. (Lane was connected with D.L.’s family through Families Belong Together, a coalition of civil-rights  groups formed in response to the recent border crackdown.) Lane says that D.L.’s father asked to speak with a social worker, but, despite promises from the facility, he never heard from one.

ICE Banned From Using Philadelphia Arrest Database - Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced Friday that the city will stop sharing their real-time arrest database with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following protests at City Hall, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.“I cannot in good conscience allow the agreement to continue,” the Democrat mayor said, adding "We’re not going to provide them with information so they can go out and round people up." Kenny's decision means the city will not renew a contract with the agency that expires at the end of August.The decision comes after months of consultation with community groups, lawyers and immigrant advocates, and follows weeks of tumultuous protests by anti-ICE demonstrators, who on Wednesday took over and held a City Hall stairway.A formal announcement is scheduled for Friday afternoon at City Hall. ICE officials were informed Thursday in an emailed letter from City Solicitor Marcel Pratt. Kenney said he had grown increasingly concerned that ICE was using the database “in inappropriate ways,” including to conduct investigations of undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia who had not broken any other laws.

House GOP refuses to boost funding for election security | TheHill: House Republicans are refusing to provide additional funding for state election security grants in a spending bill despite the move upsetting Democrats pointing at Russia's election interference. Democrats want to continue funding the grants program to help states boost security for their voting systems, The Washington Post reported Thursday. Republicans, however, argue that the program, which is overseen by the federal Election Assistance Commission, is fully funded and does not need the additional allocations.The floor debate on Wednesday came shortly after President Trump refused to denounce Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, sparking backlash from both sides of the aisle. The president later sought to clarify his support of American intelligence agencies findings of Russian interference. Democrats accused Republicans of enabling Trump's rhetoric and not standing up to the president on the Russian interference issue. “The American people should be very worried about the commitment of this president and his Republican allies in Congress to securing our elections,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said. “This is a party that has worked with this administration to undermine and minimize the investigation surrounding Russian interference in our presidential election.” 

Kavanaugh: Watergate tapes decision may have been wrong   (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh suggested several years ago that the unanimous high court ruling in 1974 that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, leading to the end of his presidency, may have been wrongly decided.Kavanaugh was taking part in a roundtable discussion with other lawyers when he said at three different points that the decision in U.S. v. Nixon, which marked limits on a president's ability to withhold information needed for a criminal prosecution, may have come out the wrong way.A 1999 magazine article about the roundtable was part of thousands of pages of documents that Kavanaugh has provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the confirmation process. The committee released the documents on Saturday.Kavanaugh's belief in robust executive authority already is front and center in his nomination by President Donald Trump to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The issue could assume even greater importance if special counsel Robert Mueller seeks to force Trump to testify in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election."But maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official. That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently...Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision," Kavanaugh said in a transcript of the discussion that was published in the January-February 1999 issue of the Washington Lawyer.

Conservatives in Congress file articles of impeachment in an effort to oust Rod Rosenstein. -- Republicans have launched a bid to remove the Department of Justice official overseeing the Russia inquiry dogging Donald Trump's presidency.House of Representatives conservatives have filed articles of impeachment in an effort to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.The measures were introduced on Wednesday evening by Representatives Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan.They accuse him of stonewalling their inquiries, which his department denies. Impeachment would have to be approved by a majority in the House and backed by two-thirds of the US Senate to convict Mr Rosenstein, which makes the plan a long shot.

 Jordan Guns For Speakership As Meadows Backs Off Rosenstein Impeachment - Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH) has officially announced his bid to replace Paul Ryan as speaker of the house, as first reported by the Daily Caller.   “Should the American people entrust us with the majority again in the 116th Congress, I plan to run for Speaker of the House to bring real change to the House of Representatives,” Jordan said in a Thursday statement. “President Trump has taken bold action on behalf of the American people. Congress has not held up its end of the deal, but we can change that. It’s time to do what we said.” Thursday’s announcement would be the first time Jordan directly said whether or not he is running. The congressman had repeatedly said leading up to the announcement that there was no speaker’s race, but the he was entertaining the idea of throwing his name in the hat. -Daily Caller“There is no speaker’s race,” Jordan told TheDCNF in April. “If and when there is, my colleagues have urged me to consider it, and I’m open to that. The focus is not on who the speaker is; the focus is on what we do. The key is: We have got to get back to what the American people sent us here to do.”Ryan announced that he will not seek re-election this November in order to "spend more time with his family" so as not to be a "weekend" father, he told reporters. Meanwhile, both top ranked House Republicans Kevin McCarthy (CA) and Steve Scalise (LA) have been eager for Ryan's seat.  McCarthy failed to garner the 218 required votes to become speaker in 2015, but his particularly close relationship with President Donald Trump is expected to give him a potential upper hand over Scalise in the coming months. Scalise wouldn’t rule out a potential bid for Ryan’s job but is also adamant he would not run against McCarthy, who he considers a “good friend,” he said in March.

Report: Accused Russian spy Maria Butina met with Treasury, Fed Reserve officials in 2015 - Russian national Maria Butina, who is currently being held on charges that she worked covertly in the U.S. as a Kremlin spy, reportedly met with top-level officials in Washington back in 2015, a meeting that included a visiting Russian official and officials from the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department where U.S.-Russian relations were up for discussion, according to Reuters news service.  Butina is alleged to have tried to infiltrate U.S. political organizations on behalf of a high-ranking Russian official over several years in Washington. Reuters, citing several people familiar with the meetings, reportes Sunday that Butina, along with Putin ally and Russian Central Bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin, had two meetings -- one with former Federal Reserve vice chairman Stanley Fischer and the other with Nathan Sheets, who was the Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, to talk about U.S.-Russian economic relations during the Obama administration.The meetings were arranged by Central for the National Interest, a Washington think tank advocating for improving U.S.-Russia relations, and they were documented in a report compiled by CNI as helping to "bring together leading figures from the financial institutions of the U.S. and Russia" according to Reuters. During that same visit, roughly a year after the U.S. had imposed economic sanctions on Russia for the annexation of Crimea, Torshin and Butina had also held private discussions at the think tank about Russia's financial situation.  Butina had listed being a special assistant to Torshin on her U.S. student visa in 2016. Torshin was among those sanctioned by the Treasury Department this past April.  Fischer confirmed to Reuters that he met with Torshin and an interpreter, but could not confirm if that interpreter was indeed Butina.

Senate Intel Had Asked For Financial Documents On The Russian Gun Rights Activist  - The top congressional committee investigating Russian election interference had been probing the finances of a 29-year-old Russian gun rights activist before she was arrested and charged by the US on Sunday with being an agent of the Kremlin and attempting to influence US politics.Federal authorities charged Maria Butina with working “as an agent of a foreign government, specifically the Russian Federation,” without notifying the US government as the law requires. Butina had helped try to set up a secret meeting between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 election.Butina is being held without bond pending a hearing Wednesday. The case is not a part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, but was brought by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department.Butina, a graduate student in Washington, DC, is accused of attempting to set up a backchannel line of communication between the Russian government and US politicians “to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation,” according to an FBI counterintelligence agent’s 17-page affidavit filed in US District Court in Washington on Monday.The Justice Department said Monday that from “as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank. This Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018.” The unnamed person in the affidavit matches the description of Alexander Torshin, Butina’s former boss. Torshin, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, was hit with sanctions by the Treasury Department in April.

About that Meeting Stanley Fischer Had with an Alleged Russian Spy   Pam Martens - According to a report at Reuters yesterday, while Stanley Fischer (the former head of the Israel Central Bank) was sitting in the curious position as Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve in 2015 (the U.S. central bank), he took a meeting with Maria Butina, whom U.S. prosecutors charged last week with being a Russian spy.That’s pretty embarrassing. But that turns out not to be the most interesting part of the Reuters story.The newswire reports that the meeting was arranged by “the Center for the National Interest, a Washington foreign policy think tank….” As it turns out, foreign policy is not exactly all that this taxpayer-subsidized nonprofit does. According to Greenpeace, based on very solid evidence, this is a “Koch Industries climate denial front group.”The Center for the National Interest publishes a magazine, National Interest, which Greenpeace says in 2015 and 2016 “featured the writing of Nick Loris of the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation, a longtime aid to corporations seeking to undermine public trust in science.” Greenpeace explains further:“Heritage has underwritten much of President Trump’s energy agenda. Loris himself is an economist with no s cientific qualifications, nor any experience publishing scientific research. Loris has used the National Interest to deny the validity of data published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to denounce international climate treaties, to advocate for the Keystone XL pipeline….” Apparently, freedom of opinion is not one of the things this “think tank” prizes. reported in May 2016 that the nonprofit had fired an employee, a junior fellow named Alexander Kirss, the same day he published an article criticizing the Center for inviting Donald Trump to deliver a foreign policy speech. Kirss wrote: “Whether intended as an endorsement or not, the Center’s invitation is tantamount to tacit, if not explicit, approval of Trump’s positions,” adding that Trump’s positions contain “logical flaws and errors.”

 The Arrest Of Maria Butina Is Another Hoax -- Paul Craig Roberts -- The Guardian Neswspaper, which once was an honest newspaper that spoke for the British working class has now been suborned, in my opinion, by the CIA and British Intelligence (sic). Whatever The Guardian is, just like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and the rest of the Western presstitutes, journalism is not present on its pages. What the West has is a Ministry of Propaganda. The public is lied to and brainwashed, not informed. We can see the total failure of The Guardian, and all the rest as well, in the reporting on the arrest of the alleged Russian spy, Maria Butina by the utterly corrupt US Department of Justice (sic). The principal evidence against Maria is that she met with a former Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. According to the utterly corrput US Department of Justice (sic), an assistant US attorney, Erik Kenerson, “cited Butina’s encounter with Kislyak as proof that she was in touch with diplomatic or consular officials and must be detained while awaiting trial.” So, in America if you get your photo taken with a former Russian ambassador to the US it is evidence that you are a spy.I have read the indictment of Maria Butina. She is not accused of any crime recognizable by Anglo-American law. She is indicted under Jeremy Bentham’s 18th century totalitarian argument that she is guilty of the “crime” of possibly intending to commit one in the future. (See The Tyranny of Good intentions by PCR and Lawrence Stratton.)Maria, who has long red hair but otherwise is unremarkable, especially in contrast to the women that the interest groups, such as the military/security complex, Wall Street, and the Israel lobby are believed to provide to the executive and legislative branches of the US government, is certainly not the seductive Russian spy that Americans know from James Bond films.The woman has not done a thing. She is indicted for a non-crime. She is indicted because she is Russian and living, according to the presstitute media, with a congressional staffer. Maria has no way whatsoever to spy on the US through the low level congressional staffer with whom she was allegedly livingl Her arrest is just another hoax perpetrated on the American people in order to fan the distrust and hatred of Russia, distrust that protects the totally unnecessary $1,000 billion annual budget of the US military/security complex.

Trump Responds To "Inconceivable, Perhaps Illegal" Cohen Tape Revelation - Having withheld his comments all day Friday to the NYT revelation that his former lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded one of their conversations before the 2016 election dicussing a payment over the story of a former Playboy model's alleged affair with Trump, Trump broke his silence on Saturday morning using his favorite medium."Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) - almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client - totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!" Trump tweeted. Some immediately took the occasion to make the distinction between their "favorite president" and Donald Trump. I'm very glad that my favorite president did nothing wrong.  Donald Trump, on the other hand, is in deep doo-doo.  — Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) July 21, 2018    Trump's comment was in response to the NYT report that Cohen had secretly taped a conversation he had with Trump in 2016 about paying former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who has claimed she had a year-long affair with Trump starting in 2006 after he married Melania Trump.  Later on Friday, the WaPo detailed that the in the conversation the two discussed whether to purchase the rights to McDougal's account of her alleged affair.

Trump attorneys waive privilege on secret recording about ex-Playmate payment - President Donald Trump's lawyers have waived attorney-client privilege on his behalf regarding a secretly recorded conversation he had in September 2016 with his former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen in which they discussed payments to an ex-Playboy model who says she had an affair with the President, according to sources familiar with the matter. The move comes as an attorney for Cohen openly questioned Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's claim that the tape showed no wrongdoing by the President, furthering the growing divide between Trump and Cohen, who had once said he'd take a bullet for the President.Trump's lawyers asking on behalf of the President to remove the privilege designation from the recording means that the government now has access to it as part of the US attorney for the Southern District of New York's probe into Cohen. It effectively gives prosecutors the ability to use the recording if they find it relevant to their criminal investigation of Cohen. The prosecutors working on the case had not reviewed the recording because it, along with millions of other documents and files seized in FBI searches of Cohen's home, hotel room and office in April, was undergoing the special master process, in which an independent party reviews whether the items should be regarded as privileged and thus withheld from prosecutors. The special master had designated the recording as privileged, according to two sources familiar with the process, but Trump's lawyers subsequently waived their right to maintain that designation.

 Trump hits Russia probe, Amazon in tweet barrage -- President Trump launched a barrage of tweets on Monday morning, taking aim at a series of familiar targets ranging from the news media to Amazon to the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.  In the string of tweets, Trump first targeted special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's election meddling, claiming that recently released documents related to a surveillance warrant on Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to Trump, proved that FBI officials acted improperly during the 2016 presidential race.   He called Mueller's investigation "totally conflicted and discredited" and demanded the probe be brought to an end immediately.  "So we now find out that it was indeed the unverified and Fake Dirty Dossier, that was paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC, that was knowingly & falsely submitted to FISA and which was responsible for starting the totally conflicted and discredited Mueller Witch Hunt!" Trump tweeted.  But that was only the start of Trump's attacks.He also expressed outrage at the media coverage of his summit last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisting that he ceded no ground to Moscow during the talks and that getting along with the Russian leader is “a good thing.” "When you hear the Fake News talking negatively about my meeting with President Putin, and all that I gave up, remember, I gave up NOTHING, we merely talked about future benefits for both countries," he tweeted. "Also, we got along very well, which is a good thing, except for the Corrupt Media!"

Transcript of Cohen tape suggests Trump knew about model’s deal to sell story of alleged affair - Donald Trump appeared familiar with a deal that a Playboy model made to sell the rights to her story of an alleged affair with him when Trump discussed the matter in September 2016 with his attorney Michael Cohen, according to a transcript of their conversation. The transcript, which was provided by President Trump’s legal team, shows that the then-GOP presidential nominee does not register confusion or surprise when Cohen refers to a plan to purchase the rights to model Karen McDougal’s story from American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer. AMI, whose chief executive is David Pecker, had signed a $150,000 deal with McDougal in August 2016 for her story but never published it.   “So what do you got to pay for this . . . one-fifty . . .” Trump says. “Yes,” Cohen replies. “Um, and it’s all the stuff.”On Tuesday night, Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani disputed the idea that the recording shows that Trump knew about the McDougal deal.“It doesn’t,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “That’s open to interpretation, and we can have a fight about that.”“To me it sounds like Cohen is explaining something to [Trump] that he doesn’t understand,” Giuliani said, adding: “He doesn’t seem that familiar with anything. There is nothing to indicate he knew anything in advance.”The president’s legal team released the transcript after one of Cohen’s attorneys, Lanny Davis, provided CNN with the audio of the tape — marking a dramatic escalation of rhetoric and turn against Trump by the Cohen camp.Davis told The Post that Cohen, who is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud and election law violations, decided to release the tape “following extensive discussions” with his lawyers.The Cohen team was pushed to act by statements Giuliani had made about Cohen’s role in the conversation, Davis said. “It became necessary to rebut false statements,” he said. “We were not going to let Michael become a punching bag.”

Recording released of Trump and Cohen discussing buying rights to story about Playboy model - An audio recording was made public Tuesday night appearing to feature Donald Trump, while running for president in 2016, talking with his then-attorney Michael Cohen about paying for the rights to a Playboy model’s story about her alleged affair with Trump. CNN released the muddled and roughly three-minute-long tape, saying it had acquired the recording from Cohen’s lawyer Laney Davis. It was not clear whether the recording, which was made in September 2016, had been edited or altered.Trump himself weighed in on the tape Wednesday morning.In a tweet, the president attacked Cohen for taping him, questioned the recording's integrity, and appeared to lament that Cohen recorded conversations with journalists and other clients. What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things? I hear there are other clients and many reporters that are taped - can this be so? Too bad!   In the tape, Cohen can be heard telling Trump that he would “have to pay” for the rights to Karen McDougal’s story about the alleged affair. McDougal sold the rights to her story to American Media, or AMI, which publishes the National Enquirer. The story was never published andMcDougal was released from the contract in April.Cohen told Trump that he plans to set up a company to finance the purchase of the rights from AMI and has consulted Allen Weisselberg — chief financial officer of The Trump Organization — on the process of doing that, according to the recording.AMI, The Trump Organization and the White House didn’t immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. Trump and Cohen also discussed how to pay for the rights in the recording, with Trump heard saying “pay with cash.” It isn’t clear whether he suggested or discouraging paying with cash. A source told CNBC last week that Trump had, in fact, raised the idea of paying McDougal with cash.

Dershowitz: Who Leaked The Trump Tape? - Someone leaked the lawyer/client confidential tape containing a conversation between President Donald J. Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen. A former judge, assigned by the presiding judge to evaluate the seized tapes, reportedly concluded that this conversation was privileged. Yet someone leaked their contents. The President Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, then waived the privilege as to that tape. He said he never would have waived it had its existence and content not been improperly leaked. So, the question remains: Who leaked this privileged material? If it was anyone in the Trump camp, there would be no violation of confidentiality, as the privilege belongs to the client, namely Trump, who can waive it. But no one else, most especially his lawyer, may properly waive the privilege. And Giuliani has categorically denied that it was leaked by Trump or anyone on his behalf. Indeed, he has expressed outrage at the leak. Whom does that leave? Cohen is an obvious suspect, although I am confident that his excellent and experienced lawyer, Lanny Davis, would not have done so. Perhaps Cohen himself, who ran into Michael Avenatti at a restaurant, told him about the tape. We simply do not know. It is unlikely that any judicial or prosecutorial authority is responsible for the leak, because they would have more to lose than to gain if they were caught. The reason this is important to all Americans, beyond the immediate parties to this taped conversation, is that it may well discourage clients, patients, penitents and others from confiding in their lawyers, doctors, priests and the professionals who promise them confidentiality. Cohen promised confidentiality and yet the world heard what his client confided in him. We know he recorded the confidential conversation without the knowledge of his client. That is bad enough. Then it was deliberately leaked by someone who must have believed he or she would reap some benefit or advantage from having the public hear it.  

Cohen Ready To Flip: Will Tell Mueller Trump Knew About Trump Tower Meeting -- President Trump's former longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is prepared to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that then-candidate Donald Trump knew in advance about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya - a Fusion GPS associate who is not a fan of Trump Sr.  Several other individuals were at the meeting, while Cohen has claimed for the first time that he was there too according to a late Thursday report by CNN.   Cohen alleges that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians' offer by Trump Jr. By Cohen's account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians, according to sources.  -CNN    Trump's prior knowledge of the meeting would contradict his own denial, that of his son Trump Jr., and several administration officials who have previously said that the President was unaware of the meeting. Keeping all that in mind, Cohen does not have evidence to support this claim according to CNN - but that he's willing to attest to his account in a bid to "possibly lessen his legal troubles." According to people who have discussed the matter with Cohen, he has expressed hope that this claim about the Trump Tower meeting will help him reach out to Mueller and possibly lessen his legal troubles. He's under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in Manhattan after Mueller referred Cohen's case to them. –CNN    President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said of Cohen: "He's certainly a source that is not credible." On July 12 of last year, Trump said of the Tower meeting he "only heard about it two or three days ago," while one week later repeating that he "didn't know anything about the meeting" because "nobody told me" about it.Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. said during Congressional Testimony last September: "He wasn't aware of it," adding "And, frankly, by the time anyone was aware of it, which was summer of this year, as I stated earlier, I wouldn't have wanted to get him involved in it because it had nothing to do with him."

    Trump Accuses Cohen Of Lying: "I Did NOT Know Of The Meeting" In the latest blockbuster, we learned last night that Cohen had told CNN he was ready to tell Robert Mueller that Trump knew in advance about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya - a Fusion GPS associate who is not a fan of Trump Sr. Trump's prior knowledge of the meeting would contradict his own denial, that of his son Trump Jr., and several administration officials who have previously said that the President was unaware of the meeting.   Cohen does not have evidence to support this claim according to CNN - but that he's willing to attest to his account in a bid to "possibly lessen his legal troubles."  But the real question is what the president himself would say about the meeting: would he confirm that Cohen is right, or dig in?We got the answer today when in a series of tweet, Trump lashed out at yesterday's two big political stories, that Mueller was digging through his tweets, and his alleged knowledge of the Trump tower meeting. This is what he said on the first:  Arrived back in Washington last night from a very emotional reopening of a major U.S. Steel plant in Granite City, Illinois, only to be greeted with the ridiculous news that the highly conflicted Robert Mueller and his gang of 13 Angry Democrats obviously cannot find Collusion the only Collusion with Russia was with the Democrats, so now they are looking at my Tweets (along with 53 million other people) - the rigged Witch Hunt continues! How stupid and unfair to our Country. As for the second, in which he denies knowledge of the meeting while taking an unnamed swipe at Cohen, calling him someone who "is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam…. And so the Fake News doesn’t waste my time with dumb questions, NO,I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!

    In One Year, MSNBC Covered 'Stormy Daniels' 455 Times, 'War In Yemen' 0 ---  Why is the No. 1 outlet of alleged anti-Trump #resistance completely ignoring his most devastating war?  As FAIR has noted before (1/8/18, 3/20/18), to MSNBC, the carnage and destruction the US and its Gulf Monarchy allies are leveling against the poorest country in the Arab world is simply a non-issue. On July 2, a year had passed since the cable network’s last segment mentioning US participation in the war on Yemen, which has killed in excess of 15,000 people and resulted in over a million cases of cholera. The US is backing a Saudi-led bombing campaign with intelligence, refueling, political cover, military hardware and, as of March, ground troops. None of this matters at all to what Adweek (4/3/18) calls “the network of the Resistance,” which has since its last mention of the US’s role in the destruction of Yemen found time to run over a dozen segments highlighting war crimes committed by the Syrian and Russian governments in Syria. By way of contrast, as MSNBC was marking a year without mentioning the US role in Yemen, the PBS NewsHour was running a three-part series on the war, with the second part (7/3/18) headlined, “American-Made Bombs in Yemen Are Killing Civilians, Destroying Infrastructure and Fueling Anger at the US.” The NewsHour’s Jane Ferguson reported:  MSNBC chat show/Starbucks commercial Morning Joe did run one segment (4/25/18) that vaguely mentioned the war on Yemen, but failed to note the US’s role in it at all, much less that Washington is arming and backing the conflict’s primary aggressor. Instead, they did the perverse inversion––previously mastered by Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl (, 6/27/17)—of not only ignoring the US’s major role in killing thousands, but painting the US as a noble haven for refugees. For a bit more context, in the time period of July 3, 2017, to July 3, 2018, MSNBC dedicated zero segments to the US’s war in Yemen, but 455 segments to Stormy Daniels. This isn’t to suggest the Stormy Daniels matter isn’t newsworthy—presidential corruption is per se important. But one has to wonder if this particular thread of venality is 455 stories more important than Trump aggressively supporting a war that’s killing hundreds of people a month, injuring thousands, and subjecting millions to famine and cholera. Did MSNBC editors, poring over the latest academic foreign policy literature, really come to the conclusion Trump’s war in Yemen isn’t important? Or is MSNBC simply fueled by partisan Russia dot-connecting and stories that allow them to say “porn star” as much as possible?

    Cops reportedly planned Stormy Daniels' strip club arrest - The officer who arrested Stormy Daniels at a strip club in Ohio was bragging about the incident and appeared to have planned the whole “sting” operation in advance, it was revealed Wednesday.Leading arrest officer Shana Keckley emailed other cops about the location and time of Daniels’ appearance at the Columbus club — then boasted about the arrest, according to emails obtained by the Fayette Advocate.“You’re Welcome!!!!!” Keckley wrote at 3:50 a.m. on the morning after Daniels’ arrest.“Please Please Don’t post my name on Face Book!! :D Thank me in person later.”Preceding the arrest, Keckley’s emails include news clippings and tweets about Daniels’ upcoming appearance at the club Sirens. One email even has a Google Maps image of the club’s location.Daniels was arrested at the club July 12 for “touching undercover officers.”The charges were dropped by prosecutors just hours later.Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti said the emails provided more evidence that the arrest was politically motivated.“This is extremely disturbing,” he tweeted. “I intend on getting to truth and the bottom of who ordered @StormyDaniels arrested and why. It appears that I was correct when I stated it was politically motivated.”

    FBI releases documents on former Trump adviser surveillance (Reuters) - The FBI on Saturday released documents related to the surveillance of former Trump presidential campaign adviser Carter Page as part of a probe into whether he conspired with the Russian government to undermine the 2016 U.S. election.  The 412 pages, mostly heavily redacted and made public by the Federal Bureau of Investigation late Saturday, included surveillance applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and warrants surrounding the investigation into Page. “The FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government,” the surveillance application filed in October 2016 said. The documents released include applications and renewal warrants filed in 2017 after Trump took office. Page has denied being an agent of the Russian government and has not been charged with any crime.   Earlier Saturday, the New York Times reported it had received a copy from the Justice Department after it and other news organizations had filed suit.  The documents released said “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” Trump’s campaign. It added Page “has established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers.”

    Manafort's bankers, bookkeepers could testify at his trial - Five potential witnesses against Paul Manafort, including accountants and bankers, were identified Monday as a U.S. judge gave the former Trump campaign chairman's lawyers more time to review tens of thousands of documents handed over to them in recent weeks. Among those granted immunity for their testimony are people from Kositzka, Wicks and Co., an accounting firm used by Manafort, and others who appear to have worked for the Federal Savings Bank in Chicago, which provided him with millions of dollars in mortgage loans.  U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III pushed back Manafort's bank- and tax-fraud trial after defense lawyers complained that they didn’t have enough time to review 120,000 pages of documents they received this month from prosecutors working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Ellis said he would have potential jurors fill out written questionnaires on Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Then he will bring them back on July 31 to question them before the lawyers agree on a panel of 12 and four alternates. Ellis warned that he wouldn't allow the trial to touch on areas that have "little to do with the guilt or innocence" of Manafort, but are instead political theatrics. "I'm not in the theater business," Ellis said. The five people granted immunity were: James Brennan, Dennis Raico, Cindy Laporta, Donna Duggan and Conor O'Brien. Laporta works for the accounting firm of Kositzka, Wicks and Co. in Virginia and O'Brien was previously employed there. KWC said in a statement that it prepared individual and business income tax returns for Manafort.

    Clapper: Obama Was Behind The Whole Thing - Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper admitted in a CNN interview Saturday that former President Obama instigated the ongoing investigations into Donald Trump and those in his orbit. Speaking with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Clapper let slip:If it weren’t for President Obama we might not have done the intelligence community assessment that we did that set up a whole sequence of events which are still unfolding today including Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. President Obama is responsible for that. It was he who tasked us to do that intelligence community assessment in the first place.James Clapper admits to Anderson Cooper that Obama set off the sequence of events that led to the Mueller investigation by tasking the intelligence community assessment— ᏢᏒᎥsᏟᎥᏞᏞᎪ’s ᏉᎥᎬᎳ ™️ (@PriscillasView) July 19, 2018Recall in May, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) fired off a letter to the Department of Justice  demanding unredacted versions of text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and former bureau attorney Lisa Page, including one exchange which took place after Strzok had returned from London as part of the recently launched "Operation Crossfire Hurricanereferring to the White House "running" an unknown investigation. Strzok had been in London to interview Australian ambassador Alexander Downer about a drunken conversation with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who - after reportedly being fed information - mentioned Russia having Hillary Clinton's emails.

     A GOP group is digging up dirt on business leaders who could factor in the 2020 White House race - The midterm elections for 2018 are still months away. Yet a Trump-supporting super PAC is already digging up dirt on billionaire executives and Wall Street titans who could be potential opponents for President Donald Trump in the 2020 race for the White House.Super PAC America Rising is gearing up for battle against potential candidates such as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and former Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz, according to people familiar with the plan. Apple CEO Tim Cook, J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Disney CEO Bob Iger and billionaire hedge-fund executive and Democratic donor Tom Steyer are also in its sights.A person close to the PAC's leadership provided CNBC with examples of the types of issues it could exploit. To attack Cuban, the group could use the Mavericks’ being accused of failing to confront a hostile work environment alleged by multiple employees. In response to the accusations, Cuban, who was not accused, said in February he fired his longtime human resources vice president Buddy Pittman and hired a third party to handle any harassment complaints.It could tie Cook to Hillary Clinton, noting he was on the Democratic presidential candidate’s shortlist to be vice president. Other plans include making a case against Schultz’s defense of same-sex marriage and highlighting Iger’s public spat with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., over the minimum wage.Cuban has said he would run as a Republican before he would as a Democrat, although he also said it was more likely he'd run as an independent. Schultz, likewise, has accused Democrats of lurching too far to the left. Beyond Cuban, it's not clear whether any of the business leaders in the group's sights are considering a run.The focus on prospective candidates from the business world will be part of the PAC's larger effort to craft a message to persude voters that those running against Trump can’t be trusted and there is a deep divide on the direction of the Democratic Party and opposition against the president. “These business executives are on our list of people we’re monitoring. We are expanding our tracking and we’ll be implementing the same rapid response system that we used against Hillary Clinton,” said Sarah Dolan, a spokeswoman for the PAC. “These CEOs have been more vocal on public policy than those in the past and we’ll be holding their positions accountable as they take steps to run.”

    Ivanka Trump Is Closing Her Fashion Company --Ivanka Trump is closing her namesake fashion brand, the First Daughter announced in a statement Tuesday, one year after stepping down from her role at the company to take on a position at the White House."After 17 months in Washington, I do not know when or if I will ever return to the business, but I do know that my focus for the foreseeable future will be the work I am doing here in Washington, so making this decision now is the only fair outcome for my team and partners" she said in a statement. While apparel sales at the brand, which Ivanka launched in its current form in 2014, soared in the year of the 2016 presidential election, the company also became a lightning rod for critics of her father’s policies, with several anti-Trump groups last year urging shoppers to boycott stores selling Trump-branded goods. Retailers including Nordstrom and Hudson’s Bay stopped selling Ivanka Trump products in the past 18 months, citing their performance, although her wares products are still available on Amazon. According to the WSJ, Ivanka had contemplated the move in recent months as she grew frustrated by the restrictions she placed on the company, IT Collection LLC, to avoid possible conflicts of interest while serving in the White House. The Ivanka Trump brand sold moderately priced apparel, shoes, handbags and jewelry, such as a $200 pink handbag and $100 black pumps. The company, whose office sits in Trump Tower, in 2014 launched a “Women Who Work” campaign promoting professional women.

    Twitter is “shadow banning” prominent Republicans like the RNC chair and Trump Jr.'s spokesman - Twitter is limiting the visibility of prominent Republicans in search results — a technique known as “shadow banning” — in what it says is a side effect of its attempts to improve the quality of discourse on the platform.The Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniel, several conservative Republican congressmen, and Donald Trump Jr.’s spokesman no longer appear in the auto-populated drop-down search box on Twitter, VICE News has learned. It’s a shift that diminishes their reach on the platform — and it's the same one being deployed against prominent racists to limit their visibility. The profiles continue to appear when conducting a full search, but not in the more convenient and visible drop-down bar. (The accounts appear to also populate if you already follow the person.) Democrats are not being “shadow banned” in the same way, according to a VICE News review. McDaniel’s counterpart, Democratic Party chair Tom Perez, and liberal members of Congress — including Reps. Maxine Waters, Joe Kennedy III, Keith Ellison, and Mark Pocan — all continue to appear in drop-down search results. Not a single member of the 78-person Progressive Caucus faces the same situation in Twitter’s search.“The notion that social media companies would suppress certain political points of view should concern every American,” McDaniel told VICE News in a statement. “Twitter owes the public answers to what’s really going on.”Presented with screenshots of the searches, a Twitter spokesperson told VICE News: “We are aware that some accounts are not automatically populating in our search box and shipping a change to address this.” Asked why only conservative Republicans appear to be affected and not liberal Democrats, the spokesperson wrote: “I'd emphasize that our technology is based on account *behavior* not the content of Tweets.”

    CalPERS Pays $3.4 Million to Dow Jones to Settle Massive Copyright Infringement That We Exposed – Yves Smith - Last year, we exposed the fact that CalPERS had been engaging in massive, systematic theft of copyrighted material for many years, via an in-house website that reproduced the full text of article from major and even minor publications, ranging from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, to your humble blog.We predicted that CalPERS would pay a large settlement to Dow Jones, which has been particularly vigorous in pursuing copyright abuses, and indeed that happened. As Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Maremont tweeted:Update on this — Dow Jones just announced CalPERS paid a $3.4 million settlement for improperly republishing @WSJ and other DJ content.— Mark Maremont (@MarkMaremont) July 25, 2018  From the Dow Jones press release: Dow Jones will receive a total of $3.4 million to settle claims that CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, improperly republished its content, including full-text articles from The Wall Street Journal…As part of the settlement, CalPERS will pay Dow Jones $2 million in cash, and will purchase an additional $1.4 million in products and services from Dow Jones over the next two years. Note that taking part of the settlement as product sales is less of a concession than one might think. The perverse incentives of public ownership mean that subscription growth is more valuable to Dow Jones’ parent, News Corp, than a one-off cash payment.

    LifeLock Bug Exposed Millions of Customer Email Addresses — Identity theft protection firm LifeLock - a company that’s built a name for itself based on the promise of helping consumers protect their identities online - may have actually exposed customers to additional attacks from ID thieves and phishers. The company just fixed a vulnerability on its site that allowed anyone with a Web browser to index email addresses associated with millions of customer accounts, or to unsubscribe users from all communications from the company. The upshot of this weakness is that cyber criminals could harvest the data and use it in targeted phishing campaigns that spoof LifeLock’s brand. Of course, phishers could spam the entire world looking for LifeLock customers without the aid of this flaw, but nevertheless the design of the company’s site suggests that whoever put it together lacked a basic understanding of Web site authentication and security. LifeLock’s Web site exposed customer email addresses by tying each customer account to a numeric “subscriberkey” that could be easily enumerated. Pictured above is customer number 55,739,477. Click to enlarge.Pictured above is a redacted screen shot of one such record (click the image to enlarge). Notice how the format of the link in the browser address bar ends with the text “subscriberkey=” followed by a number. Each number corresponds to a customer record, and the records appear to be sequential. Translation: It would be trivial to write a simple script that pulls down the email address of every LifeLock subscriber. Security firm Symantec, which acquired LifeLock in November 2016 for $2.3 billion, took offline shortly after being contacted by KrebsOnSecurity. According to LifeLock’s marketing literature, the company has more than 55 million customer accounts.

    Your phone company’s shitty security is all that’s standing between you and total digital destruction -Online services increasingly rely on SMS messages for two-factor authentication, which means on the one hand that it's really hard to rip you off without first somehow stealing your phone number, but on the other hand, once someone diverts your SMS messages, they can plunder everythingAnd SMS messages and phone numbers just aren't that well-defended. A scam called "porting out" or "SIM hijacking" or "SIM swapping" allows crooks to steal your phone number by impersonating you to your phone company to report a lost SIM card and asking them to assign your number to a new one. Criminals use information from public sources and breaches to answer security questions, then they have your number assigned to a phone in their control. From there, it's easy to seize control of the lion's share of your accounts. There's a thriving underground market for the kinds of accounts that can be stolen this way, from memorable Instagram usernames to Bitcoin exchange accounts. Thus an entire criminal underground has been spawned to provide services to criminals who want to steal phone numbers. Services like Doxagram will find out the email address and phone number associated with an Instagram account for a fee. T-Mobile employees and other low-waged telcoms workers can make easy money by sharing poorly secured information from their workplace databases with criminals.

    Wall Street’s Derivatives Nightmare: New York Times Does a Shallow Dive -  Pam Martens  ~ The New York Times published a 1300-word shallow dive into the byzantine, globally-interconnected world of financial derivatives in its print edition yesterday. After years of ignoring this seismic problem since it last blew up the U.S. financial system in 2008, what accounts for the New York Times’ newfound interest? We can sum up its 1300 word article using only three letters – – CYA.What frightened the Times into this foray into the dark web of financial derivatives held by the biggest Wall Street banks was a frightening, 111-page deep dive into the subject by Michael Greenberger, a law professor at the University of Maryland’s Carey School of Law. Greenberger knows a thing or two about derivatives, having previously served from 1997 to 1999 as the Director of the Division of Trading and Markets at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) under its head Brooksley Born. That was the period of time when Born fought to regulate over-the-counter derivatives and was sabotaged in her efforts by President Bill Clinton’s cozy attachment to Wall Street’s power and money and by Wall Street sycophants, Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers. Summers would later breeze into Rubin’s slot when Rubin left to join the Board of Citigroup, a major derivatives player. Rubin, who served in a non-management position on the Citigroup Board, would make $120 million in compensation over the next decade, leaving the bank collapsing from its derivatives and off balance sheet debt when he left in 2009. (See Robert Rubin Exorcises Citigroup from His Career in Today’s NYT OpEd.) Citigroup received the largest taxpayer bailout in global financial history, receiving $45 billion in capital from the U.S. Treasury; the Federal government guaranteed over $300 billion of Citigroup’s assets; the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guaranteed $5.75 billion of its senior unsecured debt and $26 billion of its commercial paper and interbank deposits; and the Federal Reserve secretly made a cumulative $2.5 trillion in almost zero interest rate loans to Citigroup from 2007 through at least the middle of 2010, according to an audit by the Government Accountability Office.

    The curious case of the Vatican and credit default swaps - Are credit default swaps harmful to consumers and society at large?  The Vatican reignited a debate on the topic recently when it issued a document chastising the financial services industry for what it said was immoral behavior, specifically calling out credit default swaps, subprime mortgages and algorithmic models used to assess risk and determine prices as unethical products. Regarding credit default swaps, it said "the spread of such a kind of contract without proper limits has encouraged the growth of a finance of chance, and of gambling on the failure of others, which is unacceptable from the ethical point of view." But the Commodity Futures Trading Commission fired back a defense of finance earlier this week, arguing that such products increase the availability of credit and make the system safer.  Although credit default swaps have declined markedly since the days of the financial crisis, the exchange was proof that there remains lingering distrust of them among the public at large.  The crisis helped give CDS a bad rap. AIG Financial Products wrote credit default swaps on more than $500 billion of assets, including $78 billion on collateralized debt obligations. When the CDOs lost value as the underlying mortgages collapsed, AIG had to be bailed out when the financial crisis hit.  In its letter defending credit default swaps, the CFTC said derivatives allow the risks of variable production costs, such as the price of raw materials, energy, foreign currency and interest rates, to be transferred from those who cannot afford them to those who can. For instance, farmers can hedge against their crops.  “Derivative products allow farmers and ranchers to hedge production costs and delivery prices,” wrote the CFTC, which is chaired by Chris Giancarlo, a practicing Roman Catholic. “They are the reason shoppers enjoy stable prices, not only in the supermarket, but in all manner of consumer finance from auto loans to household purchases. Derivatives markets influence the price and availability of heating in homes, energy used in factories, interest rates borrowers pay on home mortgages, and returns workers earn on retirement savings. In short, derivatives stabilize the cost of day-to-day living.”

    Wall Street’s Dark Pools Get a Bonanza Wrapped as Reform by the SEC -- Pam Martens - The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which has had two separate Wall Street lawyers at its helm for the past five years (under both the Wall Street- friendly Obama administration as well as the current Trump administration), has released a 558-page document that attempts to pass itself off as reforming Wall Street’s Dark Pools. Instead, it simply tinkers around the meaningless edges of reform. Dark Pools are trading venues that should not exist in an efficient, transparent and honest securities market. They are effectively unregulated stock exchanges being run internally by some of the biggest Wall Street banks on Wall Street: The same banks (like Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch) that have been serially charged with abusing their customers. Instead of sending their stock trades to the New York Stock Exchange or another independent stock exchange, the big Wall Street banks route the customers’ trades to their internal trading venue – raising enormous conflicts of interests which the SEC fully acknowledges in its rule-making document. The SEC uses the old canard that liquidity will be harmed if it doesn’t continue to allow these outrageous conflicts to exist. As we previously reported (see related articles below), not only is the SEC allowing these Wall Street banks to trade each other’s bank stocks in their Dark Pools, the banks are also being allowed to trade their own bank stock in their own Dark Pool. This is the second time that the Wall Street “regulators” have put on a show of bringing transparency to Dark Pools. On June 2, 2014, Wall Street’s crony self-regulator, FINRA, began reporting three-week old, weekly aggregated trading data to the public. But that aggregated trading data does not allow one to see: if the trades are manipulative, i.e., being made at the open or close or at times when the market is slumping; if the prices at which the stocks are traded in the Dark Pool are away from the market; if one Wall Street bank’s Dark Pool is trading with another bank’s Dark Pool to create a false market; if the Dark Pool is frontrunning its own customers’ orders, and on and on.

    Trump nominee for financial stability agency sought to eliminate it -- This week, the Senate Banking Committee held a confirmation hearing for President Trump’s nominee to lead the Office of Financial Research. The nomination has received little press coverage and the nominee received only a few questions at the confirmation hearing.  But the fact that this nomination is flying under the radar is not surprising. The OFR is arguably the most important piece of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that is never discussed. Despite its lack of public attention, the OFR’s crucial financial stability role demands a leader willing to aggressively execute its lofty mission. Unfortunately, President Trump’s nominee to lead the OFR is more likely to defang and defund the agency than to strengthen it. In its first seven years, the agency developed new financial stability monitoring tools, conducted research on systemic vulnerabilities, assisted the FSOC in the designation process for nonbank SIFIs and advanced global data standards. To be sure, the OFR has struggled to overcome certain headwinds posed by the financial industry and other regulators. The agency has also refrained from using its powerful subpoena authority to obtain data from financial institutions and has allowed the Treasury Department to encroach on some of the agency’s statutory independence. Yet despite some of these difficulties, former OFR Director Richard Berner built up the agency from scratch and made progress towards realizing its mission.But the immediate future of this crucial financial stability resource does not look promising. Under the influence of the Trump administration, the OFR’s budget was cut by 25% and the staff was set to be reduced by 38%. Because the OFR is funded through industry assessments — not government resources — these cuts did not save taxpayers a dime in direct spending. They merely prevent the agency from carrying out its mission. The agency has also ceased publishing certain updates like the Financial Markets Monitor and the general research output has dwindled compared to previous years.  President Trump’s nominee to lead the agency, Dr. Dino Falaschetti, seems like the wrong person to reverse this trend. Falaschetti most recently served as chief economist of the House Financial Services Committee for Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. He was one of the architects of Hensarling’s Financial Choice Act, which was passed by the House in 2017 and would gut key pillars of the Dodd-Frank Act. One of the bill’s provisions is particularly noteworthy given Falaschetti’s nomination: Section 151 of the Choice Act repeals the OFR.

     The hard part of reg relief is just getting started - President Trump's signing of the regulatory relief law in May was a culmination of multiple efforts to enact changes to ease banks' burden. But it also signaled the start of a new chapter: regulatory implementation.The federal bank regulators issued a joint statement earlier this month identifying certain provisions of the law that took effect immediately. They also pinpointed some sections that will require future rulemaking or where they are weighing whether further action is necessary. The banking agencies are considering issuing roughly a dozen different rulemakings in response to the bill spearheaded by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, according to interviews with various regulatory officials. They cover topics ranging from the Volcker Rule to the exam cycle to liquidity requirements That workload pales in comparison to the mammoth undertaking needed to implement the Dodd-Frank Act following its 2010 enactment, but will prolong discussions among policymakers and industry representatives on reforming the post-crisis regulatory regime. In a recent speech, Randal Quarles, vice chairman for supervision at the Fed, said the central bank has begun to develop its approach for setting standards for midsize banks. "The recent legislation requires us to reevaluate how we regulate banks that have between $100 billion and $250 billion in total assets," Quarles said. "In particular, we need to make a tailoring-related decision in the near term: How will we decide which enhanced prudential standards should apply to which firms with total assets between $100 billion and $250 billion?"  Tailoring requirements for banks based on size and activity is a theme running throughout the Crapo bill and will likely help guide the rulemaking phase for the regulatory agencies.“This is very important because they are beginning to recognize the issue of systemic importance . . . and tailoring risk,” said Wayne Abernathy, executive vice president of financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs at the American Bankers Association. “It means you’re focusing much better with where the risks are.” The law included a separate provision that, 18 months after enactment, financial institutions other than bank holding companies are exempt from Dodd-Frank's "company-run" stress test requirements if they have less than $250 billion in assets.In their July 6 statement, the FDIC, Fed and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency took the initial step of confirming that that exemption applies immediately to institutions with less than $100 billion in assets. However, the statement left some analysts wanting more details. That 18-month period is similar to the timeline for banking companies with assets of $100 billion to $250 billion to no longer be considered "systemically important."

    Dodd-Frank is a success story: Progressives, former regulators - — In the face of bank deregulatory efforts by the Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress, a group of progressive lawmakers and former regulators held firm to their support of crisis-era rules Tuesday. “The moral of this story is simple: Without basic government regulation, financial markets just don’t work,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at an event hosted by Americans for Financial Reform.  Warren said the Dodd-Frank Act, the 2010 law that dramatically toughened financial regulation in response to the crisis, "was not perfect, but it moved us in a big step in the right direction.”  The event, which focused on regulatory developments in the 10 years after the crisis, also included remarks by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee. Both he and Warren opposed a recent Senate bill — signed into law by President Trump — that rolled back certain provisions of Dodd-Frank. They were joined by, among others, Sheila Bair, a George W. Bush appointee who ran the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 2006 to 2011; Thomas Hoenig, a former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and a former FDIC vice chairman; and Michael Barr, a former Treasury Department official in the Obama administration. Warren, the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the bureau — created in Dodd-Frank — is a success story. The agency, however, has been dramatically overhauled by the Trump administration under acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney.“We built this agency, we did our best to move it independent of politics,” Warren said. “And the agency has paid off.” She highlighted the nearly $12 billion the agency has returned to consumers, its enforcement of laws to protect seniors, veterans and active-duty military members from being cheated, and its handling of nearly a million consumer complaints through a public database.Bair said before Dodd-Frank, consumer protection was not getting enough attention from federal regulators.“I think it was hugely important to break it off and have a body that was just about protecting consumers in financial services,” Bair said at the event.

    Trump feuds hurting U.S. banking regulators' influence abroad — President Trump's recent comments alienating European allies and continued espousing of protectionist trade positions is hurting Federal Reserve Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles' apparent efforts to lead the G-20-affiliated Financial Stability Board.  The continued tension between Trump and European leaders may also weaken U.S. regulators' influence abroad.  Quarles' names is reportedly being floated by the Treasury Department as a successor to Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, whose term expires in December and who has headed the FSB since 2011. There are currently no U.S. leaders of international financial standard-setting bodies. Such a role would give the U.S. more sway over the body, and also may make the U.S. more inclined to follow FSB recommendations.  But Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics, said that the president’s recent comments may have hurt Quarles’ chances of leading the FSB as well as U.S. officials' ability to influence or shape international discussions on bank regulation.“The trade war and the rhetoric surrounding it has far-reaching implications, not only for the ability of Americans to head global decision-making bodies, but even to be listened to on them,” Petrou said.That could have dire consequences for banks, particularly large international institutions, as they seek to coordinate and harmonize regulations abroad.   Neither the Fed nor Treasury would confirm Quarles' nascent bid to head the board, but he made something of a gesture to fellow regulators on the FSB in a speech last month when he praised the work of the board and said it is vital to U.S. and international financial stability and commerce. “I believe America's active participation in the FSB is important to our nation, and even, as remote as it might seem, relevant to your businesses,” Quarles told a group of bankers in Utah. “If the FSB had been in place before the crisis and working on identifying and assessing vulnerabilities to financial stability, that may have allowed us to take action at an earlier stage, frame our response with more information, and possibly mitigate some of the devastating consequences.”  In April, Quarles rebuked some members of his own party by emphasizing the importance of international bodies for establishing minimum standards in financial regulation and cautioning against abandoning those groups for protectionist reasons.

    Multimillion-dollar award against PwC is window into typically secret auditor settlements - A federal judge’s decision on Monday that global audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP must pay $625 million to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation provides a rare look into the typically secret settlements between global audit firms and bankruptcy trustees. Judge Barbara Rothstein’s decision in the case of Colonial BancGroup Inc. and the FDIC v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, is the largest ever judgment against an audit firm in the United States. It will compensate the FDIC for its losses as the receiver of Colonial, a crisis-era bankruptcy.  The only reason the public knows about this $625 million whack back at PwC for an allegedly negligent audit is because the FDIC is restricted by law from agreeing to a confidential settlement. That’s not the case with private plaintiffs. On a regular basis, bankruptcy courts and trustees — and their attorneys — cooperate with Big 4 global audit firms and their defense attorneys to hide the size of the settlements in high profile multibillion-dollar bankruptcy cases from public view. PwC was the auditor of Colonial Bank Group and the judge said in January that PwC “did not design its [Colonial Bank] audits to detect fraud and PwC’s failure to do so constitutes a violation of the auditing standards.” TBW and Colonial Bank collapsed in 2009, after federal regulators found a $3 billion fraud involving fake mortgage assets. Several executives from both firms went to prison.Money-losing investors, and receivers like bankruptcy trustees and the FDIC, bring the largest global audit firms — PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young — to court quite often. However, the Big 4 rarely went to trial in the past. All that changed in the last two years when PwC went to trial for three different multibillion-dollar cases that came close to delivering jury verdicts.

    Former Equifax employee pleads guilty to insider trading -- Sudhakar Reddy Bonthu, a former software development manager who was involved in assisting in Equifax’s response to the breach, pleaded guilty in federal court in Atlanta to a single insider trading count, prosecutors said. Bonthu, 44, is one two former Equifax employees who federal prosecutors have accused of seeking to profit by trading on confidential information related to the cyber attack before the company disclosed the data breach last September. Equifax fired Bonthu in March after he refused to cooperate with an internal investigation, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which has reached a related settlement with him. Equifax has said it was cooperating with authorities. From May to July 2017, hackers gained access to Equifax databases, allowing them to acquire the names, Social Security numbers, birthdates and addresses for millions of people, according to the government. Atlanta-based Equifax began investigating the breach in July 2017 after discovering the suspicious activity, and by August had determined that consumers’ data had likely been stolen, prosecutors alleged. According to prosecutors, by Aug. 30, 2017, Bonthu knew that information from at least 100 million individuals had been exposed due to the breach. The next day, he received an email with a file attached that included Equifax’s stock ticker symbol in its name, prosecutors said. After determining that Equifax had been breached, Bonthu bought put options in its stock using his wife’s brokerage account prior to the announcement, allowing him to profit when the company’s stock price dropped, according to prosecutors. Equifax disclosed the breach on Sept. 7, 2017, after the market closed. Its stock price dropped the next day, and Bonthu made a profit of more than $75,000, according to charging documents. 

     Private Pension Product, Sold by Felon, Wipes Investors Out - Scott Kohn, a 64-year-old felon, ran a company from a Nevada strip-mall mailbox that investors claim took them for more than $100 million in losses.Mr. Kohn’s company, Future Income Payments, appears shut, according to court filings. His investors are likely to be wiped out, according to lawyers representing them, who plan to sue scores of firms that sold Future Income products as soon as this week. At least 25 states have taken enforcement actions or are investigating the company, it said in April.The blow-up shines a light on the boom in opaque private markets, to which investors have flocked in the hope of doing better than they can in traditional stock and bond markets.Private-market products, including the ones offered by Future Income, are frequently sold by financial advisers. Sales targets are often retirees looking to beat the anemic returns on bonds and other savings products.Future Income essentially sold investors other people’s pensions. Mr. Kohn’s firm would find workers entitled to pension payments and temporarily buy the rights to those payments—effectively lending the beneficiaries money against their future pension income in what is called a “pension advance.” Then, Future Income would sell the rights to investors for a lump sum. An investor might put up $100,000 in exchange for an income of 7% for five years, for example. But Future Income’s apparent collapse has left investors stranded. The company is no longer collecting the pension money that funds its own payments to investors, according to court documents. Mr. Kohn couldn’t be reached for comment. It isn’t clear if he has a lawyer. Unlike publicly traded investments, there are few rules on how pension advances can be sold or by whom. “They illustrate the problems with the financial services industry selling opaque, high-commission private investments,” says Joe Peiffer, a New Orleans-based plaintiffs’ lawyer representing some purchasers of Future Income’s products. “We have clients who were advised to cash in their pensions and refinance their homes to buy these things.”

