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

Saturday, August 25, 2018

week ending Aug 25

 We're All Lab Rats In The Largest-Ever Monetary Experiment In Human History – Chris Martenson - There are ample warning signs that another serious financial crisis is on the way. These warning signs are being soundly ignored by the majority, though. Perhaps understandably so. After 10 years of near-constant central bank interventions to prop up markets and make stocks, bonds and real estate rise in price -- while also simultaneously hammering commodities to mask the inflationary impact of their money printing from the masses -- it’s difficult to imagine that “they” will allow markets to ever fall again. This is known as the “central bank put”: whenever the markets begin to teeter, the central banks will step in to prop/nudge/cajole the markets back towards the “correct” direction, which is always: Up! It’s easy in retrospect to see how the central banks have become caught in this trap of their own making, where they're now responsible for supporting all the markets all the time. The 2008 crisis really spooked them. Hence their massive money printing spree to "rescue" the system. But instead of admitting that Great Financial Crisis was the logical result of flawed policies implemented after the 2000 Dot-Com crash (which, in turn, was the result of flawed policies pursued in the 1990’s), the central banks decided after 2008 to double down on their bets -- implementing even worse policies. It’s not hyperbole to say that the monetary experiment conducted over the past ten years by the world’s leading central banks (and its resulting social and political ramifications) is the largest-ever in human history: This global flood of freshly-printed 'thin air' money has no parallel in the historical records. All around the world, each of us is part of a grand experiment being conducted without the benefits of either prior experience or controls. Its outcome will be binary: either super-great or spectacularly awful. If the former, then no worries. We'll just continue to borrow and spend in ever-greater amounts -- forever. Perpetual prosperity for everyone! But if things hit a breaking point, then you had better be prepared for some truly bad times.

Fed's Kaplan: Three Or Four More Rate Hikes Before Stopping To Assess -Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said that with the current fed funds rate at 1.75-2.00%, the Fed should continue raising interest rates until they hit their neutral level, which he said is about "three or four quarter-point rate increases away.""At that point, I would be inclined to step back and assess the outlook for the economy and look at a range of other factors—including the levels and shape of the Treasury yield curve—before deciding what further actions, if any, might be appropriate." Even so, he admits that the shape of the yield curve, which yesterday dipped to a new post-crisis low of 22bps, "suggests to me we are ‘late’ in the economic cycle" although he mitigated the risk, saying "I do not discount the significance of an inverted yield curve."The Dallas Fed projects full-year GDP growth of about 3%, and notes that "2018 will be a strong year for economic growth in the U.S. Reasons include a strong consumer sector, improved prospects for business investment due to tax incentives, solid global growth and substantial fiscal stimulus due to recent tax legislation and budget agreements."However, echoing the analysis of his former employer Goldman, Kaplan cautions that "while 2018 will be strong, economic growth is likely to moderate in 2019 and 2020 as the impact of fiscal stimulus wanes and monetary policy approaches a more neutral stance. Their view has been that potential GDP growth in the U.S. is in the range of 1.75 to 2 percent and actual real GDP growth will likely reach this level by 2020 or 2021." Kaplan also expects unemployment rate to fall to 3.7% by year-end, and  expects "headline personal consumption expenditures (PCE) inflation will remain in the neighborhood of the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target during the remainder of 2018." What are the key challenges facing the Fed according to Kaplan? He lays it out in the concluding section "where we go from here" in which he notes the following: "the challenge for the Fed is to raise the federal funds rate in a gradual manner calibrated to extend this expansion, but not so gradually as to get behind the curve so that we have to play catch-up and raise rates quickly. Having to raise rates quickly would likely increase the risk of recession." The full section is below.