    How Is This Shit Legal? - This past spring, Michael Ferro resigned as chairman of publicly traded media-looting hell-company Tronc, Inc., just ahead of the publication ofsexual harassment allegations against him. As a parting gift, Tronc paid him $15 million, voluntarily bundling up the total value of a three-year consulting contract into one lump payment expensed against the company’s earnings and putting itself $14.8 million in the red for the first quarter. Today, Tronc gutted the New York Daily News, laying off at least half of its editorial staff to cut costs. In a society not crippled and driven completely insane by capitalism, motherfuckers would go to prison for this. When people talk pejoratively about “class warfare,” they almost never are referring to things like the above sequence of events. But what happened to the Daily News at the hands of Tronc is class fucking warfare, a massive redistribution of wealth from the paper’s working people to a disgusting handsy shitbag multimillionaire, in a decision made far above those working people’s heads by a small handful of executive- and investor-class vampires. The journalists who lost their livelihoods today in effect had their salaries and benefits re-routed to Michael Ferro’s bank accounts. Against their wills, they were made to pay him for being a fucking pig. Versions of this are happening all across the media industry: Ownership parasites writing checks to themselves and each other that must be cashed out of the livelihoods of real people with no say in the matter. Deadspin’s parent company, Univision, recently bought out dozens of people across our network of sister sites—originally they’d intended layoffs, before negotiating with our union—not because we’re doing unprofitable work, but simply as a means of passing along the outrageous debt the company’s owners took on when they purchased Gizmodo Media Group in the first place. Next they’ll sell us off—altogether or piecemeal, as best suits their wallets and nothing else. It is, pretty much exactly, the Fuck you, pay me!sequence from Goodfellas, playing out in real time.

    Legal industry scores victory over CFPB in debt collection battle - A recent court ruling has dealt a blow to efforts by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to limit law firms' involvement in the debt collection process. According to the decision, the agency had failed to prove that a Cleveland law firm, Weltman, Weinberg & Reis, had engaged in illegal debt collection practices harming consumers by sending them demand letters on law firm letterhead. The CFPB has in the past worried that banks use law firms to intimidate consumers into thinking they could be sued, even if the firm had no direct knowledge of the consumer's situation. But the ruling out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio is seen as limiting the regulatory risk for law firms to get involved, and for banks that hire them to collect debts. "Attorneys are unique in the debt collection process. They are highly regulated by state laws and it is not the role of a federal regulator to set standards for how attorneys practice in the debt collection space," said Joann Needleman, at attorney at Clark Hill. 

    In a twist, Mulvaney now defending CFPB enforcement powers - In contrast to acting Director Mick Mulvaney's pro-industry, deregulatory stances, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has lately wielded a lot more of its regulatory clout.The agency has accelerated enforcement actions against a mix of companies, upholding findings that originated in the Obama administration. And in a twist, the Mulvaney-led bureau — which has tried to undercut its own power — is proactively defending the CFPB's constitutionality as it targets firms.“With a few notable exceptions, the bureau is actually in the same place from a litigation perspective that it was before Mulvaney took the reins," said Richard Gottlieb, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. "Mulvaney's approach has been to defend the CFPB's constitutionality by ratification." During the first seven months of Mulvaney's tenure, the CFPB had issued just one enforcement action, handing out the largest bank fine ever against Wells Fargo for failures in its auto lending and mortgage businesses.But since mid-June, the bureau has averaged about one public enforcement action a week, totaling five in that span. The most recent was last week, when the CFPB announced a $30 million settlement with TCF Financial related to overdraft charges. Banks and financial firms had hoped Mulvaney would drop most of the roughly 50 lawsuits and probes — of which about half are in active litigation — that he inherited upon taking the reins in November. But the court docket shows the CFPB has largely kept cases open or tried to resolve them. After initially freezing all enforcement actions, Mulvaney now is trying to clear cases so the agency can move forward with new enforcement actions.

    States still call the shots on subprime lending -- On Tuesday, the Ohio House of Representatives passed by a margin of 60 to 24 a bill that would cap payments on 90-day loans at around 7% of the borrower’s net income. The bill has already been passed the state Senate, and consumer advocates are hopeful that Republican Gov. John Kasich will sign it into law.  A great deal of attention has been paid to the fight in Washington over the fate of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s payday loan rule, as acting Director Mick Mulvaney stymies the actions of the agency’s previous leadership. But away from the spotlight, battles that may prove to be more consequential are unfolding in state legislatures around the country.Some states are tightening the rules on high-cost loans, while others are loosening them. In both cases, their actions are making a major impact on the ground.Prior to the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, small-dollar credit to consumers who didn’t qualify for bank loans was regulated exclusively in state capitals, which were the site of fierce lobbying campaigns by payday lenders. The 2010 law was widely expected to shift power to Washington, D.C., by authorizing the CFPB to enact nationwide rules.The CFPB’s arrival did help to reshape the terms of long-running legislative debates from Tallahassee to Sacramento, but small-dollar lenders have continued to square off with consumer advocates in state capitals.Earlier this year in California, a measure that would have banned high-cost consumer installment loans ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 fell just short of the votes needed to pass the state Assembly. In Ohio, where small-dollar lenders charge some of the highest interest rates in the country, even opponents of the pending legislation acknowledged that some reform is necessary. But they argued that the bill passed earlier this month by the Ohio Senate will force many small-dollar lenders to shut down.

    FHFA to write credit score rule rather than pick alternative score for GSEs -  The Federal Housing Finance Agency is suspending its ongoing review of new credit scoring models and will instead move forward with creating a regulatory framework for providers of alternative credit scores to apply and be evaluated for use by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.A section of the regulatory reform bill signed by President Trump in May requires the FHFA to define, through rulemaking, the standards and criteria Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will use to validate credit scoring models.Before that legislation became law, the FHFA had begun evaluating whether it should require the agencies to switch to the latest scoring model from Fair Isaac Corp., FICO 9, and/or allow the use of competitor VantageScore's latest model, 3.0. The FHFA had given itself a deadline of the end of this year to decide on new scores. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac currently use the older FICO 5 model. VantageScore is a joint venture of the credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion

      Ginnie Mae nominee deflects questions over GSE reform proposal — President Trump’s nominee to head Ginnie Mae appeared to distance himself Tuesday from a 2016 paper he co-wrote on reforming the housing finance system, telling senators that he “hasn’t thought about that paper in two years.” Michael Bright, now Ginnie Mae's acting president and CEO, drafted the paper with former Federal Housing Finance Agency acting Director Ed DeMarco when both were fellows at the Milken Institute. It proposed placing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in receivership, and establishing Ginnie Mae, as a standalone entity separate from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to provide a backstop for mortgage-backed securities. But Bright told members of the Senate Banking Committee that he does not intend to advance those proposals in his position, but rather to focus on the day-to-management of the housing agency.

    House passes flood insurance extension with deadline fast approaching - —The House passed a four-month extension to the National Flood Insurance Program Tuesday, just one week before the program is set to expire. However, the Senate will need to pass the extension as well. In June, the Senate passed a farm bill that included a six-month extension to the program. Congress has until July 31 to renew the program or risk a lapse in coverage, which would complicate closings for lenders and real estate agents. The National Association of Realtors estimates that should the program lapse, there would be 40,000 fewer home sales per month.

    Fair-lending doctrines could take beating from conservative court - The industry lost a Supreme Court battle in 2015 protecting the use of "disparate impact" in housing discrimination cases, but legal observers see potential for the fair-lending tide to turn if Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the high court.The 2015 ruling, related to how Texas awards housing tax credits, bolstered the legal standard under the Fair Housing Act that lenders can be punished for a discriminatory result they did not intend.But the court has yet to resolve questions on two other topics related to fair lending that experts say could have more favorable results for banks if the Supreme Court moves even further rightward with the addition of Kavanaugh.One deals with whether disparate impact applies to cases argued under a different law, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The other involves whether cities and other jurisdictions can claim damages, such as lost tax revenue or foreclosure-related costs, from lending policies alleged to have harmed minority borrowers."To the extent that you have a more liberal judge, they are more likely to say that disparate impact is fully applicable under ECOA," said Rod Alba, senior vice president for mortgage finance at the American Bankers Association. "To the extent that you have a more conservative judge, they are more likely to rule that disparate impact does not apply under ECOA." But the other question, regarding cities arguing that a bank's discriminatory lending practice was a "proximate cause" of injury, may come up sooner with at least three different lawsuits moving through lower courts.

    New York, accused of neglect, to spend $2B on public housing (AP) — The nation's largest public housing agency will pay billions of dollars to settle claims that it used dirty tricks like building fake walls to hide problems from inspectors and lied about lead paint conditions to mask risks to low-income residents and their children, federal prosecutors said Monday. The accusations stemmed from an investigation that found widespread mismanagement at the New York City Housing Authority, known as NYCHA, which has received thousands of complaints each year about broken elevators, insufficient heat, mold and infestations of rats and cockroaches. The agency "engaged in a culture of false statements and concealment" when filing reports required to secure federal housing subsidies, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berma said. "The culture of NYCHA is to blame. The management of NYCHA is to blame." The city agreed in a consent decree in Manhattan federal court to pay $1 billion over four years and an additional $200 million annually for the following six years. The deal also calls for the appointment of a monitor to oversee the housing authority during the 10-year span of the agreement. The settlement came in response to a civil complaint that zeroed in on what it portrayed as the agency's indifference to the risk of lead paint poisoning children, saying, it "knows that there is lead paint within apartment units in roughly thirty percent of its developments, but has failed — and continues to fail — to protect its residents from that paint when it peels and crumbles." 

     States ramp up licensing for mortgage servicers -- The limited number of places where mortgage servicers can operate without a license is getting even smaller due to state regulators' growing concerns about Consumer Financial Protection Bureau deregulation and the increased market share of nonbanks.As recently as 2016, more than a dozen states did not require nonbank to have a specific license for mortgage servicing, according to a report that year by the Government Accountability office.But today, all but four states impose one or more requirements on industry firms that can include a general mortgage license that covers servicing, a standalone servicing license, or a general debt collection license."I would say there's momentum in licensing in the last year and a half and I would say it's building up a head of steam," said Stephen Ornstein, a partner at law firm Alston & Bird. Both Pennsylvania and Oregon added new servicer licenses this year. The Keystone State's licensing in particular appears positioned to "address fears that federal mortgage servicing enforcement may be reduced," on the federal level, according to a report by law firm Reed Smith earlier this year.

    Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Decreased in June --Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in June was 0.82%, down from 0.87% in May. Freddie's rate is down from 0.85% in June 2017.Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.This is the lowest serious delinquency for Freddie Mac since April 2008. These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  The increase in the delinquency rate late last year was due to the hurricanes - no worries about the overall market (These are serious delinquencies, so it took three months late to be counted). After the hurricane bump, maybe the rate will decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.5% to 0.8% range - but this is close to a bottom.

    Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Increased Slightly in June  --From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: June Sees Fewest Foreclosure Starts in Over 17 Years; Active Foreclosure Inventory Falls Below 300,000 for First Time Since Q3 2006

    • Foreclosure starts fell another 3.1 percent in June for the lowest single-month total in more than 17 years
    • Active foreclosures continued to decline as well, falling below 300,000 for the first time in nearly 12 years
    • The inventory of loans in active foreclosure has fallen 30 percent (-119k) over the past 12 months
    • Delinquencies edged seasonally upward in June, but remain 1.59 percent below last year’s levels
    • After rising following the 2017 hurricane season, 90-day delinquencies hit a new post-recession low
    According to Black Knight's First Look report for June, the percent of loans delinquent increased 2.7% in June compared to May, and decreased 1.6% year-over-year.
    The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 4.5% in June and were down 30.0% over the last year.
    Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.74% in June, up from 3.64% in May.
    The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased in June to 0.56%.
    The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is down 7,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 119,000 properties year-over-year.

    Mortgage foreclosures at lowest level in over a decade: Black Knight - Mortgage foreclosure starts and active foreclosures were at their lowest level in over a decade although there was an increase in new delinquencies in June, according to Black Knight. Mortgage delinquencies increased by 2.71% in June from the previous month, a typical seasonal rise in the rate, the Black Knight First Look report said. May's rate was 3.64%.Delinquency rates rose over the fall and winter months, but that in some measure was attributed to borrowers affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma being unable to pay their mortgages.There were 3.74% of outstanding mortgages 30 days or more late on payments but not yet in foreclosure in June. This was down 1.59% compared with June 2017's 3.8%In 2017, there was a 0.12% increase in the delinquency rate between May and June. There are now 1.925 million properties that are delinquent on their mortgage, up 58,000 from May but down 7,000 from one year ago. The number of properties 90 days or more late on their mortgage was at a post-recession low, Black Knight said. This category peaked following last fall's hurricanes. In June, there were 548,000 properties 90 days or longer late on their mortgage payment but not yet in foreclosure, down 20,000 from May and 7,000 from June 2017. There were 43,500 foreclosure starts in June, down 3.12% from May and 23% from June 2017. That is the lowest single-month total in over 17 years. Active foreclosures fell below 300,000 for the first time in nearly 12 years, to 291,000 properties. This was down 12,000 from May and 119,000 from June 2017. Mississippi had the higher percentage of noncurrent mortgages (both delinquent and foreclosed mortgages) at 9.7% and of mortgages 90 days or more delinquent at 2.92%. Meanwhile, Florida had the largest improvement in the percentage of noncurrent mortgages, over 39%, followed by Texas at 26.31% and Louisiana at 21.89%, a sign that the hurricane-related mortgage delinquencies are curing and working their way out of the system.

    New rule to stop refi churning creates VA loan limbo - As regulators move forward with policy changes designed to curb so-called refinance churning of Department of Veterans Affairs-insured mortgages, concerns have surfaced about the fate of loans originated during the transition period.The Department of Housing and Urban Development's interpretive rule on the recently enacted Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act includes a number of useful clarifications about how the law will be implemented. But a "technical snag" stands to "orphan" a subset of VA loans by excluding them from Ginnie Mae securities, according to Dan Fichtler, director of housing finance policy at the Mortgage Bankers Association. In short, Fichtler said, VA loans originated before the law was enacted that don't meet the new requirements can't be included in new Ginnie Mae securities. However, similarly situated VA loans that have already been securitized can be included in Ginnie Mae multiclass securities. "Our concern is that this is really having an unintended consequence that upon our reading of the statute, HUD's determination just doesn't sync up with what seems to be the congressional intent here. If we can get a fix to this problem, we think this will really go a long way towards helping the situation," Fichtler said in an interview.

    MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased Slightly in Latest Weekly Survey -- From the MBA: Mortgage Application Activity and Rates Nearly Flat in Latest MBA Weekly SurveyMortgage applications decreased 0.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending July 20, 2018.... The Refinance Index increased 1 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent from one week earlier.  The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 2 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) remained unchanged at 4.77 percent, with points decreasing to 0.45 from 0.46 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

    Mortgage Rates at Top of Recent Range --From Matthew Graham at Mortgage News Daily: Mortgage Rates Surge to 1-Month Highs Mortgage rates rose today at the quickest pace in months, ultimately hitting the highest levels since June 25th for the average lender. While neither of those are "fun" facts for fans of low rates, they are made slightly more palatable by the nature of the recent range.Specifically, rates hadn't moved very much since late June. The average mortgage seeker will not have seen a change in their quoted interest rate during that time (the only adjustments have been to upfront closing costs/credits). The point is that it didn't require a huge move to be able to say "highest in a month" or "fastest pace in months." [30YR FIXED - 4.625% - 4.75%]

    FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.2% in May, Worse Than Forecast - The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for May. Here is the opening of the report:. – U.S. house prices rose in May, up 0.2 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) seasonally adjusted monthly House Price Index (HPI). The previously reported 0.1 percent increase in April was revised upward to 0.2 percent. [Read more] The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.

    California May Home Sales Dip Year Over Year As Median Price Sets New Record - California May home sales rose from April - a seasonal norm - but fell slightly year over year as the median price paid for a Golden State home climbed to an all-time high of $500,000. An estimated [1] 44,882 new and existing houses and condos sold statewide in May 2018, up 11.4 percent from 40,287 sales in April 2018 and down 1.1 percent from 45,385 sales in May 2017, CoreLogic public records data show (Figure 1). The average change in sales between April and May since 2000 is an increase of 6.8 percent. May 2018 sales were 9.0 percent below the average number of homes sold in May since 2000. The median price paid for all new and existing houses and condos sold across California in May 2018 rose to an all-time high of $500,000, up 3.1 percent from $485,000 in April 2018 and up 8.7 percent from $460,000 in May 2017. The state’s prior record median was $486,500 in May 2007 (Figure 2). Adjusted for inflation, the May 2018 median remained 13.7 percent below its March 2007 peak. The state’s median sale price has risen year over year for 75 consecutive months, since March 2012. In the six-county Southern California [2] region a total of 22,874 new and existing houses and condos sold in May 2018, up 10.2 percent month over month from 20,752 sales in April 2018 and down 3.4 percent year over year from 23,671 sales in May 2017. The May 2018 median sale price rose to an all-time high of $530,000, up 1.9 percent month over month from $520,000 in April 2018, and up 8.2 percent year over year from $490,000 in May 2017. Adjusting for inflation, however, the May 2018 median sale price remained 10.9 percent below its July 2007 peak. In the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, [3] a total of 8,467 new and existing houses and condos sold in May 2018, up 12.1 percent month over month from 7,555 sales in April 2018 and up 0.8 percent year over year from 8,398 sales in May 2017. The median sale price rose to an all-time high of $875,000 in May 2018, up 2.9 percent month over month from $850,000 in April 2018, and up 15.9 percent year over year from $755,000 in May 2017. The Bay Area’s May 2018 median was an all-time high even after adjusting for inflation. 

    Southern California home sales crash, a warning sign to the nation - Southern California home sales hit the brakes in June, falling to the lowest reading for the month in four years. Sales of both new and existing houses and condominiums dropped 11.8 percent year-over-year, as prices shot up to a record high, according to CoreLogic. The report covers Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. Sales fell 1.1 percent compared with May, but the average change from May to June, going back to 1988, is a 6 percent gain. The weakness was especially apparent in sales of newly built homes, which were 47 percent below the June average. Part of that is that builders are putting up fewer homes, so there is simply less to sell. “A portion of last month’s year-over-year sales decline reflects one less business day for deals to be recorded compared with June 2017,” noted Andrew LePage, a CoreLogic analyst. “But affordability and inventory constraints are likely the main culprits in last month’s sales slowdown, which applied to all six of the region’s counties and across most of the major price categories.” The median price paid for all Southern California homes sold in June was a record $536,250, according to CoreLogic, a 7.3 percent increase compared to June of 2017. While part of that is due to a mix shift, since there are fewer lower-priced homes for sale, it is becoming increasingly clear that fewer buyers are able to play in the higher price ranges. ”

    NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decline in June, Inventory UP Year-over-year -From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Subside 0.6 Percent in June  Existing-home sales decreased for the third straight month in June, as declines in the South and West exceeded sales gains in the Northeast and Midwest, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The ongoing supply and demand imbalance helped push June’s median sales price to a new all-time high. Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, decreased 0.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million in June from a downwardly revised 5.41 million in May. With last month’s decline, sales are now 2.2 percent below a year ago....Total housing inventory at the end of June climbed 4.3 percent to 1.95 million existing homes available for sale, and is 0.5 percent above a year ago (1.94 million) – the first year-over-year increase since June 2015. Unsold inventory is at a 4.3-month supply at the current sales pace (4.2 months a year ago).

    Existing-Home Sales Down Again in June --This morning's release of the June Existing-Home Sales decreased from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million units. The consensus was for 5.46 million. The latest number represents a 0.6% decrease from the previous month and a 2.2% decrease year-over-year.Here is an excerpt from today's report from the National Association of Realtors.Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings inched backwards in June and fell on an annual basis for the fourth straight month. “There continues to be a mismatch since the spring between the growing level of homebuyer demand in most of the country in relation to the actual pace of home sales, which are declining,” he said. “The root cause is without a doubt the severe housing shortage that is not releasing its grip on the nation’s housing market. What is for sale in most areas is going under contract very fast and in many cases, has multiple offers. This dynamic is keeping home price growth elevated, pricing out would-be buyers and ultimately slowing sales.” [Full Report] For a longer-term perspective, here is a snapshot of the data series, which comes from the National Association of Realtors. The data since January 1999 was previously available in the St. Louis Fed's FRED repository and is now only available from January 2018. It can be found here.

    Existing Home Sales Suffer Worst Losing Streak Since 2014, Price Hits Record High - Following last month's disappointing starts/permits data and home sales prints, hope was high for a June rebound but they are gravely disappointed. Existing home sales tumbled 0.6% MoM (vs expectations of a 0.2% rise) and even worse, it's off a downwardly revised May print of 0.7% MoM, with median home price hitting a record high $276k. This is the first 3-in-a-row decline for existing home sales since Jan 2014... Existing Home Sales SAAR is almost at its weakest since Jan 2016... Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings inched backwards in June and fell on an annual basis for the fourth straight month. “There continues to be a mismatch since the spring between the growing level of homebuyer demand in most of the country in relation to the actual pace of home sales, which are declining,” he said. “The root cause is without a doubt the severe housing shortage that is not releasing its grip on the nation’s housing market. What is for sale in most areas is going under contract very fast and in many cases, has multiple offers. This dynamic is keeping home price growth elevated, pricing out would-be buyers and ultimately slowing sales.” The median existing-home price for all housing types in June was $276,900, surpassing last month as the new all-time high and up 5.2% from June 2017 ($263,300). June’s price increase marks the 76th straight month of year-over-year gains. Homebuilder stocks have generally drifted lower with the dismal data but have yet to take the next leg lower... 

    A Few Comments on June Existing Home Sales Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decline in June, Inventory UP Year-over-year -- The big story in the monthly existing home report was that inventory was UP year-over-year for the first time since 2015.  I've write more about this. A few key points:
    1) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer to the NAR report than the consensus. See:Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in April.   The consensus was for sales of 5.45 million SAAR, Lawler estimated the NAR would report 5.35 million SAAR in June, and the NAR actually reported 5.38 million.
    2) Inventory is still very low, but increased 0.5% year-over-year (YoY) in June. This was the 1st year-over-year increase since June 2015, following 36 consecutive months with a year-over-year decline in inventory.
    The following graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).Sales NSA in June (570,000, red column) were  below sales in June 2017 (600,000, NSA). Sales NSA through June (first six months) are down about 2.2% from the same period in 2017. This is a small decline - but it is possible there has been an impact from higher interest rates and / or the changes to the tax law (eliminating property taxes write-off, etc).

    New Home Sales decrease to 631,000 Annual Rate in June - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in June were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 631 thousand. The previous three months were revised down, combined. "Sales of new single-family houses in June 2018 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 631,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 5.3 percent below the revised May rate of 666,000, but is 2.4 percent above the June 2017 estimate of 616,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. New Home Sales, Months of SupplyThe months of supply increased in June to 5.7 months from 5.3 months in May. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is also somewhat low. The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In June 2018 (red column), 57 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 56 thousand homes were sold in June. The all time high for June was 115 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for June was 28 thousand in 2010 and in 2011. This was below expectations of 669,000 sales SAAR, and the previous months were revised down, combined.

    Mortgage application volume flattens around tepid new-home sales - Mortgage applications fell again as the dearth of new and existing housing inventory continues to take a toll on the market. The overall index stayed mostly static with a 0.2% decline after dropping 2.5% last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The seasonally adjusted and unadjusted purchase index both decreased 1% from one week earlier. It stands at 2% higher on a year-over-year basis.While total applications fell again, the refinance index rose 1% for the week ending July 20. The refinance share of application activity went to 36.8% from 36.5% as it continues to gradually dig out of the 18-year low from two weeks ago. "The refinance index increased for the second straight week as the 30-year fixed rate stayed flat, but this uptick was once again driven entirely by conventional refis, which increased 1.8% compared to a 3.8% drop in government refis. Purchase apps decreased 1% to their lowest level since May, as tight inventory continues to hold back home buying, but the index remained 2.2% higher than a year ago," Joel Kan, the MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a press release. The latest report from the U.S. Census Bureau corroborates the weakness in overall application activity, showing tepid new-home sales last month. "New-home sales for June came in well below expectations, highlighting the slight weakening the housing market has experienced so far this year. Not enough residential investment, and added pressures from the lack of new and existing inventory on the market, have contributed to this ongoing flattening of sales despite the robust economy," said Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater in a statement. Adjustable-rate loan activity increased to 6.3% from 6.1% of total applications. The share of applications for Federal Housing Administration-guaranteed loans fell to 9.9% from 10.6%, Veterans Affairs-guaranteed loans held at 10.2% and U.S. Department of Agriculture/Rural Development bumped back up to 0.8% from 0.7%.The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) remained at 4.77%. The average for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with jumbo loan balances (greater than $453,100) increased to 4.72% from 4.66%.The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the FHA stayed unchanged at 4.78%. The average for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages stepped up to 4.23% from 4.22%.The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dropped 3 basis points to 4.09%.

    New Home Sales Tumble To 8-Month Lows Despite Price Plunge - With mortgage refis hovering at their lowest level since Dec 2000 (and new home mortgage apps down 9% YoY), and US housing data broadly disappointing all year, expectations were for new home sales to follow existing home sales lower (especially after its surprise jump last month). New Home Sales spiked 6.7% MoM in May (a big positive surprise and most since Nov 2017) but June was expected to see a reversion with a 3.1% MoM drop. But it was far worse - not only did June's 6.7% surge get revised lower to just 3.9%, but June tumbled 5.3% MoM (well below expectations). This is the biggest MoM drop in New Home Sales since Dec 2017... and this follows a plunge in Housing Starts in June. This is the weakest SAAR new home sales print since Oct 2017... And worse still, the median price tumbled to $302,100 (a big drop from $309,700) and the lowest since February 2017 - still not encouraging buyers to step up. But the market remains notably bifurcated as 18% of new homes sold in June cost more than $500,000, up from 17% prior month. Demand weakened in three of four U.S. regions, including a 7.7 percent drop in the South, the largest area. The decline in sales left 301,000 homes available nationwide in June, the most since March 2009. Refis are down 30% YoY... And housing macro data has been disappointing all year - dragging homebuilder stocks with it... And homebuilder stocks are tumbling after this latest disappointment...

    A blockbuster new home sales report confirms that housing has turned flat this year -  This morning's new home sales report was the kind of stunning reversal which shows why I do not follow it nearly as closely as the much less volatile single family permits.  Today's number of 631 thousand was a nine-month low. Further, May's original figure of 689 thousand units was revised down by almost -4% to 666 thousand. Last November, at 712 thousand, now stands out as the high water mark. The first two quarters of this year were flat, and were below both the 4th quarter of last year, and the high point of the three month rolling average is last November through this January. Finally, the number of houses *for sale,* i.e., inventory, rose slightly to a new expansion high. In short, new home sales, as revised, have now confirmed the sideways movement in single family permits. Since FRED hasn't updated its numbers yet, here is the graph from the Census Bureau:  Here is the most recent FRED quarterly graph of new home sales (blue), single family permits (red), and single family starts (green): I'll update once FRED does.For good measure, the other most positive measure of the housing market, purchase mortgage applications, declined slightly again this week.  Here's a graph of this (from over the past few years: Note that purchase mortgage applications also look like they are at least flattening, if not rolling over.  The 4 week YoY comparison has declined from +7% a year ago, to +4% early this year, down to +2% now.Although I obviously can't say for sure, most likely Friday's GDP report, which will include quarterly private residential construction, will probably also reflect his trend. I'll update then, but this morning's report is close to a blockbuster, because it confirms the message of other, less volatile measures: the housing market has gone sideways this year.

    A few Comments on June New Home Sales - New home sales for June were reported at 631,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). This was below the consensus forecast, and the three previous months, combined, were revised down.  Sales in June were up 2.4% year-over-year compared to June 2017.   This was weak YoY growth, especially since was a fairly easy comparison since new home sales were soft in mid-year 2017. There have been several articles recently about a weaker housing market (see: Has the Housing Market Peaked? (Part 2)).  However I expect new home sales and single family starts will increase further over the next couple of years. If new home sales weaken further this year, I'd be a more concerned.  But so far, the growth in new home sales in 2018 is about what I expected. This graph shows new home sales for 2017 and 2018 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). Sales are up 6.9% through June compared to the same period in 2017. Decent growth so far, and the next two months will be an easy comparison to 2017.This is on track to be close to my forecast for 2018 of 650 thousand new home sales for the year; an increase of about 6% over 2017.   There are downside risks to that forecast, such as higher mortgage rates, higher costs (labor and material), and possible policy errors. And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.  Now I'm looking for the gap to close over the next several years.

    Home Ownership Rate: Up 0.9% YoY in Q2 -- Over the last decade, the general trend has been consistent: The rate of home ownership continues to struggle. The Census Bureau has now released its latest quarterly report with data through Q2 2018. The seasonally adjusted rate for Q2 is 64.2 percent, unchanged from Q1. The nonseasonally adjusted Q2 number is 64.3 percent, up slightly from the Q4 64.2 percent figure.  The Census Bureau has been tracking the nonseasonally adjusted data since 1965. Their seasonally adjusted version only goes back to 1980. Here is a snapshot of the nonseasonally adjusted series with a 4-quarter moving average to highlight the trend.  The consensus view is that trend away from homeownership is a result of rising residential real estate prices in general and limited supply of entry-level priced homes that would attract first-time buyers.Here is the YoY version of the chart going back to 1965. For an interesting comparison to prices, here is an inflation-adjusted look at the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index.The snapshot below gives us a crude comparison of the US homeownership rate compared to seventeen other countries. Our data source is a subset of the nearly four dozen countries in this Wikipedia entry on homeownership. We included the outliers at the top and bottom, Romania at 96.4% and Switzerland at 44.0%, most as of 2015 and 2014, respectively.

    NMHC: Apartment Market Tightness Index remained negative for Eleventh Consecutive Quarter - From the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC): July Apartment Market Conditions Show Improvement Apartment market conditions improved across three of the four indexes measured by the July National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) Quarterly Survey of Apartment Market Conditions. The Sales Volume (55), Equity Financing (56) and Debt Financing Indexes (55) all increased to above the breakeven level of 50, while the Market Tightness Index came in at 46.“The apartment industry is showing small, but unmistakable signs of improvement,” said NMHC Chief Economist Mark Obrinsky, “The Market Tightness Index continues to show some weakening. However, the number of respondents who reported looser conditions fell to 29 percent, the lowest share since January of 2016.”  “Of greater concern is that the demand for construction labor has been growing faster than supply, driving up costs and delaying some projects. In fact, the majority of firms reported that the availability of construction labor has declined over the past year, even accounting for increased compensation,” said Obrinsky. ...At 46, the Market Tightness Index was the only index to remain below 50, marking the eleventh consecutive quarter of overall declining conditions. One-fifth of respondents reported tighter market conditions than three months prior, compared to 29 percent who reported looser conditions. Half of respondents felt that conditions were no different from last quarter. (see graph)

    Chinese Firms Are Net Sellers Of U.S. Commercial Real Estate, "First Time Since 2008" - Beijing is reportedly urging Chinese real-estate investors to divest their U.S. commercial real estate holdings, a cunning strategy reflecting China’s efforts to deleverage debt and stabilize the yuan ahead of future market shocks created by President Trump’s trade war. Taiwan News quoted Liberty Times, a newspaper published in Taiwan, suggested that a significant liquidation of U.S. commercial real estate by Chinese companies could be in the near term, as the catalyst for such an event would be explained by policymakers cracking down on bad debt.According to the Wall Street Journal, Real Capital Analytics has noted that Chinese real-estate investors have already started dumping U.S. commercial real estate for the first time in a decade. Chinese companies have sold more real estate assets in a single quarter (US$1.29 billion) than they have purchased (US$126.2 million). “This marked the first time that these investors were net sellers for a quarter since 2008. The more than $1 billion in net sales reflects how much the Chinese government’s attitude toward investing overseas has changed in recent months,” said WSJ.

    Third-World America: The 'Bottom Half' "Bolsters" The Economy By Going Into Debt -- For maybe the best example of how financial trends are diverging at the opposite ends of the wealth spectrum, contrast the cash flowing into the accounts of the already-rich with the debt accumulating in the accounts of the “bottom half”:  Mortgage, Groupon and card debt: how the bottom half bolsters U.S. economy (Reuters) – By almost every measure, the U.S. economy is booming. But a look behind the headlines of roaring job growth and consumer spending reveals how the boom continues in large part by the poorer half of Americans fleecing their savings and piling up debt.A Reuters analysis of U.S. household data shows that the bottom 60 percent of income-earners have accounted for most of the rise in spending over the past two years even as the their finances worsened – a break with a decades-old trend where the top 40 percent had primarily fueled consumption growth.With borrowing costs on the rise, inflation picking up and the effects of President Donald Trump’s tax cuts set to wear off, a negative shock – a further rise in gasoline prices or a jump in the cost of goods due to tariffs – could push those most vulnerable over the edge, some economists warn.That in turn could threaten the second-longest U.S. expansion given consumption makes up 70 percent of the U.S. economy’s output.The Reuters analysis reveals growing financial stress among lower-income households even as their contribution to consumption and the broad economy grows.The data shows the rise in median expenditures has outpaced before-tax income for the lower 40 percent of earners in the five years to mid-2017 while the upper half has increased its financial cushion, deepening income disparities.

    America’s Subprime Economy - Yves Smith -  An important story in Reuters described how the current expansion, in a break with the past two decades, depends on the spending of lower-income households, and that spending in turn is heavily dependent on rising debt levels. The bottom line is that the last two years of growth were brought to you by subprime borrowing.  The Reuters piece, by Jonathan Spicer, also argues that the sell-by date of this unsustainable subprime-debt-fuelled growth may have been postponed by the Trump tax cuts. If anything, the picture may be even worse than that view suggests, since some experts, as well as our own readers, have said in some, perhaps many cases, the cuts in income tax withholding looked high relative to the taxes that would be due for 2018. In other words, more taxpayers than in the past may find themselves hit with unexpected tax bills come April. Independent of whether bigger debt millstones around the necks of subprime borrowers are a harbinger of a slowdown, high levels of personal debt are a negative for growth. Personal borrowings are almost never productive. Even the often-hyped examples of borrowing for education or borrowing to start a business are overhyped. With higher eduction overpriced and the punishment for missing a payment draconian, the merits are at best debatable, and that’s before you factor in the risk of graduating during a recession or crisis. Similarly, since 90% of new businesses fail in three years, pray tell why is borrowing to start one a sound idea?   Two months ago, Wolf Richter provided some aggregate data on household debt levelsSo the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever, and only historically low interest rates have kept it manageable. But interest rates are now rising, and many of these consumer debts have variable rates. This explains a phenomenon that is already appearing: How this toxic mix – rising interest rates and record high consumer debt in relationship to disposable income – has now started to bite the most vulnerable consumers once again. Key section of the Reuters story, which I urge you to read in full: A Reuters analysis of U.S. household data shows that the bottom 60 percent of income-earners have accounted for most of the rise in spending over the past two years even as the their finances worsened – a break with a decades-old trend where the top 40 percent had primarily fueled consumption growth….the rise in median expenditures has outpaced before-tax income for the lower 40 percent of earners in the five years to mid-2017 while the upper half has increased its financial cushion, deepening income disparities. (Graphic: )… As a result, over the past year signs of financial fragility have been multiplying, with credit card and auto loan delinquencies on the rise and savings plumbing their lowest since 2005…

     Backlash Against “War on Cash” Reaches Washington & China - Wolf Street -- Not so long ago, it seemed that the death of cash was both inevitable and imminent. The war against physical money was advancing on all fronts. Cash, already with technological and generational trends stacked against it, faced an imposing array of enemies, including private banks, fintech firms, telecom behemoths, credit card giants, assorted NGOs, tech magnates like Bill Gates and Tim Cook, a bewildering alphabet soup of UN agencies and many national governments. All wanted (and to a great extent still want) to accelerate the demise of physical money, for their own disparate motives. But a study released in June by UK-based online payments company Paysafe confirmed that consumers on both sides of the Atlantic continue to cling to physical lucre: 87% of consumers surveyed in the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Austria said they had used cash to make purchases in the last month, 83% visited ATMs, and 41% said they are not interested in even hearing about cash alternatives. Now, even certain branches of government are pushing back against the cashless trend. In Washington D.C., city councilors have introduced a new bill that would make it illegal for restaurants and retailers not to accept cash or charge a different price to customers depending on the type of payment they use. The bill is in response to efforts by retailers in the city and around the country – like the salad chain Sweetgreen – to go 100% cashless. Such moves have been decried as discriminatory against the roughly one-quarter of people in the U.S. who would have trouble using a card or some other electronic means of payment, not to mention those who would just prefer to use cash. “Certain underbanked customers have to use cash; they don’t have other alternatives. Other customers feel more financially responsible if they use cash as opposed to digital payments,” said Wei Ke, a partner at Simon-Kucher & Partners, a management consulting firm.

    Super-Rich Now Spend Up To $23 Million For Second Passport -  Citizenship-by-Investment programs (CIPs) allows the super-rich a new nationality and an alternative or second passport, often seen as an indicator of economic or social status.IPs enable wealthy individuals to invest in a country in exchange for citizenship. Common forms of direct investment include an enterprise project, real estate development, or significant contribution to a country’s fund — and by the way, they do not come cheap.According to a new report by Bloomberg, the ultra-rich are spending a whopping $23 million for citizenship in another country.For some, purchasing a secondary passport is just another way to flaunt wealth. However, for others, a second passport is a “security” measure, said Christian Kalin, chairman of Henley & Partners, which provides citizenship advice for CIP programs.

    Headline Durable Goods Orders Up 1% in June --The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders:New orders for manufactured durable goods in June increased $2.5 billion or 1.0 percent to $251.9 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up following two consecutive monthly decreases, followed a 0.3 percent May decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.4 percent. Excluding defense, new orders increased 1.5 percent. Transportation equipment, also up following two consecutive monthly decreases, led the increase, $1.9 billion or 2.2 percent to $87.7 billion. Download full PDF The latest new orders number at 1.0% month-over-month (MoM) was worse than the Investing.comconsensus of 3.0%. The series is up 3.2% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods came in at 0.4% MoM, which was worse than consensus of 0.5%. The core measure is up 9.1% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is up 1.1% MoM and up 8.7% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 0.6% MoM and up 8.3% YoY. For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

    Chemical Activity Barometer Increased in July - Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production. From the American Chemistry Council: Chemical Activity Barometer Continues to Signal Gains in U.S. Commercial and Industrial Activity The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), rose 0.1 percent in July on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, improving upon June and May performances which were essentially flat. The barometer is up 3.9 percent year-over-year (Y/Y/), a slower pace than of that earlier in the year. The unadjusted CAB also increased, notching a 0.2 percent gain, up from a 0.1 percent gain in June. July readings indicate a continued expansion of U.S. commercial and industrial activity well into the first quarter 2019....Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index.

    Kansas City Fed: Regional Manufacturing Activity "Continued to Expand Solidly" in July --From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Continued to Expand Solidly The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the July Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity continued to expand solidly, and expectations for future growth remained strong.“Our composite index came down slightly from record highs in recent months,” said Wilkerson. “Many firms remain concerned about labor availability and tariffs, but optimism is still high.” The month-over-month composite index was 23 in July, down from readings of 28 in June and 29 in May. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. Factory activity increased solidly at durable and nondurable goods plants, particularly for petroleum and coal products, minerals, fabricated metal, computers and electronics, and transportation equipment. Month-over-month indexes were mixed compared with the previous month, but most indexes remained at high levels. The employment index inched up while the order backlog and new orders for exports indexes were virtually unchanged. The production and shipments indexes fell moderately, and the new orders index eased somewhat. The raw materials index fell modestly and the finished goods inventory index also dipped slightly.

     Richmond Fed: "Fifth District Manufacturing Firms Saw Slowing Growth in July" -- From the Richmond Fed: Fifth District Manufacturing Firms Saw Slowing Growth in July Fifth District manufacturing expanded at a slower pace in July, according to results of the most recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite manufacturing index fell from 21 in June to 20 in July, but it remained in solid expansionary territory. This decrease resulted from a decrease in the employment and shipments indexes, as the other component (new orders) held steady. Firms were optimistic in July, expecting to see robust growth across most indicators in the coming months. Manufacturing employment growth slowed in July, as the employment index fell from 23 in June to 22 in July. Firms continued to struggle to find workers with the skills they needed and expect this struggle to continue in the next six months. All of the regional manufacturing reports for July have been solid so far.

    US Composite PMI Slows With "Steepest Rise In Prices On Record" -A mixed bag for Markit PMIs (Services miss, Manufacturing beat) left the Composite index lower (confirming Europe's slowdown).

    • Markit PMI- July Manufacturing printed 55.5, marginally higher than the 55.4 in June (and above 55.1 expectations)
    • Markit PMI- July Services printed 56.2, marginally lower than the 56.5 in June (and below 56.3 expectations)

    Commenting on the flash PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said:“The July survey data indicate that the US economy sustained strong growth momentum after what looks to have been a solid second quarter, representing a good start to the second half of 2018. Although down from June, the July flash PMI is in line with the average for the second quarter and indicative of the economy growing at an annualised rate of approximately 3%.  “Buoyant domestic demand helped the service sector maintain particularly impressive growth and has helped cushion the goods producing sector from wilting demand in export markets, with goods export orders down for a second successive month in July.But it is trade wars that are worrying most...In response to higher business expenses, private sector firms recorded a sharp and accelerated rise in their average prices charged. The overall rate of  output price inflation was the fastest since this index began almost nine years ago.  “Trade frictions have clearly become a major cause of concern, especially among manufacturers. Firms have become increasingly worried about the impact of tariff and trade wars on demand, prices and supply chains.July saw the steepest rise in prices charged for goods and services yet recorded by the surveys as firms passed rising costs on to customers, in turn frequently linked to tariffs.What’s more, supply chain delays also hit a record high amid rising shortages of key inputs, which is usually a harbinger of further price rises.”US and Eurozone both saw PMI composite slow in July...

    Weekly Unemployment Claims: Up 9K from Last Week - Here is the opening statement from the Department of Labor:In the week ending July 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 217,000, an increase of 9,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 207,000 to 208,000. The 4-week moving average was 218,000, a decrease of 2,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 220,500 to 220,750. [See full report]This morning's seasonally adjusted 217K new claims, up 9K from the previous week's revised figure, was above the forecast of 215K. Here is a close look at the data over the decade (with a callout for the past year), which gives a clearer sense of the overall trend in relation to the last recession.

    Near unanimous vote to strike by Fiat Chrysler workers in Kokomo, Indiana - Autoworkers at Fiat Chrysler’s (FCA) transmission plants in the Kokomo, Indiana, area overwhelmingly approved strike action in votes Thursday and Friday last week. Workers are seeking to fight back against the deterioration of working conditions, in particular the atrocious treatment of temporary part-time (TPT) workers, which has been enabled by decades of betrayals by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.Fiat Chrysler employs nearly 7,000 at four transmission plants in the Kokomo area, which is the largest producer of transmissions in the world. Although UAW Local 685 has not officially released vote totals, Jimmy Shaw, a member of the local’s executive board, commented on Facebook that “99.9” percent voted yes.  A worker at the Kokomo Transmission Plant told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter about the grievances motivating the strike vote: “We’ve been through a lot. We have hundreds of health and safety issues. We also have a plant that’s all but closed, Indiana Transmission Plant II. I don’t know if there’s anyone that’s working there now.”Referring to the extreme exploitation of TPTs, which has provoked immense opposition among young and older autoworkers throughout the industry alike, she said, “I was not really aware of it, because it’s happening at a different plant, but they’re forcing TPTs to work 13-14 hours.“The whole TPT thing is outrageous in my book, that you would have temporary part-time workers paying union dues, and yet they have language in the contract saying that they don’t have the same protections that a full-time worker does. It’s insulting.”  Todd, a worker at the Tipton Transmission Plant near Kokomo, posted on Facebook, “Pretty much management has over 700 problems they have not taken care of like the agreement says they have to. Also, we were supposed to get a new transmission in at ITP 2 in a year but they cancelled it and sent to China so all 1900 jobs from ITP they distributed to the other plants. Plus KTP is [phasing] out the 4 and 6 speeds so management wants to get rid of 1,900 jobs in the next 24 months.  Which means anybody within their 5 years at FCA in the Kokomo/Tipton plants potentially will lose their jobs.”

    'Ghosting' On The Rise As Workers Blow Off Interviews - In a clear but perhaps unwelcome, for companies, sign that the US job market is at its hottest in decades, applicants are increasingly "ghosting" interviews, resulting in employers getting more creative in their hiring and retention efforts after frustration in attracting ideal candidates is on the rise, according to a new report. "Ghosting" is a term coined by millennials denoting cutting off all communication with friends or a date, with zero warning or notice before hand, including blocking social media communications and avoiding them in public. Job candidates and employees are now "ghosting" their jobs by way of ditching scheduled job interviews, or even not showing up on the first day of work, or disappearing from existing positions without notice or reason. That this is taking place at the same time as the quits rate hit an all time high, is probably not a surprise: we detailed the so-called "take this job and shove it" indicator from the latest JOLTS report earlier this month - it shows worker confidence that they can leave their current job and find a better paying job elsewhere. Well, according to the BLS, as of May, this number hit an all time high, rising from 3.349MM in April to 3.561MM in May, an increase of 212K in the month, the biggest monthly increase since December 2015.

    Teen Employment Drops 1.5 Percent Over Last Year: Teen hiring rose 86 percent from the 130,000 jobs added in May, as 951,000 workers aged 16 to 19 found employment last month, according to analysis of non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. June's gains are 7 percent lower than the 1,023,000 jobs added in June of 2017. So far this summer, 1,081,000 teens have found jobs, 1.5 percent lower than the 1,098,000 jobs added by this point last summer. "While June's gains are lower than last year, they're still above the average number of jobs added in June. In such a tight labor market, where skilled workers are in short supply, teens may be taking advantage of the entry-level jobs employers were previously giving to older or college-aged workers in the post-recession years," said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. "For teens who want to find employment this summer, it's not too late. In fact, some retailers already announced they are hiring for the holiday and back-to-school seasons," said Challenger. "While retail has been competing with online sales, many brick-and-mortar stores are using apps and additional technology to lure shoppers back in store. They'll also need workers to come close to replicating the ease and convenience of online shopping," he added. Challenger has tracked 2,600 announced retail store closures in 2018. This is in addition to 9,301 store closures tracked in 2017.

    Two-Thirds Of Rich Kids Depend On Parents' Inheritance To Maintain Lifestyle - As young people continue their journeys through life with a negative net worth, more members of the "mass affluent" American youth are openly admitting that their financial stability in retirement will depend on inheriting money from their parents, another family member or a friend, according to Bloomberg.  A recent survey of the "mass affluent" - that is, people age 18 to 40 with investable assets worth between $50,000 and $250,000, or with investable assets between $20,000 and $50,000 and an annual income of at least $50,000 - found that 65% of Americans aged 18-22 expect to depend on inherited money to get through retirement. But not everybody expects to inherit that money from their parents. Roughly 17% of these "Gen Z" respondents said they expect to inherit money from a friend. By comparison, that number is 4% for all age groups.  Another 17% of Gen Zers said they expect to inherit money from their grandparents, compared with 6% overall, while 14% said they expect extended family to shell out some cash, compared with 5% overall.Indeed, in North America alone, an estimated $30 trillion will be transferred to the younger generation via inheritances over the next 30 years. Though for some members of Gen Z, it could be a while before they see any of that money, because, as a survey from UBS recently showed, roughly 53% of people with more than $1 million in investable assets expect to live to 100, or beyond. Those beneficiaries may have to wait a long time, though: A recent survey from UBS Financial Services showed that 53 percent of people with more than $1 million in investable assets expected to live to 100. One financial expert said the notion that young people expect to inherit money from friends is unique to their generation.  Levine attributes the relatively large number of Gen Zers who expect to inherit money from friends as unique to the demographic. They’ve grown up in a sharing economy - think Airbnb, Uber and crowdfunding - so "why wouldn’t you have some sort of shared way with friends to finance your future?" he said.

    2020 Democrats Band Together to Call for Puerto Rico Debt Cancellation -- In another reflection of ideological shifts within the Democratic Party, several potential presidential candidates are joining forces on a bill that would enable mass debt cancellation for the struggling island of Puerto Rico. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are introducing the bill, the U.S. Territorial Relief Act of 2018, joined by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., putting many of the Senate’s top contenders for the presidency in 2020 on the record that they believe Puerto Rico’s debt should be discharged comprehensively.  Puerto Rico carries over $70 billion in debt, most of it unsecured and eligible for the relief outlined in the bill. Gillibrand’s inclusion is notable because she voted for PROMESA, the Democratic establishment’s previous solution to the debt crisis in Puerto Rico. That bill, endorsed and signed by President Barack Obama, created an appointed fiscal oversight board to manage Puerto Rico’s affairs, which has led to punishing austerity proposals, mass protests and a wave of privatization, with assets sold off to finance interest payments. The selling point in PROMESA, however, was the creation of a bankruptcy-like mechanism that could be used to wipe out some debt legally. But then, hurricanes Maria and Irma destroyed the island’s infrastructure, putting Puerto Rico in the impossible position of rebuilding, attracting economic investment, and paying down debt simultaneously.

    Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill to End Money Bail - Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Wednesday introduced legislation to end money bail on the federal level and create incentives for states to follow suit.  The No Money Bail Act is the latest example of the push from the left to tackle criminal justice reform. It would prohibit money bail in federal criminal cases, provide grants to states that wish to implement alternate pretrial systems, and withhold grant funding from states that continue using cash bail systems.  Additionally, the bail reform “requires a study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detentions rates,” according to a summary of the bill provided by Sanders’s office.  “It has always been clear that we have separate criminal justice systems in this country for the poor and for the rich,” the summary reads. “A wealthy person charged with a serious crime may get an ankle monitor and told not to leave the country; a poor person charged with a misdemeanor may sit in a jail cell. And this disproportionately affects minorities — fifty percent of all pretrial detainees are Black or Latinx.”

    Youth voter registration went up 41 percent in Florida after Parkland - A significant number of young people are registering to vote in Florida, and they could tilt this year’s midterm elections in the nation’s largest swing state, according to a new analysis of voter registration patterns. The analysis by TargetSmart, a data firm that works on behalf of Democrats, shows that the share of newly registered Florida voters between the ages of 18-29 increased by eight percentage points in the two and a half months after the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Voters between the ages of 18-29 made up 26.23 percent of all new voter registrations in Florida in the two and a half months before Feb. 14, 2018. In the two and a half months after the shooting, young voters made up 34.22 percent of all new voter registrations in Florida. The eight percentage point gain also shows that young voters are now a bigger share of all new voters. The percentage of new voter registrations from all other age groups in Florida decreased to compensate for the eight-point jump among 18- 29-year-olds. The total number of young people registering to vote also went up. From Dec. 1, 2017, to Feb. 14, 2018, 27,789 18- 29-year-olds registered in Florida, and between Feb. 14 and April 30, 39,218 young people registered, according to TargetSmart. The 11,429 more voters that registered represent a 41 percent increase. The total number of new voters from ages 30 to 49 increased slightly after the shooting, while the total number of new voters from ages 49 and up decreased by 4,240 votes in the three months after the shooting. 

     No, Amazon Cannot Replace Libraries -- Saturday, Forbes published an article titled “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money,” that elicited extremely strong backlash on Twitter from librarians and library patrons alike. The article has since been taken down, though the (extremely ratioed) tweet from the author about it remains.In the article, writer Panos Mourdoukoutas argued that libraries are no longer important to the community as the result of alternative "third places" like Starbucks, and "no shortage of places to hold community events," as well as streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime and the rise of e-books that have "turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services." Hundreds of Twitter users took to the platform to share both their anger with the piece and their love for libraries. People seemed to especially take issue with the author picking Amazon—notorious for its horrible treatment of employees, and accusations of ruining the cities it opens warehouses in—as a potential replacement. Obviously, as the outrage from these users demonstrates, libraries are beloved and important in communities. Mourdoukoutas's argument that libraries are becoming less useful is patently false, in a way that's fairly obvious. But the notion that libraries aren't worth their value to taxpayers—one that fails to take into account the financial returns of a library and expenses of buying these items on one's own—fails to address the vast importance a library has on its community as a physical space open to anyone in the public. Most of the utilities of libraries are quite obvious, like how they're essential to lowering the barrier of entry on activities that may be cost prohibitive. But many of us aren't aware of the impact our libraries have on our own communities, nor the programs they offer. Pew Research Center noted in 2014 that 36 percent of Millennials (which Pew categorized as age 18-30 for the purposes of this survey) and 29 percent of those 30 and older know "little or nothing" about their local library's services.

    There’s an Amazon-like corporation trying to take over public libraries -- After tons of backlash on social media, Forbes has deleted an op-ed by an economist who argued that public libraries should be replaced by Amazon. The argument was so absurd that whoever runs the San Francisco Public Library’s Twitter dismissed it with a joke: “Maybe @Forbes doesn’t like that you can download their magazine free with your #SF library card.”Yet the argument isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. Public libraries across the country are dealing with their own sort of Amazon, a growing corporation slowly gulping up competition while being run by Jeff Bezos-like wealthy investors.  With 82 branches across six states, Library Systems & Services (LS&S) is the country’s third-largest library system, smaller than only Chicago and New York City. It pitches itself to towns and counties by making many of the same arguments in the op-ed. That libraries aren’t “innovative” enough without the corporation’s management and “social entrepreneurship.” That it can help libraries become a “third place” between work and home — as if they weren’t already just that for many poor and working people.  Like Amazon, LS&S slashes employee pay and benefits to turn a profit while shrouding its dealings in secrecy. Last year, it was hit with nearly $70,000 in penalties for wage and hour violations. In 2016, an audit of one of its libraries in Oregon revealed that 28 percent of the public money paid to the corporation was filed under the ominous category of “other,” unknown even to public officials.Just this week, Seminole County, Florida, decided to keep its libraries under public control after residents organized. Earlier this year, leaders in Santa Clarita, California, voted to end the city’s contract after LS&S replaced all 17 of its librarians.But that’s not stopping the corporation, which is owned by a private equity firm, from preying on communities struggling for revenue in the low tax era of austerity.Just in the last few months, LS&S has targeted communities from New England to Texas. It recently promised Ledyard, Connecticut, that it would provide innovative services without adding costs, which the president of the Connecticut Library Association says doesn’t add up. “Everything that they’re talking about is standard practice,” she said. It’s obvious that what LS&S is selling are trendy buzzwords and a roundabout way to cut labor costs for elected officials unwilling to raise taxes on those that can afford them.

    Nikki Haley tells students to avoid 'own the libs' behavior - The US ambassador to the United Nations has urged conservative teenagers to avoid mocking liberals online, or taking part in "own the libs" antics. Speaking at a conservative high-school leadership summit, Nikki Haley called such taunts "the exact opposite" of leadership, the Hill reported.Conservative group Turning Point USA, which hosted the summit, promotes anti-liberal memes on its Facebook page.A number of top Republicans will be attending the four-day summit.Ms Haley began by asking how many students in the room had participated in "own the libs" behaviour online - or trolling and making fun of liberals via social media posts and memes.Most of the conservative teenagers raised their hand, according to the Hill newspaper, and the room erupted in applause. "I know that it's fun and that it can feel good, but step back and think about what you're accomplishing when you do this. Are you persuading anyone? Who are you persuading?" Ms Haley asked. "We've all been guilty of it at some point or another, but this kind of speech isn't leadership. It's the exact opposite." "Real leadership," the ambassador said, "is about persuasion, it's about movement, it's bringing people around to your point of view". "Not by shouting them down, but by showing them how it is in their best interest to see things the way you do," Ms Haley said.

    Colleges ask for a share of future salary in lieu of loans (AP) — As more students balk at the debt loads they face after graduation, some colleges are offering an alternative: We’ll pay your tuition if you offer us a percentage of your future salary. Norwich University announced Tuesday that it will become the latest school to offer this type of contract, known as an income share agreement. Norwich’s program is starting out on a small scale, mainly for students who do not have access to other types of loans or those who are taking longer than the traditional eight semesters to finish their degree. “Norwich University is committed to offering this new way to help pay for college in a way that aligns incentives and helps reduce financial barriers to degree completion,” said Lauren Wobby, the school’s chief financial officer and treasurer. In contrast with traditional loans, in which students will simply pay down the principal and interest until there is nothing left, students with income share agreements pay back a percentage of their salary for a set period of time. Those touting the programs say they give colleges greater incentive to help students find high-earning jobs after graduation, because a higher salary means the school may recoup its investment in a shorter period of time. For some students, income share agreements are seen as less risky, especially if they end up in a lower-paying job or struggle to find work after graduation. While students are unemployed or earning below a certain threshold they don’t have to pay anything back. “Taking on the debt through a contract, where you don’t take on a debt per se but instead will repay a portion of your future income, has a certain appeal to students when the concept is fully explained to them,” said Clare McCann, deputy director for education policy at the New America Foundation. But because employment and salary determine repayment, it’s possible providers could be seen as discriminating against recipients who choose lower-paying professions. 

     Colleges Offer To Take Percentage Of Future Income As Alternative To Student Loans -  Colleges are offering an alternative to students who don't want to be saddled with hefty student loans, or those who don't qualify; pay us a percentage of your future salary over a set period of time.  Norwich University announced Tuesday that it will become the latest school to offer this type of contract, known as an income share agreement. Norwich’s program is starting out on a small scale, mainly for students who do not have access to other types of loans or those who are taking longer than the traditional eight semesters to finish their degree. –AP  “Norwich University is committed to offering this new way to help pay for college in a way that aligns incentives and helps reduce financial barriers to degree completion,” said Lauren Wobby, the school’s chief financial officer and treasurer.The income-sharing agreements are said to give colleges greater incentive to help students find high-earning jobs post-graduation, as they have a vested interest in seeing their students enter into high-paying jobs which means they would recoup their investment in a shorter period of time.  For many students, income sharing agreements are considered less risky, especially if they are unable to find work after graduation, or end up in lower-paying jobs.  “Taking on the debt through a contract, where you don’t take on a debt per se but instead will repay a portion of your future income, has a certain appeal to students when the concept is fully explained to them,” said Clare McCann, the New America Foundation's deputy director for education policy.That said, colleges providing income-share agreements will need to be careful that they don't appear to discriminate against those who choose lower-paying jobs. “If income share agreement providers aren’t careful, they can definitely see unintended consequences in discriminatory terms toward students. This is one of the biggest differences between income share agreements and federal student loans,” McCann said. “Federals loans offer the same terms to all borrowers.”

    Overpromising has crippled public pensions. A 50-state survey - The real problem plaguing public pension funds nationwide has gone largely ignored. Most reporting usually focuses on the underfunding of state plans and blames the crises on a lack of taxpayer dollars.But a Wirepoints analysis of 2003-2016 Pew Charitable Trust and other pension data found that it’s the uncontrolled growth in pension promises that’s actually wreaking havoc on state budgets and taxpayers alike.[1] Overpromising is the true cause of many state crises. Underfunding is often just a symptom of this underlying problem.Wirepoints found that the growth in accrued liabilities has been extreme in many states, often growing two to three times faster than the pace of their economies.[2] It’s no wonder taxpayer contributions haven’t been able to keep up.The reasons for that growth vary state to state – from bigger benefits to reductions in discount rates – but the reasons don’t matter to ordinary residents. Regardless of how or when those increases were created, it’s taxpayers that are increasingly on the hook for them.Unsurprisingly, the states with the most out-of-control promises are home to some of the nation’s worst pension crises. Take New Jersey, for example. The total pension benefits it owed in 2003 – what are known as accrued liabilities – were $88 billion. That was the PV, or present value, of what active state workers and retirees were promised in pension benefits by the state at the time.Today, promises to active workers and pensioners have jumped to $217 billion – a growth of 176 percent in just 13 years. That increase in total obligations is four times greater than the growth in the state’s GDP, up only 41 percent.Many of the top-growth states – including New Jersey, Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota – have high growth rates due to recent changes in their investment assumptions.[3] But more honest accounting, i.e. lowering the investment rate, is hardly a comfort to the residents of those states.[4] It simply reveals just how much in promises residents are – and always have been – on the hook for.

    Antibiotic-Resistant Genes Are Airborne, Exposing Millions -- A team of researchers from the U.S., China, South Korea, Switzerland, and France examined air samples from nearly two dozen cities, including San Francisco, Paris, Warsaw, Zurich, Beijing, Brisbane, and Seoul. They discovered airborne concentrations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in each of the cities at varying levels, produced by concentrated animal feeding operations, hospitals, wastewater treatment plants and other sources. Their findings indicate that antibiotic-resistant genes can spread from one bacterium to another, and that this bacteria has the ability not only to travel through the air, but to travel across continents, even across the globe—exposing millions of people to antibiotic-resistant genes whether they live in proximity to those sources or not. "Common everyday human activities such as car traffic can kick up the bacteria and make them airborne," Dr. Maosheng Yao, a collaborating author of the study, Global Survey of Antibiotic Resistance Genes in Air, and professor of environmental sciences and engineering at Peking University, told Sierra. "Natural winds can also suspend these biologicals into the air." For wastewater treatment, there is an aeration process that can make biologicals airborne. They are prevalent in areas where human consumption of antibiotics is widespread, such as in hospitals, or where agricultural practices rely heavily on the use of antibiotics. San Francisco topped the list of the cities with the highest readings of antibiotic-resistant genes in the air.

    U.S. "most dangerous" place to give birth in developed world, USA Today investigation finds --  A USA Today investigation finds the United States is the "most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world." Every year in the U.S., more than 50,000 mothers are severely injured during or after childbirth and 700 die. USA Today's investigation, "Deadly Deliveries," claims women are dying and suffering life-altering injuries during childbirth because hospitals are not following long-known safety measures. Maternal death in the United States has been steadily rising. The U.S. now has the highest rate in the developed world. USA Today conducted a four-year investigation into the nation's hospital maternity wards and spoke to several families who lost loved ones and to women who were permanently harmed during their deliveries.In one example, Ali Lowry had internal bleeding after having a baby by C-section. It took medical staff hours to act on the warning signs, and in that time she nearly bled to death. Ali needed a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. She and her husband, Shaun, sued Knox Community Hospital in Ohio and settled out of court.    "Experts say that about 50 percent of the deaths of women from childbirth-related causes could be prevented if they were given better medical care and that's a really surprising thing given that we're one of the wealthiest countries in the world and we spend so much on medical care. We're not just talking about the women who die, we're talking about 50,000 U.S. women who are suffering life-altering harms," USA Today investigative reporter Alison Young told "CBS This Morning" on Thursday.

    Chemicals in Food May Harm Children, Pediatricians' Group Says -- A major paediatricians’ group is urging families to limit the use of plastic food containers, cut down on processed meat during pregnancy and consume more whole fruit and vegetables rather than processed food.  . The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) issued the guidelines in a statement and scientific technical report yesterday. The AAP joins other medical and advocacy groups that have expressed concern about the growing body of scientific evidence indicating that certain chemicals that enter foods may interfere with the body’s natural hormones in ways that may affect longterm growth and development. The paediatricians’ group, which represents some 67,000 children’s doctors in the country, is also calling for more rigorous testing and regulation of thousands of chemicals used as food additives or indirectly added to foods when they are used in manufacturing or leach from packaging and plastics. Among the chemicals that raised particular concern are nitrates and nitrites, which are used as preservatives, primarily in meat products; phthalates, which are used to make plastic packaging; and bisphenols, used in the lining of metal cans for canned food products. Also of concern to the paediatricians are per€uoroalkyl chemicals, or PFCs, used in grease-proof paper and packaging, and perchlorates, an anti-static agent used in plastic packaging. “ Dr Trasande suggested wrapping food in wax paper in lieu of plastic wrap. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of chemicals in food in part because they eat more food per pound of body weight than adults. Perhaps more significantly, children’s metabolic systems and key organ systems are still developing and maturing, so hormone disruptions can potentially cause lasting changes.

     These scientists think plastics are shrinking penises  --Penises are shrinking, and more boys are being born with genital defects, two Melbourne scientists claim.  They think chemicals in plastics are to blame. Their controversial stance is based on studies of animals exposed to the chemicals, as well as human data they say shows rates of hypospadia – a penis birth defect causing a range of functionality problems – have doubled in Australia. “Exposure to these chemicals, this is the No.1 reproductive issue for men,” says Associate Professor Andrew Pask, who leads a lab at Melbourne University researching male reproduction. However, government regulators say the best-available science shows these chemicals are not having an effect on humans. Other experts say a link is possible but that the evidence is a long way from settled.Some plastics can release chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, that can mimic human sex hormones. In animal studies, exposure when pregnant can have profound effects on an animal's offspring, including infertility, undescended testes and hypospadia.There is no strong evidence about what they do to humans. But we all have observable levels in our blood because they are so common in everyday life. Dr Pask points to several chemicals that may have an effect on humans: BPA, phthalates (both used in plastics), parabens (used in toothpastes and beauty products) and atrazine (herbicide).. A 2007 study found the rate of severe hypospadia had almost doubled between 1980 and 2000 in Western Australia, with one in 118 male babies born with the birth defect. A Victorian study from 1998 reported similar findings. But a review of studies around the world reported the data was too inconsistent to draw strong conclusions. A small French study in 2015 found a “strong” link between exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals during pregnancy and hypospadia, as did another in Italy.“No one likes to talk about this. Often parents don’t even like to tell their kids they had it – it gets surgically repaired but often the surgeries don’t work very well,” says Dr Pask. “When it’s doubling, it cannot be genetic defects – it takes years for that to spread through a population. So we know it has to be environmental in origin.”

    Potential DNA Damage from CRISPR Has Been ‘Seriously Underestimated’ --Via: STAT News: From the earliest days of the CRISPR-Cas9 era, scientists have known that the first step in how it edits genomes — snipping DNA — creates an unholy mess: Cellular repairmen frantically try to fix the cuts by throwing random chunks of DNA into the breach and deleting other random bits. Research published on Monday suggests that’s only the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg: CRISPR-Cas9 can cause significantly greater genetic havoc than experts thought, the study concludes, perhaps enough to threaten the health of patients who would one day receive CRISPR-based therapy.The results come hard on the heels of two studies that identified a related issue: Some CRISPR’d cells might be missing a key anti-cancer mechanism and therefore be able to initiate tumors. The DNA damage found in the new study included deletions of thousands of DNA bases, including at spots far from the edit. Some of the deletions can silence genes that should be active and activate genes that should be silent, including cancer-causing genes.

    Gene-Edited Products Now Classified as GMOs in European Union - The European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday that organisms obtained by mutagenesis, or gene editing, are considered genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which mean they fall under the same strict EU rules that govern GMOs. The decision is a victory for organic farming associations and environmentalists wary of "GMO 2.0" techniques such as CRISPR gene editing that alter an organism's DNA. "These new 'GMO 2.0' genetic engineering techniques must be fully tested before they are let out in the countryside and into our food," Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said in a press release. "We welcome this landmark ruling which defeats the biotech industry's latest attempt to push unwanted genetically-modified products onto our fields and plates." The biotech industry and other gene editing proponents believe the novel technique can revolutionize food production, medicine and other areas. Compared to older GMO technology, which typically involves inserting genetic material from one species to another, gene editing uses "molecular scissors" to edit DNA of live organisms. For instance, scientists have created a mushroom that resists browning by using the genome-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. The German chemical industry association VCL, which represents companies such as Bayer, BASF and Merck KGaA, was disappointed by the court's ruling, calling it "backward looking and hostile to progress," Reuters reported. "It is damaging to the ability of the EU's biotech hub to innovate and disconnects it from developments in the rest of the world," VCL continued. 

     Man Dying of Cancer Testifies in Landmark Case Against Monsanto - A former school groundskeeper in California testified Monday in a landmark lawsuit claiming that repeated exposure to Monsanto's popular Roundup weedkiller caused his terminal cancer."I would never have sprayed the product around school grounds or around people if I thought it would cause them harm," the 46-year-old Dewayne "Lee" Johnson told the San Francisco Superior Court jury, as quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle. "They deserve better."Dewayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company is considered a "bellwether" case. If Johnson is successful, it could open the door for roughly 4,000 other similar lawsuits against Monsanto. Conversely, if he loses, it could discourage the other cases.The plaintiffs claim that exposure to Monsanto's glyphosate-based herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The lawsuits also allege that the company suppressed scientific evidence related to the health risks of its weedkillers.In 2015, glyphosate was classified as a "probable human carcinogen" by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. However, Monsanto and other government authorities, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have concluded that glyphosate is safe. Johnson, who worked from 2012 to 2016 at the Benicia Unified School District, told the courtroom Monday that he sprayed 150 gallons of Roundup 20-30 times a year and carefully used the product, KPIX 5 reported. "I figured if it could kill weeds it could kill me," Johnson said. "I took it seriously. That's why I wore anything I could to protect myself." However, he testified that even with protective gear he was exposed to the chemicals due to "drift."  Johnson also described two incidents where he was accidentally drenched by the herbicide. He called Monsanto's consumer hotline but said the company never returned his call, according to KPIX 5.  Also on Monday, jurors were shown pictures of the skin lesions that developed over most of Johnson's body as a result of the cancer. Johnson described how the lesions caused suffering and diminished his self-confidence.

     The Challenge of ‘Chronic Lyme’ -- In the state of Idaho, where I cared for this child, there were nine confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2016. The year before, there were three. I’d bet most of these cases were documented in-state but contracted elsewhere—people who had traveled to the East Coast or the Upper Midwest, where Ixodes scapularis lives.. Borrelia goes from mice to ticks to humans after a bite from infected Ixodes ticks, but only about 5 percent of people bitten by infected ticks will contract Lyme disease. I shared these data with the mother. “Well,” she said, “I got it. I got chronic Lyme here in the 1970s.” My heartbeat quickened a notch when she said “chronic Lyme.” Physicians are able to identify several stages of Lyme disease: early localized disease (the rash of erythema migrans), early disseminated disease (which may include joint pain and fevers), and late disseminated Lyme disease. Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) describes persistent symptoms in a person who had Lyme disease but has been fully treated. And then, there’s chronic Lyme. Chronic Lyme is as nebulous as gender, an identity as much as a biological category. It describes a constellation of enduring symptoms—joint pain, fatigue, muscle pain, brain fog, fevers, blurry vision, and much more—occurring in a person who attributes these symptoms to an infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, but who may have no plausible laboratory, clinical, or epidemiological evidence of exposure to the bacterium. Thousands of Australians identify as chronic Lyme patients, for example, despite the fact that Ixodes does not live in Australia and there has never been a laboratory-verified case of Lyme contracted there.  I did not want to debate the biological reality of chronic Lyme, so I nodded toward the child and said, “It’s true there are some cases in Idaho. And if this rash looked like erythema migrans, I would treat it. (In areas where the disease is not endemic but the fear of it is, physicians are advised not to test unless the patient’s symptoms are highly consistent with Lyme.) In cases where symptoms have been present for more than four weeks, physicians perform a two-tier blood test to confirm the diagnosis: an enzyme assay, followed by a Western Blot, which looks for antibodies to Borrelia.  Western Blot produces some false positives. False negatives are rare.

    Roundworms Just Came Back to Life After 40,000 Years Frozen in Siberian Permafrost -- Samples of permafrost sediment frozen for the past 40,000 years were recently thawed to reveal living nematodes. Within weeks the roundworms began to move and eat, setting a record for the time an animal can survive cryogenic preservation. Aside from revealing new limits of endurance, it just might prove useful when it comes to preserving our own tissues. Russian biologists dug up more than 300 samples of frozen soil of different ages and locations throughout the Arctic and took them back to their lab in Moscow for a closer look. Samples retrieved from remote parts of north eastern Russia contained nematodes from two different genera, which the researchers placed into Petri dishes with a nutrient medium. The worms were left for several weeks at a relatively warm 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) as they gradually showed signs of life. Some of the worms – belonging to the genus Panagrolaimus – were found 30 metres (100 feet) underground in what had once been a ground squirrel burrow which caved in and froze over around 32,000 years ago. Others from the genus Plectus were found in a bore sample at a depth of around 3.5 metres (about 11.5 feet). Carbon dating was used to determine that sample to be about 42,000 years old. 

    Business students more likely to have a brain parasite spread by cats -- An analysis of students in the US has found that those who have a certain type of brain parasite are more likely to be majoring in business studies. Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite carried by cats. It can infect people through contact with cat faeces, poorly cooked meat, or contaminated water, and as many as one-third of the world’s population may be infected. The parasite doesn’t make us feel sick, but it forms cysts in the brain where it can remain for the rest of a person’s life. Some studies have linked infection with the parasite to slower reaction times, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicidal behaviour, and explosive anger. Now an assessment of almost 1300 US students has found that those who had been exposed to the parasite were 1.7 times more likely to be majoring in business. In particular, they were more likely to be focusing on management and entrepreneurship than other business-related areas. The study also found that professionals attending business events were almost twice as likely to have started their own business if they were T. gondii positive, and that countries with a higher prevalence of T. gondiiinfection show more entrepreneurial activity.  The team behind the study say their data suggests that the parasite may be involved in reducing a person’s fear of failure and high-risk, high-reward ventures. Rodents infected with T. gondii are known to become less fearful of encountering cats.

    Two Dozen Raccoons Die in Viral ‘Zombie’ Outbreak in New York - A viral outbreak may be the reason that more than two dozen raccoons in Central Park have died in the past couple of weeks. At least 26 raccoons have been found dead in the park since late June, seemingly due to a bizarre virus that reportedly results in “zombie”-like behavior.Officials confirmed the number of raccoon deaths this week, CW-affiliate PIX11reported Monday. Of the 26 raccoons collected since June 24, two tested positive for canine distemper virus so far. Canine distemper is an incurable illness that can affect dogs and wildlife, including, as appears to be the case in New York, raccoons. The outbreak sounds similar to a series of incidents in Ohio several months ago, when police responded to over a dozen calls about sightings of raccoons acting strangely, mostly during the daytime, CBS-affiliate WKBN reported in April. At the time, Geoff Westerfield, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, told WKBN that raccoons that are behaving strangely and are caught to stop the spread of the disease must be euthanized. Distemper in raccoons is “more likely to occur” when populations are “large or concentrated,” according to Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. It reportedly strikes in cycles of five to seven years, and distemper can be deadly to raccoons in many cases.

    Nearly 300 Sea Turtles Dead as Red Tide Plagues Southwest Florida - Hundreds of sea turtles have washed up dead along the southwest Florida coast as an ongoing red tide event persists in the waters. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has logged 287 sea turtle deaths since the virulentalgal bloom started in October, the Associated Press reported.That figure is twice the average number of turtle deaths in those waters each year, Allen Foley of the commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute told the AP on Thursday.Foley explained that the turtles get sick and die when their food gets contaminated by toxic bloom. The most vulnerable species affected include loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles, both of which are federally protected, the AP reported.Researchers told the Fort Myers News-Press that the mortality event could impact the recovery of the protected species. Kelly Sloan, a sea turtle researcher at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said her organization has picked up 91 sea turtles since the bloom started."Most of them have been mature adults, and only 1 in 1,000 make it to adulthood," Sloan told the paper. "It takes a loggerhead 25 to 30 years to mature, so that really does have a significant impact on their recovery."The fate of the Kemp's ridley could be even worse. The species is considered the world's most endangeredmarine turtle.

    Thousands of scientists endorse study on border wall's threat to wildlife | TheHill: Thousands of scientists have endorsed research finding that President Trump;s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border would harm biodiversity in the region. Earther reported that as of Wednesday, more than 2,700 scientists have signed onto the study “Nature Divided, Scientists United: US–Mexico Border Wall Threatens Biodiversity and Binational Conservation.” The report was published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed scientific journal BioScience. More than 2,500 scientists had signed on at the time of its publication. The paper found that efforts to build the wall “threaten some of the continent's most biologically diverse regions,” and that the already constructed segments of the wall “are reducing the area, quality, and connectivity of plant and animal habitats and are compromising more than a century of binational investment in conservation.” The research found that a wall would likely cut animals off from parts of their habitats, including endangered species like the Peninsular bighorn sheep and the Mexican gray wolf, and could impact those species' ability to help grow their populations. And the study's authors also argue that the wall could impact scientific research itself, which they call "especially concerning given that the waiving of environmental laws means independent research may provide the best source of scientific insight into the wall's impacts on biodiversity." “We call on fellow scientists to join us in expressing unified concern over the border wall's negative impacts on wildlife, habitat, and binational collaboration in conservation and ­scientific research,” the paper reads.

    Lawmakers working to support administration efforts to overhaul Endangered Species Act - As the Trump administration moves closer to undoing protections for endangered species that conservation groups say could “slam a wrecking ball” into wildlife preservation, Republican-led efforts to bolster the agencies’ efforts are quietly making their way through both chambers of Congress. Supporters say the surge of legislation, which includes more than a dozen bills and amendments, will help modernize the Endangered Species Act, while detractors, including environmental advocacy groups, warn they will weaken it. “They’re not updating the law. They’re gutting its protections,” Rebecca Riley, a legal director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told ABC in an interview.  Passed in 1973, the Act provides states with financial assistance and incentives to prevent the extinction of native and foreign animals. It is credited with preventing the extinction of distinctly American species including the bald eagle, taken off the Endangered Species list in 2007, and the grizzly bear, delisted just last year.  But sponsors of the measures, which include a nine-bill package from the House Western Caucus, say the Act is well overdue for an overhaul, citing the difficulty with which species can be removed from the endangered list and what they say is the rigidity with which the laws are enforced nationwide despite environmental differences state-by-state.  “It’s past time for reform. The law needs to be updated to ensure it maintains its original intent and focus of species recovery and not simply serve as a tool for endless litigation,” Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, a caucus member and the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.  The bills are intended to compliment changes the Interior Department announced last week it was considering, including the removal of a specific ban on considering the cost of protecting a species.  “But instead, these proposed rollbacks would remove long-standing protections, let industry’s cost calculations determine if a species deserves protection, and lead to more costly and needless litigation,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement.

    Trump Admin. Quietly Awards Dozens of Lion Trophy Permits to Hunters, GOP Donors -  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued more than three dozen permits for hunters to bring back lion trophy parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia between 2016-2018, according to copies of the permits obtained by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  The documents were obtained by Friends of Animals and reported by Huffington Post on Thursday. Thirty-three hunters received a total of 38 lion trophy permits, according to the animal advocacy nonprofit. More than half of those hunters donated to Republican lawmakers or have ties to hunting advocacy group Safari Club International, Friends of Animals said.  "The permits show that the current administration, not only has loosened restrictions on lion hunting, but is rewarding supporters," the nonprofit said in a press release.The report follows the Trump administration's move in March to allow elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia on a case by case basis, a reversal from President Trump's previous statements that his administration would keep the Obama-era ban on imports of the animals. Last year, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke created an advisory committee called the International Wildlife Conservation Council that is mainly comprised of trophy hunters and members of Safari Club International. Among the hunters who received a permit was Steven Chancellor, a wealthy Indiana businessman and major GOP donor who raised more than $1 million for Republican candidates at a fundraiser at his home headlined by Donald Trump in 2016, Friends of Animals said. Chancellor—an avid hunter who has registered 482 confirmed kills, including 18 lions, between 1980 and 2008,

    These six species are about to be sacrificed for the oil and gas industry - Republicans in the western United States have been trying to whittle away the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since Donald Trump took office. Under new proposals, wildlife managers would limit protections for species designated as “threatened” (a level below endangered), consider the economic costs prior to defending a species, and de-emphasize long-term threats such as climate change.The proposals follow Republican bills and budget riders that would remove protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states, exempt the greater sage-grouse from an ESA listing for 10 years, and increase state involvement in conservation decisions. Those who study the ESA agree that reforms are needed – but the current proposals on the table are unlikely to solve the problems experts identify.Robin Kundis Craig of the University of Utah says: “The focus should have been on endangered habitats from the beginning. By the time a species is named endangered, it’s a harbinger that something is wrong with the whole system.” More than 1,600 species are listed as endangered or threatened, and the sage-grouse and others are nearing that threshold. Here’s how certain species might be affected:

    More Than 17,500 Square Miles Protected for Hawaii's False Killer Whales - Monday the National Marine Fisheries Service designated 17,500 square miles of ocean as protected critical habitat for Hawaii's false killer whales, a dolphin species whose numbers have dwindled to around 150 in the wild.The new rule, responding to legal action by the Natural Resources Defense Council, designates critical habitat from a depth of 45 meters to the 3,200-meter depth contour around the main Hawaiian Islands. Studies show that endangered species with critical habitat protections are twice as likely to be recovering than those lacking such habitat safeguards."False killer whales are in serious trouble, so we're glad to see some of their most important habitat finally be protected. They need every bit of help they can get," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at theCenter for Biological Diversity.The false killer whale is the world's third-largest dolphin. Its name comes from similarities in appearance to killer whales and with their predation on other marine mammals. Habitat protections are an important component of the Endangered Species Act to address a variety of threats including water pollution, noise pollution and prey reduction. Fishing is another threat to false killer whales, which is currently being addressed by a "take reduction team" created in response to litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies beginning almost a decade ago. The team includes representatives from the fishing industry, environmental groups, scientific and government institutions. The Center for Biological Diversity participates in this multi-stakeholder process.

     Is the Great Indian Bustard About to Go Extinct? - This month scientists in India warned that a three-foot-tall bird known as the great Indian bustard is perilously close to extinction, with a remaining population of just 150 birds.Even worse, this year researchers have observed just a single male bird—a juvenile too young to mate—at the bustards' traditional breeding grounds in the Kutch district of the Indian state of Gujarat. This youngster is the only male to visit the grassland site in some time. "No adult breeding males have been observed on their known breeding territories in last two years," said Devesh Gadhvi, deputy director of the Corbett Foundation, a nonprofit engaged in great Indian bustard conservation efforts. A few males have been previously confirmed in the neighboring state of Rajasthan, and Gadhvi says there may be a handful of additional males elsewhere in Gujarat, although there is no data to verify that.So why has this massive species nearly died out? Sadly, it appears to be a case of decades of neglect, and in some cases outright hostility toward the species. As Ali warned, the birds have lost most of their historic habitat—currently about 95 percent of where they used to fly—to roadways, mines, canals and other development. In addition, many projects have converted grasslands—which the Indian government classifies as "wasteland"—into wooded areas, inhospitable to the ground-dwelling species. Poaching has also continued to take a toll, especially on birds that have flown into neighboring Pakistan, where the species may or may not still exist.   Critics say the most recent bustard population drops are due to India's push for renewable energy. Over the past few years, important bustard habitats in Gujarat, Rajasthan and other states have been crisscrossed with high-voltage power transmission lines, many of which transmit electricity from wind turbines. The Corbett Foundation has documented numerous cases where power lines have been built right next to bustard habitat or in their migratory pathways. Bustards have trouble avoiding these power lines due to their limited field of vision and heavy weight, which limits their maneuverability. At least 10 birds, possibly as many as 15, are known to have been electrocuted by those power lines over the past decade. Among those killed were the only two males known to live in the state of Maharashtra.

     How prisons are poisoning their inmates - A week after Richard Mosley arrived as an inmate at Pennsylvania’s maximum-security SCI Fayette prison in 2008, he started getting sick. The air outside was so contaminated that his nose kept closing up. Then came the weight loss, followed by the gastrointestinal problems. Pretty soon, Mosley was relying on asthma masks to breathe. Only after he completed his sentence in 2012 and received a phone call from the Pennsylvania-based advocacy group Abolitionist Law Center did Mosley finally learn what was making him sick.  SCI Fayette was built in 2003 on the edge of a coal-ash dump for a nearby mine. Winds regularly sent that ash, which contained arsenic, lead, and mercury, into the air around the prison, and SCI Fayette inmates who inhaled it for a sustained period of time reported respiratory problems. Longer-term risks included thyroid cancer and lung disease. The ash also seeped into the water, creating elevated levels of trihalomethanes, a carcinogen produced from a reaction between the ash and chlorine, according to a VICE report from 2015. Local residents were warned of these risks; the people incarcerated at SCI Fayette were not.Last year, a Truthout investigation uncovered arsenic-laced water in the Wallace Pack Unit prison, which houses mostly elderly and disabled prisoners in Navasota, Texas. They also discovered that from 2008 to 2011 the California State Prison in Lancaster was home to a soil-based fungus that causes valley fever, a respiratory infection that is especially dangerous for black and Filipino inmates. (The fungus is most dangerous when it disseminates out of the lungs and throughout the body. A 2011 study showed Black people are 14 times more likely than their white counterparts to experience dissemination, while Filipinos are 175 times more likely.) In California’s Kern Valley State Prison, which has air quality levels below the minimum set by the Clean Air Act, a black inmate who contracted valley fever sued the state for a hate crime — its negligence, the inmate argued, imperiled the prison’s disproportionately black population. At Rikers Island in New York, which was built on a toxic-waste landfill, inmates have reported coughing up blood and guards have developed cancer. Many of these toxic prisons also serve as immigrant detention facilities. “This is something that’s going on throughout the country,” Mosley told me. “[Contractors] extract all the good stuff from the land, then they sell it to waste companies that contaminate the land, and then they sell it to prisons. Then they start shipping inmates there, and people start getting sick.”

    Pruitt May Have Been Poisoned by Expensive Desk  --In one of the most spectacular examples of irony you’ll ever see, staffers at the EPA think that former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who finally stepped down a couple weeks ago after a scandalous tenure, may have been poisoned by chemicals in the $10,000 desk he ordered for his office.  Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s nearly $10,000 office redecoration included the purchase of a desk his staffers feared was contaminated by a toxic chemical.  Email interactions between EPA staffers first reported by Politico on Friday, showed that aides worried about the potential health effects of formaldehyde found in the desk. The fears they raised came just months before the EPA blocked the release of a report highlighting the dangers of formaldehyde exposure in drinking water.   According to the emails released through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to American Oversight, staffers worried about a safety warning placed on the desk from California — which classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogen…    Gee, if only we had regulations to forbid putting toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into things like furniture that people come into contact with everyday. If only we had an EPA that thought its job was to protect people from such poisoning rather than protecting corporate profits. And irony wept.

    High levels of toxic chemicals found in drinking water of west Michigan community - Approximately 3,000 residents in and around Parchment, Michigan, a city north of Kalamazoo, were told by city officials Thursday to immediately stop consuming water from the municipal supply after it was found to contain high levels of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been linked to severe health effects. The announcement was made after testing conducted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) measured PFAS levels at 1410 parts per trillion (ppt), over 20 times greater than the 70 ppt defined as the official “advisory level” by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). City officials announced that the water was unsafe for drinking, cooking, using for baby formula, or even washing fruits and vegetables. Boiling the water does not remove the chemicals, nor do most drinking water filters. PFAS chemicals have been linked to a wide array of health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, liver and thyroid damage, increased cholesterol levels, immune system suppression, and developmental delays in children. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to health effects from PFAS exposure, which can lead to pregnancy-induced hypertension, infertility, and low fetal birth weight. City officials announced that the Parchment water supply would be “flushed” and that affected residents would be connected to Kalamazoo’s water supply until PFAS levels were lowered. A water distribution site was set up at Parchment High School, where residents have been receiving cases of bottled water. However, as of this writing, no announcement has been made as to the source of the contamination, nor of any plans to address this source.

    EPA blames itself for Flint water crisis -- On Thursday, more than four years after the water crisis in Flint, Michigan began, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a final report pointing blame right back at the EPA, as well as the state and city.None of this comes as surprise. In 2016, the OIG issued a report that concluded quite similarly: The EPA should’ve and could’ve done more sooner to protect the people of Flint. This latest report, however, provides much more detail on how various agencies failed the city and lots of suggestions on how they can be better next time. Flint’s water system wasn’t meeting the standards required under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, which falls under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). That rule requires the state to keep track of where lead service lines are in order to sample the water for lead (a nationwide problem, the EPA found), as well as using appropriate corrosion control measures to prevent pipes from leaching lead into the water.What’s perhaps the most depressing thing to come out of this report is that the EPA knew as early as 2010 that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was slacking on its implementation of the SDWA. The department had stopped issuing violations for any water system throughout the state that reported water monitoring results late and/or wasn’t providing information on lead service line locations.And yet until Flint’s water made national headlines toward the end of 2015, the EPA did nothing, despite complaints from Flint residents about the water quality beginning in May 2014.  “Generally, there is little or no correlation between citizen complaints about water and lead content,” Region 5 staff wrote in the report.

    A father, a daughter and the search for answers in a toxic town - Even before Hassan Amjad’s family buried him on a West Virginia hillside, phone calls flooded his daughter’s office.  Ayne Amjad, a doctor like her father, heard the same questions again and again: Who will stand up for us now? Will we be forgotten? Her father had made it his mission to get justice — or at least answers — for the people of this once-thriving coal town an hour south of the state capital. He told anyone willing to listen that industrial chemicals dumped decades ago by the now-defunct Shaffer Equipment Co. had long been poisoning residents. In the final months of his life, the elder Amjad and his wife spent many days in Minden knocking on doors, scribbling detailed medical histories, hoping to document potential links between cancer and the polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that had been discovered throughout the area. Local activists say that by their count, roughly a third of Minden residents have died from or been diagnosed with cancer in recent years.  Many people want to leave this place, where ramshackle houses dot the small valley not far from the New River. Its population has dwindled to 250, and few who remain have the resources to move.  “He said if it killed him, he was going to figure out what happened in Minden,” recalls Percy Fruit, 63, who lives in the house where he grew up near the old Shaffer facility, and whose parents both died of cancer. “He just wanted the wrong righted.” Cancer clusters, which researchers define as a “greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a defined geographic area over a period of time,” are notoriously difficult to prove. Hundreds of suspected clusters get reported to health officials each year, though most turn out to be statistical flukes — a random collection of cases in the same area, with no underlying cause. Still, Minden’s history of pollution has prompted decades of suspicion that PCBs were responsible for an untold number of deaths, miscarriages and other health problems here.

    Almost 1 Million Tons of Sewage Dumped into Lake Erie  (WKBW News video) About 990,000 gallons of sewage was dumped into Lake Erie over the weekend in Dunkirk.  Officials say this happened about 7 a.m. Sunday off of Wright Park Drive at the Dunkirk Wastewater Treatment Plant. The amount of rain that fell across the area played a role in the sewage being leaked into Lake Erie.  Officials say the discharge was partially treated with disinfection.  The Buffalo National Weather Service reports that over two inches of rain fell in the Dunkirk region over the weekend.

     Interior secretary meets with group seeking to drain San Francisco reservoir  - WSJ  —Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is interested in restoring the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park to its natural state after more than 100 years of providing water to the people of San Francisco and some suburbs. During a visit Sunday to Yosemite, Mr. Zinke met with a group called Restore Hetch Hetchy, formed about two decades ago to pursue a goal of draining the reservoir. “This is still just a fact-finding meeting, but the secretary is very interested in restoring the valley to its natural state,” said an Interior official. The official said Mr. Zinke wants to learn how removing the dam at Hetch Hetchy would “contribute to the reliable operation” of an existing federal water project that supplies water to California farmers, “in addition to the conservation benefits removal would provide.”  The damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley by San Francisco a century ago—burying a valley comparable in splendor to the famed Yosemite Valley—has long been regarded as one of the West’s great environmental catastrophes. Restore Hetch Hetchy’s plan is to drain the 360,000-acre-foot reservoir and make San Francisco store its mountain water somewhere else, perhaps even underground. An acre foot is about the amount of water a family of five uses in one year.  The group had also tried to get support from Washington, asking every Interior secretary since 2000 to meet on the issue, said Spreck Rosekrans, executive director. “San Francisco has monopolized this spectacular valley for 100 years, and it’s time to return it to the American people,” Mr. Rosekrans said. The Reagan administration had broached the idea in 1987. The administration of President George W. Bush was contemplating a feasibility study for it, but powerful San Francisco interests including Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein have helped blocked any action. While San Francisco officials weren’t immediately available for comment, they have steadfastly opposed the proposal in the past. City residents in 2012 voted down a measure to study the idea, with 77% voting against it. Draining is also widely opposed in the surrounding Bay Area, in part because recent droughts have raised concern over water supplies and because the quality of San Francisco’s supply—piped directly from the Sierra Nevada mountains—is considered one of the highest among Western cities.

      Ryan Zinke’s War on the Interior -  In May 2017, Ryan Zinke, the 52nd United States secretary of the Interior, traveled to Utah on a four-day fact-finding mission.Zinke had come to Utah to tour a pair of national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase – Escalante, as part of a broader review ordered by the Trump administration. Prior to the visit, conservatives had derided the monuments as an example of federal overreach, mockingly referring to Bears Ears as a “midnight monument” because the designation came at the end of Barack Obama’s term. In fact, achieving protected status for Bears Ears – 1.3 million acres that had been inhabited by native peoples for “hundreds of generations,” per Obama’s proclamation – had been years in the making, representing the work of environmental groups and an extraordinary coalition of five sovereign Native nations that historically have not always worked together as allies. Though Zinke’s office had portrayed his visit as an opportunity to hear from all sides of the debate, meetings with opponents of the monuments dominated his schedule. By the end of the year, Trump announced he would be shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 85 percent and 50 percent, respectively – some 2 million acres in total. The Department of the Interior oversees 20 percent of the land mass of the U.S., with 70,000 employees and nine bureaus, including Indian Affairs, Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey – a sweeping but widely misunderstood portfolio with outsize impact on domestic energy production, the environment, endangered species and an $887 billion outdoor-recreation industry. Zinke has proved willing to use the power of his office to advance long-standing Republican-policy goals with militaristic discipline and, to critics like Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, an unprecedented ferocity. “It’s the standard Republican playbook on steroids,” says Brune, “because the secretary has been so aggressive on so many fronts, doing things no other Interior secretary has ever done, with a side of mean-spiritedness.”

    A Record 207 Environmental Activists Were Killed Last Year - More than 200 environmental activists were killed in 2017, according to the latest report from global rights watchdog Global Witness. The troubling report revealed that 207 men and women across 22 countries were murdered last year defending their land and resources, making it the worst year on record.Agribusiness was the industry most associated with these attacks—highlighting the devastating cost of the food we eat and the products we use."For the first time, agribusiness surpassed mining as the most dangerous sector to oppose, as 46 defenders who protested against palm oil, coffee, tropical fruit and sugar cane plantations, as well as cattle ranching, were murdered in 2017," the report said. Global Witness cited Hernán Bedoya of Colombia, who was shot by a paramilitary group 14 times in December for protesting the expansion of palm oil and banana plantations in his community. In the Philippines, during a December massacre near Lake Sebu, eight villagers were killed by the Philippine army over a coffee plantation expansion. "As global demand for these products increases, there's a scramble by business actors to get the massive amount of land they need to grow these products," Ben Leather, senior campaigner at Global Witness, toldAFP. "When people dare to stand up for their rights and demand that the environment be protected they are silenced in the most brutal way."  The vast majority of murdered activists were from Latin America, accounting for 60 percent of those killed in 2017. Brazil was ranked the most dangerous with 57 murders alone.

    Almost four land activists killed per week in deadliest year on record: campaigners (Reuters) - Nearly four land and environmental activists were killed each week last year, murdered for opposing large-scale agriculture and mining projects in the deadliest year on record, a campaign group said on Tuesday. In 22 countries surveyed by U.K.-based Global Witness, at least 207 activists were killed, making 2017 the deadliest year since 2002 when the human rights organization started collecting data. Latin America fared worst, accounting for three in every five murders with the highest recorded death toll in any country reported in Brazil with 57 deaths, followed by 24 in Colombia and 15 in Mexico, the campaign group said in its annual report. In Brazil, rural communities and indigenous people living in the Amazon rainforest are hardest hit by violence, the report said. In the fight for land and the environment, communities around the world are locked in deadly struggles against governments, companies and criminal gangs exploiting land, Global Witness said. Rising conflicts over large-scale agricultural projects from cattle ranching to sugar cane and palm oil plantations led to more deaths of activists than any other sector, overtaking mining for the first time since 2002, the report said. “There has been an increase in consumer demand for cheap products, particularly food stuffs but also toiletries and other household products that contain things such as palm oil,” “And as businesses have tried to meet this demand they have effectively prioritized quick profit over human life with the complicity of governments who have facilitated their entry in their countries,” said Ben Leather, the report’s author. The Philippines reported more killings in 2017 than ever recorded in an Asian country with 48 deaths, accounting for a 71 percent rise in the past year. Of the 19 killings of activists reported across Africa, 12 were in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with most murdered while defending protected areas against poachers and illegal miners, the report said.  Behind the killings are criminal gangs and poachers, while 53 killings were linked to government security forces, the report said. 

     June 2018 ties for third warmest June on record - June 2018 continued the warming trend of the past 40 years. According to the monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, the past month surpassed the 1951-1980 June mean by +0.77°C. It tied with June 1998 as the third warmest June in 138 years of modern record-keeping, with only June 2015 and 2016 (+0.80°C and +0.79°C) being warmer.The mean temperature anomalies of +0.77°C for both June 1998 and June 2018 cannot be distinguished from each other given the uncertainty of the measurement. However, June 1998 was exceptionally warm at the time due to the then prevailing strong El Niño conditions — about 0.33°C above the trend line of the late 1990s. In contrast, the current El Niño phase is considered neutral. The temperature anomaly for June 2018 is similar to other recent monthly mean temperature anomalies, and lies within the expected range of +0.75±0.05°C. The monthly analysis by the GISS team is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations. The modern global temperature record begins around 1880 because previous observations didn't cover enough of the planet. Monthly analyses are sometimes updated when additional data becomes available, and the results are subject to change.

    Summers Are Getting Hotter Faster, Especially in North America's Farm Belt - Summers are heating up faster than the other seasons as global temperatures rise, especially in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and the changes carry the clear fingerprints of human-caused climate change, a new study shows.The findings deliver another blow against two refrains commonly repeated by climate deniers: that the satellite record doesn't show that the planet is warming, and that it's impossible to know how much warming is from nature and how much is from human beings.Both claims are wrong, say the authors of the study, published Thursday in the journal Science.Opponents to climate action have pointed to satellites in their arguments against global warming, said lead author Benjamin Santer, a climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "But in fact, satellite temperature data show very strong signals of human effects on climate." Santer and his co-authors looked at the satellite record going back to the late 1970s to trace how warming is impacting seasons differently. They found that while year-round temperatures are rising, the rate of that temperature increase is happening faster in the mid-latitudes during the summer than it is during the winter. That's even more pronounced in the Northern Hemisphere. The scientists ran models to look at rates of warming and separate out the causes, taking into account the greenhouse gases that come from the burning of fossil fuels and then looking just at natural variability without mankind's influence. "We show that the human fingerprint is far larger than our best current estimates of natural changes," Santer said.

    Crop failure and bankruptcy threaten farmers as drought grips Europe - Farmers across northern and central Europe are facing crop failure and bankruptcy as one of the most intense regional droughts in recent memory strengthens its grip.States of emergency have been declared in Latvia and Lithuania, while the sun continues to bake Swedish fields that have received only 12% of their normal rainfall. The abnormally hot temperatures – which have topped 30C in the Arctic Circle – are in line with climate change trends, according to the World Meteorological Organization. And as about 50 wildfires rage across Sweden, no respite from the heatwave is yet in sight. Lennart Nilsson, a 55-year-old cattle farmer from Falkenberg near Malmo and co-chair of the Swedish Farmers Association, said it was the worst drought he had experienced. “This is really serious,” he said. “Most of south-west Sweden hasn’t had rain since the first days of May. A very early harvest has started but yields seem to be the lowest for 25 years – 50% lower, or more in some cases – and it is causing severe losses.” If no rain comes soon, Nilsson’s association estimates agricultural losses of up to 8bn Swedish kronor (£700m) this year and widespread bankruptcies. The drought would personally cost him around 500,000 kronor (£43,000), Nilsson said, adding that, like most farmers, he is now operating at a loss. The picture is little different in the Netherlands, where Iris Bouwers, a 25-year-old farmer, said the parched summer had been a “catastrophe” for her farm. “Older families around me are comparing this to 1976,” she said. “My dad can’t remember any drought like this.”  The Bouwerses expect to lose €100,000 this year after a 30% drop in their potato crop. After investing in a pig stable over the winter, the family have no savings to cover the loss.  Asked what she would do, Bouwers just laughed.  “There is not much more I can do. I wouldn’t talk about bankruptcy yet, but our deficit will be substantial. It probably means we need to have a very good talk with the bank.”

    European Drought Threatens Harvests From Sweden to the Czech Republic - For farmers in central and northern Europe, this summer's unusually high temperatures aren't just uncomfortable, they are putting their harvests at risk, The Guardian reported Friday. The drought, caused by high temperatures and low rainfall since May 2018, is the worst in recent memory for the region, according to The Guardian. "Older families around me are comparing this to 1976," 25-year-old Dutch farmer Iris Bouwers told The Guardian. "My dad can't remember any drought like this."Bouwers said her family stood to lose €100,000, as their potato crop is likely to fall by 30 percent, and their savings won't cover the loss because of an investment made in a pig stable.  They aren't the only ones. The German Association of the Fruit, Vegetable, and Potato Processing Industry announced Tuesday they expected to see a smaller, less quality potato crop that would lead to a 25 percent revenue loss in the agricultural and potato processing sectors, Earther reported. EU grain growers are also expecting their smallest harvest in six years, Bloomberg reported. Many German farmers could go bankrupt if their crops fail again, and, for some German farmers, things are so bad that they are destroying crops instead of attempting to harvest them.  The Swedish Farmers Association estimated that if rain doesn't fall soon, its members could lose eight billion Swedish kronor and many could go bankrupt.

    Satellite pictures show a record heat wave turning Britain from green to brown - For much of the year, Britain is wet and dreary, more mystery novel than sparkling beach read. Come summer, though, Britons can feel a bit smug. While Americans sweat and swelter, Brits enjoy warm days and sweater-weather nights. At least that's usually the case. But not this year. Britain is in the throes of the longest heat wave since 1976. Average summer temperatures usually hover around 78 degrees. This year, it's been nearly 10 degrees hotter, with spikes well into the 90s. It's been unusually dry, too — just two inches of rain have fallen between June 1 and July 16, making it the driest summer on record. And experts say the heat will last at least through early August. The Heat Health Watch Service, run by the Met Office and Public Health England, has issued a warning, urging people to stay inside and drink plenty of fluids. Prime Minister Theresa May has urged people to stay out of the sun through Friday, when temperatures are expected to hit 93 degrees. The weather has been so hot and dry that it has turned Britain from green to brown. Satellite images released by the Met Office, Britain's national weather service, show just how dramatically the weather has changed the country's topography.Updated Satellite images of Ireland showing the forty shades of green turning to shades of brown as #Drought continues with no rain in many areas since the 20th of June. Images from 24th June, 3rd and 10th of July during #Heatwave — Carlow Weather (@CarlowWeather) July 10, 2018 In addition to browned fields and crop damage, the warm, dry weather has been blamed for wildfires in northwestern England and a ban on sprinklers in Ireland. . The dry conditions exposed a “drowned village” in a reservoir in Dartmoor, Devon. The valley was flooded in 1898, experts say, submerging village walls, a farmhouse and a bridge. In Wales, researchers uncovered an early medieval cemetery and a prehistoric Roman farm.

    Drought: Farmers forced to shoot livestock they can’t afford to feed - FARMER Les Jones will this month shoot all 1200 of his starving sheep and bury them in a mass grave on his barren farm in northwestern NSW.The sheep are living skeletons, so emaciated the Jones family can’t even use them to feed themselves “unless we ate soup every day”.  The cattle are so hungry they are scraping dried moss off rocks with their teeth and chasing stray leaves that blow off trees.The Sunday Telegraph has been visiting farms throughout the rain-starved state, where many areas are suffering the driest conditions since records began in 1900.At Goolhi, west of Gunnedah, the Joneses are in an impossible situation. Even if they could find an abattoir wiling to buy their livestock, which is highly unlikely, the sheep are too gaunt to legally put on a truck.But they’ve run out of money to buy increasingly scarce hay and increasingly expensive grain.Currently, 10 sheep a day die from starvation on the 670ha property, so the most humane option is to shoot them all.“We own an old dozer and the husband is finding somewhere on the farm to dig a big hole and push them in,” Les’s wife Laura said.“We don’t have any choice but to shoot them. We’ve tried our utmost to keep them alive, but how can we?”Visitors are warned not to accept a cup of tea from Mrs Jones because the remaining 60cm of drinking water in the family’s rainwater tank is infused with the whiff of mosquito larvae and dead mice.Each night Les, Laura and daughter Lillie take turns to have a bath in the same water, which turns black before it’s emptied.The farming family rations its bottled water, which is all they have to drink. All 12 dams on the property are either dry or contain just a few centimetres of brown water, which they’ve had to fence off because sheep were getting stuck and dying in the muddy banks. There isn’t any nutritious pasture left on the property — just red dirt and tufts of razor grass, which the livestock won’t eat because it cuts their mouths.

    Texas power use to break record on Monday during heat wave: ERCOT - (Reuters) - Homes and businesses in Texas will likely use record amounts of power again on Monday as consumers keep their air conditioners cranked up on what is expected to be the last day of a week-long heat wave, the operator of much of the state’s power grid said. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) forecast demand would reach 74,647 megawatts on Monday, which would top the current record of 73,259 MW set on July 19. One megawatt can usually power about 1,000 U.S. homes. But on a hot day in Texas, ERCOT said one megawatt could only power about 100 homes. Over the past week, high temperatures in Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, have reached 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit (37-38 Celsius) every day since July 16 and are expected to top out at 101 degrees on Monday, according to AccuWeather. After Monday, however, power usage is expected to ease with demand on Tuesday only projected to reach 69,964 MW as temperatures return to near normal levels of around 95 degrees. Over the past week, ERCOT said demand for power set peak records for the month on July 16 and 17 before breaking the grid’s all-time high on July 18 and 19 and the all-time weekend high on July 21 and 22. Power prices at the ERCOT North hub rose to $194.25 per megawatt hour (MWh) on Friday from $176 on Thursday. That, however, was down from the near seven-year high of $351 set earlier last week. Those prices compare with an average of $42.30/MWh so far this year, $26.67 for all of 2017 and a five-year (2013-2017) average of $33.03. Despite the retirement of three big coal plants in early 2018 due to low power prices in recent years, ERCOT has said it expects to have sufficient operational tools to manage tight reserves and maintain system reliability this summer. Those tools include using a previously mothballed power plant, imports from other regions, consumer conservation and demand response efforts, which compensate consumers for cutting electric usage.