Bostic Throws Down the Gauntlet - Tim Duy -  Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic threw down the gauntlet today with a declaration to dissent any policy move that will invert the yield curve. He may get the chance to make good on that threat in December – his last meeting in his current rotation a voting member.Bostic, via Bloomberg:“I pledge to you I will not vote for anything that will knowingly invert the curve and I am hopeful that as we move forward I won’t be faced with that,’’ Bostic said Monday in Kingsport, Tennessee, in response to an audience question. “The market is going to do what the market does, and we have to pay attention and react.’’Arguably, there is some wiggle room here – the criteria for dissension is that the policy must “knowingly” invert the yield curve. And I suppose he could abstain from voting rather than dissent.  Moreover, it is important to know what he views to be the relevant portion of the curve. Is it the 10-2 spread? Or the 10-Fed Funds spread? Inquiring minds want to know!Still, Bostic reveals here a fairly strong conviction that the yield curve must be taken seriously as a warning sign that policy is in danger of turning too tight. His hopefulness that the Fed will not be faced with this decision, however, might be misplaced. The 10-2 spread has narrowed to 24 basis points. Still not a recession indicator, or even an indicator of weakness in my opinion. What I am looking for is 10-2 inversion plus continued Fed tightening as a recession warning signal. But it is fairly easy to see how a Fed hike in September combined with expectations of continued gradual rate hikes into 2019 pushes the 10-2 spread close to inversion by the time the December meeting rolls around. It is also fairly easy to see that the US economy retains enough strength to justify a rate hike at that meeting. A rate hike at that point could reinforce future rate hike expectations and then push the curve into inversion. This would give Bostic the opportunity to follow through with his threat and dissent – if of course the 10-2 spread is the relevant spread.

FOMC Minutes: "Trade disputes a potentially consequential downside risk", Yield Curve Discussion --- Still on pace for 4 rate hikes in 2018. Some excerpts:  From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, July 31-August 1, 2018:Some participants noted that stronger underlying momentum in the economy was an upside risk;most expressed the view that an escalation in international trade disputes was a potentially consequential downside risk for real activity. Some participants suggested that, in the event of a major escalation in trade disputes, the complex nature of trade issues, including the entire range of their effects on output and inflation, presented a challenge in determining the appropriate monetary policy response. And on the yield curve: Participants also discussed the possible implications of a flattening in the term structure of market interest rates. Several participants cited statistical evidence for the United States that inversions of the yield curve have often preceded recessions. They suggested that policymakers should pay close attention to the slope of the yield curve in assessing the economic and policy outlook. Other participants emphasized that inferring economic causality from statistical correlations was not appropriate. A number of global factors were seen as contributing to downward pressure on term premiums, including central bank asset purchase programs and the strong worldwide demand for safe assets. In such an environment, an inversion of the yield curve might not have the significance that the historical record would suggest; the signal to be taken from the yield curve needed to be considered in the context of other economic and financial indicators.

FOMC Minutes: September Hike Coming; "Trade Disputes" Cited As Main Risk -- Having been abused by President Trump and seen bonds and stocks rally, the dollar round-trip to unch, and the yield curve crash, today's FOMC Minutes were not expected to be big market movers, but more reassurance that investors should ignore the collapsing yield curve and President Trump.For now the FOMC appears set on hiking rates and shrinking the balance sheet, or in other words a continuation of the status quo:“with regard to the medium term, various participants indicated that information gathered since the Committee met in June had not significantly altered their outlook for the US economy." In other words, the data-dependent Fed will likely hike in September and probably December, with the big questions outstanding what happens in 2019.In the Fed's own words:"Many participants suggested that if incoming data continued to support their current economic outlook, it would likely soon be appropriate to take another step in removing policy accommodation.""Participants generally expected that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate would be consistent with a sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective over the medium term.""A couple of participants commented on issues related to the operating framework for the implementation of monetary policy, including, among other things, the implications of changes in financial market regulations for the demand for reserves and for the size and composition of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet."As the Fed gradually raises its benchmark rate, describing interest-rate policy as accommodative will “at some point fairly soon … no longer be appropriate,” the minutes said.  One reason to dial back this guidance is that it could “convey a false sense of precision,” the minutes said, particularly in an environment where the Fed has dramatically  expanded its bond portfolio and where fiscal stimulus has been increasing. In other words, the "remains accommodative" text will soon be dropped from the Fed statement.

The Fed issues a dire warning about trade wars - The Federal Reserve is warning that an escalating trade war would pose a big threat to the economy.But it's sticking with its plan to raise interest rates — whether President Donald Trump likes it or not — as long as the economy remains on course. Policymakers said it would "likely soon be appropriate to take another step" in lifting rates if the economy keeps growing as expected, according to minutes of the most recent meeting released Wednesday. But Fed officials described the economic threat of a trade war in stronger language than they previously had as a growing risk to their plans. They discussed at length concerns that a "major escalation" of trade disputes could speed up inflation and cause businesses to pull back on investment. Such turmoil could wind up reducing household spending and disrupt companies' supply chains, participants noted.  Recent tariff increases have already begun to cause higher prices for some businesses, according to Fed officials. Others have reduced or delay investment spending because of uncertainty about future trade policy. Still, some Federal Open Market Committee members noted that most businesses concerned about trade disputes hadn't cut back their spending or hiring, but "might do so if trade tensions were not resolved soon." For now, the central bank is standing by its plan for higher rates as the economy strengthens. The Fed is expected to raise rates twice more this year, starting in September.

Powell Speaks: Rate Hikes Appropriate, No Risk Of Overheating; Strong Economy To Continue -- The day's most anticipated moment arrived when moments ago Fed chair Jerome Powell released his speech titled "Changing Market Structure and Implications for Monetary Policy" which appears to have no surprises, and underscores the Fed's gradualist policies and highlights the same key themes the Fed touched in its latest minutes, to wit it expects the "strong economy to continue" and since there "does not seem to be elevated risk of overheating", the "gradual process of normalization [i.e. rate hikes] remains appropriate." "The economy is strong. Inflation is near our 2 percent objective, and most people who want a job are finding one," Powell said. "My colleagues and I are carefully monitoring incoming data, and we are setting policy to do what monetary policy can do to support continued growth, a strong labor market, and inflation near 2 percent.""There is good reason to expect that this strong performance will continue," Powell said adding "I believe that this gradual process of normalization remains appropriate." Powell also says that there are no clear signs of inflation accelerating above 2% (even those core CPI is now 2.4%), and curiously, Powell even explicitly cited Draghi saying:As Brainard made clear, this is not a universal truth, and recent research highlights two particularly important cases in which doing too little comes with higher costs than doing too much. The first case is when attempting to avoid severely adverse events such as a financial crisis or an extended period with interest rates at the effective lower bound.In such situations, the famous words “We will do whatever it takes” will likely be more effective than “We will take cautious steps toward doing whatever it takes.” The second case is when inflation expectations threaten to become unanchored. If expectations were to begin to drift, the reality or expectation of a weak initial response could exacerbate the problem.I am confident that the FOMC would resolutely “do whatever it takes” should inflation expectations drift materially up or down or should crisis again threaten."For now, however, that does not appear to be a threat.

Fed Chair Powell: "Risk management suggests looking beyond inflation for signs of excesses" --Speech by Fed Chair Jerome Powell: Monetary Policy in a Changing Economy. A few excerpts: … Let me conclude by returning to the matter of navigating between the two risks I identified--moving too fast and needlessly shortening the expansion, versus moving too slowly and risking a destabilizing overheating. Readers of the minutes of FOMC meetings and other communications will know that our discussions focus keenly on the relative salience of these risks. The diversity of views on the FOMC is one of the great virtues of our system. Despite differing views on these questions and others, we have a long institutional tradition of finding common ground in coalescing around a policy stance.I see the current path of gradually raising interest rates as the FOMC's approach to taking seriously both of these risks. While the unemployment rate is below the Committee's estimate of the longer-run natural rate, estimates of this rate are quite uncertain. The same is true of estimates of the neutral interest rate. We therefore refer to many indicators when judging the degree of slack in the economy or the degree of accommodation in the current policy stance. We are also aware that, over time, inflation has become much less responsive to changes in resource utilization. While inflation has recently moved up near 2 percent, we have seen no clear sign of an acceleration above 2 percent, and there does not seem to be an elevated risk of overheating. This is good news, and we believe that this good news results in part from the ongoing normalization process, which has moved the stance of policy gradually closer to the FOMC's rough assessment of neutral as the expansion has continued. As the most recent FOMC statement indicates, if the strong growth in income and jobs continues, further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will likely be appropriate.