    Record-breaking Texas heat overwhelms electrical grid and endangers residents - A deadly heat wave across Texas is testing the state’s electrical grid and endangering residents as unrelenting temperatures tick higher. The typically hot Southern state is seeing dramatic conditions during a sweltering summer that has overwhelmed the United States and a number of other countries.  Record-breaking heat has hammered the Lone Star State since late last week. A heat advisory is currently in place for more than 34 million people across the country as of Monday morning, with a large concentration based in Texas. The capital city of Austin set a daily heat record on Friday when temperatures climbed to 104 degrees Fahrenheit at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, some 10 degrees warmer than is typical for the city at this time of year.Austin isn’t alone. Multiple Texas cities reported five to six days in a row with temperatures over 100 degrees. An advisory issued last Thursday included the north Texas Dallas-Fort Worth metro area for the first time since 2011. On Saturday, Fort Worth saw a blistering high of 106 degrees, a trend reflected across the state throughout the week. At Enchanted Rock, a Texas state park located near Fredericksburg, park rangers reported last Thursday that the pink granite mountain’s surface temperature was 133 degrees. The heat wave has also tested the state’s electrical grid, which is somewhat unique. Of the entire lower 48 states, Texas is the only one with its own power grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) that serves most of the state set back-to-back hourly demand records on Wednesday, July 18, only to set a new system-wide peak demand record the next day. More record-setting numbers are expected as the heat wave drags on. Staggering grid demand has implications for many Texans, especially in low-income communities and areas of the state with reduced infrastructure.According to Public Utility Commission of Texas Chairman DeAnn Walker, approximately 10.4 million Texas households are eligible for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) because they make less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Fear of high costs and distance from urban areas where repairs to faulty cooling units are easier can endanger many residents as temperatures soar.

    US Southwest Suffering Heat And Drought Not Seen Since The 1930's Dust Bowl - Despite all of the other crazy news that is happening all around the world, the top headlines on Drudge on Monday evening were all about the record heatwave that is currently pummeling the Southwest.  Of course it is always hot during the summer, but the strange weather that we have been witnessing in recent months is unlike anything that we have seen since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.  At this moment, almost the entire Southwest is in some stage of drought.  Agricultural production has been absolutely devastated, major lakes, rivers and streams are rapidly becoming bone dry, and wild horses are dropping dead because they don’t have any water to drink.  In addition, we are starting to see enormous dust storms strike major cities such as Las Vegas and Phoenix, and the extremely dry conditions have already made this one of the worst years for wildfires in U.S. history. What we are facing is not “apocalyptic” quite yet, but it will be soon if the rain doesn’t start falling. Large portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah are already at the highest level of drought on the scale.  In Arizona, things are so bad that wild horses have been dropping dead by the dozens, and now authorities are trying to save those that are leftFor what they say is the first time, volunteer groups in Arizona and Colorado are hauling thousands of gallons of water and truckloads of food to remote grazing grounds where springs have run dry and vegetation has disappeared. Federal land managers also have begun emergency roundups in desert areas of Utah and Nevada. In May, dozens of horses were found dead on the edge of a dried-up watering hole in northeastern Arizona.

    US Southwest sizzles as temperatures near 120 degrees (AP) — Temperatures approached 120 degrees in parts of the U.S. Southwest on Monday, and forecasters said this week could bring the region's hottest weather of the year.Phoenix reached a sweltering 115 degrees (46 Celsius), which broke the previous daily record, according to the National Weather Service. Firefighters and city officials Monday morning distributed bright red cloth visors, hand fans and blue-colored cooling neckerchiefs to downtown Phoenix commuters, advising them to stay inside as much as possible.A heat advisory was in effect for west Texas and southeast New Mexico into Monday evening, with high temperatures well into the triple digits, the service said. Afternoon school bus service was canceled Monday in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the mercury climbed to 105 degrees (41 Celsius).Forecasters issued excessive heat warnings to much of Arizona, including parts of Grand Canyon National Park, and extended into areas of Southern California and Nevada.  The operator of California's electrical grid to call for voluntary conservation of power Tuesday and Wednesday due to high temperatures in much of the West. Parts of Utah were also issued an excessive heat warning with temperatures this week expected to approach 109 degrees (43 Celsius). The weather service said the warning for Utah's Dixie and Lake Powell regions will be in effect Tuesday through Thursday.

     The big heatwave: from Algeria to the Arctic. But what’s the cause? -  Last week, authorities in Sweden took an unusual step. They issued an appeal for international aid to help them tackle an epidemic of wildfires that has spread across the nation over the past few days. After months without rain, followed by weeks of soaring temperatures, the nation’s forests had become tinderboxes. The result was inevitable. Wildfires broke out and, by the end of last week, more than 50 forest blazes – a dozen inside the Arctic circle – had spread across Sweden. A nation famous for its cold and snow found itself unable to cope with the conflagrations taking place within its border and so made its appeal for international help, a request that has already been answered by Norway and Italy who have both sent airborne firefighting teams to help battle Sweden’s blazes. Nor is the nation’s fiery fate particularly unusual at present. Across much of the northern hemisphere, intense and prolonged heatwaves have triggered disruption and devastation as North America, the Arctic, northern Europe and Africa have sweltered in record-breaking temperatures. In Africa, a weather station at Ouargla, Algeria, in the Sahara desert, recorded a temperature of 51.3C, the highest reliable temperature ever recorded in Africa. In Japan, where temperatures have reached more than 40C, people were last week urged to take precautions after the death toll reached 30 with thousands more having sought hospital treatment for heat-related conditions. And in California increased use of air conditioning units, switched on to counter the scorching conditions there, has led to power shortages. But perhaps the strangest impact of the intense heat has been felt in Canada. It too has been gripped by ferocious heat, with Toronto recording temperatures that have exceeded 30C on 18 days so far this year. This figure compares with only nine such days all last summer. Dozens have died in the withering heat – with startling and grim consequences. Montreal’s morgue has been swamped with the bodies of those who have died because of the heat, and many corpses have had to be stored elsewhere in the city. Montreal coroner Jean Brochu said it was first time the city’s morgue had been overwhelmed this way.

    Vietnam flood death toll rises to 27, more rain forecast (Reuters) - The death toll from floods and landslides triggered by tropical storm Son Tinh rose to 27 on Tuesday, and seven people are still missing, the government’s Disaster Management Authority said. With a long coastline, Vietnam is prone to destructive storms and flooding, with 389 people killed last year in natural disasters such as floods and landslides, according to government statistics. Though tropical storm Son Tinh weakened to a tropical depression by the time it reached Vietnam last week, the torrential rains it brought caused heavy flooding and landslides in many parts of northern Vietnam. Some areas in the outskirts of the capital Hanoi remain submerged. Slideshow (6 Images)The remote mountainous province of Yen Bai has suffered the heaviest casualties in the latest floods and landslides, with 13 people reportedly killed, 18 injured and four missing, the disaster management agency said in a statement. The floods and landslides have also damaged and submerged more than 12,000 houses, more than 90,000 hectares (222,395 acres) of crops, mostly paddy, and cut off traffic to several parts of northern Vietnam, the agency said. Last month, heavy rains triggered flash floods and landslides which killed 24 people in the remote and mountainous northern provinces of Lai Chau and Ha Giang. The agency urged the authorities and people to keep vigilant for more floods and landslides over the coming days. According to the National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, heavy rain is forecast to continue in the northern part of the country until early August. 

    Japanese heat wave pushes temperature to record (Reuters) - The temperature rose to a record 41.1 Celsius (106 Fahrenheit) in a city northwest of Tokyo on Monday, as a heat wave in Japan that has killed at least 23 people and sent thousands to hospital showed no sign of significant easing. The temperature was recorded in Kumagaya, in Saitama prefecture, topping the previous high of 41C in the western prefecture of Kochi in August 2013, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. Records go back to varying dates for different cities, with data for Kumagaya starting in 1896. Japan has been battered by intense heat for close to two weeks but the mercury soared on Monday, breaking above 40 in one part of the broader Tokyo metropolitan area, while the center of the capital marked a high of 39 in the early afternoon.   According to the Fire and Defence Management Agency, which issues weekly data, 12 people had died from the heat as of July 15, the latest available figures. Media reports say at least 11 more died this past Saturday alone, while thousands have been taken to hospital. Among the dead was a primary school boy who collapsed after a field trip to a park 20 minutes’ walk from his school. Temperatures in the ancient capital of Kyoto marked a record last week of seven straight days above 38 degrees, hitting 39.8 on July 19, and prompting the city to cancel one of its biggest annual tourist events, a parade for the Gion Matsuri, on Sunday. With the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020, concern has risen about the safety of athletes and spectators. The heat, due to a layering of two high pressure systems over much of Japan, is expected to ease slightly this week but temperatures of around 33 are expected.  

    Dozens dead in Japan from record-setting, long duration extreme heat event - With torrential rain and punishing heat, devastating weather has afflicted Japan for much of July. Early in the month, more than 200 people died in its worst flood in decades, spurred by up to 70 inches of rain. Since then, dozens more have perished from an extended period of scorching heat, which has shattered records throughout the country. Kyodo News reports the death toll from heat has risen above 30 since July 9. On Thursday alone, 10 people died and 2,605 people were hospitalized in the sweltering conditions, the Japan Times wrote. Sayaka Mori, a meteorologist for the broadcasting service NHK World-Japan, tweeted that mercury climbed as high as 105.3 degrees (40.7 Celsius), the highest in five years and 0.5 degrees (0.3 Celsius) off the national record. Excessively hot weather has persisted in Japan for days. On Wednesday, French meteorologist Etienne Kapikian, who closely monitors global weather extremes, tweeted that five locations had posted their highest recorded temperatures for any month of the year. A number of other locations set all-time (for any month) or July heat records in the days prior.On Sunday, 200 of 927 weather stations in the country witnessed temperatures of at least 95 degrees (35 Celsius).After the deluge, the #heat. This map from Japan Meteorological Agency shows the extremely high temperatures in the country after the devastating #Japanfloods. 200 out of 927 stations recorded more than 35°C on 15 July— WMO | OMM (@WMO) July 17, 2018 The heat is the result of a high-pressure area or heat dome parked over the region. It is forecast to remain more or less stationary for days and possibly strengthen in about a week.  On Thursday, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued an extended forecast calling for an elevated likelihood of very high temperatures through the end of the month.

    Japan heatwave declared natural disaster as death toll mounts BBC - Japan's weather agency has declared a heatwave sweeping the country a natural disaster, with at least 65 deaths recorded in the past week. An agency spokesman warned that "unprecedented levels of heat" were being seen in some areas. More than 22,000 people have been taken to hospital with heat stroke, nearly half of them elderly, officials say. On Monday, the city of Kumagaya reported a temperature of 41.1C (106F), the highest ever recorded in Japan. The heatwave shows no sign of abating, forecasters say. In central Tokyo, temperatures over 40C were also registered for the first time. The Japan Meteorological Agency warned that temperatures of 35C or higher would continue until early August. Many families in Tokyo have gone to the seaside to cool off "We are observing unprecedented levels of heat in some areas," spokesman Motoaki Takekawa said, adding that the heatwave was "a threat to life and we recognise it as a natural disaster". In Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, a 91-year-old woman was found collapsed in a field and later pronounced dead in hospital. In nearby Saitama two elderly women were found dead in their homes. With less than half of Japan's public schools equipped with air conditioning, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the summer holidays could be extended to protect pupils. 

    Japan's Record-Breaking Heatwave Declared Natural Disaster, 80 DeadHot, dry and fiery conditions are being seen by many parts of the globe right now. This includes Japan, where the nation's meteorological agency just declared the extreme heat a "natural disaster." An agency spokesman said that "unprecedented levels of heat" were being felt, as quoted by AFP. The city of Kumagaya, located about 40 miles northwest of Tokyo, even broke the country's all-time record when it reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday. The previous record was 105.8 degrees, set on Aug. 12, 2013 in the town of Ekawasaki.   The ongoing heatwave "is fatal, and we recognize it as a natural disaster," the weather agency spokesman added.Preliminary government data shows that the heatwave caused 65 deaths from July 16-22. Another 22,647 people were also sent to hospitals with heat stroke symptoms. Both of the figures are the highest for one week since record-keeping began in 2008, according to the Asahi Shimbun.   As of Tuesday, Fire and Disaster Management Agency said a total of 80 people have died from the heat since the beginning of July, and more than 35,000 have been hospitalized, AFP reported.Japan's meteorological agency expects that temperatures will continue to be 95 degrees and higher into August, USA TODAY reported. Officials advised people to stay hydrated, stay indoors, use air conditioning and avoid direct sunlight.The sweltering conditions come not long after historic flooding and mudslides killed more than 220 people in western and central Japan. As EcoWatch previously mentioned, that weather disaster fell in line with government predictions for the impact of climate change on Japan. A 2012 report found that global warming could increase the risk of flooding and landslide disasters due to heavy rain.

    The disturbing reason heat waves can kill people in cooler climates - Already this summer, nine all-time temperature records have been broken and 10 records have tied in the United States. Overall, 2018 is on track to be the fourth-warmest year on record. And many other countries are suffering from the heat too. A village in Oman saw temperatures linger above 108°F for 51 hours straight, which likely broke the world record for highest minimum temperature ever.  These heat waves comport with what scientists expect from climate change. The body of evidence shows that the world will face longer, more intense heat waves as average temperatures go up, and that they will be deadly. In Canada, at least 70 people have died from the recent heat. Over the weekend, eight died and more than 2,000 were reported injured in Japan from record temperatures. In May, a heat wave killed 65 in Karachi, Pakistan. But while temperatures in Pakistan reached 111°F, in Canada, they only reached 95°F. In Japan, the high this past weekend was 101°F.   Which shows that heat waves are often most dangerous not necessarily where it’s hottest, but where it’s hardest to cool off. The common denominator in the recent heat-related deaths and hospital visits in Canada and Japan is that many occurred among people who were already facing health risks and who didn’t have access to cooling. We saw this play out in Quebec, where many of Canada’s recently heat-related fatalities occurred, according to NPR: Most of the people who died as the region reached temperatures up to 95 degrees are elderly men and women living alone in apartments with no air conditioning, and many had chronic health conditions.

     Global heat wave: an epic TV news fail:   Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, This month’s scorching heat wave broke records around the world. The Algerian city of Ouargla, with a population of half a million, had a temperature of 124.3 degrees Fahrenheit on July 6, the hottest reliably measured temperature on record in Africa. In Ireland and Wales, the unusually hot weather revealed ancient structures normally hidden by grass or crops. In Chino, California, the mercury soared to 120 degrees. Another round of hazardous summer heat is expected this week, with record high temperatures possible in the southern United States.  The prolonged heat wave has been a staple of television news for weeks. However, most of the coverage has been sorely lacking in context: Humans are warming the planet, and scientists have already linked some heat waves to climate change. A recent analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change concludes that human-driven climate change, rather than natural variability, will be the leading cause of heat waves over the western United States and Great Lakes region as early as the 2020s and 2030s, respectively. Like the heat itself, much of the media coverage was stupefying. “Major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat,” according to a Media Matters survey. “Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.”

    Climate Change May Cause 26,000 More U.S. Suicides by 2050 - For almost two centuries now, scientists have noticed a place’s suicide rate bears troubling links to the changing of the seasons and the friendliness of its climate.In 1881, the Italian physician Enrico Morselli noted that suicide rates peak in the summer, deeming the effect “too great for it to be attributed to chance of the human will.” Two decades later, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim noticed the same effect—though he also found the suicide rate was higher in Scandinavian countries. Even today, CDC data confirms that suicides peak in the United States in the early summer.Now, scientists have identified one more way that climate shapes suicide—and, worryingly, they have projected that it will only become more pronounced as suicide rates rise in a rapidly warming world.Unusually hot days cause the suicide rate to rise, according to a study published Monday in Nature Climate Change. If a month is 1 degree Celsius warmer than normal, then its suicide rate will increase by 0.7 percent in the United States and 2.1 percent in Mexico.“It’s sort of a brutal finding,” says Marshall Burke, a professor of earth science at Stanford University and one of the authors of the paper.  The finding has anxious implications for a world whose climate is rapidly changing. The authors project that roughly 14,000 people—and as many as 26,000—could die by suicide in the United States by 2050 if humanity does not reduce its emissions of greenhouse-gas pollution.

    Huge wildfires are spreading in California, Oregon, and Colorado. They’re poised to get worse -- Wildfires have almost become a year-round threat in some parts of the western United States. From Colorado to California, it feels like the blazes from last year never went out. Flames ignited forests and chaparral virtually nonstop in 2017, and the year ended with record infernos in Southern California that burned well into 2018.Officials don’t refer to “fire seasons anymore but rather to fire years,” Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center, told me in an email. The NIFC reports that this year, wildfires have burned more than 3.6 million acres, behind the 4.9 million acres that had burned as of this time last year. The Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park has already burned more than 33,000 acres, an area more than 35 times the size of Central Park in Manhattan, since igniting on July 13. More than 3,000 firefighters from as far away as Virginia are fighting the blaze. As of Monday evening, the fire was only 13 percent contained and had led to the death of one firefighter, Braden Varney. The fire sent thick plumes of smoke and ash into the air, leading to very unhealthy air quality alerts in the region. Meanwhile, the Substation Fire near Portland, Oregon, has torched 79,000 acres and forced 75 households to evacuate. It’s just one of 160 wildfires scorching southern Oregon. As of Monday morning, the fire is 92 percent contained. In Colorado, wildfires have already ripped through 175,000 acres, and the ensuing rains have brought mudslides along the freshly denuded landscape.And it’s likely to get worse. Many parts of the US are facing a higher than normal fire risk this year.It’s an alarming echo of last year’s devastating fire season, which charred more than 10 million acres, making it one of the worst years in more than three decades. California suffered its largest wildfire ever, the Thomas Fire, which engulfed an area 1.6 times the size of New York City.As firefighters take on new blazes and homeowners rebuild in the ashes, here are some things worth knowing and what we can expect for the remainder of the fire season.

    Wildfire Closes Yosemite Valley for First Time in More Than a Decade - The iconic Yosemite Valley, home to the most famous vistas in Yosemite National Park, will be evacuated Wednesday to protect visitors from dangerous smoke from the Ferguson fire, The Huffington Post reported.Park officials said the closure would remain in effect until Sunday, according to an announcement Tuesday."Get yourself out of here if you can," Yosemite National Park superintendent Michael Reynolds told CNN on Tuesday.The closure means all hotels, campgrounds and visitor services in Yosemite Valley and Wawona will be shuttered, and anyone currently using them has been instructed to leave by noon on Wednesday.This is the first time the valley, home to the national park's famous waterfalls and rock features Half Dome and El Capitan, has been closed because of a wildfire since the A-Rock Fire burned 18,000 acres in the area in 1990, according to The Huffington Post.California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesperson Rich Eagan told The Wall Street Journal that the fire was currently two miles away from the park and that firefighters were battling it back from the park's western edge.The Ferguson Fire has burned 36,587 acres since it ignited July 13 and is only 25 percent contained, according to The Wall Street Journal. It is threatening nearly 35,000 buildings and has mobilized 3,311 firefighters against it.  Six of them have been injured and one has died.

    The Latest: Southern California, Sierra fires keep growing | Fox News: A wildfire in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California has grown to 18 square miles (46 square kilometers). Authorities say just 3 percent of the fire's perimeter is contained Friday morning. Conditions are calm but gusty winds are expected by afternoon. The fire allegedly was intentionally set Wednesday and quickly spread through timber and brush near the town of Idyllwild and other communities about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. More than 4,900 structures are threatened and an estimated 6,000 people have been evacuated. In the Sierra Nevada, the Ferguson Fire continues to grow just outside Yosemite National Park. Authorities say it is now nearly 72 square miles (186 square kilometers), but containment has increased to 29 percent. Yosemite Valley and the Wawona and Mariposa Grove areas of the national park remain closed. More evacuations have been ordered as a devastating wildfire torches an area in and around the Northern California city of Redding. The blaze that broke out Monday exploded late Thursday and raced into small communities west of Redding before entering the city limits. Fire officials say dozens of homes have burned, though conditions make it impossible to determine an accurate count and the number could climb much higher. A bulldozer operator on the fire lines was killed and three firefighters suffered burns. Some civilians also have been injured. Hundreds of people who fled their homes because of a massive Northern California wildfire are crowding into shelters as the blaze brightens the sky with a red glow. Videos posted to social media show long lines of cars slowly moving on a highway near the city of Redding as the wildfire rages on the hills behind. Dozens of evacuees are going to Shasta College, where officials have set up a shelter. Another shelter has been set up at an elementary school. Mandatory evacuations were ordered overnight for the city of Shasta Lake, which has about 10,000 residents. People in the western part of Redding, which has about 92,000 residents, were also asked to evacuate. The blaze grew overnight to 70 square miles (180 square kilometers).

    Carr Fire: Raging wildfire Northern California turns deadly, reaches Redding, forces "mass evacuations" -- An explosive wildfire raged through several Northern California communities, killing two firefighters and destroying dozens of homes after thousands of terrified residents fled in miles-long traffic jams. Sixty-five structures have been destroyed, and 5,000 other buildings were threatened, fire officials said Friday.The Carr Fire is "taking down everything in its path," said Scott McLean, a CalFire spokesman for the crews battling the blaze.In all, an estimated 37,000 people have fled from the Carr Fire, which began Monday and tripled in size overnight Thursday amid scorching temperatures, low humidity and high winds. Fire officials warned that the blaze would probably burn deeper into urban areas before there was any hope of containing it.Flames that turned the sky orange swept through the communities of Shasta and Keswick before jumping the Sacramento River on Thursday and reaching Redding, a city of about 92,000 people and the largest in the region.A firefighter with the Redding Fire Department was killed in Shasta County, officials said Friday. Another firefighter hired to try to contain the flames with a bulldozer was killed Thursday. Residents in the western part of Redding who had not been under evacuation orders were caught off guard and had to flee with little notice. "When it hit, people were really scrambling," McLean said. "There was not much of a warning."

    Deadly Calif. wildfire 'taking down everything in its path,' spawning 'firenadoes' -  A raging wildfire in Northern California that swelled in size Friday has killed two people and injured at least three firefighters, officials said.  The Carr Fire in Shasta County has since claimed the lives of a bulldozer operator and a city of Redding firefighter, according to officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the U.S. National Park Service and the Shasta County Sheriff's Office.  The "mechanical failure of a vehicle" ignited the blaze in Whiskeytown on Monday, officials said. The fire had burned an area of more than 48,000 acres by Friday night, with a containment of just 5 percent. The flames ripped through northwest Shasta County then spread southeast, sweeping across the Sacramento River overnight and roaring toward the city limits of Redding, which is home to 92,000. At least 500 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed by the fast-moving fire, while 75 others have been damaged. Another nearly 5,000 structures remain threatened, officials said. "A lot of our challenges right now with this fire is the weather. Our humidity is really low," Eric Colter, with the Redding Bureau of Land Management, told San Francisco ABC station KGO. "High temperatures and we're getting a lot of evening and late afternoon winds."  The blaze is "taking everything down in its path," and the situation on the scene is "very dynamic" .  A total of 3,410 people are working on the fire, including 328 engines, 17 helicopters and 62 bulldozers.  Gusty winds reaching 60 mph are fanning the flames and creating fire tornadoes, or "firenadoes," that move erratically and are strong enough to overturn vehicles "like toys," McLean told reporters

    Nearly 1,000 homes on evacuation alert in B.C., Canada due to wildfires --Some 123 fires are burning across the province, of which 41 are in the Kamloops Fire Centre, which includes the Okanagan. There are also significant wildfires raging in central and southeast B.C. and in Ontario. People living in nearly 1,000 homes have already been forced to leave or must be prepared to leave at a moments notice as 41 wildfires blaze in British Columbia's scenic Okanagan region. Located in B.C.'s southern interior, the region is defined by the basin of Okanagan Lake and the Canadian portion of the Okanagan River. It is part of the Okanagan Country, extending into the United States as Okanogan County in north-central Washington state. The Okanagan region, also a wine-growing region, includes the cities of Kelowna, Penticton, and Vernon. According to the BC Wildfire Service, the highest levels of fire activity are in the Okanagan, Prince George, and southeastern regions, reports CBC Canada. A lightning storm earlier last week sparked multiple wildfires that resulted in one major blaze, the Mount Eneas fire near Peachland, growing in size to 10 square kilometers (3.86 square miles). “Things are quite busy right now and the situation down there is pretty volatile,” said Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek, speaking from Kamloops, just north of the Okanagan, reports the National Post. "We are definitely fully engaged down there, but comparing it to where we were at, at this time in 2017, definitely a very different fire season," he said. "You know at this stage last year the entire city of Williams Lake was evacuated, tens of thousands of people displaced. We had many massive fires burning out of control throughout the Interior."

    A Global Heat Wave Has Set the Arctic Circle on Fire - From Japan to Sweden, and Oman to Texas, a global heat wave is setting records, igniting wildfires, and killing dozens all across the world this week. The south-central region is home to the highest temperatures in the U.S. this week, with nearly 35 million people living under excessive heat warnings issued by the National Weather Service. Temperatures are expected to be in the triple digits across Texas this weekend, marking the most severe heat wave in the state since 2011. Across the globe in Kyoto, Japan, Thursday marked the seventh straight day of temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees, breaking all known records for the ancient capital city. At least 30 people have died in Japan during the heat wave, which has complicated rescue efforts following floods and landslides that killed more than 200 in western Japan earlier this month. On Thursday alone ten people died and 2,605 people were sent to hospitals in Tokyo due to heat, the Japan Times reports. The day before, Tokyo rescue workers set a record by responding to more than 3,000 emergency calls. Meanwhile, in Sweden, the Arctic Circle is on fire. High temperatures and a prolonged drought have caused 49 fires to ignite across Sweden, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees as far north as the Arctic Circle this week. According to the Washington Post, temperatures in Scandinavia typically settle in the 60s and 70s this time of year, meaning the current heat wave is making things around 20 degrees hotter than normal. The list of areas experiencing extreme temperatures keeps going: An Algerian city earlier this month broke the record for the highest temperature ever in Africa when it hit 124.3 degrees and a city in Oman recorded the highest low temperature — 108.7 degrees — ever recorded on Earth. In Quebec, more than 90 people were killed by extreme heat in early July.

    The Arctic is on fire, and you can see it from space - Wildfires are ravaging parts of the Arctic Circle, and they’re big enough to see from space.  The wildfires started in early June, and more than 50 have now cropped up in parts of Sweden inside the Arctic Circle, according to the European Space Agency, which has kept tabs on the situation with satellites from space. Sweden doesn’t often have to deal with fires, but so far the blazes have swallowed up $70 million worth of land, according to Swedish news agency TT. The country has asked for help from Norway and Italy, which sent along helicopters and planes to help contain the flames, according to the New York Times. To figure out the size of the fires and where they’re spreading, the European Space Agency put four of its Copernicus Sentinel satellites on the job. Without the satellite imagery they're providing, the agency would have a tough time measuring the fires or even seeing them at all in some of the sparsely populated areas.The wildfires follow the longest sustained drought on record in Sweden and heat waves that have engulfed most of Europe. And to scientists, they look a lot like what you’d expect human-caused climate change to look like.  These photos show the west coast of Norway over to central Sweden, where the fires are raging below the clouds. And in a zoomed-in shot, not just the smoke is visible; the satellites caught images where you can see the actual flames.

    Wildfires Erupt in Greece, Killing Scores and Injuring More Than 100 - Wildfires that ignited in Greece Monday have killed at least 60 people in the area around Athens, prompting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to declare three days of national mourning, BBC News reported.The fires, which have injured at least 150, are the worst Greece has seen in more than a decade."Today Greece is mourning, and in memory of those who were lost, we are declaring a three-day period of mourning," Tsipras said, as ABC News reported. "But we mustn't let mourning overwhelm us, because these hours are hours of battle, unity, courage and above all solidarity."The Spanish government sent two planes to help fight the blazes, ABC News reported. France, Italy, Germany and Poland also answered Greece's request for help with equipment and firefighters, BBC News reported. The firefighters need to work quickly, since temperatures in the area are expected to rise later this week.Greece is prone to wildfires in the hot, dry summer months, according to BBC News, but this year's are the worst since 2007 blazes killed dozens. There is some speculation among officials that the fires could have been sparked by arsonists looting old homes. A dry winter also helped create the conditions that allowed the current blazes to spread, Al Jazeera reported.

    Wildfires kill 74 on Greek coast - At least 74 people have died in wildfires in the Attica region around Athens, in Greece's worst fire disaster in more than a decade. Flames fanned by strong winds devastated the seaside village of Mati, devouring homes and cars. There rescuers found the bodies of 26 adults and children, who had apparently hugged each other as they died, trapped just metres from the sea. Many calls have been made to the rescue services looking for missing persons. Mati is located in the Rafina region which is popular with local tourists, especially pensioners and children attending holiday camps. Hundreds of firefighters have been battling the blazes and the authorities are seeking international assistance. A fire brigade official confirmed the latest death toll. What is happening here in eastern Attica is a black hell. After I passed by hundreds of burning cars and houses earlier today, I reached the yard where police said so many people had been found dead. I could see some of them lying on the ground as fog covered the place and a toxic smell spread through the atmosphere. Most of them were tourists who had tried to find refuge but did not make it. I could see flames in the trees and on the electricity poles all around. After that, police blocked access to everyone except rescuers. What happened in Mati? Fire swept through the village 40km (25 miles) north-east of Athens on Monday and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday morning. Desperate families trying to reach the safety of the sea were trapped by walls of smoke and flame. Others died in buildings or cars. After the 26 bodies were found in an open space, Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece's Red Cross, said: "They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn't make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced."  

    Greece Engulfed In Fire: Dozens Dead In Coastal Town Near Athens - The worst fire Greece has experienced in over a decade began on Monday, charring homes and cars as it burned through the coastal Attica region around Athens. At least 74 people are confirmed dead from the wildfires and many more remain missing. Rescuers have recovered more than 700 survivors from the sea after fires forced them to flee into the ocean for safety. The fire swept through Mati, a small resort town just 18 miles outside of Athens, Greece. The coastal town, known for tourism and children's summer camps is situated on the Mediterranean Sea with picturesque beaches. As the fire began on Monday afternoon, families and children fled to the coast, while some found themselves trapped just a few feet from water with nowhere to go. The Red Cross said they found 26 adults and children huddled together nearby the beach as fire overtook them. This was the worst fire in Greece since August 2007 when fires killed dozens as they burned through the southern Peloponnese peninsula. Alexis Tsipras, the Greece prime minister, announced three days of national mourning as a result of the Mati fire and has asked for international assistance.  The speed of the fire caught people off guard as they found themselves trapped by walls of smoke and flames. Hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to stop the wildfire, which was largely contained by Tuesday morning. Firefighters were helped by Greece's army and coastguard in a joint effort to save as many people as possible while quickly putting out the fire. Nearby Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Cyprus and Poland have all sent help to Greece by way of firefighters, planes, vehicles, and emergency supplies. The fire left only shells of homes and cars across the town along with smouldering white ash and smoke. At the same time nearly 50 other fires broke out across Greece, most of which were put out quickly by local fire departments.

    Arson suspected in devastating fires in Greece that killed at least 79 people --As rescue crews searched for victims Wednesday in the widespread rubble from wildfires that devastated Greece and killed at least 79 people, officials investigated whether arsonists started the blazes.  Multiple fires in different areas outside the capital of Athens seemed to ignite at once, leading investigators to probe whether they were deliberately set.  "Fifteen fires were started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens," government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told reporters. He said the Greek government has requested drones from the United States to "detect any suspicious activity." The fires exploded Monday afternoon in the forests near the seaside towns outside Athens. Fanned by winds of up to 60 miles per hour and fueled by parched vegetation, flames quickly grew into infernos that swept across the region, leveling homes, trapping victims and prompting thousands of people to flee for their lives. The death toll climbed to 79 people and nearly 200 were injured, the government fire service said in a report Wednesday.  SLIDESHOW: PHOTOS: Deadly wildfires devastate Greece More than 1,000 homes and 300 vehicles were either destroyed or damaged by the fires, officials said. It was the worst wildfire to hit Greece since August 2007, when fires erupted in the outskirts of Athens, killing 67 people.

    Greek fires blamed on 'culture of arson' - Greek authorities battling forest fires for the fourth day in a row yesterday attacked the country's "culture of arson", which has been widely blamed for the catastrophe. Prosecutors want to use powers of investigation usually reserved for terrorism cases to track down the culprits, while a senior government minister said they posed an "asymmetric threat" - language usually reserved for suicide bombers. Greek fire-fighting helicopters, aided by dozens of aircraft sent from other countries, rescued villagers trapped in isolated farms and houses in the southern Peloponnese peninsula, which has been worst hit. The site of ancient Olympia appeared to have been saved from the flames while blazes continued to ravage the rest of the area. As the death toll rose to more than 60, Greek authorities announced a battle plan to take on the arsonists who many believe have caused the national emergency. In Athens, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, normally a senior prosecutor in terrorism cases, has ordered an investigation to find out whether the attacks could be considered terrorism. Vyron Polydoras, the public order minister, made it clear that he believed anti-terror laws were applicable. "We can say this constitutes an asymmetric threat," he said. Anti-terror squads were already questioning 32 suspects yesterday afternoon, as the Greek government offered rewards of up to \u20AC1 million (£675,000) for information. The money appeared to be a concerted attempt to challenge what seems the routine of setting fires every summer. Dimitris Karavellas, the Greek World Wildlife Fund's director, said yesterday: "It is a culture of arson." He said Greeks "still consider the forest as an area of land for development" and criticised the country's failure to establish a land registry that sets out which areas are protected from development. "We are the only country in the EU that doesn't have a land registry," he said. "We get situations where there are forest fires one year and nothing but houses a couple of years later." 

    Drone Footage Shows Greek Hellscape After Deadliest Forest Fire In Decades -  Drone footage from Greece's deadliest forest fire in decades reveals a ravaged hellscape of partially standing structures and incinerated foliage. The fire broke out Monday northeast of Athens in the seaside Rafina region, racing through the area fueled by gale-force winds and leaving 82 dead with most burned beyond recognition, as crews searched for more victims.  Spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri said the search for further potential victims continued, So far, she said homes in the area that had not been destroyed and were shut had not been entered by rescue crews, but that the search would not end until every building in the area had been thoroughly investigated. Apart from the house-to-house searches in the burnt areas, coast guard and volunteer divers were also searching the waters off the coast of the worst affected areas and a nearby deserted island. –CBS

    Kilauea Volcano's Eruptions Could Continue for Months or Years, Report Says - While Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano has been erupting almost continuously since 1983, a recent spate of eruptions that have destroyed hundreds of homes could continue indefinitely, according to a new report. Issued by the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaii Volcano Observatory, the report says the eruptions in Kilauea's lower East Rift Zone could become the longest ever recorded at the volcano, as the lava flows show no sign of slowing down. That could mean more homes in danger, and with more than 700 dwellings destroyed since the lava flows began May 3, it's already a full-blown disaster. "Given this volume and the sustained withdrawal of magma from the summit reservoir without appreciable deformation in the lower East Rift Zone, it is most likely that the LERZ eruption may continue for months to years," said the report. Furthermore, with no signs that the eruptions are slowing down, this also raises fears that new channels could form, diverting lava to other areas previously untouched by fissure openings. If that happens, more residential areas could be in danger. Nearly three months after the eruptions began, lava has covered more than 12 square miles of land, and one fissure – fissure 8 – is the main source of the lava flows in recent weeks. Scientists will continue to study this fissure, and if the pressure drops, it could be a sign that the eruption is waning. The report was given to the Hawaii County Civil Defense in an effort to better prepare for possible impacts from the continued eruption, according to "If the ongoing eruption maintains its current style of activity at a high eruption rate, then it may take months to a year or two to wind down," said the report. "While this seems to be the most likely outcome, a pause in the eruption, followed by additional activity, cannot be ruled out, nor can an abrupt cessation or a transition to steady, longer-lived activity at a lower effusion rate." 

    Laos dam collapse: ‘hundreds missing’ after villages flooded -- Hundreds of people are missing after a hydroelectric dam collapsed in southern Laos, destroying thousands of homes and leaving an unknown number of dead. Five billion cubic metres of water – the equivalent of 2m Olympic swimming pools – swept through the surrounding countryside after the accident at the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam, which is still under construction in south-eastern Attapeu province. The dam collapsed at 8pm on Monday, a state news agency reported. The neighbouring villages of Yai Thae, Hinlad, Mai, Thasengchan, Tha Hin and Samong bore the brunt of flooding, which has reportedly destroyed thousands of homes. Officials brought in boats to try to evacuate victims in San Sai district who were left stranded by the water. Aerial footage shows the whole region under muddy water, with only roofs and the tops of trees visible. Several people have been confirmed dead, and more than 6,600 are homeless, official news agency KPL reported. The company building the dam said heavy rain and flooding caused it to collapse and it was cooperating with the Laos government to help rescue villagers. “We are running an emergency team and planning to help evacuate and rescue residents,” an SK Engineering & Construction spokesman told Reuters. The dam is a key component of the country’s controversial ambitions to becomes the “battery of Asia” by selling power to its neighbours. Eleven large hydropower dams on the main Mekong River, and 120 tributary dams, are planned over the next 20 years. The 410MW project was designed to generate electricity by diverting the waters of the Houay Makchanh, Xe-Namnoy and Xe-Pian rivers on the Bolaven Plateau in the Laos province of Champasack, and then letting them flow back into the Xe-Pian river, and eventually into the Mekong. The plan is to export 90% of the energy produced to neighbouring Thailand, making it a lucrative source of income. 

    Laos dam collapse: Race to rescue flooded villagers - BBC --  Footage of the disaster has shown survivors huddled on roof tops of their submerged homes, or wading through water, holding children and their belongings.One woman, seen in a video posted by ABC Laos news on Facebook, cried and prayed as she was evacuated on a boat, telling rescuers her mother was still stranded on a tree. The dam that collapsed is an auxiliary dam called "Saddle Dam D". It is part of a network of two main dams and five subsidiary dams in the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydroelectric power project. The dam was 90% complete and had been set to start operating commercially next year.SK Engineering & Construction, a South Korean company with a stake in the project, said fractures were first discovered on the dam on Sunday, before it collapsed:

    • Sunday 21:00 local time (14:00 GMT) - The dam is found to be partially damaged. The authorities are alerted and villagers near the dam start to be evacuated. A team is sent to repair the dam - but is hampered by heavy rain, which has also damaged many roads.
    • Monday 03:00 - Water is discharged from one of the main dams (Xe-Namnoy dam) to try to lower water levels in the subsidiary dam.
    • Monday 12:00 - The state government orders villagers downstream to evacuate after learning that there could be further damage to the dam.
    • Monday 18:00 - More damage is confirmed at the dam.
    • By Tuesday 01:30, a village near the subsidiary dam is flooded, and by 09:30 seven villages are flooded.

    Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding, the main Thai stakeholder, said in a statement that the dam "was fractured" after "continuous rainstorm[s]" caused a "high volume of water to flow into the project's reservoir". As a result, water "leaked to the downstream area and down to Xe-Pian River" about 5km (three miles) away, it added.

    More than 20 killed and hundreds missing from dam disaster in Laos - At least 26 people have been killed and 170 are missing after a major hydropower dam construction site collapsed on Monday night in Attapeu province in southern Laos. Seven villages were devastated and more than 6,600 people rendered homeless after a 30-foot wall of water hit the area. The Xe-pian Xe-Namnoy project consists of two major dams and five smaller auxiliary earth-filled dams. “Saddle Dam D,” one of the auxiliary dams, failed after several days of heavy monsoonal rains.Construction inspectors reported damage to the dam on July 23. Following a letter from the Laos’s Resettlement Office, government authorities issued an evacuation order the next day, but it was too late.The dam collapsed at 8 p.m. on July 24, sending around 5 billion cubic metres of water, equivalent to approximately 2 million Olympic swimming pools, into the valley below. Thousands of homes were destroyed in the downstream neighbouring villages of Yai Thae, Hinlad, Mai, Thasengchan, Tha Hin and Samong.Media reports show hundreds of people stranded on the roofs of their inundated homes and villagers seeking to escape in overcrowded longboats or wading through floodwaters with children and their possessions. Makeshift disaster relief centres have been established, with hundreds of people seeking shelter in local schools and fields. Rescue efforts have been hampered by the lack of phone signals in the flooded areas, ongoing heavy rains and strong winds, and poor roads. Survivors are in desperate need of medical assistance, adequate shelter, food and water supplies.

    Laos scrambles for food, medicines, coffins three days after dam burst (Reuters) - Troops searched for survivors in the remote southern tip of Laos on Thursday, three days after the collapse of a hydropower dam sent a torrent of water charging across paddy fields and through villages, as rescuers rushed aid to thousands of homeless. The scale of the disaster was still unclear, in part because of the inaccessibility of the area but also because reports from the communist country’s state media have been scant and sketchy. The official Laos News Agency said that 27 people were confirmed dead and 131 were missing following the failure of the dam on Monday, a subsidiary structure under construction as part of a hydroelectric project in the province of Attapeu. Earlier reports had suggested the death toll would be much higher, and on Wednesday the Vientiane Times had said more than 3,000 people were waiting to be rescued from swirling floodwaters, many of them on trees and the rooftops of submerged houses. In the village of Khokong, a sea of mud oozed around the stilt houses that were still standing and dead animals floated in the water. “Seven villages were hit, two very badly. There were 200 houses and only about 10 are left standing,” said a medical official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “We retrieved one body today. I suspect there will be more as the water goes down and the road becomes easier to access.” He said villagers were warned about three to four hours before the dam burst, but few had expected the water to rise as high as it did. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said roads and bridges were damaged, and boat and helicopter were the only means of transport in the worst-affected areas. Schools in safe areas were being used as evacuation centers, and about 1,300 families needed tents for shelter, it said. 

    Millions under flash flood watches, warnings as rain pounds East Coast - Flash flood watches and warnings were issued for about 30 million people along the East Coast as heavy rain continued to pelt the region on Wednesday.Since Saturday, parts of the mid-Atlantic have been hit with more than 10 inches of rain, causing numerous rescues and evacuations, according to the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center.From eastern North Carolina to central New York, heavy rain was expected to continue on Wednesday, with parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland at risk for as much as 8 inches."We have a stream of heavy rain coming in off the Atlantic ocean that has been coming in for days," said Steven Strouss, a meteorologist for NBC News, who added that other areas could receive 1 to 3 inches of rain on Wednesday."The ground was already saturated, and the rivers and streams and creeks can't handle all that water, so that's why we saw all that flooding." By Wednesday afternoon, power failures in Pennsylvania had fallen below 5,000, utilities reported. The state Department of Health said no storm-related deaths had been reported. Earlier in the week, a 19-year-old woman went missing in Pennsylvania after she and a 22-year-old woman were swept away in a creek. The 22-year-old woman was able to escape, but the 19-year-old, Laura Olweiler, wasn't. Pennsylvania State Police said Wednesday afternoon that conditions remained too hazardous for now to continue the search for Olweiler. In Fairfax, Virginia, on Wednesday, some roads were under water, nearly swallowing cars in some areas. In Baltimore County, Maryland, several homes were crippled after large trees toppled onto roofs. Even as far south as Florida, turbulent weather created riptides, which made swimming extremely dangerous for beachgoers.

     Slowdown of Atlantic conveyor belt could trigger ‘two decades’ of rapid global warming -- A slowdown in the Atlantic Ocean current bringing warm water up to Europe from the tropics could trigger “a period of rapid global surface warming”, a new study suggests. The research, published in Nature, says that a recent weakening of the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” (AMOC) is coming to an end, but will stay at a “prolonged minimum” for the next two decades.This would see relatively low levels of heat uptake in the Atlantic Ocean, thus boosting rising temperatures at the Earth’s surface. The AMOC is a system of currents that brings warm, salty water in the upper layers of the ocean up from the Gulf of Mexico into the North Atlantic. It then sends cold, more dense water back again in the deep ocean on a constant conveyor belt. This conveyor plays a crucial role in western Europe’s climate as the incoming warm water releases heat into the atmosphere. Without it, for example, UK winters would be around 5C colder. Recent research has suggested that the AMOC has weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. This could lead to considerable changes in climate and rainfall patterns throughout the northern hemisphere. As the AMOC has only been monitored directly and continuously since 2004, the study uses a series of “proxies” to infer changes in AMOC strength back to 1945.These proxies include measurements of ocean temperature and salinity, as well as observations of sea surface height from satellites and tide gauges. Taken together, these proxies “paint a consistent picture” of changes in the AMOC, says co-authorProf Ka-Kit Tung, professor of applied mathematics and adjunct professor in atmospheric science at the University of Washington.The researchers theorise that human-caused warming has essentially changed the principal role of the AMOC from shifting heat northwards to storing heat in the deep Atlantic.When the AMOC is strong, there is more warm, salty water in the North Atlantic and the subsequent sinking transports more heat to the deep ocean. This lessens human-caused warming at the Earth’s surface, the researchers say. During periods of weak AMOC, less heat is being shifted into the deep ocean, and so more stays at the surface and temperatures rise rapidly. This is illustrated in the charts below.

    The World Is Hot, on Fire, and Flooding. Climate Change is Here. The worst ravages of climate change are on display around the world.Wildfires have ripped through towns in Greece, floods have submerged parts of Laos, and heat waves have overwhelmed Japan. These are striking examples of climate change playing out in its deadliest forms, and they’re making  the term “natural disaster” an outdated concept.People in Greece were jumping into the Aegean to escape advancing wildfires, according to a report in the New York Times. More than 70 are confirmed dead so far, and some scenes are horrific. “Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” saidPrime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in a televised address to declare three days of national mourning.This is already Greece’s hottest year on record. Although the last few weeks have been mild and wet, it’s nearly certain that warm weather has played a role in drying out forests throughout Europe, where the number of fires this year is 43 percent above normal. Longer summers, more intense drought, and higher temperatures are all linked to greater fire risk. We’ve known enough about meteorology to link extreme events to their increased likelihood as they are happening for years now. Recent advances in extreme weather attributioncan often tell us exactly how much.  Ample evidence links worsening fires with human activity. Greece and much of the Mediterranean region is projected to turn into desert over the next several decades, and there are signs that this shift has already begun. As the region’s native trees die off and urban areas expand into neglected forests, firefighting resources are becoming woefully overmatched. Regardless of ignition source — arson or lightning or human carelessness — massive wildfires will become more common as droughts intensify and heat waves get more common. Extreme winds, like those blamed for fanning the flames this week in Greece and during megafires in Portugal last year, can make an already dire situation uncontrollable.

    Shocking Wave of Plastics Washes Ashore in Dominican Republic -- A literal wave of mostly plastic marine debris, including beverage bottles and takeaway containers, was filmed washing ashore Montesinos Beach in the Dominican Republic capital after a storm on Thursday. The footage was captured by the environmental nonprofit Parley for the Oceans, which described the plastic flow as a "dense garbage carpet." In an interview with BBC News, Parley founder Cyrill Gutsch described the scene as "unfortunately, the new normal." "Plastic is a design failure and there is no circular economy that can fix this," he said. "It's really the material itself, and we don't believe this material can ever be contained." More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year, according to a 2015 study published in Science. This debris has negatively impacted more than 800 species of marine animals, a 2016 United Nations report found. What's more, as Gutsch noted, the chemicals that the plastics carry can also pose threat to the environment. "Even if you recycle [plastic] and even if you use it in the best possible way, it always leaches chemicals. And that's what you don't see in this video, all these toxic liquids that come with it," he told BBC. Parley said it is working with the local navy, the army, public workers and the Santo Domingo government to clear the plastic tide. More than 500 public workers were recruited for the operation. After three days of work, the teams collected 30 tons of plastic, the group said.

    Wave after wave of garbage hits the Dominican Republic --  The Caribbean nation is known for sapphire seas and ivory beaches, but it is grappling with waves of garbage washing up on its shores, a vivid reminder of the presence of thousands of tons of plastic in the world’s oceans.  Those piles, most notably the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” are usually far from human settlements, to say nothing of resort destinations.  But instead of visitors relaxing on Montesinos Beach in the capital, Santo Domingo, there has been an altogether different scene, one unlikely to wind up on a postcard: Hundreds of city workers and volunteers who have been waging an uphill battle against wave after wave of sludgy garbage.Sixty tons of garbage have been collected on the beach since last week, Reuters reported. The haul included plastic bottles and Styrofoam takeout boxes, Parley for the Oceans, an organization that works to reduce plastic waste in the world’s oceans, said in a statement. The images are shocking, but perhaps not for people who live in the Dominican Republic. “It happens pretty much all the time if there is a strong rainfall or a storm,” said Cyrill Gutsch, the founder of Parley for the Oceans, in a telephone interview. The phenomenon is not confined to the Dominican Republic, he said, and can be seen in many developing nations with a coastline. “Everybody uses the rivers and the beaches as dump sites.”What is happening in the Dominican Republic is only a small symptom of the larger global problem, Mr. Gutsch said. Plastic dumped in and near rivers washes into the ocean, and only a small percentage bounces back onto shore. The majority makes it to the high seas. Mr. Gutsch said that recycling was a short-term solution and amounted to only a bandage. Parley for the Oceans advocates phasing out single-use plastic altogether.

    What’s the Value of a Clean Beach? Here’s How Economists Do the Numbers - In 1981 President Ronald Reagan issued an executive order that required federal agencies to weigh the costs and benefits of proposed major new regulations, and in most cases to adopt them only if the benefits to society outweighed the costs. Reagan's order was intended to promote environmental improvements without overburdening economic growth. Cost-benefit analysis has been so successful as a tool for policy analysis that every administration since Reagan has endorsed using it. However, it requires measuring benefits that are not "priced" in typical markets. Fortunately, putting a price on non-market environmental outcomes, such as safer drinking water and fewer deaths from exposure to dirty air, has proved to be possible, and highly valuable. These estimates help to make the case for actions such as cleaning up beaches and protecting scenic areas as parks. According to a preliminary estimate from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation adds US$373 billion to the U.S. economy yearly. That's 2 percent of our annual gross domestic product—more than agriculture, mining or utilities, and approaching the economic contribution of national defense. Most policymakers and local communities measure the economic value of outdoor recreation through estimates like this, which calculate how much money it adds to local economies through direct expenditures. For example, vacationers rent hotel rooms, and their spending pays employee salaries and funds local investments through hotel taxes. Visitors to national parks pay entrance fees for park upkeep, and augment local economies through employee wages and other expenditures on food and services around the park. But recreation decisions also reveal the value that people place on the environment itself. Outdoor destinations provide services, such as opportunities to swim or hike in unspoiled settings. If high levels ofharmful bacteria close a beach I was planning to visit, I may choose to drive a longer distance to a beach with clean water. By quantifying such increases in time and out-of-pocket expenditures, economists can measure people's willingness to pay for changes in environmental quality.

    In Acidic Oceans, Fish Lose Ability to Find Food -- Fish are losing their sense of smell as rising carbon emissions turn the water they live in to acid.A new study has revealed that as levels of carbonic acid in seawater rise, sea bass lose up to half their smelling capacity.Surges in atmospheric carbon dioxide increase ocean acidity as the gas dissolves in water – a phenomenon already known to dissolve the hard outer coatings of shellfish. The findings are significant as these fish rely on smell to do everything from finding food and potential mates to detecting predators in their vicinity.“Our study is the first to examine the impact of rising carbon dioxide in the ocean on the olfactory [smell] system of fish,” said University of Exeter researcher Dr Cosima Porteus, who led the research. The scientists compared the behaviour of young sea bass at current carbon dioxide levels to the levels expected at the end of the century, when oceans are predicted to contain up to two and a half times the levels of the gas seen today. They noticed big changes in the behaviour of the fish inhabiting the most acidic water. Not only did the bass swim less, they appeared not to notice the presence of predators.