What Does the Current Slope of the Yield Curve Tell Us? - Atlanta Fed's macroblog - By Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic - As I make the rounds throughout the Sixth District, one of the most common questions I get these days is how Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants interpret the flattening of the yield curve. I, of course, do not speak for the FOMC, but as the minutes from recent meetings indicate, the Committee has indeed spent some time discussing various views on this topic. In this blog post, I'll share some of my thoughts on the framework I use for interpreting the yield curve and what I'll be watching. Of course, these are my views alone and do not reflect the views of any other Federal Reserve official.  Many observers see a downward-sloping, or "inverted," yield curve as a reliable predictor for a recession. Chart 1 shows the yield curve's slope—specifically, the difference between the interest rates paid on 10-year and 2-year Treasury securities—is currently around 20 basis points. This is lowest spread since the last recession. The case for worrying about yield-curve flattening is apparent in the chart. The shaded bars represent recessionary periods. Both of the last two recessions were preceded by a flat (and, for a time, inverted) 10-year/2-year spread. As we all know, however, correlation does not imply causality. This is a particularly important point to keep in mind when discussing the yield curve. As a set of market-determined interest rates, the yield curve not only reflects market participants' views about the evolution of the economy but also their views about the FOMC's likely reaction to that evolution and uncertainty around these and other relevant factors. In other words, the yield curve represents not one signal, but several. The big question is, can we pull these signals apart to help appropriately inform the calibration of policy?  We can begin to make sense of this question by noting that Treasury yields of any given maturity can be thought of as the sum of two fundamental components:

  • An expected policy rate path over that maturity: the market's best guess about the FOMC's rate path over time and in response to the evolution of the economy.
  • A term premium: an adjustment (relative to the path of the policy rate) that reflects additional compensation investors receive for bearing risk related to holding longer-term bonds.

Among other things, this premium may be related to two factors: (1) uncertainty about how the economy will evolve over that maturity and how the FOMC might respond to events as they unfold and (2) the influence of supply and demand factors for U.S. Treasuries in a global market. Let's apply this framework to the current yield curve. As several of my colleagues (including Fed governor Lael Brainard) have noted, the term premium is currently quite low. All else equal, this would result in lower long-term rates and a flatter yield curve. The term premium bears watching, but it is unclear that movements in the premium reflect particular concerns about the course of the economy.

 Trump: ‘I should be given some help’ by Fed – POLITICO - President Donald Trump on Monday said he would criticize the Federal Reserve if it continues to raise interest rates, setting up a potential clash next month when the central bank is expected to do just that. “I’m not thrilled with his raising of interest rates, no,“ Trump said of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in an interview with Reuters. ..Powell was nominated by Trump in November and took the helm of the central bank in early February. Since then, the Fed has hiked rates twice and has signaled that it will do so again in September. According to Reuters, Trump said he was unhappy that other countries‘ central banks were keeping the value of their currencies low. A weaker currency makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive. “We’re negotiating very powerfully and strongly with other nations,” Trump said. “We’re going to win. But during this period of time I should be given some help by the Fed. The other countries are accommodated.” 

 Dollar Tumbles On Trump's Fed Attack, Sending Global Stocks Higher - The dollar slumped for the fourth consecutive day on Tuesday and US Treasuries dropped, after President Trump criticized higher interest rates and the Fed's rate hike policy, while slamming China and EU for currency manipulation. The DXY index dropped 0.35%, down 1.2% in the last four days - its worst such run since late March - while the Bloomberg dollar index dropped to the lowest since August 9. According to Bloomberg, Trump complained that Jerome Powell hadn’t been a "cheap-money Federal Reserve chairman" at a fund-raiser on Friday, and also accused China and the European Union of manipulating their currencies in an interview with Reuters. "As of today, the Fed’s independence is guaranteed, but Trump has the ability to make his own appointments to the Fed board," said Bob Parker, a member of the Investment Committee of Quilvest Wealth Management on Bloomberg TV. "If Fed independence does get threatened, you’re going to see a bond market reaction." The dollar weakness launched a sharp move higher in the euro which rose as much as 0.5%, or over 100 pips in 24 hours, spiking above $1.15 after when stops were hit in early Asian trading as funds covered short positions.

As Central Bankers Meet, Economic Uncertainties Weigh on Sunny Outlook —Global central bankers are navigating a new set of threats as they decide how aggressively to act in closing out an era of exceptionally easy money. Uncertainties include the prospect of disruptions to economic activity from tariffs imposed by the U.S. on China, Europe, Canada and others, and counter-tariffs imposed by those nations on the U.S. Emerging markets also look vulnerable if capital flight spreads beyond a handful of countries grappling with currency crises. Then there is the potential for discord between the Federal Reserve and President Trump, who has criticized the U.S. central bank in recent weeks for raising interest rates. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell headlines a long list of central bankers gathering in the Grand Tetons this week for the Fed’s annual mountain retreat. The formal discussion will be about the impact of monopolies on economic activity, but these other issues are sure to dominate sideline talk over cocktails and mountain hiking. Despite the uncertainties, the world’s central banks are still managing a relatively bright global economic outlook. For the second straight year, all 45 countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are expected to see their economies grow, though just 20 are set to see output accelerate from last year, down from 33 in 2017. The International Monetary Fund in July projected global economic output will grow 3.9% this year and next. That would represent the strongest two-year growth run since 2010 and ’11, when economies enjoyed a short-lived rebound from the 2008 financial crisis. Inflation, meanwhile, has picked up to the modest levels many central bankers target after years of running very low. “The reality is labor markets across the world have been tightening,” said Raghuram Rajan, who led the Reserve Bank of India from 2013 to 2016. “There are various reasons why we haven’t seen strong wage inflation, but those reasons are becoming weaker as we go further into this expansion.” Against that backdrop, policy makers have turned to slowly reversing low interest-rate policies that were meant to prevent a downward drift into deflation and recession. 

Weaponizing The US Dollar Is Accelerating Global De-Dollarization - Donald Trump has in just over two years abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), ditched the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), withdrawn the US from the Paris climate agreement, and unilaterally removed American participation in the Iranian nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). .    Observing the consequences of these political choices in the months since, it is easy to see how the world has reacted in a more or less similar fashion, which has been by ignoring the United States and emphasizing cooperation amongst themselves. The TPP, with its agreements between 11 countries, has remained in place without Washington. The development of relations between ASEAN and China continues on without Washington’s participation. While the TTIP has been halted, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), is in its final approval stage, an agreement between Canada and the EU that bypasses the American-inspired TTIP. The Iran deal remains in force despite Washington's cowardly withdrawal, and the five countries remaining in the Iranian nuclear agreement have every intention of respecting the JCPOA, which had been negotiated over a number of years. In addition to withdrawing from the above treaties, Washington has started a serious trade war and is imposing tariffs on allies and enemies alike. From Russia to the EU, as well as China, South Korea, Japan and Turkey, everyone is facing the unprecedented decision to apply tariffs on trade. In Trump's mind, this is the only way to balance a trade deficit that has now reached more than 500 billion dollars. In addition to the dismantled treaties and imposition of tariffs, Trump strongly criticized some pillars of the post-World War II liberal order, such as NATO and America’s European allies themselves. The suggestion that NATO may be obsolete has shaken the European capitals to their core, even as the Russian Federation may see it as signalling the prospect of positive relations with the United States. Finally, the devastating blow came with the abandonment of the Iranian nuclear agreement, creating significant tensions with European allies. Washington has decided to impose sanctions on companies that do business with Tehran from November 2018. The EU immediately passed a law to shield EU companies from American fines, but many French and German companies appear to have already abandoned their projects in Iran, fearing Washington's retribution.