    Australian governments concede Great Barrier Reef headed for collapse -  The world’s climate change path means the Great Barrier Reef is headed for “collapse” according to a plan endorsed by state and federal governments that critics say turns a blind eye to Australia’s inadequate effort to cut carbon emissions.The federal and Queensland governments on Friday released a “new and improved” Reef 2050 Plan to save the iconic natural wonder, which explicitly acknowledges climate change poses a deadly threat to the reef.The comments depart starkly from previous official efforts to downplay damage wrought on the reef for fear of denting the tourism industry. Global temperature rises this century must be kept below 1.5 degrees to ensure the Great Barrier Reef's survival, the government plan says. Based on current climate projections, the outlook for coral reefs generally is “one of continuing decline over time, and in many regions, including the Great Barrier Reef, the collapse and loss of coral reef ecosystems”, the plan says. It concedes that consecutive coral bleaching events and other stressors “have fundamentally changed the character of the reef”, which is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. “Coral bleaching is projected to increase in frequency ... those coral reefs that survive are expected to be less biodiverse than in the past,” the plan says. The reef is the world’s largest living structure, covering an area roughly the size of Italy. Coral reefs are particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change including higher sea temperatures, ocean acidification and more intense storms and cyclones.

    There Is No Escape for Corals -- Picture a coral reef and you’ll likely imagine a sun-drenched world lying just below the ocean’s surface. But reefs also exist beyond these shallow waters, in the so-called mesophotic zone, from 100 to 500 feet down. To study the unfamiliar animals that live in this dim world, normal scuba skills won’t cut it. Divers need special training and equipment—including larger gas tanks, rebreathers that recycle the air that divers exhale, and special gas mixes that include helium.  Why bother? Because coral reefs are among the most endangered ecosystems on the planet. Rising temperatures, acidifying waters, and emerging diseases have turned once resplendent reefs into ghostly dead zones; in just the past two years, half the corals in Australia’s mighty Great Barrier Reef have died. As the calamity worsens, some scientists have looked to mesophotic reefs for hope. If shallow species also live farther down, where the harms inflicted by humans are presumably weaker, then these deep waters could act as refuges for the shallow species—sanctuaries where corals could wait out the perils that threaten them up above. “That’s something everyone assumed is the case,” Rocha says.But according to his work, that assumption is ill-founded. In one of the first thorough studies of mesophotic reefs, Rocha and his colleagues have shown that these habitats have very different communities of fish and corals than their shallower counterparts. “To me, saying that deep reefs are a refuge for shallow reefs is like saying that the savannah is a refuge for the rainforest,” Rocha says.  “That may not be the case everywhere, and it’s too early to state definitively about whether mesophotic ecosystems can or cannot serve as a refuge for shallow-reef species as we are still learning about them,”

    Mangroves and their deforestation may emit more methane than we thought - The ability of mangroves to sequester carbon in the ground – termed “blue carbon” – is unparalleled, with previous research finding a tract of mangrove can bury 40 times more carbon than a similarly sized area of rainforest. But what exactly happens to this carbon once it’s in the ground has been something of a mystery. So scientists at universities in Australia decided to find out by examining the soil carbon stored beneath mangroves in Queensland.Their results, published in Science Advances, reveal that mangrove soil carbon doesn’t remain stored in perpetuity. Some of it is transformed from carbon dioxide (CO2) to methane (CH4) by tiny microorganisims called archea, and is then released back into the atmosphere. Methane has a much bigger warming impact than carbon dioxide – 34 to 86 times more powerful – so even a bit of methane has the potential to offset mangrove CO2 storage.Ultimately, the team found that the methane released from mangrove soil carbon offsets blue carbon burial rates by an average of 20 percent. They say their results show that methane emissions should be factored into carbon accounting when evaluating the carbon storage potential of mangrove forests.The researchers say that deforestation has the potential to increase these emissions. Zooming in, their study reveals that more methane was lost when mangrove soil was above-water than below. Clearing mangroves generally involves first draining them, which exposes their sediment to the air. This is exacerbated further when the trees themselves are uprooted, effectively releasing their carbon stores into the atmosphere. “Mangrove loss/deforestation would result in decreased carbon sequestration rates and decreased burial efficiency combined with increased decomposition of organic carbon in disturbed sediments, which would enhance methane (and carbon dioxide) emissions and thus carbon burial offsets,” said Judith Rosentreter, a researcher at Southern Cross University and co-author of the study.

    Methane Deathtrap Threatens Democracy - A methane deathtrap – continuing Arctic Ocean eruption of ever-increasing levels of methane brings forth speculation of a “Black Swan Event,” meaning society is caught flat-footed oblivious to impending danger until it’s way too late. Climate scientists have long sighted methane (CH4) bubbles rising to the surface in the Arctic for well over one decade now, especially along the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). Problem: Methane eruptions are gradually turning into virtual monsters, getting bigger and wider (up to a half-mile across of rippling bubbles, according to Russian scientists), and potentially more dangerous and destructive, expanding more and more, in anticipation of a gigantic CH4 burp (maybe 50 gigatons suddenly vs. only 5 gigatons now in the atmosphere) followed by a massive global self-reinforcing planetary heat stroke.   Meantime, mainstream science is behind the “eight ball” re Arctic methane. According to an article in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (“AAAS”), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims Arctic methane will be “insignificant” throughout the century, as stated: “The IPCC considers the potential contribution of the ESAS into the emissions of CH4 as insignificant.” (Source: Russian Scientists Deny Climate Model of IPCC, Tomsk Poytechnic University, AAAS, 15 Aug 2017)What if the IPCC is dead wrong, thus misleading the public head first into a “Black Swan Event,” blindsided by one of the biggest potential human disasters in all history, maybe sooner rather than later.All of which begs a multi-part question: How can scientists in a worldwide forum, like the IPCC, be so far off base, or is today’s scientific methodology inherently weak, or is the entire climate change scenario simply too vast for effective scientific coverage, or is the ESAS methane threat not that imposing? Nobody knows for sure.Yet, Russian data on seabed methane concludes that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf shows “… the roof of the subsea permafrost had already reached the depth of hydrates’ stability the destruction of which may cause massive releases of bubble methane,” Ibid.So, in plain English, methane hydrates are so close to disruptive instability that not much additional global warming is required to totally destabilize the methane clathrates, thus potentially releasing enormous quantities of methane, as happy smiling Americans unknowingly sleep in their beds, assuming NASA, NSA, TSA and the Pentagon will secure their lives. Au contraire… No chance!

    Sucking carbon out of the air won’t solve climate change - The idea of pulling carbon dioxide directly out of the air has been bouncing around climate change policy circles for well over a decade, but it’s only been in the past few years that the technology itself — “direct air capture,” or DAC — has been tested in the real world. In June, we got the first solid engineering and cost numbers on DAC, courtesy of a company called Carbon Engineering out of Calgary, Canada.In a paper in the new energy journal Joule, the company (led by its founder, Harvard’s David Keith) reports its experience over the past three years running a DAC demonstration plant in Squamish, British Columbia. It’s the clearest look yet at how DAC might actually work, not just as a technology but as a business. The headline news from the paper is that the cost of capturing a ton of CO2 — estimated at around $600 in 2011 — has fallen to between $94 and $232. Almost any source of renewable energy can prevent a ton of carbon for cheaper than that, but still, down at the lower end, beneath $100, DAC starts to look viable in a low-carbon world. Something about the idea of pulling carbon out of the air really struck a nerve. The study was met with extensive and enthusiastic press coverage, some of which involved headline writers getting out over their skis, like this one on Robinson Meyer’s Atlantic piece: “Climate Change Can Be Stopped by Turning Air Into Gasoline.” (Narrator: It can’t.) The article itself is judicious and smart, but it’s pretty clear from the broad public reaction that not a lot of people read past the headlines on this story. To state the bottom line clearly: The ability to pull carbon out of the air is not a silver bullet. It is not the cheapest or most effective way to fight climate change. It won‘t allow us to bypass any of the hard work of reducing our emissions.The apocalypse has not, in fact, been averted. At least not yet. No one who understands this technology, very much including Keith himself, believes otherwise.

     GOP candidate calls woman 'naive' for asking about climate - Body heat is making Earth warmer, and climate change is caused by the planet's movement toward the sun. Those are the claims of Pennsylvania's Republican gubernatorial candidate, former state Sen. Scott Wagner. At a town hall event on Wednesday in Glenside, Pa., he described a teenage woman as "young and naive" when she asked about his positions on climate change. Wagner told her he cared more about fixing sewage overflows than about reducing greenhouse gas emissions."You said climate is a result of people's body heat and refusing to take action on the issue," said Rose Strauss, an 18-year-old activist. "Does this have anything to do with the $200,000 that you have taken from the fossil fuel industry?"   Wagner, standing before a small crowd, responded: "Rose, I appreciate you being here, but you're 18 years old; you know you're a little young and naive. Rose, I appreciate you being here, but here's the question: Are we here to elect a governor, or are we here to elect a scientist? I'm here to be the governor." The audience clapped and laughed when Wagner called her naive. Someone in the crowd yelled, "Answer the question."

    Goldman Predicts Major Solar Market Contraction - Sweltering temperatures and a ton of sun aren’t enough to make this a good year for solar, with Goldman Sachs chiming in—again—with a dismal prediction: Global solar installations will decline by 24 percent this year, the analysts say. Global solar installations will decline by 24 percent this year, the analysts say. It’s not the first time this year that Goldman has come out with a negative picture for solar. And Goldman isn’t alone, even if it is throwing around the worst numbers. (Credit Suisse is forecasting a 17-percent decline, while Bloomberg NEF is anticipating a 3-percent decline). If Goldman is right, it will be the first real solar market contraction, and China is making the biggest dent in demand because it took 20 gigawatts of projects offline in May, sending global installations down to 75 gigawatts from 99 gigawatts last year, Bloomberg reported, citing Goldman Sachs analyst Brian Lee.

     Trump Administration Presses Plan to Ease Fuel-Economy - President Donald Trump’s administration is advancing a plan to freeze fuel-economy standards for new cars and trucks, and to escalate its fight against California’s power to set regulatory standards for the entire U.S. auto market, according to people familiar with the matter. The new rules, which could be released as early as this week, would halt plans to keep raising requirements for efficiency. The increases had been set up by a collaboration between California and former President Barack Obama’s regulators as a way to address climate change. The Trump administration’s plan would eliminate gradual increases in fuel-efficiency standards for vehicle model years 2022-2025 that would have aimed to bring the figure to roughly 36 miles per gallon in real-world driving by 2025, based on complex government calculations averaged out over all vehicles sold.  One obstacle to that plan is California, which holds exemptions allowing it to impose emissions standards more stringent than those applied by the federal government. California has already sued to stop the Trump administration, and the auto industry has lobbied both sides to strike a deal that would avoid a rift that leaves the country with two sets of rules. Instead of pursuing a deal, the plan spearheaded by the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency tries to eliminate or override California’s authority. Other states also follow California’s lead and its regulatory influence has grown as climate concerns brought the Obama administration and California into deeper alignment. Sacramento received a further waiver in 2012 from the federal government and since then has effectively set regulatory standards for the broader market.   Many Trump advisers have criticized the state’s autonomy, claiming California has overstepped its legal authority in order to push an environmental agenda. That, they say, would force the industry to make fuel-efficient cars consumers don’t want. The White House is now approving a plan to end California’s ability to set its own rules, a plan that California has already sued the administration to stop.

    Trump to Revoke California’s Emissions Standards Waiver, Sources Say -- The Trump administration is set to revoke California's ability to set its own automobile greenhouse gas emissions standards, as part of a plan to lower Obama-era emissions standards for cars and light trucks to be announced this week, three people familiar with the plan told Bloomberg news Monday.Trump's plan for new standards would be the administration's largest deregulatory move yet. It would cap fuel efficiency standards at the 2020 level of at least 35 miles per gallon, according to Bloomberg.In addition to eliminating California's ability to set its own emissions standards, revoking the waiver would also block the state from mandating car makers sell a minimum number of electric vehicles.The new decision comes as transportation has exceeded power generation as the leading cause of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions for two years in a row, according to the Rhodium Group, and would therefore be a major blow to the fight against climate change.California, which is currently suffering through another summer of wildfires and heat waves, is likely to fight in court to keep its waiver."We have the law on our side, as well as the people of the country and the people of the world," California Air Resources Board member Dan Sperling told Bloomberg. Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort agreed. "California has done the math, and it's concluded that the only way to meet both its greenhouse gas goals and its ozone targets is to move away from fossil fuel-based transportation," Cort told Bloomberg. "The law is very clear about California's authority to set these standards, and for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to try to narrow it now means they have an uphill battle."California was granted a waiver to set its own emissions standards under the Clean Air   Act because they were already working to regulate the state's unique air pollution problems when it first passed. Other states can't set their own standards, but they can choose to follow California's. The District of Columbia and 13 states have chosen to do so.

    Trump To Revoke California's Power To Fight Smog - In a move that will infuriate environmentalists everywhere, but especially in California, the Trump administration is seeking to repeal California’s authority to regulate automobile emissions in a proposed revision of Obama-era standards, according to Bloomberg citing three people familiar with the plan.The proposal which will be released later this week represents a "frontal assault" on one of Barack Obama’s signature regulatory programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.It also sets up a high-stakes battle over California’s unique ability to combat air pollution and, if finalized, is sure to set off a protracted courtroom battle.And since the revamp also includes California's mandate for electric car sales, it represents a gut punch to the likes of Elon Musk, who recently announced (yet again) a deal to begin work on a factory in China.The proposed overhaul would also put the brakes on federal rules to boost fuel efficiency into the next decade, instead it will cap federal fuel economy requirements at the 2020 level, which under federal law must be at least a 35-mile-per-gallon fleet average, rather than letting them rise to roughly 50 mpg by 2025 as envisioned in the plan left behind by Obama.As Bloomberg details, as part of the stunning proposal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose revoking the Clean Air Act waiver granted to California that has allowed the state to regulate carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes and force carmakers to sell electric vehicles in the state in higher numbers. Separately, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will assert that California is barred from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from autos under the 1975 law that established the first federal fuel-efficiency requirements, the people said.

    EPA signs off on rule exempting farmers from reporting emissions | TheHill: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Tuesday that it is implementing recently passed legislation that exempts farmers from having to report emissions derived from animal waste and other pollutants. The final rule, signed by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday, codifies the most recent version of the FARM Act, which exempted many farmers from reporting air releases of hazardous substances from animal waste. Signed into law in March, the act made changes to Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) that the bill supporters said regulated emissions from farms much like it regulated Superfund sites, which they call a far too lofty request. Lawmakers added the provision to the FARM ACT after a Supreme Court decision in 2008 that struck down an Bush-era EPA rule that tried to exempt farmers from the same reporting requirements. “EPA is taking action to reflect Congress’s direction in the FARM Act that removed an undue reporting burden on American agriculture,” said Wheeler in a statement.

    Cleanwashing: How States Count Polluting Energy Sources as Renewable - Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have mandatory programs to encourage renewable electricity generation. These Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) programs set renewable electricity goals and deter- mine which energy sources qualify as renewable. Such programs can be part of the energy policy portfolio to create powerful incentives to shift to renewable energy.  Unfortunately, most RPS programs have not been robust enough to foster a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy About half the states aimed to achieve only up to 25 percent renewable power. Almost all states allowed combustion-based energy sources including wood burning and the burning of waste methane (so-called biogas) to meet RPS goals. Food & Water Watch evaluated each of the state RPS programs based on whether the program goals would target 100-percent renewable electricity, whether the programs included any of six dirty energy sources and the misguided policy of renewable energy credits, and whether the states were on track to achieve 100-percent wind, solar and geothermal electricity generation within two decades — a renewable transition time frame necessary to stop the worst and potentially irreversible effects of climate change. Only a handful of states were projected to generate or supply the majority of their electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources by 2038; less than half would generate even 25 percent of their electricity from these sources by 2038 Almost all states failed to measure up to each of these metrics. Seven states were weak across all three metrics — lower RPS targets, more dirty energy sources in their portfolios and little shift to wind, solar and geothermal energy: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

     The $3 billion plan to turn Hoover Dam into a giant battery -  Hoover Dam helped transform the American West, harnessing the force of the Colorado River — along with millions of cubic feet of concrete and tens of millions of pounds of steel — to power millions of homes and businesses. It was one of the great engineering feats of the 20th century.Now it is the focus of a distinctly 21st-century challenge: turning the dam into a vast reservoir of excess electricity, fed by the solar farms and wind turbines that represent the power sources of the future.The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, an original operator of the dam when it was erected in the 1930s, wants to equip it with a $3 billion pipeline and a pump station powered by solar and wind energy. The pump station, downstream, would help regulate the water flow through the dam’s generators, sending water back to the top to help manage electricity at times of peak demand. The net result would be a kind of energy storage — performing much the same function as the giant lithium-ion batteries being developed to absorb and release power. The Hoover Dam project may help answer a looming question for the energy industry: how to come up with affordable and efficient power storage, which is seen as the key to transforming the industry and helping curb carbon emissions.Because the sun does not always shine, and winds can be inconsistent, power companies look for ways to bank the electricity generated from those sources for use when their output slacks off. Otherwise, they have to fire up fossil-fuel plants to meet periods of high demand.And when solar and wind farms produce more electricity than consumers need, California utilities have had to find ways to get rid of it — including giving it away to other states — or risk overloading the electric grid and causing blackouts.  “So far, it looks really possible. It looks sustainable, and it looks clean.” The target for completion is 2028, and some say the effort could inspire similar innovations at other dams. Enhancing energy storage could also affect plans for billions of dollars in wind projects being proposed by the billionaires Warren E. Buffett and Philip F. Anschutz.   But the proposal will have to contend with political hurdles, including environmental concerns and the interests of those who use the river for drinking, recreation and services.

    How to prevent cooling from warming up the world -- On hot days, many of us automatically turn on the air conditioner or reach for a cold drink from the fridge without thinking twice about it. But access to these kinds of cooling devices — something millions of people around the world still lack — can actually be a matter of life and death.Cooling is key to ending poverty and hunger. With refrigeration, for example, we can store medicines and reduce food waste. Cooling is also vital to improving health and wellbeing. In short, to achieving sustainable development. Yet it entails great risk: as the use of cooling products increases, so too do global emissions, which contribute to global warming. The result is a vicious circle. The number of cooling devices is expected to quadruple to 14 billion worldwide by 2050, researchers show. Without greening the sector, emissions would skyrocket and take us far fromreaching the 2-degree target set in Paris. "If climate change were not an issue, it's safe to say that access to cooling would be like access to clean water or sanitation," Mark Radka, head of the Energy and Climate Branch of UN Environment's economy divison, told DW. But since unfortunately climate change is an issue, granting access to cooling without further damaging the planet and its population remains a huge challenge. More than a billion people, mainly in Asia and Africa, are at risk from lack of access to cooling,according to a new report from the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. The 30 hottest cities in the world are in developing countries, which are already suffering the most from climate change.  "As populations grow and temperatures reach new records, the health and economic risks associated with lack of access to sustainable cooling are growing exponentially," Rachel Kyte, director and Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary-General for SE4ALL, told DW. Breaking the vicious circle would likely have to involve the rapid reduction of HFCs and of fossil fuels. Producing more efficient cooling devices wouldn't hurt either.If products are twice as efficient, they can massively reduce emissions regardless of the energy source, Brian Holuj, program officer at UN Environment's United for Efficiency initiative, told DW."It's one of the fastest, cheapest and cleanest ways to reduce emissions around the world and reach the Paris targets," he added.

    EIA’s latest International Energy Outlook highlights analysis of China, India, and Africa  - China, India, and Africa are three of the most populated parts of the world. Their economies collectively consume about one-third of all global energy, and their energy consumption is projected to grow faster than the rest of the world through 2040. As a result, changes in these economies have significant implications for global energy markets. Today, EIA is releasing three reports in its International Energy Outlook 2018 (IEO2018) that discuss the energy implications of potential changes in these economies. A related webcast presentation and panel discussion will begin at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time this morning from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.Key findings of the IEO2018 include

    • In all IEO2018 China side cases considered, China’s economy remains by far the world’s largest producer of energy-intensive goods in 2040. Faster economic growth in China leads to higher energy consumption, but the amount it increases depends on how quickly China transitions from an export, investment-led economy to a more service-oriented, personal consumption-based economy. 
    • India is projected to be the most populated country with the fastest-growing economy in the world under all three India side cases; however, Indian energy consumption levels do not reach those in China or the United States in the next two decades in any of India's side cases.
    • Higher economic growth across Africa leads to an expanding manufacturing sector and increasing industrial energy consumption because of possible regional competitive advantages. Higher assumed economic growth over the projection period leads to African energy consumption per capita that is 30% higher than in the Reference case in 2040.

    China, India, and Africa collectively accounted for 32% of global energy consumption in 2015, and in the IEO2018 Reference case, these regions are projected to account for 36% of global energy consumption in 2040.

    Saudis To Invest $10B In South Africa’s Energy Sector --  Saudi Arabia has pledged to chip in $10 billion in funds to South Africa’s ailing power sector, according to a South African government spokesperson cited by CNBC.  The funds will be used to build refineries and will also be used to advance petrochemicals and renewable energy projects in the developing economy of South Africa. The funds can’t come soon enough for South Africa, whose power sector outages likely represent the African nation’s number one problem. In 2016, the ongoing energy crisis took the shape of a staggering 99 days of rolling blackouts. Eskom, the country’s electric utility, has experienced blackouts this year as well, in part due to striking Eskom workers who sabotaged the national grid. In the event of a complete blackout, Eskom would need to restart its power plants without any electricity at all—a unkind scenario referred to as a “black start”. A black start could take as much as two or three weeks, according to Eskom.  Enter Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s funds will represent just a portion of the $100 billion that South Africa is looking for to upgrade its underfunded energy sector.

    Adani sees six-fold rise in coal mining - India’s Adani Group expects an over six-fold rise in coal mining volumes by the end of fiscal year 2021, an executive said on Tuesday, despite its struggle to develop a coal project in Australia. The resources conglomerate is looking to buy mines in countries such as Indonesia and is securing financing for its Carmichael mine in Australia amid challenges from environmental groups concerned about climate change and potential damage to the Great Barrier Reef. Adani’s coal mining volumes are expected to be 80 million tonnes by the end of March 2021, from 12.17 million tonnes at the end of fiscal year 2017, said Sudhir Kumar Agrawal, the techno-commercial head of Adani Ports And SEZ Ltd. The group’s coal handling volumes are expected to rise 57 per cent to 127 million tonnes by the end of 2021, Agrawal said at the India coal conference in New Delhi.

     Mountaintop Mining Is Destroying More Land for Less Coal, Study Finds - Strip mining across the mountaintops of Appalachia is scarring as much as three times more land to get a ton of coal than just three decades ago, new research shows. The data and a series of new maps that track the spread of surface mining across the region suggest that even as the industry has declined, what continues likely has an oversized impact on people and the environment. If mining companies have to do more blasting and digging for the same amount of coal, that means more dust in the air and more pollution in streams, said Appalachian Voices Programs Director Matt Wasson, who worked on the study with researchers from Duke University, West Virginia University, Google and SkyTruth.  The study, published online in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal, also provided what Duke researcher Andrew Pericak described as the first year-by-year mapping showing the spread of mountaintop mining across the region.   The team is making the data publicly available for other researchers, including those looking into the health and environmental effects of mining.  For decades, surface mining in the mountains of Appalachia has been among the most destructive forms of extracting coal. Mining companies blast away the tops and sides of mountains to get at underground coal seams, then shove the waste rock into valleys and streams. Between 1985 and 2015, explosives and mining equipment chewed up more than 1,100 square miles in pursuit of coal buried in the mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. The animation below shows how quickly it spread.

      Study Shows Area The Size of Delaware Affected By Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining  (see graphics) An area roughly the size of Delaware has been mined for coal in Appalachia using mountaintop removal, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. Researchers from Duke University and nonprofit organizations SkyTruth and Appalachian Voices developed an open-source mapping tool drawing on satellite imagery. The new data show the amount of land disturbed by mountaintop removal mining across Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia between 1985-2015. This animation shows the expansion of surface mining’s footprint (displayed in yellow) from 1985 to 2015 for a 31,000 square kilometer sub-region of the study area in West Virginia and Kentucky, and has county boundaries visible.  “As far as we know, this is really the first time that there’s been this yearly dataset for central Appalachia,” said Andrew Pericak, a research analyst at Duke University and lead author of the new study.“The purpose of creating this data set is to have it as a resource for anyone to use including scientific researchers, nonprofit groups, public health groups, maybe even local or state governments just so they can really have a good understanding of where mining is occurring.” The researchers analyzed more than 10,000 images taken by the Landsat satellite system, operated by the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA.  Landsat has taken a photo of every location on Earth every 16 days since the 1970s. To crunch all of the satellite images, Pericak and his team turned to Google. The tech giant has uploaded an immense amount of Landsat’s catalog into the cloud and made its Google Earth Engine platform open for anyone to use. Pericak said without Google this amount of data could have taken years to process. “Whereas, because we’re using Google’s computing power,” he said, “it could produce these maps in just a few minutes.” That 2009 dataset required a lot of human input, whereas the new map and data are almost completely automated, which will allow regular updates, he said. “All they really need is someone to click the run button,” Thomas said.

    U3O8 daily spot price rises 50 cents from one week ago to $24/lb- The daily spot price of uranium Tuesday was $24 a pound, up 50 cents from July 17. The increase was seen in part as stemming from the US Department of Commerce's July 18 announcement that it had initiated an investigation into uranium imports that was requested by two US uranium producers, who also asked that the Trump administration require US reactor operators buy 25% of their material from domestic producers, according to price reporting company TradeTech. The U3O8 daily spot price was $23.50/lb July 17-18, remained at $23.75/lb July 19 through Monday, and rose to $24/lb Tuesday, according to price reporting company TradeTech.The spot price rose by 25 cents/lb the day after Commerce said July 18 it was beginning an investigation into national security implications of US utilities' dependence on imported uranium. Two US uranium producers requested that the government order US utilities to buy 25% of their material domestically. Under provisions of the 1962 trade law that created Section 232, Commerce has 270 days to investigate uranium imports and submit a report to President Donald Trump on its findings and any recommended actions. The president then would have 90 days to act on recommendations and to make any adjustments, if needed, to the imports.TradeTech, in its Friday report for the week that ended that day, reported a weekly spot price at $23.75/lb, up 50 cents from July 13.Price reporter Ux Consulting Monday reported the weekly spot price at $23.80/lb, up 45 cents from July 16.TradeTech, in its Friday report, said the weekly price increase "reflects renewed buyer interest, which arrived" following Commerce's announcement that it had launched the Section 232 investigation.Two producers interviewed July 20 said they did not foresee the launch of Commerce's investigation as an impetus for rising U3O8 prices, noting final action by the president could be a year away. One producer said that day that quotas or tariffs could depress the global price, because global producers would sell less to the US.

    Uranium Leaked Through Floor of South Carolina Nuclear Plant --A nuclear plant in Richmond County, South Carolina with a history of contaminating groundwater has leaked radioactive uranium into the soil below the plant, The State reported Tuesday.  South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials said there was no reason to believe this leak left the the site of the Westinghouse plant or posed a threat to public drinking water, but state senator Darrell Jackson is calling for a public meeting to discuss the leak and other historic issues at the plant, The State further reported Wednesday. "This is very disturbing," Jackson said. "This is one of the fears that those of us who grew up in that area, and lived in that area, have always talked about. I'm asking DHEC to get to Westinghouse officials and let's have a public meeting, not just with elected officials, but we need citizens there also.'' The NRC found uranium levels in the soil of 4,000 parts per million, more than 1,000 times higher than average for soil. The DHEC said they were still testing the groundwater on the site to see if it was contaminated, but said the plant itself was far enough away from public drinking water that it shouldn't cause a problem. But Jackson was not reassured. "What we don't know is what kind of impact that's going to have 20 years from now on the groundwater, this drip, drip, drip," Jackson said. "I don't know of too many people too receptive to living in the area when they know the groundwater is contaminated." Part of the plant had to shut down two years ago because of uranium found accumulating in an air pollution device, The Associated Press reported. It was also cited by the federal government this year for failing to plan adequately for a potential radiation burst.

    Fukushima’s nuclear signature found in California wine -- Throughout the 1950s, the US, the Soviet Union, and others tested thermonuclear weapons in the Earth’s atmosphere. Those tests released vast quantities of radioactive material into the air and triggered fears that the nuclear reactions could ignite deuterium in the oceans, thereby destroying the planet in a catastrophic accidental fireball.Atmospheric tests ended in 1980, when China finished its program, but the process has left a long-lasting nuclear signature on the planet. One of the most obvious signatures is cesium-137, a radioactive by-product of the fission of uranium-235. After release into the atmosphere, cesium-137 was swept around the world and found its way into the food supply in trace quantities. Such an addition is rarely welcomed. But in 2001, the French pharmacologist Philippe Hubert discovered that he could use this signature to date wines without opening the bottles.  There is one blip in this record, though. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 bathed much of Europe, and other parts of the world, in a radioactive cloud that increased atmospheric levels of cesium-137 again. Hubert and colleagues can see this blip in their data from wines. And that raises an interesting question about the Fukushima disaster of 2011, an accident of Chernobyl proportions caused by a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan following a huge earthquake and tsunami. It released a radioactive cloud that bathed North America in fissile by-products. Today we get an answer, thanks to a study carried out by Hubert and a couple of colleagues. “In January 2017, we came across a series of Californian wines (Cabernet Sauvignon) from vintage 2009 to 2012,” say Hubert and company. This set of wines provides the perfect test. The Fukushima disaster occurred on March 11, 2011.  Hubert and his colleagues found measurable amounts of cesium-137 above background levels in the wine produced after 2011. “It seems there is an increase in activity in 2011 by a factor of two,” conclude the team.

    Utica Shale well activity as of July 21

    • DRILLED: 288 (286 as of last week)
    • DRILLING: 157 (157)
    • PERMITTED: 471 (471)
    • PRODUCING: 1,929 (1,929)
    • TOTAL: 2,845 (2,843)

    Four horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended July 21, and 17 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale.

     Study suggests potential link between fracking industry and increased sexually transmitted infections - The Columbus Dispatch - Activists have long condemned natural gas drillers in Ohio over environmental concerns, but a recent study links the fracking industry to a different kind of health concern: sexually transmitted infections.Researchers at the Yale Public School of Health found about a 20 percent increase in two STIs — gonorrhea and chlamydia — in eastern Ohio counties with high shale development activity, such as Belmont.  Experienced, out-of-state workers in the industry are often brought into rural communities for their specialized skills, such as operating drilling rigs, said the study's lead author Nicole Deziel, an epidemiologist at Yale. Those workers tend to be transient young men, she said, living in hyper-masculine "work camp" environments without families — all factors that allow for casual relationships and sexual encounters. Deziel, an assistant professor in the Yale Public School of Health, was inspired to investigate the potential impact of migrant workers on local communities after visiting Belmont County in 2016 and noticing rows of camper vans that workers were living in while working there.Her team examined new well permits and reported STI cases using publicly available data sets from all 88 counties in the state from 2000 to 2016 to monitor the influx of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis to account for any pre-existing trends in STI rates. Prior to 2010, there was no hydraulic fracturing activity in Ohio. Since fracking was introduced, about nine counties in eastern Appalachian Ohio with high Utica shale development activity — 10 or more new well permits a year — saw a 21 percent increase in gonorrhea and 19 percent jump in chlamydia rates.

     Why We Shouldn’t Frack Our Forests (or Fields, or Farms, or…) --I am writing in reference to the current revisions to the Wayne National Forest Management Plan.One of the most significant activities that I believe will impact the forest ecosystem in a negative way is the expansion of high pressure hydraulic fracking for oil and gas development. I also feel that to allow logging in an effort to “restore oaks” is counterproductive. This forest represents a small percentage of the wooded areas in Ohio and is the only national forest in the state. For many people both in and out of state this remains a sanctuary for them to escape their hectic lives and find the peace that nature offers.  While previous forest plans have allowed for multiple uses of the forest, I believe that to call high pressure hydraulic fracking another type of energy development is a travesty for this is NOT the oil and gas development of decades ago. This process is so environmentally destructive it is staggering.Fracking and all the build-out that this industry requires will dramatically affect that ecosystem. To believe that one can conduct fracking and still sustain a vibrant, healthy forest ecosystem is ludicrous. The Halliburton loophole legislation of 2005 exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. Fracking is virtually unregulated. Who will guarantee that every stage of the process will be conducted in a way so as not to disrupt the forest ecosystem?

    ETP says Ohio's EPA wants to delay Rover natgas pipeline completion  (Reuters) - Energy Transfer Partners LP said on Monday that state environmental regulators in Ohio were using a notice of violation related to the unapproved disposal of industrial waste to delay completion of the company’s Rover natural gas pipeline. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued the violation to Rover after the company deposited spent drilling mud containing low levels of a chemical solvent, tetrachloroethene, known as PCE, without approval, according to the EPA’s July 11 filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). PCE is widely used in dry cleaning of fabrics and the manufacture of other chemicals. “Ohio EPA’s filing of the (notice of violations) with FERC was not for any legitimate purpose, but rather was an attempt to cynically use the commission to once again delay the completion of this necessary project,” ETP said in its filing with the federal regulator on Monday. ETP has long said it was not the source of the PCE, which the company said likely came from former industrial activity. Regardless of the source, ETP added, all detected levels of PCE are well below Ohio’s soil clean-up standards and are not in danger of affecting ground water. Officials at the Ohio EPA and ETP were not immediately available for comment. The $4.2 billion Rover project is designed to carry up to 3.25 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast as well as Ontario, Canada. One bcf is enough gas to supply about five million U.S. homes for a day. ETP originally planned to complete Rover in November 2017, but since starting construction on the project in March of last year, it has received numerous notices of violation in Ohio and other states, some of which led to temporary stop-work orders from both state and federal regulators. FERC, however, has told ETP that it will not approve the start-up of additional sections of the pipeline until the company restores land around certain parts of the project that are already in service. 

    Rover Accuses Ohio EPA of ‘Cynically’ Attempting to Obstruct Project -- Rover Pipeline LLC has accused the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) of attempting to stall the nearly completed 713-mile, 3.25 Bcf/d project by issuing a notice of violation (NOV) for illegitimate reasons.Earlier this month, Ohio EPA issued an NOV to Rover for disposing of “spent drilling mud containing low level PCEs” at an industrial mineral site in Ashland, OH, without a state-approved plan. Ohio EPA, which forwarded the NOV to FERC, said the drilling mud qualified as an industrial waste under state law.Rover Senior Vice President Chris Sonneborn, in charge of engineering for the pipeline, fired back in a letter filed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday, saying Rover is not the source of the PCE and that the low levels discovered do not present a danger to human health or require remediation. Sonneborn further questioned the timing of the NOV, pointing to Ohio EPA tests that “first revealed the presence of low-level PCE in their samples collected more than a year ago.“All of this simply confirms that Ohio EPA’s filing of the NOV with FERC was not for any legitimate purpose, but rather was an attempt to cynically use the Commission to once again delay the completion of this necessary project,” Sonneborn wrote.Sonneborn said Ohio EPA’s “improper attempt to attack this project” included an “unprecedented and inappropriate” application of state environmental laws meant for regulating industrial facilities “or an associated treatment or disposal works.” Rover and Ohio EPA have butted heads on numerous occasions during the greenfield interstate pipeline’s construction. Notably, Ohio EPA cited Rover for a roughly 2 million gallon inadvertent release of drilling mud near the Tuscarawas River in Stark County, OH, last year and solicited FERC’s help in responding to the incident, saying Rover was challenging the state’s enforcement authority.

     Commissioners hear concerns about old injection well in Alex Twp. - Several local environmental activists gathered at the Athens County Commissioners meeting Tuesday morning to raise concerns about the non-operational Ginsburg fracking-waste injection well site on Ladd Ridge Road in Alexander Township. Roxanne Groff of Bern Township said the well is “not being taken care of,” and asked the commissioners if they can do something to encourage its owner to properly maintain and close the site. The commissioners said they can take some limited actions to address the issues cited by Groff and others at the meeting, but noted that ultimately the state of Ohio has sole authority to force the well owner to clean up the site. Holding up a stack of papers, Groff, herself a former Athens County commissioner, declared, “These are all… the violations that have been on this well since 1986. This well has been out of compliance more than it’s been in compliance in the last 32 years, and the situation out there continues to get worse.” Groff recounted various instances in the last decade when the pump meant to keep the well from overflowing has stopped working and, consequently, the well has gone offline. The well is a deep, cement pit containing sludge and fracking-waste that have been dumped there over the years, she said.“Those pumps are supposed to operate all the time so that the pit can be emptied constantly,” Groff said, explaining that each time it rains, the well fills with rainwater that mixes with the toxic waste, threatening to spill over. “…Because this pump never works and apparently hasn’t worked for a very, very long time, that toxic pit just sits out there,” Groff said..

     Columbus Sets Up Legal Fight Over Proposal To Ban Fracking – WOSU - Columbus City Council on Monday gave the green light to a proposed fall ballot initiative that would ban oil and gas drilling within the city. The "Columbus Community Bill of Rights," if approved, would would make it illegal for any corporation or government to drill for oil and gas within the city, with the exception of pre-existing wells. Such drilling is almost non-existent in the city, anyways.The bill would also ban injection wells used to store fracking wastewater.That would set Columbus in direct conflict with a 2004 Ohio law that says the state has sole jurisdiction over that sort of drilling.Carolyn Harding, co-organizer of the effort, says they're not worried about a potential legal fight."There's a good chance there will be legal issues and legal problems, but we are represented by a non-profit legal organization," she said before the Monday vote.The state limits were upheld in 2015, when the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the city of Munroe Fallscouldn’t make their own rules when it came to oil and gas development. Harding contends that's different, as it was a zoning issue.Still, she recognizes the road ahead may be tough."It's a maverick tactic and way to approach the law," Harding says. "But it's legal. And we are a home rule state, and we are permitted to do citizen-led ballot initiatives and create law." And Harding says there's precedent: Other municipalities, like Mansfield and Broadview Heights near Cleveland, have enacted similar measures. Following Monday's vote, the issue now goes back to the Franklin County Board of Elections, which recently certified the petition signatures needed to get it before Council.

    Chesapeake to exit Ohio shale gas in $2-billion divestment - - Chesapeake Energy Corp. agreed to sell its Utica Shale assets in Ohio to closely held Encino Acquisition Partners for about $2 billion as the U.S. natural gas giant whittles down its debt and streamlines operations. The agreement announced Thursday is expected to close in the fourth quarter and marks CEO Doug Lawler’s biggest transaction in 3 1/2 years. Almost all of the proceeds will be used to pay debt, Chesapeake said in the statement. The Oklahoma City-based driller’s shares and bonds soared. America’s third-largest gas producer has seen rough times as prices for the heating and power-plant fuel plummeted. The company, once valued at almost $40 billion and now worth just one-tenth of that, has been punished by investors for a debt load amassed by late founder Aubrey McClendon. The Utica asset sale will help retire a large chunk of debt, Lawler said in a phone interview on Thursday. “The Utica was the best asset for us to divest of and what we have remaining in our portfolio is five very strong assets for future growth,” Lawler said.  Chesapeake will no longer look to asset sales in the future to shrink its ratio of debt to profit, Lawler said. Instead, he’s aiming to achieve that target by raising production. Jettisoning the gas-rich Utica assets also will aid Lawler’s efforts to transform Chesapeake into a company focused predominantly on crude oil production. As of the end of 2017, more than 80 percent of the Oklahoma City-based explorer’s output was gas. Next year, he’s targeting 10 percent growth in the company’s oil production, according to the statement.

    Sales volumes up, but EQT hurt by higher operating costs - Sales volumes for Pittsburgh-based EQT were up sharply in the second quarter, but the company’s net income was down because of higher operating costs, Kallanish Energy reports. The company, a natural gas giant in the Appalachian Basin, reported net income of $17.6 million or 7 cents a share in the quarter. That compares to a net income of $41 million or 24 cents a share in 2Q 2017. The company’s sales volume in the 2Q grew to 362.5 billion cubic feet of equivalent. That is up from 198.1 Bcfe in 2Q 2017. EQT reported that its operating expenses nearly doubled from 2Q 2017 to 2Q 2018. They went from $578.2 million in 2Q 2017 to $1.030.5 billion in 2Q 2018. Operating income went from $52.9 million in 2Q 2017 to a loss of $79.5 million in 2Q 2018, a difference of $132.7 million. That was due to higher operating costs and an impairment charge, the company said. In 2Q 2018, EQT drilled or spud 35 Marcellus Shale wells, three Upper Devonian wells and 10 Utica wells in Ohio. It also turned on for production 44 Marcellus wells, five Upper Devonian wells and five Utica wells. To date, the company has drilled 1,791 horizontal Marcellus wells in the Appalachian Basin with 1,482 of those wells in service. Forty wells have been completed but are not yet online, and 269 wells are drilled but not yet completed. In addition, it has drilled or spud 253 Utica Shale horizontal wells in Ohio, of which 205 are in service. Another 14 wells are completed but not yet in service., and 34 wells have been drilled but are not yet completed. 

    Natural gas development in Pa. state forests has slowed significantly - The build out of natural gas infrastructure in Pennsylvania’s state forest system has slowed dramatically in recent years, according to a new report from the Department of Conservation and Natural resources.That’s mostly due to a general decline drilling, driven by low natural gas prices, as well as a moratorium on new leasing of state land imposed by Governor Tom Wolf in 2015. DCNR’s Shale Gas Monitoring Report was first published in 2014; the new analysis is an update. Under former Governor Ed Rendell, large swaths of the state forest system were leased for Marcellus Shale development. DCNR later established a monitoring program to track the impacts from the industrial development.Areas of concern include recreation, noise levels, water quality and forest fragmentation. Nearly half of Pennsylvania’s 2.2 million acres of forest is available for natural gas development—either through leases to drilling companies issued by DCNR (386,000 acres) or areas where the state does not own the underground mineral rights. In its previous monitoring report (which included data through 2012), DCNR found 1,425 acres of forest had been converted for shale gas infrastructure. The new report (which includes data through 2016) found 334 acres had been converted.  Invasive species are chief among the concerns, says DCNR spokeswoman Chris Novak. “As their presence and quantities are on the rise, disturbed sites like well pads and roads are ideal for them to get established,” she said. The impact to recreation has been a mixed bag, Novak said, as some visitors want to go hiking in a natural environment, while others enjoy riding ATV’s on newly-created or repaired roadways.

    A company cut trees for a pipeline that hasn’t been approved. The landowners just filed for compensation --A Pennsylvania family that lost more than 500 trees to make way for the stalled Constitution Pipeline project asked a court on Thursday to dissolve an injunction that gave the company access to their property, and to determine compensation that remains unpaid. The Hollerans of New Milford Township in Susquehanna County argue that the pipeline will never be built after it was blocked by New York state environmental regulators, and say they have not received compensation more than two years after chain-saw crews felled the trees before the natural gas pipeline received all its needed permits.  The family received widespread media attention when federal marshals armed with semi-automatic weapons and wearing bulletproof vests patrolled the isolated 23-acre farm in early March 2016 in an attempt to protect the tree-cutting crews from a handful of protesters. Twenty-eight months later, the Hollerans are asking a judge to overturn the injunction that allowed Constitution, operated by the Williams Companies, possession of about five acres of their property on which to build the pipeline. “The continued injunction has, and will continue to, wreak severe hardship on the landowners who continue to play involuntary host to a … company that has not paid a dime of compensation for the occupation and destruction of the landowners’ trees, land and business, or the retaliatory harassment inflicted on them for exercising their First Amendment rights to oppose occupation of their property,” the family said in a document filed in federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Hundreds of Cathy Holleran’s maple trees were cut down, through the use of eminent domain, for an interstate natural gas pipeline that’s now stalled. Catherine Holleran, co-owner of the property that has been in the family since the 1950s, wrote in another document filed Thursday that 558 trees were cut down, about half of which were sugar maples that the family had been using to build up a syrup business. The company left the trees lying on the land until the spring of 2017, and failed to remove the stumps, preventing the family from using the land for other purposes, she said.Some of the trees were around 200 years old and so are irreplaceable, she said.

    Molinaro supports fracking pilot in Southern Tier — Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro said he would support limited test wells using fracking in a portion of upstate New York, a practice Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned after intense pressure from environmentalists four years ago. "I do believe that a closely monitored ... pilot in the Southern Tier is appropriate," he told reporters in Albany on Wednesday. "Again, closely watched and monitored — as was suggested before the ban was in place." Cuomo banned fracking in 2014, after asking for a study of the health and environmental risks of the technology. His decision satisfied environmental advocates who pressured him to abandon the idea of limited pilots but left behind farmers and landowners in the rural Southern Tier who can look across the border to Pennsylvania, where the shale boom has brought an influx of economic activity. Molinaro said the governor's decision to block fracking statewide circumvented the state's typical environmental review process and usurped local control of these types of activities. He did not say he would rescind a state environmental review released in 2015, after Cuomo's administration relied on a health study to block the practice, which also found the state should not allow fracking. "I think the process should produce an outcome, not have the governor declare what the outcome is and then make sure the process supports it," he said. "I think a limited, closely monitored, DEC-regulated and watched pilot effort is worth considering, only in the context of ensuring that water sources have been identified and that we've created the ability to protect them."

     Cynthia Nixon Meets with Community Calling for Shutdown of AIM Fracked Gas Pipeline- “If something happens with that pipeline, at 400 feet we’re looking at a fatality rate of 100%,” said mother and Peekskill resident Courtney Williams. She was giving gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon a tour of the AIM fracked gas pipeline that runs through her community. Stop number three of the tour was the Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary School, where her daughter, Irene, and son, Gunnar, go. Irene, along with her friends Katerina and Aurelia, showed Nixon the kindergarten playground where her brother plays. She’ll be in third grade this fall and plays on the other playground, she tells Nixon. The kindergarten playground is the closest to the highly pressurized gas pipeline, just on the other side of a small hill. The pipeline’s proximity to the school is one of the reasons, Yvonne Reasen, Katerina and Aurelia’s mother, is moving her family out of the area. Following the tour of the pipeline, Nixon met with impacted residents at a roundtable at Peekskill’s BeanRunner Cafe. “I grew up in New York. I can't leave New York,” Reasen told Nixon. “But because of the inaction of our governor, we can’t stay in this community anymore.” In addition to all the inherent dangers of a pipeline transporting highly pressurized fracked gas through a densely populated area, the AIM pipeline runs within 105 feet of critical infrastructure at the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Because of these risks residents of northern Westchester and New Yorkers living within the 50 mile evacuation radius have been calling on Governor Cuomo to shut down the AIM fracked gas pipeline for years.

    DOJ, EPA, West Virginia Settle with CSX for $2.2 Million Over 2015 Derailment - Federal officials have announced a $2.2 million proposed settlement with CSX Transportation to resolve the company's liability for water pollution violations stemming from a train derailment that caused an oil spill in West Virginia. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department and the state of West Virginia announced the settlement Tuesday. Terms call for CSX to pay $1.2 million to the federal government and $1 million to West Virginia. Federal officials say they hope the fines deter similar incidents. The CSX train was carrying crude oil when 27 cars derailed Feb. 16, 2015 in Mount Carbon. The resulting explosions and fires destroyed a home and led officials to declare a state of emergency as they evacuated nearby residents and shut down water intakes. The Federal Railroad Administration said the derailment was caused by a broken rail.

    Mountain Valley Pipeline cited 5th time by state regulators for violations - For the fifth time since April, state regulators are citing the Mountain Valley Pipeline for water quality violations along the project’s construction route in West Virginia.The notice of violation was issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection after inspectors visited construction sites in Doddridge and Harrison counties. The violation notice is for construction in Doddridge.The inspection report and violation notice were made public Thursday afternoon when they were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Although the report is dated July 6, the inspection actually happened June 6, said Jake Glance, a spokesman for the DEP. According to the notice, pipeline crews failed to maintain erosion control devices and sediment-laden water was leaving the site.Crews also are accused of violating West Virginia’s legislative rules governing water quality standards by allowing “visible settleable solids” in the Meathouse Fork tributary, and sediment deposits at the bottom of the Dry Fork tributary, the notice states.Mountain Valley Pipeline has 20 days to respond and fix the problems outlined. A spokesman for the project did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening. The Mountain Valley Pipeline will stretch 300 miles from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, touching nearly 4,300 acres of land in West Virginia and crossing 600 streams and more than 400 wetlands along its route. The violations are similar to others issued by the DEP in the past four months, reflecting concern voiced by citizen and environmental groups before construction began. Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued its own notice of violation for Mountain Valley Pipeline erosion issues.

    Mountain Valley gas pipeline startup pushed to 2019 amid court fight with opponents — The startup of EQT Midstream Partners' Mountain Valley Pipeline natural gas project will be delayed into next year, and the construction cost is expected to reach a point where it may begin to reduce investment returns, executives said Thursday. The market developments, disclosed as No. 1 US gas producer EQT and EQT Midstream released financial results for the April-June quarter, reflect the challenges the 2 Bcf/d natural gas project has faced from poor weather and court battles with environmental groups.Any delay figured to be a blow for downstream utilities seeking better supply access and for producers awaiting more takeaway capacity out of the US Northeast's prolific Appalachian Basin. The approximately 300-mile pipeline is seen as a key conduit to serve downstream markets, including LNG exports."We update our project schedule weekly and it is based on both weather and activism that we see," Jerry Ashcroft, a senior vice president at EQT and operations chief at the company's midstream affiliate, said on a conference call with analysts to discuss EQT Midstream's results.For the second quarter, EQT reported net income attributable to common shareholders of $17.8 million, or 7 cents a share, an almost 57% drop from profit of $41.1 million, or 24 cents a share, in the year-ago period. While revenue jumped 53%, total operating expenses almost doubled year over year. EQT Midstream's profit rose 24% in the second quarter versus a year earlier.Despite the difficulties with MVP, officials had previously maintained their expected in-service date of the fourth quarter of this year. That schedule has now been extended to the first quarter of 2019, though executives did not rule out the possibility it could be delayed further depending on the timing and outcome of a federal appeals court case brought by the Sierra Club."If the court sits on the decision for a quarter, that obviously puts the timing in jeopardy," Chief Financial Officer Robert McNally said on the call with Ashcroft. "But we don't think they'll sit on it that long." Expenses have been going up as the operator has had workers going extra hours to complete the construction that is currently allowed. The project also suffered a setback in late June when the operator said it was temporarily suspending pipeline installation work in Virginia to make sure appropriate erosion and sediment controls were in place amid heavy rainfall. When the project was announced in fall 2015, EQT Midstream had estimated Mountain Valley Pipeline would cost $3 billion to $3.5 billion to build. Its most recent estimate was $3.5 billion. And on Thursday, that estimate was raised to $3.5 billion to $3.7 billion. McNally said expenditures above $3.5 billion will start to eat into expected investment returns.

    4th Circuit sides with pipeline in eminent domain case (AP) — A federal appeals court has sided with the Mountain Valley Pipeline in an eminent domain lawsuit brought by landowners in the project's path.A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed the ruling of a lower-court judge who didn't rule on the case's constitutional issues but dismissed them, saying she lacked subject matter jurisdiction.Justin Lugar, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients are evaluating the opinion and possible next steps. A pipeline spokeswoman declined comment.Work on the natural gas pipeline is under way in West Virginia and Virginia. An executive with pipeline partner NextEra Energy said in an earnings call Wednesday that construction delays mean the project won't be in service until the first quarter of 2019 at the earliest.

    WV Groups Sue Pipeline Companies for Abuse of Permitting Process  – Clean water groups say getting a single, general permit to cover work at hundreds of separate sites by gas pipeline companies is an abuse of the permitting process. A coalition of six citizen and conservation groups is asking federal courts to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from using one, nationwide permit for its work at all water crossings. The issue has already stalled some work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Cindy Rank, a longtime advocate with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, says this type of general permit is intended for small projects, like building a single road over a single creek. "However, with the giant pipelines, we're crossing hundreds and hundreds of these small headwater streams with a nationwide permit, without looking at the overall impact on watersheds," she points out. The pipeline companies argue it would be too much red tape to get separate permits for each water crossing. Rank says mountaintop removal mines did the same thing until stopped by the courts. She says the mines claimed a single permit allowed for disposal of excess rock in hundreds of valley fills. Rank says demanding these companies adhere to the process of getting individual permits is vitally important, because it's difficult – maybe even impossible – to build 42-inch natural gas pipelines through the raw Appalachian Mountains without causing massive damage.

    Crews respond to explosion on well pad in Marshall County --Emergency crews are investigating an explosion that happened on top of a well pad in Marshall County Monday morning. The explosion happened on top of a well pad owned by Southwestern Energy about 10 a.m., said Tom Hart, emergency management director for Marshall County. A resident nearby reported the explosion, and crews found a second explosion when they arrived, he said. It’s not clear what kind of material, or how much of it spilled, according to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s spill report. The material is considered hazardous, though. Crews decided to let the fire burn, and keep the tanks on the site cool, Hart said. The fire was out by 12:40 p.m. Some equipment was damaged, but the well pad in still intact, Hart said. No one was injured, but he said an employee was treated for heat-related illness, Hart said. Christina Fowler, a spokeswoman for Southwestern Energy, confirmed the explosion, but said no Southwestern Energy employees were injured. She declined to provide more information, citing the pending investigation.

    Explosion & Fire Involving Gas Processing Equipment in Marshall County, WV — No injuries were reported when an explosion and fire occurred at a Marshall County natural gas well pad at mid-morning Monday. Sorghum Ridge Road resident Dave Reinbeau had just finished his routine check on his livestock and fences and returned to his home when the explosion occurred within processing equipment at the well pad site. Reinbeau said he actually saw and felt the initial blast which occurred near the middle of his Sorghum Ridge property after he had returned to his house on the nearby hillside. “It felt like a force,” said Reinbeau, who went on to explain that he called 911 right away because he knew several workers were on the site. Marshall County Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said while no injuries were reported with the blast at the Reinbeau well pad, one worker on the site was evaluated by EMS crews for being overheated. Hart said emergency crews responded to the blast and fire after the initial call came in shortly before 10 a.m. “There were no injuries, no evacuations. It is under control at this point. They are just waiting for it to burn off so that they can start assessing,” Hart said shortly after responding to the site. “There were actually crews from Williams Energy on scene that were working at the site. The actual well pad is owned by Southwestern Energy. “When the fire crews arrived on scene, they did experience heavy fire deployment. It was actually processing equipment that was on fire. It was not the well pad itself. There was an explosion prior to first responders arriving on scene, then after the fire departments did arrive, there was a secondary explosion as well,” he added. Hart said officials decided to let the fire burn itself out. “What they are trying to do is they’re keeping some of the condensate tanks and other equipment cooled down while they let the fire burn off at this point,” Hart explained. Volunteer fire departments hauled water from a hydrant on W.Va. 88 to the scene of the fire. Hart said the fire was out by 12:36 p.m. Emergency crews cleared the scene at 2 p.m. 

    Will China's Appalachian gas investments survive trade fight? - It fell to Brian Anderson, a West Virginia University professor, to break the bad news at a Pittsburgh conference celebrating a hoped-for economic renaissance based on a bonanza of Appalachian shale gas. The Chinese and their money were not coming, at least for now, Anderson announced at the Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction Conference in Pittsburgh last month — collateral damage from President Trump's trade offensive against China's "economic aggression," as the administration describes it."It was pretty interesting to hear they'd canceled right before the conference because of the trade war going on," said Taylor Robinson, president PLG Consulting, whose firm has studied the potential of the Appalachian shale resource and was in the audience in Pittsburgh. The enormous offer last November, made in a memorandum of understanding from CEIC, was a crown jewel of the economic pledges made by China during Trump's pilgrimage to Beijing at the end of last year. It lit up West Virginia's hopes of capitalizing on the wealth of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations underlying its borders and brightened the state's chances of catching up to two neighbors to the north that have been bigger winners in the decade of shale gas development.  West Virginia wells delivered 4,596 million cubic feet a day in April, a 13 percent gain over the year before. But Ohio's total, 6,111 million cubic feet a day, was higher and jumped 40 percent from April 2017. Moreover, the energy infrastructure boom that followed the opening of the Marcellus and Utica plays has favored Pennsylvania and Ohio. A massive industrial plant to "crack" ethane gas into ethylene, a prime petrochemical feedstock, is under construction in western Pennsylvania, and Ohio officials are confident of landing the region's second cracking plant.

    West Virginians Do Not Want China’s Appalachian Gas Investments: - Upon reading this article, Will China’s Appalachian Gas Investments Survive Trade Fight?, OVEC member Mary Wildfire was dismayed to find there was no means to comment upon the article, so she directly e-mailed the author, and shared her e-mail with OVEC’s staff. Now we are sharing it with you, below.  Mr. Behr, I’m writing in response to your piece in E & E because it made me very angry and there isn’t a comment section. I live in West Virginia. Is it news to you that not everyone here thinks building Cancer Alley #2 along the entire Ohio River border of our state would be wonderful? Yes, there would be jobs, and some tax revenue for state and local governments. But:

    • How many jobs is disputed and
    • There is the question of how many would go to state residents, and
    • The tax revenues would soon be slashed thanks to lobbying. Further,
    • This project is intended to get rid of some of the glut of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales which is keeping prices low here—and so are the many pipelines heading east, south and north, likely for export. Great for the industry. NOT so much for people paying gas bills, and not for people unfortunate enough to live where pipelines run, near a storage hub or compressor station or gas well or cracker plant or chemical or plastics factory. Besides,
    • It’s all predicated on decades’ worth of cheap gas, but there are questions about how much gas is really down there. See David Hughes’ Shale Gas Reality Check, a comprehensive, well-by-well analysis of the real prospects for abundance into the future. And now consider that
    • Pipelines leak, polluting water; sometimes they explode or create fires. Compressor stations emit air pollution and noise.
    • Cracker plants create all kinds of pollution, and raise cancer rates, as do plastics plants (especially for workers); this area already has high cancer rates, and Parkersburg and Pittsburg already have serious air pollution problems.
    • If built, the glut will be eased which will lead to more drilling and fracking, with a well-known complex of harms to local people and the environment
    • The complex is supposed to produce plastic—but people are becoming aware of the nasty problem of plastic pollution of the ocean; a young but rapidly growing anti-plastic movement may reduce demand.
    • All of this will add to the problem of climate change. Admittedly, this problem won’t do anything more serious than destroy civilization, possibly cause human extinction, and leave any future generations hating their ancestors as no generation has in all of human history, so no real need to mention something so trifling.
    • There is an assumption that West Virginians will happily trade all of the above harms, and a few I’ve left out, for the jobs and revenue mentioned. And many would. But fact is, we’ve had a full century of schooling by the coal industry in how that plays out: WV is either dead last, or 49th in just about every measure of well-being.

    Bottled Water, Brought to You by Fracking - The new Food & Water Watch report Take Back the Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water details the deceit and trickery of the bottled water industry. Here’s one more angle to consider: The bottled water business is closely tied to fracking. The report reveals that the majority of bottled water is municipal tap water, a common resource captured in plastic bottles and re-sold at an astonishing markup—as much as 2,000 times the price of tap, and even four times the price of gasoline. Besides being a rip-off, there is plenty more to loathe about the corporate water scam: The environmental impacts from pumping groundwater (especially in drought-prone areas), the plastic junk fouling up our waterways and oceans, and the air pollution created as petrochemical plants manufacture the materials necessary for making those plastic bottles filled with overpriced tap water.There is a growing international awareness that plastic is a serious problem. In 2016, about 4 billion pounds of plastic were used in the bottled water business, and most of those bottles are not recycled—meaning they often end up in landfills or as litter. There’s also the matter of whether we should be putting our drinking water in those bottles in the first place: The most common packaging (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET) includes compounds like benzene, and the bottles can leach toxins like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. But perhaps the biggest problem is where we get all this plastic in the first place. Many of the raw materials used to create those plastic bottles come from fracking. In addition to air and water pollution, the fracking boom has delivered an abundant supply of the hydrocarbon ethane, which is used in petrochemical manufacturing to create ethylene, which is turned into plastic. One of the global powerhouses in this industry is a company called Ineos, which needs to expand fracking in order to keep profiting from plastics. To do this, massive “dragon ships” carry ethane from the United States to its facilities in Europe. The company wants even more of this raw material, which is one of the big reasons that Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners is building the Mariner East 2, a dangerous pipeline that will travel across hundreds of miles of the state of Pennsylvania. Getting more ethane means Ineos can turn more of those hydrocarbons into plastic, with the accompanying industrial pollution and carbon emissions we have come to expect from a company that has amassed a horrendous environmental record.

     Atlantic Coast Pipeline gets permission to begin North Carolina construction - The 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the more than $6 billion natural gas project led by Dominion Energy, won approval to begin full construction in North Carolina today.The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission comes amid a federal court challenge that seeks to halt construction of the hotly contested pipeline following a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond in May.The court invalidated a key environmental review — finding it too vague to be enforced — that dealt with risks to sensitive species, a decision opponents of the project argued should have stopped it in its tracks.However, FERC has allowed the pipeline, which will run from West Virginia through much of central Virginia and the eastern third of North Carolina to plow ahead in certain areas where it already has state approvals.At issue in the federal court decision was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “incidental take statement,” which sets limits for harming or killing certain sensitive species along the pipeline route, including bats, fish, mussels and a nearly extinct bumblebee, among others. The 4th Circuit has yet to release its full opinion, but Dominion and its partners, which includes North Carolina utility heavyweight Duke Energy, have argued the decision only affects limited portions of the route.

     Dominion Energy's $6 Billion Atlantic Coast Natural Gas Pipeline Remains On Track --  Dominion Energy Inc said on Wednesday that its $6-$6.5 billion Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina remained on track to enter service in late 2019 after federal regulators approved the start of construction for the project in North Carolina. “Yesterday’s approval was another major step forward for the project and keeps us on track for late 2019 in-service,” Aaron Ruby, a spokesman at Dominion, said in an email. The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued that approval in a filing Tuesday afternoon. Like other pipeline approvals, FERC said “if any court or agency invalidates a required federal authorization after construction has begun…(FERC) may take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of environmental resources, including issuance of a stop work order.” The Sierra Club, an environmental group opposing the pipeline, said in a statement following the FERC decision that the project is facing multiple lawsuits and a challenge that could force a rehearing at FERC. The Sierra Club also said the Virginia State Water Control Board is revisiting the sufficiency of the project’s current water certifications, which could be revoked. The 600-mile (966-km) Atlantic Coast project is designed to carry about 1.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to customers in Virginia and North Carolina. One billion cubic feet of gas is enough to fuel about 5 million U.S. homes for a day. 

    Federal govt. approves Columbia Gas line under Potomac - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday, July 19 issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to Columbia Gas Transmission to build a natural gas pipeline from Fulton County, Pa. through the area west of Hancock and under the Potomac River to reach Morgan County, W.Va.  FERC’s decision will allow Columbia Gas to build a 3.37-mile, 8-inch diameter natural gas line. The line will connect an existing gas line in Fulton County, Pa. to a 23-mile gas line being built by Mountaineer Gas from the Berkeley Springs area to Martinsburg in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.  The project is referred to as the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project. In the 54-page Order issuing the certificate, FERC officials say they have made a thorough study of the Columbia Gas construction proposal, financing of the estimated $25 million project and the potential environmental impacts of construction and operation of the line. Columbia Gas plans to construct the line under the Potomac River by using Horizontal Directional Drilling. Company officials have said a drilling rig on the West Virginia side of the river will drive a bit under the riverbed. That drill will emerge north of the C&O Canal National Historical Park in the area west of Hancock. Plans say the pipeline will be built on the Hancock side of the river, then pulled back through the drilled space under the river to the Berkeley Springs side of the Potomac.

    Factbox: US FERC actions on natural gas infrastructure -- At its monthly meeting Thursday, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued orders on a number of natural gas infrastructure projects:

      • The Spectra Energy Partners unit received approval to build and operate compression-based expansions of its Gulf Coast pipeline system.
      • The Texas Industrial Market expansion would provide up to 82,500 Dt/d of firm capacity from Evangeline Parish, Louisiana, to a delivery point in Orange County, Texas, and a future delivery point in Jefferson County, Texas.
      • The Louisiana Market expansion would provide up to 75,000 Dt/d of firm capacity from Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, to a delivery point in Beauregard Parish, Louisiana.
      • FERC denied requests that it review its authorization of the project, which will provide up to 223,000 Dt/d of firm service to local distribution companies and towns in New York.
      • A majority of the commission affirmed the certificate order, saying the $275 million project is needed by the public.
      • The majority also found the project was not improperly segmented in order to minimize its apparent environmental effect.
      • The project will provide service from an existing Millennium compressor station to an interconnection with Enbridge's Algonquin Gas Transmission.
      • The expansion was approved to run from Fulton County, Pennsylvania, to a delivery point in Morgan County, West Virginia.
      • The $25 million Eastern Panhandle would deliver up to 47,500 Dt/d of natural gas to serve utility Mountaineer Gas.

     Energy Department clears ‘small-scale’ natural gas exports for fast approval | TheHill: The Trump administration is expediting the approval process for projects that are meant to export small amounts of natural gas, including liquefied natural gas. In a final regulation released to the public Tuesday, the Department of Energy (DOE) said it will automatically approve gas export applications if they are at or below 51.75 billion cubic feet of exports per year and do not rise to the level of requiring an environmental review. “DOE has determined that small-scale natural gas exports are consistent with the public interest,” the agency said in its regulation, citing the Natural Gas Act’s requirement that exports can only be approved if they are in the United States’ public interest.“In sum, DOE has thoroughly analyzed the many factors affecting the export of U.S. natural gas, as well as the unique characteristics and minimal adverse impacts of the emerging small scale natural gas market,” the department said, concluding that the public interest standard has been met. The regulation is due to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, starting a 30-day clock before it takes effect. DOE has previously approved more than two dozen projects to export liquefied natural gas, but only two are currently in operation. Interest in gas exports rose in recent years as domestic production grew significantly, owing to hydraulic fracturing and other advanced drilling techniques. Gas exports also align with the Trump administration's drive for "energy dominance," a paradigm that centers largely on selling U.S. energy around the world. The small-scale export market is mainly limited to the Western Hemisphere, including the Caribbean, South America and Central America.

    Can US Gulf Coast LNG exports continue to rise? (Platts video) Since LNG exports first left the US Gulf Coast in February 2016, global markets have been transformed with contract terms that offer destination flexibility and greater diversity of pricing and hedging options. But while the global LNG market looks set to strengthen in the short- and mid-term, a key question is the extent to which low cost supplies from the Permian Basin will continue. We’re delighted to share a recent episode of our View from the Top video series. We speak to Matt Schatzman, the CEO of NextDecade, an LNG development company focused on export projects and associated pipelines in Texas. We talk to Matt about NextDecade’s plans to develop a portfolio of LNG projects, including the 27 mtpa Rio Grande LNG export facility in Brownsville, Texas and the 4.5 Bcf/d Rio Bravo Pipeline that would transport natural gas from the Agua Dulce supply area to Rio Grande LNG. Matt shares his views on the fast-developing global LNG market, specifically his view that the strength in the market place will continue.

    Infrastructure additions send US gas exports to Mexico soaring above 5 bcf/d for the first time ever. --After idling near the 4.6-Bcf/d level for months, piped gas flows to Mexico raced to a record of more than 5 Bcf/d for the first time earlier in July, and have hung on to that level since. This new export volume signifies incremental demand for the U.S. gas market at a time when the domestic storage inventory is already approaching the five-year low. At the same time, it would also signify some much-needed relief for Permian producers hoping to avert disastrous takeaway constraints — that is, if the export growth is happening where it’s needed the most, from West Texas. However, that’s not exactly the case. What’s behind the sudden increase, where is it happening and what are the prospects for continued growth near-term? Today, we analyze the recent trends in exports to Mexico.

    API: US Producers, Refiners Made History Last Month  - Domestic crude oil, NGL production hit unprecedented levels in June 2018, according to API.U.S. production of crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGL) hit unprecedented levels in June 2018, the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported Thursday.  “Record production U.S. crude oil and natural gas liquids last month highlighted the strength of our nation’s energy renaissance,” API Chief Economist Dean Foreman said in a written statement heralding figures from API’s Monthly Statistical Report for June.According to API, crude oil production hit 10.7 million barrels per day (MMbpd) in June and NGL production reached 4.2 MMbpd during the same period. Foreman noted that domestic oil production has supplied all of the growth in global demand so far in 2018 and has helped to compensate for production losses among some OPEC member nations.“With continued increases in drilling activity, the U.S. is poised for further production increases in natural gas and oil,” Foreman said. API noted that milestones for June included:

    • U.S. petroleum demand for the year-to-date was the strongest it’s been in 11 years.
    • Refinery throughput in the U.S. hit a new record of 18 MMbpd.
    • Thanks to that record refinery throughput, U.S. crude inventories remained steady and accumulated refinery product stocks “more than offset” the drawdown in crude oil inventories.
    • “Solid economic and energy market fundamentals” are supporting the 20.6 MMbpd U.S. petroleum demand – the strongest such level since 2007.

    US Refiners Boost Purchases Of CPC Blend To Record As Prices Drop -(Reuters) - U.S. refiners will import a record monthly volume of crude from the Caspian region in July after snapping up the cargoes when prices reached near six-year lows, according to market sources and Thomson Reuters shipping data. The unusually large volume of crude is one of many changes in the international oil trade caused by a flood of U.S. shale oil headed overseas.Record exports of crude from the United States to Europe and Asia have pushed down the price of comparable oil, such as the crude produced near the Caspian in Kazakhstan and Russia. That oil is pumped through the CPC pipeline and loaded in the Mediterranean. U.S. East Coast refiners, which rely on crude imports, have bought most of the 3.7 million barrels of CPC crude that will reach the United States in July, according to the Thomson Reuters data.The East Coast refiners have limited access to the oil produced in the shale fields hundreds of miles away in Texas or North Dakota. They buy additional crude from West Africa, Middle East and Europe.  That is because U.S. domestic shipping rules can make it more expensive for East Coast refiners to ship crude from the Gulf coast to the northeast than it is to import oil. East Coast refiners "can get oil cheaper from the Urals than the Eagle Ford,"

    U.S. Refiners Scramble To Avoid Railcar Shortage -- U.S. oil refiners as well as producers are frantically looking for ways to reverse a decision by the country’s largest railroad operator, BNSF Railway Co, to curb the use of retrofitted oil tank cars on its railroads as a safety measure after a derailment in Iowa in June.  Reuters reports that this decision could lead to the removal of several thousand oil tank cars from a crucial railway line and up the lease the rates for new cars substantially. Already, two brokers told Reuters, the lease rate for new oil tank cars is over US$1,000 apiece per month, up from US$400 per month at the end of last year.In June, an oil train derailed in Iowa and spilled more than 200,000 gallons of Canadian heavy crude into a public waterway. Following the incident, BNSF said it will stop offering retrofitted tank cars—of which there are about 11,000 on U.S. railroads—in new contracts. Companies including Exxon, Phillips, and Enbridge use the cars and will be affected by the change.BNSF’s decision comes at a bad time for shale producers, particularly in the Permian. The oil rush that some media have dubbed Permania led to a shortage of pipeline capacity in the prolific shale play that has resulted in a discount for crude pumped there as it sits and waits longer than usual to be shipped to the Gulf Coast refineries.Canadian heavy oil producers are also suffering a worsening pipeline shortage, so for both groups, the railway has become the obvious alternative, even though it is costlier for them and, based on statistical data, riskier for the environment, as once more proved by the Iowa derailment. However, pipeline opposition in both the United States and Canada has prevented the industry from adding much needed capacity, although the Permian is better placed than the Alberta oil sands: several large-scale pipeline projects are in progress there already.

    Oilfield service giants miss earnings forecasts despite soaring U.S. production (Reuters) - Oilfield service giants Schlumberger and General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes missed second quarter revenue forecasts on Friday as slow international growth offset record production in the United States that boosted domestic demand for their services. The Houston-based companies were the first among their peers to report earnings, putting them under scrutiny from analysts seeking clues about the health of the industry. Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services firm, is viewed a as bellwether for the global oil and gas industry due to its heavy international exposure. Schlumberger’s overall revenue rose 11 percent in the quarter to $8.30 billion, missing analysts’ estimate of $8.36 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue from Schlumberger’s international business dragged the overall performance down: it grew 4 percent in the quarter to $5.07 billion, but remained 1.4 percent below a year ago. GE’s Baker Hughes reported total revenue of $5.55 billion, versus analysts’ forecasts of $5.57 billion, according to I/B/E/S. Baker Hughes’ revenues were hurt by its oilfield equipment and turbomachinery businesses. The performances reflect how a relatively slow recovery in international markets, where oil projects are often more costly, continues to drag down earnings for large integrated service firms, even as surging U.S. production helps. U.S. oil production last week hit a record 11 million barrels per day, marking a dramatic comeback in an industry that had been hard hit by the 2014 oil price crash. Wall Street analysts were not fazed by the missed estimates, and instead focused their attention on stronger-than-expected sequential growth in international markets and upbeat comments from executives. Shares of Schlumberger were trading at $66.86 in afternoon trade, off a fraction of a percent. Baker Hughes was up about 0.8 percent at $32.04.

    Texas oil pipeline signs up shippers for 200,000 b/d of new capacity: notice - San Antonio-based EPIC Midstream said late Thursday it has secured shipper commitments for another 250,000 b/d on its planned Eagle Ford and Permian to the Texas Gulf Coast crude pipeline and was now considering an increase in the pipeline's diameter that would result in higher throughput. Permian Basin producer Diamondback Energy has signed a deal to take 50,000 b/d of capacity on the 730-mile EPIC - Eagle Ford, Permian, Ingleside and Corpus Christi - pipeline and also acquire a 5% interest as a strategic partner, EPIC Midstream said. Other producers also in south Texas have together booked 150,000 b/d on the pipeline, EPIC Midstream said, without naming the shippers. No comment was immediately available from EPIC Midstream on who the other shippers were.In May, EPIC Midstream said it had taken on board two anchor customers - Apache and Noble Energy - that had committed to 75,000 b/d and 100,000 b/d respectively. Apache and Noble also have an option to take 15% and 30% stake respectively in the pipeline, EPIC Midstream said then. With these commitments, shippers have now secured 425,000 b/d of capacity on the pipeline that is planned to have an throughput of 590,000 b/d, EPIC said Thursday, noting it will launch an open season on August 1 to seek more barrels.  Based on the open season, EPIC will consider upsizing the pipeline diameter to 30 inches from the planned 24 inches to move barrels from the Permian Basin, it said Thursday. EPIC Midstream had said in May that depending on shipper demand and commitment, it was keeping options open to increase capacity of the pipeline to 825,000 b/d from 590,000 b/d. The EPIC pipeline will move crude from the Eagle Ford and Permian basins to export facilities at Corpus Christi and Ingleside, home to Occidental's major export terminal. Besides EPIC, the two other major long-haul pipelines planned to come online by late 2019 are the 650,000 b/d Cactus II facility by Plains All American and the 700,000 b/d Gray Oak line by Phillips 66/Andeavor.

    Exclusive: Occidental Petroleum explores sale of pipeline assets - sources (Reuters) - Occidental Petroleum Corp is exploring a sale of its pipeline assets, hoping to fetch more than $5 billion and free up capital to invest in exploration and production as oil prices rebound, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. Occidental's decision to shed the assets is the latest example of an oil company balking at the capital expenditure required to maintain U.S. pipelines, which have been plagued by bottlenecks and require construction of new networks. Hess Corp and Oasis Petroleum Inc are among the companies that have sold or spun off pipelines in the past year, looking to take advantage of high valuations for these assets, which have been buoyed by the capacity constrains. Inability to transport enough oil out of the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, the largest U.S. oilfield, combined with increasing appetite for U.S. oil exports, could help Occidental sell its pipelines for top dollar, according to the sources. Occidental is working with investment bankers on an auction for the pipeline assets, added the sources, who asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Occidental representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Occidental's midstream assets include a major U.S. crude pipeline, a stake in a gas pipeline in the Middle East, a crude export terminal in Texas, and the Centurion Pipeline, a 2,900 mile line carrying crude from the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico to Cushing, Oklahoma. 

    EPA went soft on Oklahoma-based oil and gas companies with Scott Pruitt as head, study finds -  Environmental groups are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to look into whether Oklahoma-based oil and gas companies were given special treatment when Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general and state lawmaker, served as head of the agency.The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Sierra Club, and Environment Texas sent a letter to EPA Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine on Monday to express concern about the EPA’s handling of Clean Air Act violations by oil and gas companies in Oklahoma. In their letter, the groups cited a new EIP report that found unequal treatment of oil and gas companies based on where they are headquartered.Researchers at EIP looked at six different oil and gas companies that had violated the Clean Air Act, three of which are based in Oklahoma. According to the report, the three Oklahoma-headquartered companies have yet to be penalized for their Clean Air Act violations. Three companies based in other states that committed similar violations have, under both the Obama and Trump administrations, been cumulatively fined millions of dollars and are spending more than $100 million in total on clean-up costs, the researchers found. “We respectfully request that you exercise your authority, and demonstrate that Oklahoma corporations are not subject to a more relaxed ‘rule of law’ than the one that applies to their competitors,” officials with the three environmental groups wrote in their letter to Bodine. Over the last three years, the EPA penalized three non-Oklahoma oil and gas companies — Noble Energy of Texas, PDC Energy of Colorado, and Slawson Energy of Kansas — a combined $9.55 million for air pollution violations. The companies also signed consent decrees that required them to spend a total of $146 million on cleanup and environmental mitigation efforts. The mitigation measures are expected to reduce more than 20,000 tons of air pollution per year, EIP found in its research. In its review of EPA records for three Oklahoma-based companies — Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy, and Gulfport Energy — EIP found that they received violation notices for methane leaks at their facilities.

    Nebraska Supreme Court agrees to speed up oral arguments in Keystone XL pipeline case --  Citing a looming 2019 deadline, the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline has requested, and been granted, expedited arguments in a legal effort to block the $4 billion project.The ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court on Tuesday most likely means that oral arguments, barring new motions or scheduling conflicts among attorneys, will be heard in October in the case pitting landowners, Native American tribes and environmental groups against pipeline developer TransCanada.The landowners are seeking to nullify the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s 3-2 approval in November of a pipeline route across Nebraska. The lawsuit claims, among other things, that TransCanada didn’t formally seek approval of the “mainline alternative” route that was approved.The selection of an alternative route meant that the company needed to negotiate right-of-way agreements with an unexpected, new group of landowners in northeast and eastern Nebraska.In the motion requesting an expedited hearing, attorney Jim Powers of Omaha, who represents TransCanada, said a “segment” of property owners are unwilling to negotiate until the lawsuit before the State Supreme Court is resolved. A ruling is expected by the end of the year. TransCanada faces a deadline of November 2019 to either work out a deal with a landowner or go to court to obtain right of way via eminent domain.

    Dakota Access pipeline builder wants state lawsuit dismissed - — The company that built the Dakota Access oil pipeline wants a North Dakota judge to throw out a lawsuit over its ownership of agricultural land, claiming it's not violating a Depression-era state ban on corporate farming that it calls unconstitutional anyway. Attorneys for Dakota Access LLC also asked the judge in court documents filed Tuesday to prevent North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem from enforcing the state's anti-corporate farming law. It prohibits large corporations from owning and operating farms in order to protect the state's family farming heritage. Stenehjem's office filed a civil complaint July 3 alleging that the pipeline company's continued ownership of ranch land it bought in September 2016 violates the law. He wants the court to fine the company $25,000 and order it to sell the land within a year or face more fines. Dakota Access bought 12 square miles of ranchland in an area of southern North Dakota where thousands of pipeline opponents gathered to protest in 2016 and 2017. It cited the need to protect workers and help law officers monitoring the protests. Stenehjem deemed the purchase temporarily necessary to provide a safer environment and reached a deal with the company under which he agreed not to immediately sue. The agreement expired at the end of June, and he sued. He declined comment Wednesday on the company's formal response. Dakota Access attorney Lawrence Bender argues that the company's ownership of the land falls within an exception within the anti-corporate farming law that allows for companies to own farmland if it's necessary for an industrial project. He also said the land continues to be used for agriculture.

     A year later, still no federal charges against 'saboteurs' of Dakota Access Pipeline--why? - It's been one year since two Iowa environmental activists claimed responsibility for deliberately causing millions of dollars in damage to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, but federal prosecutors haven't filed charges against them. The activists — Jessica Reznicek, 36, and Ruby Montoya, 28 —  have gone into hiding. The lack of federal prosecution has some Iowans wondering whether charges will ever be filed. "As representatives of people who worked on the pipeline project, it's a little disturbing," said Richie Schmidt, an Iowa organizer for Laborers International Union of North America. "Obviously, we want to to see anybody who vandalizes any project that our members are working on brought to justice." Rachel Scherle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Des Moines, declined to say last week why no criminal charges have been filed against either Reznicek or Montoya. But she indicated the matter hasn't been dropped by federal authorities. Reznicek and Montoya, who had been involved in the Des Moines Catholic Workers' social justice movement, held a news conference July 24, 2017, in Des Moines outside the Iowa Utilities Board's offices. There, they provided a detailed description of their "direct action" campaign to stop the pipeline while it was under construction. The two women said their sabotage included burning at least five pieces of heavy construction equipment in northwest Iowa's Buena Vista County. They also used oxyacetylene cutting torches to damage exposed, empty pipeline valves up and down the pipeline route through Iowa and into part of South Dakota. They said they later used tires and gasoline-soaked rags to burn multiple valve sites and electric units, as well as heavy equipment on pipeline easements. The damage to heavy equipment in Buena Vista County alone was estimated at exceeding $2.5 million, while damage at a series of work sites elsewhere in Iowa after November 2016 was described as either undetermined or for lesser amounts. Frank Cordaro, a Catholic Workers activist and former Catholic priest, told the Des Moines Register that the two women left Des Moines late last September. He said they have "dropped out" to destinations that they are not disclosing. Both Cordrao and anti-pipeline leader Ed Fallon of Des Moines suspect the energy company doesn't want a trial. "What is it that Dakota Access is afraid will come out? Obviously, it could be pretty damaging," Fallon said.

    Top U.S. Shale Oil Fields Decline Rate Reaches New Record.... Half Million Barrels Per Day While the U.S. reached a new record of 11 million barrels of oil production per day last week, the top five shale oil fields also suffered the highest monthly decline rate ever.  This is bad news for the U.S. shale industry as it must produce more and more oil each month, to keep oil production from falling. According to the newest EIA Drilling Productivity Report, the top five U.S. Shale Oil fields monthly oil decline rate is set to surpass a half million barrels per day in August.  Thus, the companies will have to produce at last 500,000 barrels of new oil next month just to keep production flat.Here are the individual shale oil field charts from the EIA's July Drilling Productivity Report:The figures that are shown above the UP arrow denote the forecasted new production added next month while the figures above the DOWN arrow provide the monthly legacy decline rate.  For example, the chart on the bottom right-hand side is for the Permian Region.  The EIA forecasts that the Permian will add 296,000 barrels per day (bpd) of new shale oil production in August, while the existing wells in the field will decline by 223,000 bpd.If we add up these top five shale oil fields monthly decline rate for August will be 503,000 bpd.  Thus, the shale oil companies must produce at least 503,000 bpd of new oil supply next month just to keep production from falling.  And, we must remember, this decline rate will continue to increase as shale oil production rises.We can see this in the following chart below.  Again, according to the EIA's figures, the top five U.S. shale oil fields monthly legacy decline rate increased from 398,000 bpd in January to 503,000 bpd for August: In just the first seven months of 2018, the total monthly decline rate from these top shale fields increased by 26%.  These massive decline rates are the very reason the shale oil and gas companies are struggling to make money.  A perfect example of this is PXD, Pioneer Resources.  Pioneer spent $818 million on capital expenditures (CapEx) for additions to oil and gas properties (drilling and completion costs) during Q1 2018, brought on 63 horizontal wells in the Permian, and only added 9,000 barrels per day of oil equivalent over the previous quarter.  So, how much Free Cash Flow did Pioneer make with oil prices at the highest level in almost four years??  Well, you're not going to believe me... so here is Pioneer's Cash Flow Statement below:

    Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to get fast review -  The Interior Department has commissioned an expedited environmental review of the impact of leasing part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling, according to a document released under the Freedom of Information Act.The nearly $1.7 million contract that Interior signed April 8 with Colorado-based Environmental Management and Planning Solutions, obtained by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, shows how rapidly the Trump administration is moving ahead with its plans to open up the refuge’s coastal plain to energy exploration.It outlines a schedule ending with a lease sale notice to be issued next summer. That gives the firm three months to complete a scoping report, which will set the terms of how federal officials will gauge the impact of energy development in the refuge. The report must reflect the input of local tribes and the hundreds of thousands of public comments that have been submitted. Congress passed tax legislation in December directing Interior to conduct two lease sales by December 2024, each covering 400,000 acres, in the refuge’s coastal plain. Many environmentalists and scientists have sought to block energy exploration within the nearly 19 million-acre refuge on the grounds that it would disturb denning polar bears, disrupt a major migration corridor for waterfowl and porcupine caribou, and damage wilderness habitat that has enjoyed federal protection for decades. In an interview Monday, Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Andrew T. Mack said that state officials realize Interior has laid out a “compressed” schedule and that they are devoting resources to ensure the assessment is done right.  “We’re not going to shy away from saying there will be impacts. And we need to figure out ways to mitigate those impacts.” Geoffrey Haskett, who served as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director between 2009 and 2016, said in an interview that such reviews typically take two to three years.  “The idea of imposing an arbitrary deadline like this is just horrific to me,” said Haskett, who is now president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “I think they’re going to make mistakes because they’re moving so fast. They’re certainly not going to get much input on this.”

    This Civilization is Collective Murder-Suicide - The end point for everything the extreme energy civilization is doing: The Earth nothing but a desert with ruins.  Civilization is destruction. For humanity and the Earth it is death. We’re bogged down in it. It’s driving us to the brink of nuclear war at the same time it’s giving us all cancer. Most civilized people want the missiles to fly, and most want cancer for themselves and their children. Their actions prove it.“Growth”, the idol of fundamentalist worship by all the civilized, including “environmentalists” and the climate crocodiles, is physically unsustainable and must collapse with unfathomable consequences. It is cancer as well. Symbolically growth is directly analogous to cancer metastasis, and growth’s reality depends upon physically killing us with cancer, starvation, bullets.Look everywhere Western globalization has spread, look at any government, any Leader, any journalist, any academic, any NGO, see what they unanimously say: If you’re not rich, then die.It is self-evident that anyone who thinks this way also will think murderously, though few are as honest as the Canadian bankster who openly says, “There are some people that are going to die in protesting construction of this pipeline.”   What this means is, “We should kill anyone who is in the way of our tyranny, whether as activists or simply as obstacles.” This means the entire 99%. All system cadres think this way and intend to act on this. This is the intended consummation of modern civilization, the total murder of the Earth and murder-suicide of humanity.  Smash the bottlenecks.

    Permitting problems put brakes on key U.S.-Canadian transportation projects -  Degraded infrastructure, unsteady political support for financing transportation projects and regulatory differences between American states and Canadian provinces dominated discussion Monday during the transportation sessions at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region’s annual summit being held in Spokane. Spanning any ideological divide among the governmental and private sector participants, however, was the push to simplify the permitting process for large-scale infrastructure projects. Zak Andersen, an executive at BNSF Railways, said the process that gives permission to build those projects, such as the $680 million Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview project, has been “hijacked.” Washington state rejected permits for the coal terminal, citing “significant and unavoidable harm” to the environment, after a lengthy and heated public process. “Where the system has gone awry, it’s become too easy to hijack the process,” he said, referring to special interest groups that he characterized as having outsized influence. He said the scope of the coal project in the state’s definition stretched from Longview “to the coal mines of Wyoming.” Andersen, whose company has joined a lawsuit opposing the state’s decision, said defining a project’s scope in such a way allows for “the worrying of things that seem beyond what the project is being permitted for.” “It makes building anything impossible,” he said. “It’s becoming a long, drawn-out process simply due to inertia. You folks need to get off the bench.” 

    Canada to Miss Deadline for Quickly Reselling Trans Mountain Pipeline - About a dozen parties are interested in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, but the Canadian government won’t reach a deal to flip it before a marketing deadline with Kinder Morgan Inc. closes Sunday, according to people familiar with the situation.  The government’s C$4.5 billion ($3.4 billion) purchase of the pipeline and expansion project gave it to July 22 to co-market the pipeline with an eye to selling it to a third party. A quick sale would have effectively allowed the government to substitute in another buyer for the current deal to be finalized. That deadline Sunday is set to pass. The deal will be finalized with the government as the new owner, and it will seek a new buyer without Kinder Morgan’s help, amid fears of legal and political delays. About a dozen parties have signed non-disclosure agreements as part of the process for a potential resale, and the project is seen likely to end up being bought by a Canadian-led consortium, as opposed to a single buyer, the people said. The Trans Mountain sale is scheduled to close in either the late third quarter or early fourth quarter, as the project faces continued opposition from the British Columbia premier and awaits a key court ruling. Kinder Morgan’s Canadian unit declined to comment beyond previous statements that it is working with the government to find a buyer, and it referred questions on the status of those efforts to the government. A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill Morneau declined to directly say if there’d be a sale to a third party by July 22, but said the government won’t hold the pipeline forever.  Finding a third-party purchaser by the Sunday deadline would be difficult because the obstacles that Kinder Morgan cited in its threat to abandon the project still exist, said Kevin McSweeney, a fund manager at CI Investments in Toronto. British Columbia has given no indication it will drop efforts to impose additional regulations on the pipeline, and a court case over the project is still under way, he said. Third-party purchasers are likely to be attracted to the pipeline once those issues are resolved, he said.

    With Trump Going Soft on Nord Stream, Congress Moves to Kill the Pipeline - After U.S. President Donald Trump’s embrace of Russia at the Helsinki summit, lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are again putting Moscow’s huge and controversial European energy project in the crosshairs, rolling out a new slate of sanctions that could kill the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and boost U.S. energy exports to Europe. Tougher U.S. sanctions on the $11 billion natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea, are about the only thing that could kill the project at this point. What’s less clear is whether U.S. natural gas will be able to make up the difference—and whether Europe wants or needs Washington’s help in managing its own energy security.  On Wednesday, Republican Sens. John Barrasso and Cory Gardner introduced a bill that would make mandatory U.S. economic sanctions on companies building the Nord Stream pipeline. Last year, Congress passed tough potential sanctions on Russian energy projects, but the new bill would make them explicitly applicable to Nord Stream and mandatory, rather than leaving them to the president’s discretion. The bill also seeks to streamline the export of more U.S. natural gas to allies such as Japan and members of NATO.  Barrasso has been trying to boost U.S. energy exports to allies for years and has been a vocal critic of Nord Stream 2. But energy analysts viewed the introduction of the new bill as a timely response to Trump’s softer language on the Russian energy project in his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday. The United States has been railing for years against big Russian pipeline projects, including Nord Stream 2, that could redouble the European Union’s reliance on Moscow for energy, thus handing Russia potential leverage over the continent’s economic lifeblood. But by promoting U.S. energy exports as a replacement for Nord Stream 2, Washington is sending the wrong message on Russian energy coercion, said Brenda Shaffer, an energy expert at Georgetown University. “Linking U.S. gas exports to anti-Nord Stream 2 legislation undermines the U.S. position against the pipeline,” she said, because it “reinforces Moscow’s claim that the U.S. is acting out of self-interest, despite that not being the case.”

    US bill against Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline ‘absurd’ -- Russian energy minister Alexander Novak Friday described a US bill introduced by senator John Barasso, Republican-Wyoming, that would impose mandatory sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as “absurd”. “This is, in my opinion an absurd bill that offsets all market rules,” Novak told journalists. Speculation is growing about the fate of the Nord Stream 2 project, which would double Nord Stream’s capacity and allow for shipments of up to 110 Bcm/year of Russian gas. The project has divided opinion in Europe, with some including the European Commission and many countries in Eastern Europe opposing the project on the grounds that it will increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. It has not been blocked yet, however, and five European companies continue to invest in it.

    Natural gas storage injections slump in NW Europe on Nord Stream pipeline flow suspension -- Injections into natural gas storage facilities in northwest Europe dropped significantly with the start of two weeks of maintenance on the key Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, an analysis by S&P Global Platts showed Friday. Nord Stream -- which recently flowed at its maximum capacity of 158 million cu m/d -- was closed Tuesday for annual maintenance. The outage has left the northwest European market short of a significant chunk of supply amid strong demand for storage restocking and in the power sector. The slump in storage injections in the region comes at a time when inventories are already lagging 1.1 Bcm behind the 23 Bcm recorded a year ago and this could put pressure on supply and prices next Winter. Nord Stream flows drop offset by storage and Yamal Net storage injections fell week on week to just 131 million cu m/d on Tuesday, the first day of the Nord Stream maintenance, compared with an average of 175 million cu m/d in the week July 9-13, according to data from S&P Global Platts Analytics.

    Europe to become 'massive' buyer of US LNG, Trump says -- Europe will build more terminals to import US liquefied natural gas, the head of the European Commission told US President Donald Trump during a meeting aimed at averting a transatlantic trade war. “They want very much to do that, and we have plenty of it,” Trump said, referring to the US shale boom, which has unleashed record supplies of the heating and power-plant fuel. “They will be a massive buyer, and they will be able to diversify their energy supply.” Imports to Europe are poised to rise almost 20% by 2040 from 2016 levels, according to International Energy Agency. While Russia has long been the region’s top supplier, it’s now facing significant challenges from both the US and Qatar, rivals with vast natural gas reserves. Trump and the Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, spoke to the media after meeting at the White House. The comments quickly sparked investor reaction for both Cheniere Energy, America’s largest exporter of LNG, and Tellurian, which is working to get its export project in Louisiana approved. The comments come as at least four new US LNG export projects are slated to start up by 2020. Since early 2016, the US has shipped 41 cargoes of LNG to Europe, according to ship tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s about 10% of US LNG exports. Europe is looking to step up gas imports with its largest production field in the Netherlands slated to shut and France moves toward shutting nuclear power plants. After Cheniere began shipping gas two years ago from its Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana -- the first to send shale output abroad -- the US became a net exporter of the fuel for the first time since the 1950s. This year, Dominion Energy opened the first export facility on the East Coast, providing a quicker route to European buyers. Many of the continent’s buyers, particularly in Eastern Europe, are eager for alternatives to Russian supply. Gas flow to Europe was disrupted twice, in 2006 and 2009, over a pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile, Lithuania and Poland have built terminals to import cargoes of liquefied natural gas from overseas, reducing their reliance on Russia. But Russia relies on gas exports for its budget revenue and Europe is its biggest customer, meaning the nation will “protect its turf at all costs,” Manas Satapathy, a MD for energy at Accenture Strategy, said in a telephone interview.

    EU to build more terminals to import US LNG -- The European Union plans to import more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US to diversify its energy supply. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said more terminals will be built in the region during his visit to the White House this week. He met with President Donald Trump yesterday to launch a new phase in the relationship between the US and the EU, including strengthening their co-operation on energy. Mr Juncker said: “We have decided to strengthen our co-operation on energy. The European Union will build more terminals to import liquefied natural gas from the US. This is also a message for others. We agree to establish a dialogue on standards. And we also agree to work on the reform of the WTO [World Trade Organisation]. This of course if based on the understanding that, as long as we are negotiating, unless one party would stop the negotiations, we hold off further tariffs and we reassess existing tariffs on steel and aluminium.”

    Lean EIA Storage Data Expected as August Natural Gas Called Higher - August natural gas futures were set to open Thursday about 0.7 cents higher at around $2.782/MMBtu, with the market turning its attention to upcoming weekly Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage data that could once again show a below-average injection.Estimates for the report, set to release at 10:30 a.m. ET, point to a lean build that would grow the year-on-five-year deficit for the third straight week, as summer heat has kept stockpiles in check despite record-level production.A Bloomberg survey showed traders and analysts expecting a median 36 Bcf injection for the week ended July 20, with a range of 28 Bcf to 52 Bcf. IAF Advisors analyst Kyle Cooper called for a 30 Bcf injection, while Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at an injection of 25 Bcf.Last year, EIA recorded a 19 Bcf injection, while the five-year average is a build of 46 Bcf. Last week’s report covering the week ended July 13 missed to the bullish side of estimates at 46 Bcf, widening the stubborn year-on-five-year deficit to well over 500 Bcf.In recent weeks, the market has shown a tendency to shrug off the weekly storage number, with prices sometimes rising on a seemingly bearish report or falling when injections have missed to the low side, EBW Analytics Group CEO Andy Weissman said. “This week seems to be different,” he said. “Natural gas futures surged Wednesday, largely in response to the potential that today’s reported injection might be below 30 Bcf. The consensus forecast is for a reported injection of 35-36 Bcf this morning. A number of well respected prognosticators, however, are predicting injections between 23 Bcf and 30 Bcf.

    US natural gas storage increases 24 Bcf to 2.273 Tcf: EIA — US natural gas in storage increased by 24 Bcf to 2.273 Tcf for the week ended July 20, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday. The build was much less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 35 Bcf addition.The injection was more than the 19 Bcf build reported during the corresponding week in 2017 but well below the five-year average addition of 46 Bcf, according to EIA data.As a result, stocks were 705 Bcf, or 24%, less than the year-ago level of 2.978 Tcf and 557 Bcf, or 20%, less than the five-year average of 2.784 Tcf.The injection was smaller than the 46 Bcf build reported the week prior as gas-fired power generation jumped to year-to-date highs across Texas, the Southeast and the Midwest, according to data from S&P Global Platts Analytics.Small dips from onshore production in the Southeast and Texas also provided further downward pressure to this week's estimate.Despite the bullish build, NYMEX August Henry Hub natural gas futures only inched up 1 cent to $2.78/MMBtu following the 10:30 am EDT storage announcement.The EIA reported a 20 Bcf injection in the East to 527 Bcf, compared with 624 Bcf a year ago; a 23 Bcf build in the Midwest to 524 Bcf, compared with 742 Bcf a year ago; a 1 Bcf addition in the Mountain region to 145 Bcf, compared with 197 Bcf a year ago; a 2 Bcf withdrawal in the Pacific to 257 Bcf, compared to 294 Bcf a year ago; and an 18 Bcf pull in the South Central region to 820 Bcf, compared to 1.122 Tcf a year ago. Total inventories are now 103 Bcf less than the five-year average of 630 Bcf in the East, 162 Bcf less than the five-year average of 686 Bcf in the Midwest, 29 Bcf less than the five-year average of 174 Bcf in the Mountain region, 54 Bcf less than the five-year average of 311 Bcf in the Pacific, and 208 Bcf less than the five-year average of 1.025 Tcf in the South Central region.

    Another Bullish Miss in EIA Storage Report Leads to Modest Rally - Another bullish miss on Thursday from the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) weekly natural gas storage report failed to spark much of a rally as the market continues to count on production replenishing stockpiles once summer heat subsides.EIA reported a 24 Bcf injection into Lower 48 gas stocks for the week ended July 20, lower than most estimates and well below the five-year average 46 Bcf. Last year, EIA recorded a 19 Bcf injection. Last week’s EIA report covering the week ended July 13 also missed to the bullish side of estimates at 46 Bcf, as surging production has kept a lid on prices but can’t seem to shrink deficits.  Wednesday’s 4.3 cent rally for the front month suggested the market was anticipating a tight EIA report, which may help explain why the immediate price response Thursday was muted. When the number was published at 10:30 a.m. ET, the August Nymex contract picked up about 2.0 cents to trade up around $2.790. By 11 a.m. ET, August was trading around $2.794, up about 1.9 cents from Wednesday’s settle. September, set to take over as the prompt month once August expires Friday, was trading around $2.776, up about 2.1 cents from Wednesday’s settle.Prior to the report, consensus estimates had the market looking for a build about 10 Bcf higher than the actual figure. A Bloomberg survey had produced a median 36 Bcf injection, with a range of 28 Bcf to 52 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures came closer to the mark, settling Wednesday at an injection of 25 Bcf.Bespoke Weather Services said the figure came in about 9 Bcf below its estimate, largely because of a “massive draw” reported for the South Central region. “We had been looking for a small implicit revision from last week’s very tight print, but instead today’s print seemed to confirm last week,”

    Japan June LNG imports fall 10.3% to hit 5.55 million mt, lowest since May 2016 — Japan's LNG imports dropped 10.3% year on year in June, hitting the lowest monthly volume in almost two years as supply from major producing countries such as Australia, Qatar and Malaysia fell, data from the Ministry of Finance showed Friday. June's imports came in at 5.55 million mt, the lowest since May 2016's 5.52 million mt. Australia sent 1.68 million mt of LNG, 29.6% less than a year earlier. Qatari imports fell 13.2% year on year to 756,846 mt while Malaysia supplied 677,337 mt, down 24.3%. Globally, supply shrank in the second quarter due to unplanned countenances in Qatar, Malaysia and Brunei combined with a natural disaster in Papua New Guinea, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Imports from Papua New Guinea have been recovering after the country was hit by a massive earthquake in late February. PNG volume rose 32.5% to 208,788 mt from May, but was still down 22.6% from a year earlier. Japan imported 180,313 mt of LNG from the US. According to S&P Global Platts ship-tracking software cFlow, the Golar Glacier and Maran Gas Alexandria delivered cargoes from Cove Point LNG to the Ohgishima terminal on June 6 and June 14, respectively. The Maria Energy also delivered a cargo from Sabine Pass to Japan's Himeji terminal on June 14, according to cFlow. The Japan Customs Cleared crude oil price was $76.344/b in June, rising 8.1% from May and soaring 46.2% year on year. Japan's long-term LNG contracts are often linked to the JCC crude price, but with a lag of a few months, so fluctuations in oil prices typically take some time to feed through into LNG prices.

    Global Oil Discoveries See Remarkable Recovery In 2018 - Global discoveries of conventional oil and natural gas are seeing an exciting recovery with discovered resources already surpassing 4.5 billion boe in H1 2018, Rystad Energy analysis shows. The average monthly discovered volumes YTD are estimated at 826 million boe, up approximately 30% compared to 625 million boe in 2017. During H1 2018, Guyana led the top five countries in terms of total discovered resources added followed by the United States, Cyprus, Oman and Norway. These five countries hold three-fourths of the total resources discovered this year. The discoveries in Guyana, the United States and Cyprus are located in ultra-deepwater and are 100% owned by oil majors, indicating indicates that oil majors have started to re-focus on deepwater exploration.The biggest offshore discovery to date this year is believed to be the Eni-operated Calypso gas find offshore Cyprus, while the largest onshore discovery, a gas-condensate find, was reported on the Mabrouk North East prospect, operated by Petroleum Development Oman. ExxonMobil’s spate of oil discoveries continue in Stabroek block with three major oil discoveries reported in 2018 - Ranger, Pacora and Longtail, which together could hold almost 1 billion barrels of oil or more. These finds followed previous major discoveries on the block at Liza, Payara, Snoek and Turbot.The United States reported oil discoveries at Ballymore and Dover prospects in the Norphlet play in deepwater Gulf of Mexico. The Norphlet play, which is characterized by high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) conditions accompanied with complicated and elusive structures revealed to be fortunate for Chevron and a prevailing success for Shell. Chevron discovered a significant oil play at the Ballymore prospect with its first exploration well in the subtle play whereas the Dover discovery located 13 miles from the Appomattox host was Shell’s sixth discovery in the play. Related: Strong Dollar Could Cap Oil PricesCyprus marked its entry in the list owing to Eni’s promising gas discovery at Calypso 1 NFW ultra-deepwater well in Block 6. The discovery well encountered an extended gas column in rocks of Miocene and Cretaceous age, confirming the extension of “Zohr-like” play in the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone.

    Global oil industry prepares for a revival - Oil producers are ordering more equipment and lining up drilling rigs for later this year, according to top industry executives, indications that international activity is picking up. The chief executives of Schlumberger Ltd. and Baker Hughes , owned in part by General Electric Co. , said customers are moving forward with large projects and even preparing to increase exploration for future ones. “The international recovery has finally started,” Schlumberger Chief Executive Paal Kibsgaard said during the company’s earnings call with analysts. “The backlog on integrated drilling projects is the most we’ve ever seen.” Over the past year, global oil activity has divided into two distinct stories. The U.S. has remained a bright spot for the oil industry, as frackers have withstood sustained low oil prices following a crash in 2014. Earlier this month, U.S. oil output hit 11 million barrels a day for the first time ever, according to federal estimates. Outside of the U.S., major oil conglomerates and national oil companies have pulled back production and stopped investing in costly offshore projects. .Oil prices reached 3 ½-year highs earlier this year, as Brent crude, the global benchmark, topped $80 a barrel. Prices have fallen a bit in recent weeks following a June OPEC meeting at which the cartel and Russia agreed to ramp up production by up to one million barrels a day, but have stayed above $70 since April. Baker Hughes CEO Lorenzo Simonelli said higher commodity prices are creating a good climate for renewed investment in oil production and exploration. “People are starting to firm up their plans for next year and you are starting to hear more about [spending] increases and projects moving forward,” Mr. Simonelli said. The international rig count is flat so far this year, but that may be starting to change. Mr. Kibsgaard said the company was mobilizing 90 land rigs outside the U.S. jointly with third-party drillers, which he called “unprecedented.” In another sign of global activity heating up, Baker Hughes said it had its largest number of orders for oil-field equipment since 2015. The uptick in activity comes as concerns over supply grow because of instability at some of the world’s biggest oil producers and geopolitical concerns. There have been large supply outages in Venezuela and Libya, and renewed U.S. sanctions pose a risk to supply in Iran. 

    Profits For Oil Majors Soar Even As Wall Street Hoped For More - It was mostly a quiet week for oil prices, rising on the back of geopolitical tensions at the start of the week before losing those gains on Friday as the oil rig count increased. Earnings reports started trickling in this week, with strong performances across the board. The recovery of oil markets in the last year is starting to be reflected in earnings, although some share prices were battered as Wall Street had expected more.  Royal Dutch Shell nearly tripled its profits in the second quarter, year-on-year, and announced the beginning of a $25 billion share buyback program. Investors weren’t convinced, and Shell’s stock sunk nearly 4 percent on the news. The skepticism may have been the result of the 1.5 percent decline in production, which stemmed from field declines and asset sales. Also, Shell’s earnings came in a little under expectations. Shell’s gearing, or debt ratio to capitalization, declined from 24.7 percent in the first quarter to 23.6 percent in the second, another sign of progress. . BP agreed to purchase BHP’s shale assets for $10.5 billion. BHP has been trying to unload its shale assets for a while, after losing some $19 billion on shale, so the sale is welcome. For BP, the acquisition is an enormous splash, making it a major player in U.S. shale. The assets are located in the Eagle Ford, Permian and Haynesville shales. “This is a transformational acquisition for our (onshore U.S.) business, a major step in delivering our upstream strategy and a world-class addition to BP’s distinctive portfolio,” BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley said in a statement. BP also hiked its dividend for the first time in almost four years and also announced a $6 billion share buyback.  Chevron reported earnings of $3.8 billion for the second quarter, more than twice as much as a year earlier. Like some of the others, earnings still came in a bit under expectations – shares were down 2 percent on the news. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) fell 4 percent in early trading on Friday after undershooting expectations. The oil major said that production fell 7 percent in the second quarter, year-on-year, even as Permian and Bakken production jumped. Exxon earned just under $4 billion for the quarter, up 18 percent from a year earlier.

    In China's far west, CNPC vows $22 billion spend to replace ageing oil wells (Reuters) - China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) said on Wednesday it will spend more than 150 billion yuan ($22 billion) by 2020 to boost oil and gas production in the western region of Xinjiang, aiming to offset falling output from ageing fields in northeast China. The increased spending will push output in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to more than 50 million tonnes of oil equivalent between 2018 and 2020, CNPC said. The investment is equivalent to the total expenditure by CNPC’s listed unit PetroChina, China’s top oil and gas producer, for oil and gas exploration and production in 2017. CNPC’s Xinjiang operations churned out 11.45 million tonnes of crude oil last year, while the company produced 23.5 billion cubic meters of gas, equivalent to 17.1 million tonnes of gas, from the Tarim in the region, one of China’s largest gas basins, according to PetroChina’s 2017 annual report. Based on these figures, the new investment would boost output from the region by at least 75 percent by 2020. The spending spree underscores the need to replace output from the Daqing oilfield in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang as well as a push to increase the country’s natural gas output to meet growing demand for the fuel as part of Beijing’s shift away from coal. Beijing also wants to increase development in the unruly Xinjiang region, which borders Central Asia, where hundreds have died in ethnic unrest in recent years.  “A portion of the money would be spent on the logistics, storage tanks, and also downstream gas infrastructure for the southern part of Xinjiang to use natural gas for environmental reasons.” The boost is unlikely to affect import demand from the world’s top crude importer because new output will replace lost capacity elsewhere. Still, it reflects the company’s growing confidence after a surge this year in the price of crude oil. State oil majors have also grabbed a bigger share of the lucrative fuel export market as smaller independent refiners struggle with tough new taxes and an environmental crackdown. 

    China data: Commercial crude stocks unlikely see further build in H2 — China is unlikely to build its commercial stocks of crude oil in the second half of 2018 as refiners prefer to keep their inventory low for daily operation amid price volatility, analysts said last week. "Chinese refiners would like to build up crude oil stocks when oil prices are rising, which helps them lift their refining margins. Currently, however, oil prices are unlikely to rise further and cross $80/b, given the strong dollar, which discourages refiners from building their stocks," a Beijing-based analyst said. Chinese refiners normally process crude oil barrels that they fixed 1-2 months ahead, while the domestic price of oil products are set based on the movement of a basket of international crude prices in the previous 10 working days. The pricing mechanism for crude oil and oil products determine that refiners earn more when crude prices are rising as they can buy feedstock low and sell products at a high price. International crude prices have been on an uptrend since June 22, 2017, with ICE Brent hitting a multi-year high of $80.49/b on May 22 this year. But since then, the benchmark has fluctuated but stayed below $80/b. Moreover, due to a depreciating yuan, the cost of holding stocks was rising, a Singapore-based analyst said. The yuan fell sharply to one-year low of Yuan 6.767 against the dollar at 4:30 pm Singapore time on Friday from 6.2771 on April 17. Most Chinese refiners do not hedge against foreign exchange risk.

    Germany Encourages India To Keep Buying Oil From Iran - Germany’s minister of state for foreign affairs has encouraged India to continue buying Iranian oil, despite pressure from the United States, which Niels Annen called “irritating, to put it mildly.” “I am not a salesman for Iran but I have an impression that India is willing to continue buying oil from Iran and this will be a very important statement,” Annen told Indian media, as quoted by Sputnik, also noting that whatever New Delhi decided, it would be a sovereign decision. India is Iran’s top oil client, and it is also one of the countries that are most heavily dependent on oil imports. This means that the consequences of U.S. sanctions on Tehran will spread to India, which already has a problem with too high international oil prices. India is a strong U.S. ally in Asia, but it has also been building better relations with Tehran, which puts it in a sensitive position. In May, when President Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, India’s Foreign Minister said that India will continue importing Iranian crude despite U.S. sanctions, adding that that India only honors sanctions imposed by the United Nations, but not ones introduced by individual countries. Nevertheless, Iranian crude oil imports into India fell by 15.9 percent in June from May, or to 592,800 bpd from more than 705,000 bpd in the previous month. The drop suggests that despite its initially tough stance on U.S. sanctions, Indian refiners have started changing their mind as the November 4 deadline to wind down business relations with Iran draws nearer. An Iranian official from the embassy in New Delhi then threatened India that it might lose its “special privileges” if it stops buying Iranian crude in November. Other Tehran officials were quick to call the threat a misquote, and went on to assure India that Iran will continue to ensure a stable supply of crude for its regional partner.

    Can Iran Circumvent U.S. Sanctions? - On August 6th, the first batch of sanctions against the Islamic Republic will go into effect. This includes sanctions on the acquisition of US dollar banknotes by Iran's government, sanctions on its trade in gold and other precious metals, sanctions on sales and transfer of aluminum, steel, coal, and graphite, and sanctions on Iran's automotive sector. However, the second set of sanctions of November 4th will hit the crucial energy and banking sector. With the announcement of the re-installation of sanctions by President Donald Trump, Iran is in a unique position. Although the threat of sanctions is hanging over the country like the Sword of Damocles, Tehran is in a relatively comfortable position internationally to withstand pressure from Washington as the other signatories of the JCPOA remain supportive. Germany, France, and the UK have promised to soften the pain for Iran in order to keep the country in the nuclear agreement. In recent announcements, the current U.S. administration said that it intended to hit Tehran where it hurts by bringing their oil exports to virtually zero. However, the potential risk of a price explosion globally due to decreasing production in other regions such as Venezuela, Nigeria, and Libya, has somewhat softened Washington’s approach. Waivers could be provided to some importers. For now the current regime has restricted itself to mere threats and announcements, but as domestic pressure from hardliners continues to rise, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could soon be forced to reinvigorate the nuclear program. Iranian officials have already been ordered to start preparations to deploy machines for advanced nuclear enrichment, putting pressure on European states to provide incentives to keep the Islamic Republic in the nuclear accord.   The first sign of the French, British and German governments falling through on their promise, came in the week of 16 July. Iran was told by the European powers that they are investigating activating accounts for the Iranian central banks with their national central banks in a bid to open a financial channel for Iran to continue its economic activities in euro, sterling, and other denominated accounts, thus bypassing the dollar. This is significant as companies could be restricted in their access to the dollar as a consequence of continuing business in Iran. Furthermore, Washington intends to impose secondary sanctions on firms dealing with Iran, meaning that companies which are active in both countries will face sanctions in the U.S.

    Trump's Twitter War with Iran Spotlights Vital Oil Route - The war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and his counterpart in Iran over oil exports and sanctions is shining a spotlight on the narrow, twisting conduit for about 30 percent of the world’s seaborne-traded crude. The Middle East’s biggest oil exporters rely on the Strait of Hormuz, the passage linking the Persian Gulf with global waterways, for the vast majority of their crude shipments -- some 17.5 million barrels a day. Should a regional conflict block that bottleneck, three of the largest Gulf Arab crude producers have pipeline networks that would potentially enable them to export as much as 4.1 million barrels via alternative outlets, according to Bloomberg calculations. Even so, this amount of oil, if sent by pipeline, would be less than a quarter of the total that typically sails on tankers through Hormuz. Iran has renewed threats to block the Strait since the U.S. announced its plan to reimpose sanctions and cut shipments from OPEC’s third-largest producer to zero from about 2.5 million barrels a day now. The U.S. president warned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to “never, ever threaten the United States.” Trump’s tweet came hours after Rouhani warned the U.S. against endangering Iranian oil exports and called for improved relations with neighbors, including rival Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two of America’s closest friends in the Middle East and geopolitical adversaries of Iran, both have pipeline networks that bypass Hormuz. Iraq has one operational pipeline to a Turkish port on the Mediterranean Sea. All four countries are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and depend on the Strait to export their oil. The total capacity of pipelines that could be used instead of Hormuz is about 7.1 million barrels a day, though some of that capacity is currently taken up by oil sent to export markets or domestic refineries. Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.A.E., are each using less than half of the respective pipeline capacities, while a link from northern Iraq is about two-thirds utilized, Bloomberg data show. “Actual export capacity that avoids the Strait is limited,” 

    Khamenei backs threat to stop Gulf exports if oil sales halted --Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has supported a suggestion by President Hassan Rouhani who hinted earlier this month that Tehran may block regional oil exports if its own sales are stopped following the US' withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Rouhani's apparent warning on July 3 that Iran may disrupt oil shipments from neighbouring countries came in reaction to looming US sanctions and efforts by the administration of President Donald Trump to force all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil.Even though Rouhani did not mention the Strait of Hormuz, his comments were nonetheless seen as a threat to the narrow strategic passageway located between Iran and Oman, through which at least 18.5m barrels of oil moved every day in 2016, according to a US energy department report.The strait is not only used by Iranian ships, but also by Gulf countries who rely on safe passage through the narrow chokepoint to export their oil and gas.  "Remarks by the president ... that 'if Iran's oil is not exported, no regional country's oil will be exported,' were important remarks that reflect the policy and the approach of [Iran's] system," Khamenei's official website quoted him as saying on Saturday.He went on to describe Rouhani's remarks as "important", adding that they "reflect the policy and the approach of [Iran's] system".The comments come as the US demands that all countries end imports of Iranian oil by November 4 as part of its new policy towards Tehran after Washington unilaterally pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known colloquially as the Iran nuclear deal.

    If Iran's oil export is blocked, no other country in region will export oil either: Imam Khamenei - The Foreign Minister, staff and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as Iranian ambassadors and senior diplomats serving abroad met with the Leader of the Islamic Revolution—Ayatollah Khamenei—this morning [Saturday] July 21, 2018. At this meeting, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution described the assumption that the country's problems can be solved by negotiations or relationship with the U.S. ‘an evident mistake’ and added: "The U.S. has fundamental issues with the essence of the Islamic establishment. Moreover, many countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America have relations with the U.S., and yet they are facing plenty of problems.” Referring to the deeply-rooted hostility the U.S. practices against the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei reiterated: "The American officials seek the position and status they once enjoyed in Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and they will not be content with less than that." He regarded the United States’ opposition to the nuclear capability, high enrichment power, and the presence of Iran in the region, as a result of their deep animosity against the Islamic Republic's elements of sovereignty, adding: "The presence of Iran in the region reassures power and security of Iran, and is part of the strategic backdrop of the country; that is why the enemies oppose it.” The leader of the Islamic Revolution referred to the repeated mention of unreliability of the US by Iranian officials and stated: "I have always been insisting that we cannot trust the words or even signatures of the U.S. authorities. Hence, negotiating with the US is useless." 

    Trump's war of words with Iran raises real world risks for oil markets --The threat of military conflict between the United States and Iran is rising, threatening to shut the world's busiest seaway for oil exports and send crude prices higher, analysts told CNBC on Monday. President Donald Trump on Sunday night warned Iranian PresidentHassan Rouhani on Twitter that his country would "SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE" if Rouhani ever threatened the United States again. Trump appeared to be responding to comments over the weekend from Rouhani, who said, "Iran's power is deterrent and we have no fight or war with anybody but the enemies must understand well that war with Iran is the mother of all wars," according to an English translation on the Iranian president's official website.Oil prices jumped by about $1 per barrel on Monday following the back-and-forth, but ultimately pulled back to end the day roughly flat. "I think the market's a little complacent," said Bob McNally, founder and president of energy consultancy The Rapidan Group. "Maybe they're thinking this is a repeat of North Korea. The president will tweet about fire and fury and before you know it, the president and President Rouhani will be in Geneva having a meeting and talking about a deal." On Monday, Trump's national security advisor, John Bolton — who hasargued for launching a military strike on Iran's nuclear infrastructure —doubled down on Trump's late-night tweet.“I spoke to the President over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before,” he said in a statement on Monday. While war is not imminent, the odds of a military incident occurring in the Persian Gulf is increasing..

    Trump, Iran and the New Guns of August - James Stavridis, fmr Cmdr NATO - It was the midst of the Iran-Iraq War — which lasted eight years and cost more than half a million lives — and our mission was to keep the global shipping lanes open while Iran sought to control the vital strait through which flows some 35 percent of the world's seaborne oil. . Over the next year, the U.S. Navy would eventually attack the Iranian Navy, retaliating after one of our frigates was nearly sunk by an Iranian mine in Operation Praying Mantis. Eventually, Iraq and Iran settled their differences and an uneasy peace reigned between Arabs and Persians in the flat, hot, shallow waters of the Gulf, despite occasional flare-ups, for the next three decades. Until now. The tension in the Gulf — and especially in the Strait of Hormuz — is rising again, and the echoes of those conflicts 30 years ago are getting louder. The presidents of Iran and the U.S. this week exchanged harshly worded tweets (in 1987, a tweet was something a bird did on a spring morning) and oil markets are keeping a wary eye on developments. Israel released another cache of stolen Iranian documents showing the perfidy and determination of its nuclear program. What would a conflict centered on the Strait of Hormuz look like? How long would it last? And above all, what is the best strategy the U.S. could take toward Iran? We know that Iran has detailed plans to close the strait. It would use a variety of means including widespread mining; swarms of small, ultrafast patrol boats; shore-based cruise missiles; manned aircraft; and diesel submarines. Iran would employ a “layered offense,” stationing diesels in the Arabian Sea on the other side of the strait to harass incoming merchant ships; swarming U.S. and allied warships in the narrow confines of the strait itself; and mining sections of the shipping lanes. All of this, of course, is illegal under international law, but would have the intended consequence of challenging the U.S. and the Gulf Arabs while driving up oil prices exponentially. (Iran is able to export some oil from its southern coast, bypassing the strait, so its economy might suffer less than the Arabs'.) When Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani talk about shutting down the strait, they mean it. They could accomplish it in just 48 to 72 hours, as commercial shipping, out of prudence and under pressure from insurers, would opt not to take the risk of passing through the waters.

    What's at stake if trading at Strait of Hormuz is disrupted? --When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dismissed the US efforts to block all of Iran's crude oil exports, he neither mentioned the Strait of Hormuz, nor the actions Tehran could take to disrupt trade at the world's busiest oil transit chokepoint, which translates to 30 percent of seaborne global oil exports every day. Rouhani's response was nonetheless interpreted as a threat to the narrow waterway located between Iran and Oman, where at least 18.5 million barrels of oil were transported every day in 2016, based on a US energy department report. He had earlier complained that "it has no meaning for Iranian oil not be exported, while the region's oil is exported", adding in a defiant tone that the US "will never be able to cut Iran's oil revenues". Before flying back from Europe to Tehran early on Thursday, the Iranian leader renewed his criticism of the US, saying its move to choke off Iranian oil "shows they have not thought about its consequences".Ismali Kowsari, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, was more blunt, telling Iran's Young Journalist Club on Wednesday that if Iranian oil exports are prevented, "We will not permit the shipment of oil through the Strait of Hormuz."  The US military quickly responded, vowing to keep the Gulf waterways open to oil tankers and "ensure the freedom of navigation ... wherever international law allows."

    Strait of Hormuz - The aorta of global oil flows  (pdf) Thomson Reuters paper on the Iranian threat to Hormuz

      Is The Oil World In Panic Mode? - Oil markets have shown tremendous weakness in recent days, losing nearly seven dollars before rallying back a bit on Thursday.What’s causing it? Market analysts have been struggling to find a single reason for it, preferring to cite a cocktail of negative news and rumor to explain the downdraft.There have been reports of increased Saudi production to Asian customers, which many cite as a breaking of the dam of OPEC production guidelines – a break that would have many in the oil world in full panic mode.But I don’t see these promises as a collapse inside the cartel. The Asian contracts are merely adding stability to the oil markets in front of the threats of renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran. It’s been made clear that the Iranians won’t stand for any production increases that are over and above the agreed upon increases at their Vienna meeting last month – and equally clear that the Saudis don’t want to put that production agreement in jeopardy either.Many analysts are pointing to the reopening of Libyan oil ports to explain the quick drop in oil prices. But I also don’t find this explanation very compelling either: Even with these newly cleared impasses, Libyan exports are only marginally increasing, and most experts believe that Libyan production will continue to slide downwards through the rest of 2018. Others have cited the threat of slowing oil demand from China, but these predictions of slowing Chinese growth are as frequent, and usually as wrong, as dandelions growing in an open field. According to the COT reports, long positions have actually held fairly steadily through this latest 7 dollar downdraft in oil.  So – WHAT IS IT? Despite the varied answers that are appearing in the media for oil’s recent drop, I can find only one convincing reason that oil is recently acting poorly despite being one of the most fundamentally bullish oil markets I have seen in my 35 years trading it.  Commodities are different than stocks.  . Current September commodity futures contracts don’t care where the markets will be in 6 months. They only care about their price prospects on the day they expire – the 28th of August. Because of this, they are far more sensitive to current threats than stocks and have been responding to the disastrous economic threat of a continuing trade war between the US and China (and our allies).

    Hedge funds slash bullish oil positions after prices peak: Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers have slashed bullish long positions in petroleum at the fastest rate in more than a year, as the gentle profit-taking in previous weeks turned into a rush for the exit.Hedge funds and other money managers cut their combined net long position in the six most important futures and options contracts linked to petroleum prices by 178 million barrels in the week to July 17.Net long positions were reduced by the third-largest number of barrels on record, according to an analysis of data published by regulators and exchanges going back to the first quarter of 2013.The net long position in petroleum was cut below 1 billion barrels for the first time since the middle of September 2017 ( reduction was concentrated on the long side of the market, where positions were slashed by 170 million barrels, as managers took profits after the year-long rally in oil prices.Short positions rose by just 8 million barrels and remain close to multi-year lows, confirming the shift in net positioning is being driven by profit-taking rather than any newfound bearishness.Long liquidation was concentrated in Brent, with net long positions in the North Sea benchmark cut by 95 million barrels, the largest one-week reduction since the series began in 2013. But portfolio managers also cut net long positions in NYMEX and ICE WTI (-34 million barrels), U.S. gasoline (-8 million barrels), U.S. heating oil (-17 million barrels) and European gasoil (-25 million barrels). Hedge fund managers hold most of their positions in futures and options with a relatively short duration to expiry since these tend to offer the most liquidity, so the sell-off has hit near-dated contracts especially hard.

    Oil prices spurred higher by Trump's Iran tweet - Oil prices rose Monday amid a testy exchange between U.S. and Iranian leaders that underlined fears about the potential for disruptions to output in the Middle East and tighter global crude supplies. President Donald Trump "has provided a shot in the arm for prices to start the week, turning up the heat regarding tension with Iran once again," Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData, told MarketWatch. "Iranian crude exports have dropped to a six-month low so far in July -- a trend which will continue apace if the U.S. administration has its way." Trump on Sunday tweeted an all-caps message to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, warning that threats against the U.S. will be met with "consequences...few in history have suffered before." The tweet appeared to refer to comments Rouhani had made warning against hard-line U.S. policies on Iran. September Brent crude traded 42 cents, or 0.6%, higher, at $73.49 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. The global benchmark had marked a weekly loss of about 3% through Friday, logging its third straight weekly fall. September West Texas Intermediate crude , which became the front-month contract at Friday's session close, added 30 cents, or 0.4%, at $68.56 a barrel Monday. The August contract, the U.S. benchmark, finished Friday at $70.46 a barrel, the highest level in a week, but not enough to reverse a 0.8% weekly drop, which was also the third decline in a row.   "Iran will not back down, and we think there's a Russian connection. With Trump finally talking tough about [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, we suspect that there were phone calls between Moscow and Tehran in recent days, and now there's a new crisis for Trump: Putin may have sent Trump a message--turn on me, and I'll play my Iranian card,"  . "There's a potential market impact here and that obviously is oil prices." Trump in May withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program, setting the stage for the reimposition of economic sanctions that are expected to hinder Iran's oil industry. Analysts have estimated up to 1 million barrels a day out of Iran's more than 2.5 million barrels a day of crude exports could be at risk.

     Crude Oil Prices Settle Lower Despite Rising U.S.-Iran Tensions – WTI crude oil prices settled lower Monday as investor concerns faded about a global supply shortage that followed a heated exchange between the U.S. and Iran. On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for September delivery fell 37 cents to settle at $67.89 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent rose 0.03% to trade at $73.10 a barrel. Concerns about the prospect of an oil supply shortage returned Monday, albeit briefly, after President Donald Trump warned his Iranian counterpart, Hasan Rouhani, that threats against the U.S. would be met "with consequences few in history have suffered." Trump's tweet came as Rouhani said hostile U.S. policies towards Tehran could lead to "the mother of all wars." Trump in May said the United States would leave the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, paving the way for sanctions, which are expected to hamper the Islamic Republic's Energy Industry, to resume. Yet the prospect of a big drop in Iranian crude exports has waned in recent weeks as the U.S. has hinted waivers could be in the offing to some buyers of Iranian crude. Some oil observers also cited escalating trade-war tensions between the U.S. and China as a headwind, keeping some investors sidelined amid remarks over the weekend at the G20 Finance Ministers Summit from U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. "It’s definitely a realistic possibility,” Mnuchin said of Trump following through on a threat to impose tariffs on all $500 billion worth of goods the U.S. imports from China each year. Trump had threatened on Friday to impose tariffs on $500 billion of Chinese exports to the United States unless Beijing agreed major changes to its policies on technology transfer, industrial subsidy and joint ventures. The timid start to the week for oil prices comes as data on Friday showed speculators continued to trim bullish on oil for the second-straight week.

    Oil market hits a cyclical pause: Kemp (Reuters) - Brent crude futures prices are trading in contango for the first time in 10 months, as traders anticipate an increase in crude availability during the remainder of 2018. The Brent calendar spread for the first six months slumped into a contango of 43 cents per barrel on Monday, from a backwardation of $3.50 as recently as April 26. Brent futures are trading in contango for the four contracts closest to delivery, from September 2018 through January 2019 ( ). Hedge funds and other money managers have sold a large number of long positions in recent weeks, depressing the front-end of the curve. Portfolio managers tend to hold a majority of their positions in contracts close to expiry because that’s where the liquidity is normally greatest. Just as position-building by the hedge funds spurred the rise in spot prices and calendar spreads in the second half of 2017 and first quarter of 2018, liquidation is now accelerating the correction. More fundamentally, traders have reacted to pledges of increased output and exports from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Saudi Arabia and its OPEC and non-OPEC allies have responded to pressure from the United States to counter rising prices by increasing their production. Extra barrels have been loaded in June and July, with more promised in August, ensuring increased availability in the second half of the year. Fears about slower consumption growth as a result of a strengthening dollar and the intensifying trade conflict between the United States and China are also weighing on oil prices. Because the oil market is forward-looking, concerns about the strength of consumption growth later in 2018 and 2019 are being discounted back to lower oil prices in the near-term. 

    Oil Prices Head Upwards As Iran Hits Back - Oil markets appeared to take a breather on Monday, with prices largely unaffected by the increase in tensions between Iran and the United States over the weekend. On Tuesday, however, a strong response from Iran’s foreign ministry to Trump’s threats saw oil prices jump once again.. President Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani traded threats over the weekend. Trump said on twitter in all-caps that Iran would “SUFFER CONSEQUENCES,” but oil prices gave up early gains on Monday, with traders seemingly dismissing the potential conflict between the U.S. and Iran. "I think the market's a little complacent," Bob McNally, founder and president of energy consultancy The Rapidan Group, told CNBC. Most analysts do not view conflict as necessarily likely, but if Iran shut the Strait of Hormuz, as Iranian officials hinted at, it would cause a painful shock to the oil market. "The numbers on a blockage or any kind of upset or military situation in the Strait of Hormuz, that is off to the races. Pick your number — $150, $200 — it goes sky high," John Kilduff of Again Capital, said on CNBC. "Because we are talking about an abject shortage of oil then in the global market."  . The Permian should be “ripe” for M&A deals, but the basin has been unusually quiet since Concho Resources paid $9.5 billion for RSP Permian earlier this year. There has been $35 billion worth of deals so far this year, down by nearly half for the same period in 2017. “The oil and gas world has not had a lot of corporate M&A, certainly relative to other sectors,” Jay Horine, global head of energy investment banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said in a Bloomberg interview. The pipeline bottleneck in the Permian and the discounted prices for Midland crude are scaring away investors, and the battered stock prices of Permian-focused drillers have made deals difficult. Analysts say that will change next year when pipelines come online, which could usher in a wave of M&A activity.

     Oil rises as fears of oversupply ebb (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Tuesday as the market shifted focus to the possibility of increased Chinese demand, drawing attention away from oversupply worries and trade tensions between China and the United States. Brent crude settled 38 cents higher at $73.44 a barrel, after it reached a session high of $74. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) settled up 63 cents, or nearly 1 percent, to settle at $68.52. Earlier in the day, WTI reached a high of $69.05. Reports that China will increase infrastructure spending helped lessen fears that U.S.-China trade tensions will reduce the country’s demand for oil, said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “That’s going to be very bullish for oil demand,” Flynn said. “Infrastructure spending from China in the past had really jacked up oil demand, and I think that’s adding some outside support for prices.” After an 8 percent decline from multi-year highs, buyers returned to the market, said Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. The supply-and-demand picture will remain favorable unless there are significant production increases from Russia and Saudi Arabia, McGillian said, because strong global growth has led to notable reductions in crude inventories. U.S. crude stocks fell last week by 3.2 million barrels, according to the American Petroleum Institute. The larger-than-expected draw caused futures to rise in post-settlement trade, with U.S. crude at $68.73 a barrel. [API/S] Inventories were forecast for a 2.3 million-barrel draw last week, according to a Reuters poll. Stockpiles at Cushing were expected to fall for the 10th consecutive week, traders said. [EIA/S] The commitments from Russia and Saudi Arabia to increase production, along with easing supply disruptions in Libya and decreases in global refiner demand continue to weigh on prices, said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates. Sentiment has been driven by fears that supply could be disrupted by confrontation in the Middle East or that Washington’s trade dispute with major trading partners could dampen global growth. Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer, which pumps 3.75 million barrels per day, has come under increasing U.S. pressure, with the administration of President Donald Trump pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil beginning in November. 

    The Regulation That Could Push Oil To $200 -- Oil prices could spike as high as $200 per barrel over the next 18 months, which would cause an “economic crash of horrible proportions,” according to a new report.  A research paper from economist and oil market watcher Philip K. Verleger predicts there could be a shortage of low-sulfur diesel fuel in 2020 as a result of regulations from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) aimed at cutting sulfur emissions. The regulations, due to take effect at the start of 2020, lowers the allowed concentration of sulfur in maritime fuels from 3.5 percent to just 0.5 percent. Those rules have already sparked a scramble for low-sulfur options. But the current global refining capacity may not be able to churn out enough low-sulfur fuels to allow a smooth transition from high-sulfur fuels by the world’s shipping fleet. The shipping industry accounts for about 5 percent of total global oil demand, and most ships burn heavy fuel oil that is high in sulfur. Ship-owners will have a few options: install expensive scrubbers to remove sulfur, switch to low-sulfur fuels such as diesel or gasoil, or switch over to LNG. Scrubbers and LNG are generally thought to be the most expensive options, requiring capital outlays to overhaul entire fleets. That will put the onus on low-sulfur fuels. But the problem is that not all crude oil is the same – heavier and sour varieties hold more sulfur and are unable to produce lower sulfur diesel without extra processing. And not all refineries are equipped to handle that processing. Up until now, the maritime industry has been burning the residual fuel oil left over after the refining process. Fuel oil is the bottom of the barrel – it’s the cheapest, most viscous and dirtiest part of the barrel. By 2020, diesel production will need to rise by at least seven percent, according to Philip K. Verleger, on top of the three percent increase needed for road transport and other uses. All of it will need to be low-sulfur. “It is not clear that the greater volumes can be produced,” Verleger wrote in his paper. “Instead…very large price hikes may be required to suppress non-maritime use.”  He predicts a rerun of the historic price spike in 2007-2008, which was in part the result of a shortage of low-sulfur oils. Refiners found themselves in a bidding war for low-sulfur oil, pushing oil prices to well over $100 per barrel. “This situation will reoccur in 2020,” Verleger wrote, except that the price spike could be even more dramatic because “the fuel shift is greater and the refining industry is less prepared.”

    WTI/RBOB Extend Gains After Broad Inventory Draws, Flat Production - WTI/RBOB are holding gains, helped by a weaker dollar, after last night's API draws, and extended gains after DOE reported across the board inventory draws and no increase in US production. Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Energy Analyst Vince Piazza noted that bearish concerns are brewing in a U.S. crude market awash with domestic supply and braced for the reintroduction of OPEC oil. Exports had been a safety valve, but they declined to less than 1.5 million barrels a day in the week ended July 13 from more than 2 million the previous period. Still, analysts expect a 3 million-barrel draw for the week through July 20. Piazza also notes that U.S. refiners will start to cull runs and enter maintenance after early-summer oversupply narrowed U.S. crack spreads. DOE:

    • Crude -6.15mm (-3mm exp, whisper -1mm)
    • Cushing -1.127mm (-900k exp)
    • Gasoline -2.328mm
    • Distillates -101k

    After last week's surprise build in crude inventories, this week saw that reversed and some with a 6.15mm draw...  Notably, crude inventories in the European storage hub at Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp rose by 3.3 million barrels last week, according to Genscape data.  Despite huge discounts still in the Permian, last week saw a surge in production to a record 11mm b/d, but this week it remained flat...

    Oil gains as U.S. crude stocks fall to lowest since Feb. 2015 - - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose for the second consecutive day on Wednesday after U.S. government data showed domestic crude inventories fell to their lowest since February 2015, easing worries about oversupply that have weighed on markets in recent weeks. Brent crude futures rose 49 cents to settle at $73.93 a barrel, a 0.67 percent gain. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 78 cents to settle at $69.30 a barrel, a 1.14 percent gain. U.S. crude inventories fell 6.1 million barrels in the week to July 20, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed, to 404.9 million barrels, their lowest since February 2015. Analysts had expected a decrease of 2.3 million barrels. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by 1.1 million barrels, EIA said, their lowest since November 2014. Gasoline stocks fell 2.3 million barrels, EIA data showed, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 713,000-barrel drop. Meanwhile, U.S. Midwest gasoline stockpiles fell to their lowest seasonally since 2015. “Stronger product demand rounds out a supportive report, encouraging a decent draw to gasoline stocks,” said Matt Smith, director of commodities research at ClipperData. However, price gains were limited after the release of the data because a majority of the crude stock draw was in the West Coast region, also known as PADD 5. Stocks in the area fell their most since December 2011. The market usually discounts large inventory drawdowns when they are concentrated in the West Coast, said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York, because limited connectivity from the West Coast to the rest means it is “just not as critical to the overall inventory situation.” Prices were also supported by an International Monetary Fund report about skyrocketing inflation in Venezuela, suggesting a limited ability for that country to boost oil output, said Stephen Innes, a trader at brokerage OANDA. “Venezuelan oil production has already plummeted to a new 30-year low of 1.5 million barrels a day in June,” he said. Oil prices have come under pressure this month as a trade dispute between the United States and China, as well as other major economic blocs, has raised the possibility of slower economic growth and weaker energy demand. Reports that China will increase infrastructure spending reduced some concerns that U.S.-China trade tensions will dent Chinese demand for oil.

    Risks rising that oil prices will cause next recession -- Oil gained more than 20 percent in the first half of 2018, and odds have been rising that higher crude oil prices will spark the next economic downturn. This should not come as a surprise for any investor who is a student of market history: The last five U.S. recessions were also preceded by a rise in oil prices. “Quickly rising oil prices have been a contributing factor to every recession since World War II,” said Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi. Odds of a 2020 U.S. recession have risen to 34 percent, from 28 percent before this year’s spike in crude oil, Moody’s stated in a report.  President Donald Trump’s tax cut, a deal on Capitol Hill to boost government spending, and a flattening of the difference between short- and long-term interest rates also are contributing to the elevated recession risk. “My recession odds for 2020 have significantly increased since late last year,” Zandi said.Oil seesawed in trading on Monday after President Trump's tweet about Iran added to a geopolitical catalysts for oil. It started trading strong but trailed off by the end of the day. Recent swings in the price of oil — especially early last week, when Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said some buyers of Iranian oil may be given extra time before sanctions hit, and Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed working together to regulate oil prices — show that the oil trade remains vulnerable to a downturn.Sanctions against Iran, reimposed as Trump repudiated his predecessor’s deal to halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, is playing a major role in crude oil prices. In late June the Trump administration signaled that oil buyers must stop buying Iranian crude by November, and shortly after, Trump said he had a deal with the Saudis to increase production, though doubts remain about the Saudis' ability to increase production by as much as 2 million barrels. In June figures reported last week, Saudi production was up by 500,000 barrels as it tries to tame the recent growth in crude oil prices. But the Saudis also have also said they cannot raise oil productionabove that level this month.

    Oil prices pare gains after earlier rise on Saudi news - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose for the third consecutive day on Thursday after Saudi Arabia suspended oil shipments through a strait in the Red Sea following an attack on two oil tankers and as trade tensions between the United States and the European Union eased.   Brent futures rose 61 cents to settle at $74.54 a barrel, a 0.8 percent gain. The contract earlier touched $74.83 a barrel, highest since July 16. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 31 cents, settling at $69.61, a 0.5 percent gain. After meeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the White House on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to refrain from imposing car tariffs while the European Union and the United States start talks on cutting other trade barriers. “Certainly it’s positive for the economy and commodities,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital Management in New York. “This sort of revives economic prospects that were dimmed from the trade wars that were started.”  Brent rose in post-close trading on Wednesday after Saudi Arabia said it was “temporarily halting” oil shipments through the Red Sea shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb after an attack by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement.   Any move to block the Bab al-Mandeb, which is between the coasts of Yemen and Africa at the southern end of the Red Sea, would virtually halt oil shipments through Egypt’s Suez Canal or the SUMED crude pipeline that link the Red Sea and Mediterranean. An estimated 4.8 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined products flowed through the Bab al-Mandeb strait in 2016 toward Europe, the United States and Asia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Saudi Arabia additionally has the Petroline, also known as the East-West Pipeline, which mainly transports crude from fields clustered in the east to Yanbu for export. That could offset a bottleneck caused by Bab al-Mandeb’s closure.

    Oil Prices Slip As Rig Count Inches Higher  - Baker Hughes reported an increase to the number of active oil and gas rigs in the United States on Friday. Oil and gas rigs increased by 2 rigs, according to the report, with the number of active oil rigs increasing by 3 to 861 this week, while the number of gas rigs dipped by 1, hitting 186.The oil and gas rig count now stands at 1,048—up 90 from this time last year, with the number of oil rigs accounting for all of that increase.Canada gained 12 oil and gas rigs for the week, all of which were oil rigs. Canada’s oil and gas rig count is now up just 3 year over year. Oil rigs are up by 12 year over year in Canada, while the number of gas rigs were flat.The biggest winner by basin this week was the Permian, which gained 4 rigs. Granite wash came in second, adding 2 rigs for the week.Oil prices were trading relatively even early on Friday morning in quiet trade, but were on track for their first weekly gain in four weeks as tension around a key Middle Eastern chokepoint between the Iran-backed Houthis and Saudi Arabia lent support to the price of oil earlier this week.  By 12:26pm EDT, WTI crude was trading down while Brent crude was trading up—widening the WTI discount to Brent. WTI was trading down 0.45% (-$0.31) at $69.30. Brent crude was trading up 0.05% (+$0.04) at $75.16 per barrel—both up on the week. US production this was unchanged, staying at last week’s psychologically important high of 11 million bpd, after hovering at 10.9 million bpd since week ending June 08. At 15 minutes after the hour, WTI was trading down 1.59% at $68.50, with Brent trading down 0.80% at $74.52.

    Oil Prices Fall With Stock Market; Brent Marks Weekly Gain - (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Friday, weighed down by a drop in the U.S. equities market, but Brent still marked a weekly increase, supported by easing trade tensions and a temporary shutdown by Saudi Arabia of a key crude oil shipping lane. Brent crude futures fell 25 cents to settle at $74.29 a barrel, but notched a 1.8 percent weekly increase, its first increase in four weeks. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 92 cents to settle at $68.69 a barrel, and marked a fourth week of declines, falling about 2.4 percent. Depressing oil prices, U.S. stock markets broadly fell on Friday. Crude futures at times track with equities. "That could show some sign of a slowdown in the economy, which could in turn affect oil consumption," s The oil market largely brushed off government data on Friday that said the U.S. economy grew in the second quarter at its fastest pace in nearly four years. "The reason why we're not rallying off that is because it came in line with expectations, but when you're running that kind of a GDP, that's a lot of oil." U.S. energy companies added three oil rigs in the week to July 27, the first time in the past three weeks that drillers have added rigs, General Electric Co's Baker Hughes energy services firm said on Friday. Hedge funds trimmed their bullish wagers on U.S. crude, cutting their combined futures and options position in New York and London by 11,362 contracts to 412,289 in the week to July 24, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday. That was the lowest level since late June, the data showed.

    Russia does not use stocks in tanks to help boost oil output: Novak (Reuters) - Russia does not use stocks in tanks to help boost oil output and does not have enough stocks to influence the oil market, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters in Johannesburg late on Thursday evening. Russia used stocks held in tanks at its oilfields to help boost crude production in June, three industry sources told Reuters in July, in a sign of supply flexibility as OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia pushes other major producers to increase spare output capacity. Russia does have some flexibility thanks to spare capacity in the Transneft pipeline system and in oil tanks at fields, the sources said. “Transneft of course has its own oil storage facilities for the technological process. But we of course do not have large (storage) capacity which would regulate the market,” Novak said. Russia does not have storage capacity for accumulating of reserves, the minister said, adding that such a project would require a huge investment which may not provide an economic return. Russian oil production last month rose by around 100,000 barrels per day from May. From July 1-15, the country’s average oil output was 11.215 million bpd, an increase of 245,000 bpd from May, two industry sources said. Novak said that Russia has raised oil output by increasing oil production, not by using stocks. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other oil producers led by Russia agreed last month to ease production curbs. The deal effectively increases combined oil output by 1 million barrels per day (bpd), of which Russia’s share stands at 200,000 bpd. 

    Russia and OPEC may form new organization - New OPEC-Russia organisation may start its work on 1 January 2019, Russian energy Minister Alexander Novak said.The minister specified that it will retain the functions of regulating oil production and will be able to cut it again, if necessary.“We plan to start this mechanism on January 1, 2019. We will discuss it at a ministerial meeting,” TASS cited Novak as saying. He added that the options for the name of the new organization’s name have yet to be chosen, as well as the location of the headquarters. According to the head of the Ministry of Energy, he does not expect the overproduction of oil in the foreseeable future, despite the recent decision by OPEC + to increase production by 1 million barrels per day. “On the contrary, the market is rebalancing, a deficit can be expected,” Novak predicts. A leading analyst of the National Energy Security Fund,  Igor Yushkov, noted that the format of Russia’s cooperation with OPEC is likely to remain at the current coordination level. “It is rather difficult to imagine any new format, since Russia has been de facto a member of OPEC for more than a year – we have been committed to the volumes of production, execute them, we constantly meet with OPEC members and discuss the situation on the market, monitor the effectiveness of regulation volumes of oil output,” he recalled. “OPEC and Russia will benefit equally from such cooperation and a constant information campaign around it with regular statements that we jointly monitor the market and an acceptable level of prices. We have already seen how prices have risen to $80 per barrel, now they have gone down to $70, but this corridor is comfortable for everyone,”

     Meanwhile, Saudis Stuck On Oil Thanks To MbS Crackdown -- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has a plan to get Saudi Arabia off oil, with an immediate push to create 1.2 million private sector jobs by 2020.  However, as Juan Cole reports, his political crackdown last year in which over 300 people were tossed in jail  for various supposed crimes, with many of them now having frozen bank accounts and other restrictions placed on them, has somewhat scuttled this project badly.  700,000 foreign workers have left,and foreign direct investment has fallen from $7.42 billion in 2016 to $1.32 billion in 2017.  Oooops!  This is not the way to  wean the nation off oil.  Nobody wants to invest because they fear MbS will go on another rampage, seizing money and putting people in prison. Of course, it is now clear that Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, encouraged MbS in his coup against his cousin, former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.  They also supported his stupid war in Yemen and initially encouraged him in his campaign against Qatar, still ongoing although a total flop, although on that one Trump has figured out that the largest US air base in the Persian Gulf, al-Ubeid, is there, so he has lost his enthusiasm for this particular stupid project of MbS’s.  Unfortunately, there is little prospect this 32 year old leader will be removed from power any time soon.

    Higher Oil Prices Fail To Stimulate Economic Growth In Gulf States - The higher oil prices and the subsequent higher oil revenues play a part in a significantly improved outlook for the state finances and trade balances of the Arab Gulf countries, but they are not boosting economic growth, a quarterly Reuters poll of 24 economists showed on Tuesday. The Arab Gulf states have good reason to be happy about their budgets and government accounts this year, as the oil prices have been significantly higher and because they are now boosting their oil production to offset declines in Venezuela and Angola and an anticipated slump in Iran’s oil exports.The Gulf states - Saudi Arabia and its close allies Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example - are also some of the few OPEC countries theoretically capable of boosting their crude oil production.So far this year, the Brent Crude price has averaged $71.60 a barrel, compared to an average of $55 per barrel last year.Despite the double boon from higher oil prices and rising oil production, the Gulf economies are only modestly growing, and the higher oil revenues will have little impact on that growth, according to the economists polled by Reuters in this quarter’s survey. The governments in the Gulf would rather use the higher oil income to cut budget deficits than to spur economic growth, economists say. The private sector in the Gulf oil-producing countries is still reeling from austerity measures that the governments introduced to try to keep budgets in check after the oil prices slumped. “Higher-than-budgeted oil revenue will not result in higher government expenditure, but rather, it will contribute to lowering the fiscal deficit,” Saudi investment bank Jadwa said about Saudi Arabia. In the previous Reuters quarterly poll, economists were of the same opinion - trade surpluses in the Arab Gulf will increase, but economies will grow only moderately because of the austerity measures.

    Saudi Aramco CEO: Deal for Sabic Would Affect IPO Timeline -- Saudi Aramco signaled another potential delay for the world’s largest initial public offering after it started talks this week to buy a stake in a local petrochemical company. The state-owned oil company said it may buy a strategic stake in Saudi Basic Industries Corp. from the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Sabic, as the chemical company is known, carries a market value of little more than $100 billion and the sovereign wealth fund controls a 70 percent stake. Amin Nasser, Aramco’s chief executive officer, said in an interview that the company is still in the early stages of talks and a deal isn’t certain. “A potential Sabic deal would affect the time frame for Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering,” Nasser told Arabiya television in an interview airing Friday. A stake in a chemical company like Sabic makes Aramco less vulnerable to volatile oil prices, and would be positive for its revenue, Nasser told Arabiya The remarks raise the specter of further delay for an IPO that could raise as much as $100 billion. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said last month that while “it would be nice if we can do it in 2019, there is a lot more at stake than just ticking a box and say, ‘We got this out of the way.”’ 

    Has Saudi Arabia Fooled Oil Analysts? --- The world’s largest oil company Saudi Aramco, the main revenue source for the Kingdom, is the latest source of intrigue for observers, with rumors that it is targeting a majority stake in one of the world’s largest petrochemical giants - SABIC. This move has been misunderstood by many analysts, and may actually be an ambitious attempt to counter the continuous delays that the planned Aramco IPO has faced. MBS’s advisors have come up with this strategy in order to restructure the Saudi economic base, provide the Kingdom with renewed power in the downstream sector, and address the much-needed additional funding for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.Rumors that Saudi Aramco was looking to acquire SABIC began with suggestions that the oil giant would acquire a minority stake in the petrochemical company, but now it appears that Aramco is making a much larger move.Today, Saudi sources have stated that Aramco is targeting the entirety of the 70 percent stake in SABIC that is currently held by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF. This move would create an oil company the likes of which has never been seen before. Whether these latest reports are reliable is yet to be seen, but the impact on the shape of global oil markets would be significant. Sources have reported that JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley have been appointed as advisors to Aramco’s move to buy a controlling stake in SABIC.SABIC has long been ruling the downstream sector in the Kingdom, while Aramco was focused on its upstream endeavors. The continuous international growth in Saudi Arabia’s downstream sector and the successful acquisition of entities in Europe (including DSM Petrochemicals) and elsewhere, saw SABIC growing increasingly powerful. As always, success created not only competition but also a kind of envy. Aramco’s dream of ruling the world’s up and downstream sector was always partly constrained by SABIC’s ongoing success. But now that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has taken control in the Kingdom, it appears that Aramco will regain full power in downstream and lock in its own future demand in targeted markets. By acquiring a controlling stake in Saudi Arabia’s second most influential oil company, Aramco would gain near-complete control.

    Saudi Arabia Pressures Aramco to Take On Debt After IPO Stalls -- Saudi Arabia is pushing Aramco to raise tens of billions of dollars in debt now that the state oil giant’s initial public offering has stalled, as the kingdom pursues other ways to fund an economic transformation. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers are prodding Saudi Arabian Oil Co., as the oil company is officially known, to raise debt to buy a controlling stake in a petrochemical company from the country’s sovereign-wealth fund, said Saudi officials and executives familiar with the talks. A potential deal would give the Public Investment Fund between $50 billion and $70 billion for all or part of its stake in Saudi Basic Industries Co., officials and executives said. Controlled by the state, Sabic is the country’s largest publicly listed company, with a market capitalization of about $100 billion. That sum is roughly what the sovereign-wealth fund had expected to reap from Aramco’s plan to go public. Preparations for an IPO have stalled amid doubts about the company’s and country’s readiness to handle the scrutiny that accompanies a public listing of shares. Aramco has already begun seeking billions of dollars in loans from international banks to finance the Sabic deal, according to people familiar with the matter. That debt could be lent in three parts, with the first tranche of up to $10 billion likely to be raised this year, these people said. Aramco is also looking to raise money on the international bond market, Saudi officials and executives said, a move that could open its accounts up to scrutiny from investors. 

    Saudi Arabia halts oil exports in Red Sea lane after Houthi attacks (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait, one of the world’s most important tanker routes, after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway. Brent futures rose 19 cents to $74.12 a barrel by 1305 GMT, extending their rally into a third day but slipping from a 10-day high in earlier trading. [O/R] Saudi Arabia and arch-foe Iran have been locked in a three-year proxy war in Yemen, which lies on one side of the Bab al-Mandeb strait at the southern mouth of the sea, one of the most important trade routes for oil tankers heading from the Middle East to Europe. The Houthis, who have previously threatened to block the strait, said on Thursday that they had the naval capability to hit Saudi ports and other Red Sea targets. Iran has threatened to block another strategic shipping route, the Strait of Hormuz. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea on Wednesday, one of which sustained minimal damage. “Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe,” he said. It was not clear if a Saudi-led military coalition would take additional security measures or impose further restrictions on imports to Yemen, which is struggling with the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis. A senior oil source said Saudi Arabia had already beefed up oil security and that all crude vessels in the area are accompanied by security ships. Saudi crude exports through Bab al-Mandeb are estimated at around 500,000-700,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to analysts and Reuters data. Most Gulf oil exports that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline pass through the strait.

    Hundreds of White Helmets evacuated from Syria to Jordan -Hundreds of White Helmets rescuers and their families have been evacuated from Syria to Jordan overnight with the help of Israel, the United States and European countries. Also known as Syrian Civil Defence, the White Helmets operate in rebel-held parts of war-ravaged Syria. The request for the evacuation came as the volunteers and their relatives were threatened by advancing forces of the Syrian government in the south of the country.The evacuees were transported on Sunday to Jordan, from where they are expected to be resettled in Europe and Canada in the coming weeks. Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi saidon Twitter that 422 people were evacuated, instead of the initial 800 cleared for the operation.   A non-Jordanian source familiar with the agreement told Reuters news agency the original plan had been to evacuate 800 people, but only 422 made it out as operations were hampered by government checkpoints and the expansion of Islamic State in the area. The Israeli military earlier said it had "recently completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of the Syrian civil organisation and their families" after a "request of the United States and additional European countries".

    More Shocking Details Emerge Of White Helmets Evacuation From Syria - Since the overnight Saturday and into early Sunday Israeli military operation which successfully evacuated White Helmets members and their families from southwest Syria at the request of the US and European governments, new details and footage have emerged.  First, what we find most striking and woefully under-reported in international media is that the fact that armed groups immediately set fire to Quneitra crossing on the Syrian side of the border the morning just after the White Helmets passed through it to the Israeli side.  The post acts as the only crossing between Syrian territories and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and was formerly run by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). There is over a mile in distance between the Syrian and Israeli sides of the crossing. Middle East-based Al Masdar News reported Monday that the crossing was used by Nusra militants (also called Jabhat Fatah al-Sham/JFS, or Syrian al-Qaeda) to store weapons, ammunition and various supplies provided by Israeli Army, suggesting that its destruction by al-Qaeda and FSA fighters may have been an attempt at concealing the extent of their external state sponsorship by the Israelis. Meanwhile, Israel released professionally edited footage of the nighttime transfer of White Helmets and their families into Israel via the Golan border in what the IDF called "an exceptional humanitarian gesture".  The UK, Germany, and Canada have confirmed they will resettle the White Helmets members and their families, with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announcing Germany would issue residency permits to eight White Helmets, allowing them to bypass asylum applications.   The move has come under fierce criticism by Syrian and Russian leaders, as well as some journalists in the West who have long documented the group's associations with Nusra Front, which is a designated terrorist group in the US and internationally. Some have questioned just who it is that's being resettled and their ties to extremist groups.

    Trump seeks to revive ‘Arab NATO’ to confront Iran (Reuters) - The Trump administration is quietly pushing ahead with a bid to create a new security and political alliance with six Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, in part to counter Iran’s expansion in the region, according to U.S. and Arab officials. The White House wants to see deeper cooperation between the countries on missile defense, military training, counter-terrorism and other issues such as strengthening regional economic and diplomatic ties, four sources said. The plan to forge what officials in the White House and Middle East have called an “Arab NATO” of Sunni Muslim allies will likely raise tensions between the United States and Shi’ite Iran, two countries increasingly at odds since President Donald Trump took office. The administration’s hope is that the effort, tentatively known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), might be discussed at a summit provisionally scheduled for Washington on Oct. 12-13, several sources said. The White House confirmed it was working on the concept of the alliance with “our regional partners now and have been for several months.” Saudi officials raised the idea of a security pact ahead of a Trump visit last year to Saudi Arabia where he announced a massive arms deal, but the alliance proposal did not get off the ground, a U.S. source said. Sources from some of the Arab countries involved also said they were aware of renewed efforts to activate the plan. Officials from other potential participants did not respond to requests for comment. “MESA will serve as a bulwark against Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism, and will bring stability to the Middle East,” a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said. The spokesperson declined to confirm that Trump would host a summit on those dates and sources cautioned that it remains uncertain whether the security plan will be finalized by mid-October. Similar initiatives by previous U.S. administrations to develop a more formal alliance with Gulf and Arab allies have failed in the past. 

    At least 10 Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed in border attack - At least 10 Iranian border guards have been killed in an overnight attack by unidentified gunmen near the border with Iraq, according to media in Iran.The incident took place near the town of Marivan, in a Kurdish area of Iran some 620km west of the capital, Tehran, according to the semi-official Fars news agency."The attack by the evil rebels and terrorists against a revolutionary border post and the explosion of a munitions depot caused the martyrdom of 10 fighters," a statement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, said on Saturday.Provincial security official Hosein Khosheqbal told state television that 11 members of the Guards' voluntary Basij forces were killed in the overnight violence in Marivan, which he blamed on the Kurdish armed opposition group The Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). "The latest news is that the Basij [the government-aligned militia] and Guards forces are in hot pursuit of the attackers," Khosheqbal said.

      Israeli jets said to strike Iranian-run missile production facility in Syria - Israeli jets reportedly carried out a strike Sunday on a missile production facility in northwest Syria that observers say was supervised by Iranians. In the past, the site was allegedly used to produce and store chemical weapons. “One of our military positions in Masyaf was the target of an Israeli air aggression,” Syria’s official news agency SANA said quoting a military source. Hebrew media quoted Syrian opposition officials as saying that several Hezbollah members were killed, but the reports could not be confirmed. SANA said the strikes cause only “material damage.” It was the fourth time this month that Syria has accused Israel of bombing a military position in the country. There was no comment from Israel, but the strike came just hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel was continuously acting against Iran’s military activities in Syria. “We will not stop taking action in Syria against Iran’s attempts to establish a military presence there,” he said in a statement from his office. A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also reported the air strike and said it targeted a “workshop supervised by Iranians where surface-to-surface missiles are made.”

    Israel Rejects Russian Plan To Keep Iranian Forces 100km From Golan Border - Israel has rejected a Russian proposal to keep Iranian forces in Syria at least 100 kilometers from the Syrian-Israeli recognized ceasefire line along the Golan Heights, Reuters reports, while Israeli leadership has further threatened to hold Assad responsible "for any Iranian aggression".According to the breaking report, which cites an unnamed Israeli official, the issue came up during a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a visiting Russian delegation led by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov: The official said that Netanyahu told Lavrov "we will not allow the Iranians to establish themselves even 100 kilometres from the border." And crucially, the official paraphrased the following exchange from the closed door meeting: "Netanyahu told Lavrov Israel will maintain freedom of operation against Iranian entrenchment in all of Syria and will see Assad responsible for any Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory because Assad is the one hosting the Iranians."

    Adolf Hitler's spirit has 're-emerged' in Israel, Turkey's president claims - Turkey's president has ignited a war of words with Israel after claiming that the spirit of Adolf Hitler has re-emerged in the country.Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks come after the Israeli Knesset passed a law stipulating that only Jews have the right of self-determination, angering members of the country's Arab minority.The approval of the nation-state law shows Israel is the most "Zionist, fascist and racist" country in the world, Mr Erdogan said.He added that the law legitimised unlawful actions and oppression against Arab minorities, and he accused Israel of trying to form "an apartheid state". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by saying Turkey is becoming a "dark dictatorship" under Mr Erdogan's leadership.Mr Erdogan also called on the international community to mobilise against Israel in one of his harshest onslaughts against the country.In a speech to AK Party lawmakers, he said: "The Jewish nation-state law passed in the Israeli parliament shows this country's real intentions. It legitimises all unlawful actions and oppression."He said Israel had shown itself to be a "terror state" by attacking Palestinians with tanks and artillery, adding: "There is no difference between Hitler's Aryan race obsession and Israel's mentality."The spirit of Hitler, which led the world to a great catastrophe, has found its resurgence among some of Israel's leaders." Mr Netanyahu accused the Turkish president of "massacring Syrians and Kurds" in response, adding that Mr Erdogan's administration had "imprisoned tens of thousands of citizens".

    Chinese President Xi Jinping wraps up UAE visit with series of deals to boost presence in Middle East -- China and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to strengthen their cooperation on a wide range of areas from trade to military and energy as President Xi Jinping wrapped up his visit to the Middle Eastern nation on Saturday. Xi arrived in Senegal on Saturday for the start of a tour of Africa that will seek to develop China’s economic and military ties on the continent. At the end of a showy, three-day visit to the UAE, during which the Chinese leader was given a horse by his Emirati counterpart, the two countries signed a slew of agreements. These included one for strategic cooperation between two state-owned oil companies, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and China National Petroleum Company, after the former awarded US$1.6 billion worth of contracts to the latter. The agreements and memoranda of understanding also played up Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative and included a deal to allow state-owned financial services firm Industrial Capacity Co-Operation Financial Group to set up a lending platform in Abu Dhabi. A deal was also reached for the Zhejiang China Commodities City Group to build a “traders market” at the Dubai Jebel Ali free economic zone. The joint statement issued by the two nations also announced plans for joint military training exercises. 

    What to know about China’s ties with Africa, from aid to infrastructure -- China’s engagement with Africa has accelerated over the decades as the middle kingdom eyes the world’s second largest continent for opportunities for economic growth and geopolitical influence. President Xi Jinping’s visits this week to Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius – his first overseas trips of the year – are expected to build ties and extend Beijing’s influence on the continent. Africa has a role in Xi’s signature programme, the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road land and sea trade routes through the building of roads, ports and bridges. As Xi visits Africa, here is a look at the four key areas where China is expanding its presence on the continent. Beijing’s multitrillion-dollar belt and road strategy is an extensive infrastructure network of railways, ports, roads and pipelines that aims to connect China with much of the world, including Africa. China’s involvement in African infrastructure dates back to the 1950s, when it funded and built a railway between Tanzania and Zambia. Foreign minister Wang Yi said last year that China had so far funded more than 6,200km of railways and over 5,000km of roads in Africa. Among them are the US$4 billion Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, a 750km line linking landlocked Ethiopia – home to Africa’s fastest-growing economy – to Djibouti on the coast of the Red Sea. Also in progress is a US$3.2 billion 472km railway between Kenya’s port city of Mombasa and its capital, Nairobi. When completed sometime in the next 25 years, Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since independence will extend into the countries of South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

    China unexpectedly injects 502 bln yuan through 1-year MLF, rate unchanged -  (Reuters) - China’s central bank said on Monday that it lent 502 billion yuan ($74.36 billion) to financial institutions via its one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) with rates unchanged. The move was unexpected by market participants as no MLF loans were due to mature on Monday. The central bank typically injects liquidity through MLF loans on the day existing loans are due to mature. The interest rate for the one-year MLF was 3.30 percent, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said, unchanged from the previous one-year MLF injection. The cash injection came after the central bank was reported to ensure ample liquidity by allowing commercial banks to tap its MLF loans, especially lenders that have invested in bonds rated AA+ and below, sources told Reuters last week. The PBOC said in the same statement that it skipped reverse repos on the same day. 170 billion yuan worth of reverse repos is set to expire on Monday. ($1 = 6.7505 Chinese yuan) 

    China Pumps $74B Into Banks Amid Credit Crisis --Worried about an economic slowdown amid worsening trade relations with the U.S. and a credit crisis sparked by a massive deleveraging drive, China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), has unexpectedly made a massive 502 billion yuan ($74.36 billion) available to commercial banks in the form of one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF).The money is meant to encourage more bank lending after a multi-year campaign by the Beijing government to curb debt started causing serious shockwaves in financial markets. A record numbers of companies ended up defaulting on their debt obligations in the current year. The central bank is gradually adopting looser monetary policies to alleviate the effects of a huge deleveraging drive that include a worrying economic slowdown, with the economy projected to expand at 6.5 percent in the current year after growing 6.9 percent in 2017.The latest move by the PBOC came as a surprise to many because no MLFs were due to mature on Monday. The bank typically injects fresh liquidity into the banks on the day existing loans mature.Interestingly, the one-year MLF remained pegged at 3.30 percent, unchanged from the previous MLF injection—a clear sign that the central bank wants to encourage companies to borrow more. The $74B figure is the most by the bank since MLF was launched four years ago.It’s now clear that the central bank is moving towards monetary easing from a more neutral stance.The latest twist comes hot on the heels of reports that the bank had on Friday asked lenders to invest in more lower-grade corporate bonds in a bid to support the $15-trillion asset industry.The PBOC has in recent months focused on adding liquidity in a targeted fashion in a bid to alleviate funding pressures especially in the private sector, where companies have traditionally faced considerable obstacles trying to obtain credit. The bank has so far cut reserve requirements for banks three times this year. Chinese companies are going through one of their worst years in recent times, with the number of companies that have defaulted on bond repayments reaching record levels. By the end of June, companies had failed to honor 33.3 billion yuan ($4.9 billion) in bond repayments, surpassing the previous record of 30 billion yuan set in 2016 for the entire year. But the biggest blow struck early this month when coal miner Wintime Energy defaulted on local bonds worth 72.2 billion yuan ($10.8 billion), a record for the country.

    A popular website that reportedly sells inexpensive products so poorly made that disappointed shoppers often throw them in the trash is now worth over $20 billion after going public - In three short years, e-commerce site Pinduoduo has emerged as one of China's fastest growing shopping startups, with as many as 55 million users accessing the site per day .Now, Pinduoduo's CEO and founder, former Google engineer Colin Huang, has taken his company public.Pinduoduo raised $1.6 billion in its IPO, and after shares popped 36% upon their debut on the Nasdaq, the company is now worth almost $24 billion.Pinduoduo's biggest advantage is its competitive, remarkably low prices: On the site, Chinese users can purchase a nything from toilet paper to snacks to iPhones for a fraction of their usual cost. For instance, a package of 32 rolls of toilet paper is listed on Pinduoduo as 12.9 Chinese Yuan, or less than $2. A product described as "breast enhancement cream" is listed at around $1.60. A pair of men's "genuine leather" loafers is yours for less than $15.

    As new vaccine scandal grips China, parents say they’ve lost faith in the system -- Parents say they have lost faith in the system after a major drug maker was found to be supplying inferior vaccines that were given to babies as young as three months old, in the latest public health crisis to grip China. The Jilin Food and Drug Administration revealed the vaccine safety scandal on its website on Friday. After an investigation, Jilin-based Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology was found to have sold some 252,600 substandard DPT vaccines to the Shandong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency in charge of public health in a province of about 100 million people. It was not yet known how many children had been given the inferior vaccines against three infectious diseases – diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus – through the state-sponsored disease control system. But the announcement came just five days after the state drug regulator uncovered data forgery in the Shenzhen-listed company’s production of about 113,000 rabies vaccines on Monday during an unannounced inspection. The offence was so serious that the State Drug Administration revoked the company’s licence to produce the rabies vaccine and has said it may launch a criminal investigation. Changsheng Bio-tech – which means “long life” in Chinese – is the latest company in the scandal-plagued pharmaceutical industry to be found producing vaccines that are not up to standard. In November, the state drug watchdog revealed that another big vaccine maker, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, had sold 400,520 inferior DPT vaccines to Chongqing and Hebei. It is still unclear how many children had been given these vaccines, and the company has yet to be punished. 

     Explosion In Sex Dolls Threatens Japanese Race With Extinction - As Japanese birth rates plummet amid a generational fertility crisis, experts have fingered an explosion in sex dolls as an emerging threat to the country's already-dire population problem - with some even saying they will lead to the "extinction" of the Japanese race.  According to the RT documentary "Substitutes," industry insiders say that around 2,000 life-like sex dolls - with adjustable fingers, removable head and customizable genitals are sold annually in Japan. Assuming costs come down and the Japanese workforce continues to put in 14-hour days, there could be tens of thousands of sex dolls floating around the island nation within a decade. Maybe don't look in random closets when visiting friends in Japan. For sex doll salesman Noburu Tanaka, the advantage of owning one of the ¥420,000 ($3,750) synthetic dolls is its lack of expectation. “It’s an amazing feeling. It looks like a doll, but you feel as though it’s really alive,” he told RT. “When you make love to your wife, there can be some problems. With a doll, none of that matters.”For Kanako Amano, a demography expert at the NLI Research Institute in Tokyo, the dolls pose an existential threat to the future of a country where the population is estimated to decline by a third in the next 30 years. -RT"The biggest problem in Japan is the decline in birthrate and population. It’s being called a national disaster, said Amano. “The Japanese are at a crossroads, facing the threat of extinction. We’re an endangered species."In the early 1950s, fertility rates hovered at a healthy 2.75 children per woman, UN data shows. By 1960, as businesses asked more and more of their employees, the fertility rate had fallen to 2.08. Japan had sunk to a critical threshold known as "replacement fertility," the bare minimum to avoid losing population. "In those days, women's university enrollment rate exceeded 40%," Tokyo University economist Hiroshi Yoshida tells Business Insider. But as more women entered the workforce, fertility began to plummet. Today, more than 50 years later, Japan's fertility rate sits at 1.41, the population is falling, and brutally long work hours remain the norm.

    North Koreans frustrated about delay to end-of-war declaration, says son of former South Korean president North Korean officials are frustrated about the delay of an official declaration ending the Korean war, and China will need to join peace talks to stabilize the denuclearization process, according to a son of a former South Korean president. Kim Hong-gul, chairman of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation and son of the late Kim Dae-jung – who introduced South Korea’s “sunshine policy”, designed to soften Pyongyang’s attitude towards Seoul – told the South China Morning Post that officials in the North had expressed their disappointment during his trip to the reclusive state’s capital last week.“North Korean officials said they are frustrated about the delay and asked whether there is a valid reason for such slow progress,” Kim said, noting Pyongyang seemed to believe it had made significant concessions and expected reciprocal action.“The North Koreans initially wanted a peace treaty but they are now asking for an end-of-war declaration,” he said, adding that they wanted the declaration to come first to speed up the denuclearization process.China’s special representative on the Korean peninsula, Kong Xuanyou, flew to Pyongyang on Wednesday and is expected to exchange views with its officials about talks between the US and North Korea on denuclearization.The two Koreas pledged in April that they would work together this year to officially end the war, which was halted by an armistice in 1953.

    Argentina 20 Years On: Has the IMF Really Changed Its Ways? --Argentinians are experiencing deja-vu this month as the government announces massive layoffs and a hiring freeze as part of an adjustment package attached to a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).Thousands of public servants are being forced yet again to swallow the bitter pill of austerity, which the IMF programme– published last Friday – aims to patch up through increased targeted social assistance.For many Argentinians the financial crisis gripping the country, and the return to the Fund, brings back bad memories of 2001. Then, IMF-induced policies triggered the worst economic meltdown in Argentinian history.  A cocktail of austerity measures contributed to the contraction of economic activity with a loss of 20 % of GDP between 1998 and 2002. They also compromised the government’s ability to provide essential services; unemployment soared above 20 % while real wages dropped by 18%; and poverty affected more than half of all Argentinians. Children were most affected, with seven out of 10 falling below the poverty line.To appease popular discontent, the government and IMF officials have emphasised that this time the Fund has changed its ways. However, a comparison between previous and current agreements points to business as usual, focusing on traditional austerity with a few cosmetic tweaks. Argentina’s financial outlook looks gloomy as global financial conditions change. Tightened monetary policies in advanced economies, just as foreign investors discard Argentinian assets, are putting downward pressure on the peso. The Argentinian Central Bank attempted to stabilise the peso by raising interest rates to a whopping 40% and by spending massive amounts of its foreign reserves – up to 7.7 billion over the course of a few months. To bolster reserves, the government is also negotiating an extension to the current currency swap with China. Nevertheless inflation remains high, while the peso continues to depreciate.

      Pakistan election in disarray as incumbent rejects result - Pakistan’s general election has been plunged into chaos after the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) said it would reject the result amid widespread allegations that the military was rigging the ballot in favour of the party led by the former cricketer Imran Khan. With only a third of the vote counted by 3am – an hour after the result was officially due – Khan’s Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led in 110 seats, with the PMLN trailing on 68. Results continued to trickle in slowly on Thursday, hours after Khan’s supporters took to the streets to celebrate victory. Election authorities have not yet confirmed when they expect to announce the results. Some reports suggested it would not be until Thursday evening at the earliest. More than a dozen domestic TV channels projected that the PTI would get as many as 119 seats out of a total 272 in the lower-house, exceeding expectations and delivering the role of prime minister to Khan for the first time.  Also known as the Justice party, it is led by the former cricketer Imran Khan, and has had some success at provincial level but has never been able to convert it into national power. Khan has been accused both of lacking a coherent political philosophy and of sympathising with extremists. He has described the Taliban’s fight in Afghanistan as a holy war, and accused “liberals” who support Nato’s war on the group of being “thirsty for blood”.

      Election Victory in Hand, Imran Khan Offers to Hold Talks With India -- Claiming victory in Pakistan’s general elections on Thursday, former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan offered to hold talks with India to improve relations and highlighted the importance of close trade ties, but at the same time reiterated that Kashmir was a core issue and referred to human rights violation by Indian security agencies in the volatile state.While India views Khan’s remarks as a “mixed bag”, the prevailing view here is that the former cricketer echoes the Pakistani establishment’s view on Kashmir, even as there is scepticism on whether the army would even allow the new government to take an independent position on rebuilding ties.Pakistan went to polls on Wednesday, which would eventually lead to its second civilian transfer of power since independence and partition in 1947. Less than 24 hours after the voting ended, Imran Khan delivered a victory speech that was broadcast on state television. While official final results are still to be announced, leads show that his Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) was on target to get a simple majority in the national assembly. Imran Khan was going to be Pakistan’s next prime minister 22 years after he formed PTI in 1996.

      Michael Hudson: Argentina’s New $50 Billion IMF Loan Is Designed to Replay its 2001 Crisis -- Yves here. In this Real News Network interview, Micheal Hudson explains why IMF “programs” inevitably hurt workers. (video, transcript)

      Venezuela Surpasses Weimar As Hyperinflation Expected To Hit 1,000,000% By Year End - Some readers may recall this headline from January 2018 "IMF Projects Venezuela Inflation Will Soar to 13,000 Percent in 2018."This, it turns out was just a little bit off, because as we reported only two weeks ago, Venezuela's annualized inflation hit an annualized rate of 482,153%, with food prices soaring 183% in just one month.Fast forward to today, when it's time for another "slight revision" because according to the latest IMF forecast released today, Venezuela’s hyperinflation by the end of the year will hit, drumroll, 1,000,000% as the government continues to simply print money to in hopes of filling the void of what was once the country's economy. Putting that number in perspective, the IMF believes that Venezuela inflation hit only 2,400% in 2017, according to a report published Thursday by Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department. The revised forecast means that as of right now, Venezuela's hyperinflation has officially surpassed the Weimar Republic's, where the highest recorded monthly inflation was a timid 29,500% (resulting in prices doubling ever 3.7 days).

      World trade points to slowing economic expansion: Kemp(Reuters) - World trade volumes continued to rise in May, but the rate of growth is decelerating, consistent with other signs that the global economic expansion is moving into a slower phase. Trade volumes rose by 0.4 percent in May compared with April, according to the latest data from the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (“World Trade Monitor”, CPB, July 25). But volumes in the three months from March to May were just 3.1 percent higher than in the same period a year earlier, a marked slowdown from year-on-year growth of over 5 percent in late 2017 and early 2018. The fastest growth in May was reported in China, Asia, the Middle East and the United States, with volumes in most other regions actually declining during the month. Volumes on the trans-Pacific routes are likely to have been flattered by the race to beat tariffs announced by the United States and China, which led to an upsurge in container arrivals in May and June. The impact will probably prove temporary and is likely to unwind in the second half of the year as the tariffs go into effect and the supply chain digests higher than normal inventories after stocking up. In much of the rest of the world the picture is one of moderating and increasingly unbalanced growth, after the strong synchronised upturn in 2017 ( ). The trade figures are consistent with leading indicators compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which show the rate of economic growth peaking in the second half of 2017. The OECD’s composite indicators show growth accelerating in the United States, China and India in the early months of this year but losing momentum in other countries. Signs of a moderation in growth are also evident in South Korea’s KOSPI share index, often seen as a leading indicator for world trade growth given the country’s heavy export orientation. Over the last two decades, the KOPSI 100 share index has been closely correlated with world trade volumes as measured by the Netherlands government statistics. The 100-share index peaked at the end of 2017 and has been steadily sliding throughout the first seven months of 2018. 

      As Russia Dumped Its Treasuries, Here's What It Was Buying - Last week, we were the first to report that Russia has all but fully liquidated its US Treasury holdings through the months of April and May. In those two months, Russia sold a whopping $81 billion in Treasurys, a liquidation flow that was likely responsible for much if not all the blow out in rates over the period.In 2010, Russia was among the top 10 holders of US Treasuries at $176.3 billion. With its holdings falling to $14.9 billion in May, the country is now below the $30 billion threshold for inclusion on the Treasury Department’s monthly report of major holders. On Tuesday, the Treasury released a list of 33 countries which includes the biggest holder China to the smallest Chile. Russia is no longer on the list.However, that left two questions - why was Russia dumping USTs and what will do with all the funds it garnered from liquidating US debt instruments?The head of the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) Elvira Nabiullina explained that the slashing of the holdings was result of the systematic assessment of all kinds of risks, including financial, economic and geopolitical.Meanwhile, Russia’s gold holdings have been steadily increasing - for 39 straight months - bringing its share of the precious metal to its highest level in nearly two decades.

      Putin warns of ‘consequences’ if Nato develops closer ties with Georgia and Ukraine - Vladimir Putin has warned Nato of "consequences" if the western military alliance cultivates closer ties with Ukraine and Georgia. The Russian president said such a policy, which he branded "aggressive" and "irresponsible", was a direct threat to the country's national security. Speaking to Russian diplomats in Moscow, Mr Putin condemned what he said was Nato's attempts to deploy new bases and military infrastructure near Russia's borders, adding there was a need to restore trust in Europe. The issue has been a source of anger for Russia - which shares a border with both countries and does not want to see them join what it regards as a hostile military bloc - since 2008, when Nato leaders promised Ukraine and Georgia they would one day become members of the alliance."We will respond appropriately to such aggressive steps, which pose a direct threat to Russia," Mr Putin said on Thursday."Our colleagues, who are trying to aggravate the situation, seeking to include, among others, Ukraine and Georgia in the orbit of the alliance, should think about the possible consequences of such an irresponsible policy."

      US to provide additional $200M in defensive aid to Ukraine | TheHill: The U.S. is planning to send an additional $200 million defense funds to the government of Ukraine amid its ongoing struggle with pro-Russian separatists. The Defense Department announced in a press release Friday that the decision from the Trump administration "reaffirms the long-standing defense relationship between the United States and Ukraine," while bringing the total aid provided to Ukraine since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 up to $1 billion. "The added funds will provide equipment to support ongoing training programs and operational needs, including capabilities to enhance Ukraine’s command and control, situational awareness systems, secure communications, military mobility, night vision, and military medical treatment," the statement reads. Citing a recently-passed Ukrainian law boosting cybersecurity coordination between the country and NATO, the Pentagon noted that the new reforms would improve Ukraine's ability to defend against future territorial aggression, a clear reference to Russia. "The implementation of these reforms will bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend its territorial integrity in support of a secure and democratic Ukraine," the press release reads.

      Ukraine Furious After Italy's Salvini Calls 2014 Revolution "Fake" And "Foreign-Funded" - Ukraine has summoned the Italian Ambassador to Ukraine Davide La Cecilia over a statement made by the Interior Minister of Italy Matteo Salvini (whose League political party is now the most popular in Italy) on his recognition of the annexation of Crimea by Russia and his slamming the 2014 Euromaidan protests and coup in Kiev as “pseudo-revolution” sponsored from abroad."We are responding. On Monday, we will meet with the Italian ambassador. He is a very nice person. I understand that he cannot be responsible for the words of their politicians, especially given that that one politician went to Crimea and just returned from Moscow, where, according to our information, he met with Putin," Olena Zerkal, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister, told the local Channel 5 on Friday."Ukraine was infuriated by Salvini's comments made during his interview with the Washington Post, published earlier this week. WaPo senior associate editor Lally Weymouth tried to grill the minister over his support for Crimea’s return to Russia, calling the referendum that took place in Crimea in 2014 "fake." There was a referendum, and 90 percent of the people voted for the return of Crimea to the Russian Federation. Salvini shot back, saying "compare it to the fake revolution in Ukraine, which was a pseudo-revolution funded by foreign powers – similar to the Arab Spring revolutions" adding that "There are some historically Russian zones with Russian culture and traditions which legitimately belong to the Russian Federation."Ukraine's Foreign Ministry angrily responded that Salvini words were "not grounded in real facts and in contradiction of recognized principles and norms of international law." Zerkal also downplayed Salvini’s words on Friday by saying that "it was hard to expect any different rhetoric from him," following the "pro-Russian" Salvini’s recent visit to Crimea as an Italian lawmaker.

      Italy’s “Dignity Decree” -- The recently approved “Dignity Decree” is the first legislative act of the new Italian government in the area of the labour relations and, according to Luigi Di Maio, Minister for Labour and Economic Development, it represents an overturn of the previous government’s “Jobs Act”. Among other things, the decree establishes that the maximum length for temporary contracts in Italy will decrease from 36 to 24 months, and the maximum number of renewals will be four rather than five. After the first 12 months, employers will only be able to prorogate temporary contracts if they can claim that specific causes exists why this is warranted. La has the full text of both the decree and the attached technical report, including the estimate by INPS (the Italian social security organisation) which approximates that  8000 temporary workers could lose their temporary jobs due to the decree without finding new employment. Ministers Di Maio and Tria issued a joint press release stating that these estimates are deemed “unscientific, and as such, disputable”. For a more detailed reading, Adapt, a non-profit organisation specialising in studies and research in the field of labour law and industrial relations, has published an ebook on the Dignity Decree. At page 92, it includes Francesco Seghezzi’s chapter on the effect of the decree on the labour market. Seghezzi shows that between May 2017 and May 2018, employment in Italy has increased by 457 000 units, 95% of which were temporary. The restrictions placed by the decree on the temporary contracts longer than 12 months raise the risk to increase turnover among temporary workers – particularly in association with the reintroduced causality requirements. Absent interventions to foster active labour market policies, training, new welfare, and the intervention on the legislation of temporary contracts will hardly yield positive results, in Seghezzi’s view.

      Steve Bannon plans Europe-wide populist right campaign - BBC -- Populists and right-wingers have a grip on power in Italy, Hungary and Austria, and now Donald Trump's one-time adviser has designs on increasing their spread across Europe. Steve Bannon dreams of a right-wing "supergroup" gaining a populist foothold in the European Parliament after next year's European elections. But his plans have provoked a sharp response from across the political spectrum. While one German minister attacked Steve Bannon's "hatred and lies", some populist figures in Europe were unimpressed with the idea of an American vowing publicly to unite them from a Brussels headquarters. In the words of European studies specialist Alexander Clarkson, "most of these parties are set on anti-Americanism". The former chief Trump strategist travelled to Europe after he was pushed out of the White House and then departed the right-wing Breitbart media empire. His ambition now is a populist implosion across the Continent. Everything started with the Brexit vote in June 2016, he believes. It continued with the election of President Trump the following November and returned to Europe with the success of two populist parties in Italy's election last March.Italy is "in the vanguard of change in Europe", he argues, and along with Hungary's Viktor Orban is proof that the message from Europe's citizens is that people "want their countries back". The next step, Mr Bannon has revealed, is for a non-profit foundation called The Movement to be set up in a Brussels office and recruit staff to help advise on messaging and targeting of data. If it sounds reminiscent of Cambridge Analytica's use of data and Facebook to attract US voters, Mr Bannon was on the company's board of directors. Raheem Kassam, a former aide to UKIP ex-leader Nigel Farage now signed up to the Bannon cause, calls the Brussels plan "a clearing house for the populist, nationalist movement in Europe", according to Reuters news agency. "We have started to staff up," he said, highlighting the issues of sovereignty, border control and jobs. 

      EU To Pay Countries €6,000 For Every Migrant They Accept - After a number of European governments refused to ratify a controversial and notoriously ambiguous EU migrant deal struck behind close doors in late June which Deutsche Welle referred to as a "heavily-coded text, in which each phrase has a specific meaning for the individual parties," the European Commission on Tuesday announced a surprise proposal to pay European governments €6,000 (or about $7,000) for each migrant they take in.  The proposal also comes as the migrant crisis has hit a peak for Europe's Mediterranean nations, and has become politically disastrous for others like Germany, causing Italy's new government to make the dire move in June of closing the country's ports to rescue vessels. Reuters reports the drastic EU initiative as follows: Under the proposal, the Union’s common budget would pay out 6,000 euros ($7,000) for each migrant taken in, as well as funding the cost of hundreds of expert personnel to help process mostly African migrants seeking asylum in Europe.The Commission’s plan, which is aimed at EU governments that set up so-called controlled centers on their soil, follows a June leaders’ summit that claimed success in reaching a hard-fought agreement to control immigration but left many details undecided. The "claimed success" after the June "agreement" was met with appropriate skepticism bordering on mockery in European press, with some notable European newspapers in the aftermath going so far as to say Europe is being "torn apart over the migrants" — with the true nature of the crisis being more political than actual, as center-left Le Monde's Brussels bureau writing the June migrant deal was "rather surreal, given that the migration crisis barely exists - the flow of migrants has fallen by 95% since October 2015" — a sentiment echoed in other corners of Europe.

      600 Migrants Armed With "Flamethrowers And Feces" Break Through Spanish Border In Morocco - Some 800 sub-Saharan migrants attempted to cross the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta at 6:45am through a high fence. While 602 of them succeeded, 15 law enforcement officers were injured in the clashes and later taken to a hospital, the Spanish Civil Guard reported.Migrants attempted to cross the seven-meter high fence separating Morocco from Spain at 6:35 a.m. They threw stones, homemade shielrs, Molotov cocktails, feces and hashish at law enforcement representatives and used sprays as flamethrowers. The migrants also tried to cut the barbed wire on the fence with scissors and hammers. Once inside Spanish territory, they threw stones at cars of the Civil Guard.Border agents arrested hundreds on the Moroccan side and more were detained in Ceuta, El Pais reports.

      Co-Founder Of FEMEN Commits Suicide In Paris - Oksana Shachko, one of three co-founders of the FEMEN movement, has committed suicide in her Paris apartment after two previous attempts.   Founded in 2008 and headquartered in Paris, FEMEN gained international fame for its topless protests against sexism, prostitution, political corruption, religious institutions, homophobia and other social issues. After fleeing Ukraine in 2013, the organization has since branched out to several other countries.  Shachko, 31, was one of the group's most famous faces among the group - which call their form of protest "sextremism"; listed on the FEMEN website as "female sexuality rebelling against patriarchy and embodied in the extremal political direct action events."  At the beginning, the members of the group used bikinis or covered their nipples with adhesive tape. It was precisely Oksana Shachko, in August 2009, who first discarded the bra during a demonstration in Kiev. In October 2010, Shachko showed her buttocks in front of a public toilet to protest the shortcomings and shortages of this service. "It was just an experiment, but later we understood how powerful it was," she said in 2015. -El Mundo A statement on the FEMEN website reads: "Yesterday, July 23, they found Oksana's body in her apartment in Paris, according to her friends, she left a suicide note. Rest in peace the bravest and most vulnerable, Oksana Shachko has left us... We mourn together with their family and friends and await the official version of the police."

      ECB Repeats June Statement: Pledges QE End By Year End, Rates On Hold Until Next "Summer" As previewed moments ago, there were no surprises in today's ECB statement, which kept rates unchanged and using last month's dovish tightening twist, pledged to keep them unchanged "at least through the summer of 2019" while repeating the announcement from last month that QE "will be reduced to €15 billion until the end of December 2018 and that net purchases will then end." Full statement below:At today’s meeting the Governing Council of the ECB decided that the interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.40% respectively. The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.Regarding non-standard monetary policy measures, the Governing Council will continue to make net purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) at the current monthly pace of €30 billion until the end of September 2018. The Governing Council anticipates that, after September 2018, subject to incoming data confirming the Governing Council’s medium-term inflation outlook, the monthly pace of the net asset purchases will be reduced to €15 billion until the end of December 2018 and that net purchases will then end. The Governing Council intends to reinvest the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the APP for an extended period of time after the end of the net asset purchases, and in any case for as long as necessary to maintain favourable liquidity conditions and an ample degree of monetary accommodation.

      Theresa May Northern Ireland visit: Business chiefs still seek ‘clarity’ on the key issues - Belfast Telegraph  - Northern Ireland business groups called for an end to "brinkmanship" between the EU and the UK government in Brexit talks as Prime Minister Theresa May continued her two-day visit to the province. And while welcoming Mrs May's trip here, many said they still required more detail on the contents of the UK White Paper proposal and how it would provide for cross-border trade. Aodhan Connolly, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, said: "It is very encouraging that the Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland to listen and to understand the concerns of business, on maintaining a common rulebook over goods and agri-foods and how the UK Government cannot simply "wash its hands" of the matter. "But we need more than kind words, beginning with greater clarity on how the UK White Paper proposal on customs will work for businesses and how we can avoid extra border red tape and higher costs for firms and consumers around VAT and excise on goods moving across the Irish border. "We need an end to the brinkmanship from both the UK government and the EU, a realisation that the practicalities of Brexit will affect Northern Ireland like nowhere else in the UK, and above all a fair deal on Brexit for the consumers of Northern Ireland." The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said its policy chair Tina McKenzie had questioned the Prime Minister about the White Paper proposals following Mrs May's speech at Waterfront Hall, in which she also called for an urgent restoration of power-sharing. Ms McKenzie (left) said: "It was welcome that the Prime Minister has visited Northern Ireland this week. As we share a land border with another EU state, it is absolutely crucial that the final Brexit deal works for businesses here. FSB welcomed a direction being set through the White Paper on the future relationship with the EU. However, questions still remain on the details of the vision which was set out. 

      Government gears up for showdown with WTO on future of soft Border - Irish Independent -- The Government is gearing up for a major confrontation with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over the commitment to retain a soft Border in Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit. With chaos continuing in London, Ireland is ramping up preparations to cope with the UK crashing out of the EU. The Irish Independent understands that among the contingency plans being considered is a resourcing of Revenue to deal with the increase in customs-checked transactions that will take place after Brexit. Revenue is investing in new data storage systems, security and staff to facilitate the increase. Now Government sources say they are prepared for major confrontation with WTO officials, who will insist on a Border with the North as part of strict trade laws. "That's just not politically deliverable; we won't be doing it," a source said. "Brussels knows we can't go back to the borders of the past; it'll be a very difficult and different conversation." "Everybody knows - including the WTO - how politically sensitive the Border issue is, but it can't just be accepted as 'politically sensitive'; they need to know it simply can't happen; it's not going to happen," the source said. "It's going to be a very difficult conversation if it comes to that." However, under WTO laws, Ireland and the EU will be obliged to install one for customs and regulatory checks as UK territory will be classed as a third country, outside EU jurisdiction for goods. 

      Michel Barnier’s pointed questions point to no deal --Michel Barnier’s press conference responding to the UK government’s Brexit white paper will have been music to the ears of ‘no deal’ Brexiteers. After Theresa May pushed her Cabinet and premiership to the point of near collapse with her Chequers proposals for a softer Brexit, the EU’s Chief negotiator has today responded to her efforts with a heavy dose of scepticism.Barnier began by trying to play nice. He said he welcomed the development of the UK government’s position – he understood that it was the result of a debate and, for some, that debate is still ongoing. He said that the proposals from May contained several things Brussels could get on board with and singled out security as one such.  However, he then went into detail over the ‘questions’ the white paper had raised on customs. Barnier questioned whether May’s proposal that the UK would be in the single market for goods – but not services – was consistent with the integrity of the EU’s single market (spoiler: it isn’t). He asked whether May’s plan for tariff collection and goods check was even feasible – and said that the EU would not agree to a plan that would increase bureaucracy. As for the idea of services being outside the single market so the UK can diverge, Barnier questioned whether the EU would go along with something that could undercut their business interests. While he was at it, Barnier raised the question of whether May’s customs proposal would increase instances of fraud One small ray of light for Theresa May arrived in Barnier’s comments on the backstop. Although he stressed that not enough progress had been made. He did seem to soften his language on the issue – said his side wanted to de-dramatise the issue and were open to any solution. All in all, however, the conference raised the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It’s clear the EU will not – as things stand – plump for the Chequers’ proposal. Andrea Leadsom has today said that May cannot weaken her deal any further. It follows that today’s conference has made a ‘no deal’ Brexit even more likely.

      Brexit: playing with fire - One of the most interesting moments of the Dominic Raab (aka midair bacon) interview with Andrew Marr yesterday was the line of questioning on the EU-US open skies agreement.  Marr specifically put to the Brexit secretary that: "with no deal we fall out of that", to which Raab said quite simply, "Yes". As a follow-up, Marr asked: "That does mean that the planes can’t carry on flying in at the moment doesn’t it?", to which Raab responded: "I think we would resolve that issue". There we have it in blunt terms. Yes, a "no deal" Brexit would mean that UK airlines would lose their access to US skies. And while Raab blandly assures us that "we would resolve that issue", can we really be certain that President Trump would give us the access we want, immediately, and without asking for significant concessions elsewhere?  But had Marr been on the ball (something he's never been), he might also have asked about the US-EU bilateral agreement on safety in civil aviation – the so-called BASA. Even if the open skies agreement could be resolved, this is a far more complex issue, where there is no obvious or simple resolution. And then, rather than confine his questioning to just the EU-US agreement, why didn't he ask about Varadkar's comments about the Single European Sky and the loss of access rights to the airspace of EU Member States? Furthermore, rather then accepting the bland assurance that such issues would be resolved, Marr might have probed a little more deeply and asked how precisely the UK government intended to resolve issues in the event of a "no deal". Are we even to take it that "no deal" means "no deal" or, as we have generally surmised, just a phase where we start a new round of talks – albeit in a crisis atmosphere.  As regards the aviation issue, Dominic Grieve has certainly "got it", arguing that "It wouldn't be possible, for example, for someone to fly to Rome because the overflying rights over the other countries of the EU are regulated by EU law".  But he points to the possibility that, if an all-encompassing agreement is not reached before March next year then "side deals" would address some of the issues of a "no deal" Brexit.

      No-deal Brexit could spark civil unrest ‘within two weeks’ warns UK head of Amazon - Leaving the European Union with no deal could prompt “civil unrest” within days, the head of Amazon in the UK has warned.Doug Gurr told a meeting organised by Brexit secretary Dominic Raab that the online retail firm was now considering this worst-case outcome as part of their contingency planning.Mr Gurr’s remarks make Amazon UK the first company to issue such a warning, and “stunned those present”, The Times reports. In a statement Amazon UK said: “Like any business, we consider a wide range of scenarios in planning discussions so that we’re prepared to continue serving customers and small businesses who count on Amazon, even if those scenarios are very unlikely.“This is not specific to any one issue – it’s the way we plan for any number of issues around the world.” Mr Gurr’s warning was echoed by leading remain-voting Conservative MP Dominic Greave, who told Sky News a no-deal Brexit would be “absolutely catastrophic”.

      Disaster For Theresa May: Brits Overwhelmingly Reject New Brexit Plan; Turn To Boris, Farage (And Bannon?) - It's been a dreadful, torrid month for UK PM Theresa May whose cabinet has been on the rocks ever since her revised Brexit proposal was revealed, barely scraping by with just a 3 vote margin last week, amid an exodus of key Brexit voices and a scathing Donald Trump interview. And it's about to get even worse because according to a new poll, May’s plans to leave the European Union are overwhelmingly opposed by the British public. Worse, more than a third of voters would support a new right-wing political party committed to quitting the bloc and headed by, guess who, Nigel Farage. According to the YouGov poll conducted for the Sunday Times, voters would prefer Boris Johnson, who quit as her foreign minister two weeks ago, to negotiate with the EU and lead the Conservative Party into the next election. And in the latest disaster for May, only 16% of voters say the Prime Minister is handling the Brexit negotiations well, compared with 34% who say that Johnson would do a better job. Only one in 10 voters would pick the government’s proposed Brexit plans if there were a second referendum, according to the poll, while almost half think it would be bad for Britain. But while the poll is a damning testament to her policies, May faces far greater challenges in the near-term. Her revised plan to keep a close trading relationship with the EU thrust her government into crisis this month and there is speculation she could face a leadership challenge after her most senior ministers, Davis and Johnson, resigned in protest. But in what may be the best news for libertarians, and those disenchanted with the legacy two-party system in the UK as well as everywhere else, the poll found voters are increasingly polarized, with growing numbers of people alienated from the two main political parties. Meanwhile, as in recent polls, half of voters would support remaining in the EU if there were a second referendum, the poll found. Which of course, means a Brexit is guaranteed - again - as polls prior to the first Brexit vote predicted an avalanche victory for Remain. But here is the real shocker. 38% of respondents said they would vote for a new right-wing party that is committed to Brexit, while almost a quarter would support an explicitly far-right anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party, the poll found. According to the Sunday Times, Brexit veteran Nigel Farage, who has vowed to return to politics if May's "Brexit betrayal is not reversed", and Steve Bannon are in discussions about forming a new right-wing movement. So, one wonders, how long before Europe's relentless populist wave means that this person is the UK's next prime minister? 

      Theresa May’s Impossible Choice - With Brexit looming, the Prime Minister is battling Trump, Europe, and her own party. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, often strikes people as cautious, but her political career has been defined by acts of boldness, often on behalf of unfashionable causes, or in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. The misconception arises in part because she is an awkward person. May, who is sixty-one, is tall and stooped, serious and shy. Since she was elected to Parliament, in the late nineteen-nineties, she has dressed in sharp, eye-catching clothes, as if to offset the fact that she is not personally vivacious, but the effect is often to accentuate what is not there. May doesn’t say much, by anyone’s standard, let alone that of a politician. On a recent sunny afternoon, in the garden of the Prime Minister’s residence, at 10 Downing Street, I watched her being guided by an aide through the beginning of a party to mark London’s Pride celebrations. As May was introduced to a line of leaders from Britain’s gay and transgender communities, she smiled each time and then started to nod. She nodded faster, dozens of times, to encourage them to say more. She extended her neck, like a bird leaning over a pond, nodded a final time, and moved on. She scarcely said a word.May is quiet in government meetings, too. “She sits, you talk. She sits. She looks at you, and then you leave,” a former Cabinet colleague told me recently. May’s preferred method of communicating with the public is in the form of long speeches, which she delivers with a certain steel. She can land a joke, if she has time to prepare. But when she is forced to speak off the cuff, in Parliament or to the press, her body stiffens and she takes deep breaths. She has a wide, expressive mouth that cracks into grimaces and betrays an inner tumult, while the sentences that emerge are frequently circular and devoid of clear meaning. As a result, it is hard to sense what May is thinking or to predict what she will do next. “No one knows where they are at any point in time when they are working for Theresa May,” one of her former staffers said. May rejects the inevitable comparisons to Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, because Thatcher had an agenda that was overtly ideological. May, unlike Thatcher, would not enjoy being photographed driving a tank. Her definition of politics is “doing something, not being someone.” People say that she would have made a fine lawyer or judge. But she happens to be the leader of the United Kingdom—a divided nation of sixty-five million people, Europe’s second-largest economy, and America’s closest ally—as it chooses how it wants to proceed in the world. This summer, that choice, which is frankly overwhelming, came to rest with May. Britain waited and watched. May made her call, and then her government more or less exploded. And that was before Donald Trump showed up.

      Brexit Crash Out Virtually Certain -  Yves Smith - On the one hand, a great deal appears to have happened with respect to Brexit in the last two weeks, with David Davis and Boris Johnson resigning from Government and Theresa May stating that she will lead the Brexit negotiations. Despite the threat of an ouster, she’s still the last woman standing. However, in reality little has happened, save some of the fog is lifting, so the profile of the terrain is becoming more visible. The odds of a crash out Brexit now appear to be 80%. I’m going to be more terse than I normally would be, so forgive me if my simplifications are arguably oversimplifications. Some reasons why:

      • May’s rejection of the Irish backstop. Resolving Ireland was a precondition to sorting out other issues. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier can’t change that order of battle nor can he change substantive parameters without going back to the EU Council. Barnier’s response to May’s renunciation, and her White Paper the trade deal the UK wants, has a thicker veneer of faux politeness than his earlier responses. Some commentators opined that the EU is taking more care so as not to give the UK fodder for blame-shifting (although they’ll do that aplenty regardless). Let’s be clear: no deal on the Irish border means no deal.
      • Incoherent White Paper on trade. The UK keeps asking for a special, novel arrangement with the EU when the EU ruled out anything like that the morning after Brexit. Barnier resorted to his old form with the the White Paper, and for good reason. From the Scottish Centre on European Relations:The white paper is a ramshackle affair: it attempts to keep the UK almost as close to the EU as it is as a member state, with the crucial exception of services, while denying that closeness and re-emphasising its red lines to Brexiters in the Conservative party and to ‘leave’ voters more widely.
      • Another EU nien on the UK’s request for a special financial services regime. From the Financial Times on Monday:Brussels has rejected the UK’s proposals on how to govern the City of London’s access to the European market after Brexit, saying Theresa May’s latest financial services plan would rob the EU of its “decision-making autonomy”…Mr Barnier told ministers that the plan would ride roughshod over the EU’s stance that equivalence decisions must be made unilaterally by Brussels. He said it would amount to a “system of generalised equivalence that would in reality be jointly run by the EU and UK”.The UK white paper called for equivalence to be “expanded”, saying it was “not sufficient to deal with a third country whose financial markets are as deeply interconnected with the EU’s as those of the UK are”.
      • Lack of agreement among the Tories for any particular flavor of Brexit. This has long been apparent with the soft Brexit wing, led by Philip Hammond, at odds with the Ultras marching behind the likes of Johnson and Rees Mogg. But the press is now starting to admit that the deep divisions in the Tories mean no consensus, and that puts the UK on the default path of a crash out.

      Brexit: an irresponsible use of power - In today's post I'm going to stay with aviation, because its treatment by the BBC in a recent web report provides a graphic example of just how badly Brexit is being reported by our state broadcaster. The report is from BBC News in Northern Ireland and is written by broadcast journalist Ciarán Dunbar. It picks up on the "outcry" when it was reported that the Irish prime minister had "threatened to halt British planes landing in Ireland". Dunbar notes that The Sun said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was a "big mouth and a fool", with an editorial declaring: "It has exposed beyond doubt both his crass naivety and the cynical deceit of the EU masters he cravenly obeys". With the scene thus set, we get the typical self-importance of the BBC, as the article addresses the "the facts in the case", setting itself up as the arbiter, purporting to give us the factual analysis that will leave us correctly and fully informed. It starts by rehearsing what Varadkar had to say in his fateful press conference in County Kerry on 18 July. We are thus informed that he started out by declaring that the UK was "part of the Single European Sky and if they leave the EU they are not".That meant, according to the prime minister, "if there was a no-deal hard Brexit next March, the planes would not fly and Britain would be an island in many ways - and that is something they need to think about".In classic "he says, she says" style Dunbar then refers to the Downing Street spokeswoman who responded to the statement, by saying that Leo Varadkar "was wrong to suggest British aircraft would be barred from Irish airspace in the event of a no-deal Brexit". So-called "overflight rights" were guaranteed by international treaties rather than EU membership, the spokeswoman averred, then rather incongruously adding that the UK was confident of reaching a deal that included "aviation access". Dunbar making two major errors. Firstly, as I explained here, the Chicago Convention does not guarantee any rights. That is not the way it works. It requires the contracting states to grant to the other contracting states what are known as the "freedoms of the air".Furthermore, the Convention deals with five (of nine) rights, which include the right to land at the airports of other contracting states.  With this being the second error, Dunbar now goes on to make the false conclusion that, when Mr Varadkar talks about "planes flying over our sky", he "is probably wrong on that point - and the UK government correct"

      Brussels bullies can’t stop Britain accessing Galileo ‘secret data’ (we already have it) Express - Without an international agreement and the blessing of the remaining EU27, Britain will lose access to the Public Regulated Service – an encrypted signal used by member states for military and emergency services purposes.While the European Commission urges member states and relevant institutions to prepare for Britain crashing out of the bloc without a deal, the European Space Agency believes it has to only undertake “minor preparations” for such eventualities.Britain will continue to participate in Galileo as does any full EU member state until March 29, 2019, after which the UK becomes a third country and isn’t permitted to the encrypted services without a deal. But, as it stands, there is little the European Commission or European Space Agency can actually do to prevent Britain from accessing PRS in the event of a shutout.While it is highly unlikely Britain would attempt to access the confidential PRS signals, a senior Galileo official revealed the EU would pursue a court case over the illegal activity.They said: “At the moment when the UK is no longer a member of the EU and there is no arrangement with the EU, it’s illegal for them to process EU classified information and is pursuable in court, and the UK knows this.”However, a second official refused to completely rule Britain’s future participation in classified elements of the programme out. “Once the UK becomes a third country, we have to verify with the remaining EU member states how we will integrate and what type of future UK involvement we will have in our programmes, including the PRS,” the source said.

      Michel Barnier kills off Theresa May's Brexit customs proposals -- EU’s chief Brexit negotiator says UK ministers’ attempts to appeal to individual leaders are ‘waste of time’.  Michel Barnier has warned that attempts to appeal to EU leaders over his head were a waste of time as he rejected Theresa May’s proposals on customs after Brexit, in effect killing off the Chequers plan. On Friday Theresa May travels to Austria to meet Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and the Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, before heading off on her summer holiday. May’s trip follows the EU chief Brexit negotiator insisting there was no difference of opinion in European capitals to exploit.“Anyone who wants to find a sliver of difference between my mandate and what the heads of government say they want are wasting their time, quite frankly,” he told reporters at a joint press conference with the new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, in Brussels. The British negotiators have become increasingly frustrated with the EU’s attitude to the white paper thrashed out at the prime minister’s country retreat. They feel that it will take an intervention by leaders, most likely at a summit in Salzburg in September, to move the dial in favour of a deal. A number of cabinet ministers have been despatched around EU capitals to make their case for greater flexibility.The impasse in the negotiations was laid bare in the press conference in the European commission’s Berlaymont headquarters as a thunderstorm broke outside.While Raab insisted that with “political will” a deal on trade and on avoiding a border on the island of Ireland was achievable by a crunch summit in October, Barnier offered a damning verdict on a major element of the UK’s vision of the future.To avoid customs checks after Brexit, the government wants an unprecedented system where the UK would collect EU duties while having the freedom to set different tariffs on goods destined for the British market. The plan would allow the UK to make its own free trade deals around the world, while not losing the benefits of frictionless trade to and from the rest of Europe.

      Michel Barnier Nixes Theresa May’s Customs Union Scheme as Bad Brexit Dynamics Worsen  - Yves Smith - Not surprisingly, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has rejected Theresa May’s customs plan. But what was striking was that despite Richard North seeing Barnier as having candy-coated some issues, on the whole Barnier seemed to take a sharper tone with the UK than before. Barnier is enough of a pro that it is unlikely to be a display of pique; I take it as being that he is making every effort to penetrate the UK’s fog of self delusion and the only tool he has is his verbal register.Barnier stressed that the EU will never accept any country not subject to the EU oversight and ECJ jurisdiction to collect customs duties on its behalf. From the press conference:Maintaining control of our money, law and borders also applies to the EU customs policy. The EU cannot and will not delegate the application of its customs policy and rules, VAT and duty collection to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU governance structures.Any customs arrangements or customs union – and I have always said that the EU is open to a customs union – must respect this principle.Barnier’s counterparty, Dominic Raab, true to form, refused to process what he was being told and blathered about how the UK had provided a good faith, innovative proposal. The fundamental source of this mess is the UK refuses to get over itself. It is unwilling to abandon the notion that it deserves and will get a “special bespoke close” relationship with the EU. By contrast, the EU has said from the very morning after the Brexit vote that the UK’s options were limited to the parameters of existing arrangements the EU has with third countries. As a result, the UK keeps getting in a huff that the EU will not negotiate terms that were never negotiable. But far worse as a sign of where things stand is that the UK is trying to retrade settled deal points. The UK and the EU are already visibly getting nowhere. But reneging on resolved issues is toxic. In a functioning negotiation, the party who asks for the waiver knows its a huge no-no and grovels and offers a concession.

      Ecuador Will Imminently Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange and Hand Him Over to the UK. What Comes Next? - The Intercept --Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno traveled to London on Friday for the ostensible purpose of speaking at the 2018 Global Disabilities Summit (Moreno has been using a wheelchair since being shot in a 1998 robbery attempt). The concealed, actual purpose of the president’s trip is to meet with British officials to finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange, in place since 2012, eject him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and then hand over the WikiLeaks founder to British authorities.Moreno’s itinerary also notably includes a trip to Madrid, where he will meet with Spanish officials still seething over Assange’s denunciation of human rights abuses perpetrated by Spain’s central government against protesters marching for Catalonian independence. Almost three months ago, Ecuador blocked Assange from accessing the internet, and Assange has not been able to communicate with the outside world ever since. The primary factor in Ecuador’s decision to silence him was Spanish anger over Assange’s tweets about Catalonia. A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the president’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to The Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the U.K. within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement. The consequences of such an agreement depend in part on the concessions Ecuador extracts in exchange for withdrawing Assange’s asylum. But as former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told The Intercept in an interview in May, Moreno’s government has returned Ecuador to a highly “subservient” and “submissive” posture toward western governments.

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