Q3 GDP Forecasts --From Goldman Sachs:  We lowered our Q3 GDP tracking estimate by one tenth to +3.1% (qoq ar). We also lowered our past-quarter tracking estimate for Q2 by one tenth to 3.9%" [Aug 22 estimate].  From Merrill Lynch:  The data added 0.2pp to 3Q GDP tracking, bringing it up to 3.5%. 2Q tracking remains at 4.1%. [Aug 24 estimate]. And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2018 is 4.6 percent on August 24, up from 4.3 percent on August 16. [Aug 24 estimate]From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast for 2018:Q3 stands at 2.0%. [Aug 24 estimate]  CR Note: Still a wide range, and it is early, but GDP in the 3s seems likely.

 Stephanie Kelton Wants You to Ask: ‘What Does a Good Economy Look Like?‘ (interview transcript) It’s rare for a fiscal policy wonk to attain political celebrity status, but economist Stephanie Kelton, a professor at Stony Brook University in New York, is one of the hottest names in Washington right now. Though her ideas were considered radical just a few years ago (Paul Krugman flatly rejected the premise of her research in a 2011 New York Times column), several of the policies she helped popularize, such as nationwide student debt cancellationand a federal jobs guarantee, have become hallmarks of emerging progressive ideology, championed by politicians like Democratic House nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and SenatorBernie Sanders. (Kelton served as Sanders’ chief economic adviser during his 2016 presidential run.)At 48, Kelton is a fast, earnest speaker eager to explain her ideas to anyone who asks. She packs conference halls (even a sports arena, in one case), appears regularly on MSNBC, cultivates a robust Twitter presence, and even lists her cellphone number on her website for journalists on a deadline—although lately, she’s been fielding just as many calls from political candidates seeking her counsel. “I’ve spent the whole summer on Skype with an awful lot of people running for office,” she says brightly. “They’re reaching out because they want to get the economics right, which is so heartening.” Getting the economics right is, of course, how Kelton’s star rose in the first place. Kelton is one of the leading proponents of Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT, named for its focus on governments’ ability to manage the value of their currency. More specifically, she argues that countries like the U.S., which control their own currencies, don’t function like a traditional family or business budgets where income (taxes) should equal output (spending). Instead, the government has the power to print the money it needs for sweeping, economy-boosting projects, and resulting budget deficits would not be the bogeyman people believe them to be. And what about the threat of runaway inflation, the most common critique of increased government spending? According to Kelton, it would be avoided if the country had a more stable, sustainable economic system. We spoke with Kelton about her latest work, her role in the upcoming election cycle, and her vision of a balanced economy.

As the progressive push for big spending grows, so does the Democratic divide on the deficit -- All across the country, Democratic candidates are sending a message: We're the party that isn't afraid to think big. Elect us, they say, and we'll pursue transformative policies like Medicare for All, free college, and guaranteed jobs. At the same time, Democratic congressional leaders are sending a parallel message: We're the party of responsible budgets. Elect us if you're mad about President Donald Trump racking up trillion-dollar deficits with his gigantic tax cut. The Democrats' two messages are increasingly coming into conflict — and some in the party are starting to notice. "The instinct that some Democrats have, which is born out of a sense of responsibility as the 'governing' party, is to explain exactly how you're going to pay for everything and how it all adds up," Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, told NBC News. "It puts you at a total disadvantage because you're already constraining your priorities." While the party is united in its disdain for the Republican tax cuts, some on the left are concerned that Democrats are undermining their agenda by branding themselves as fiscal hawks. Ascendant progressives, with backing from many of the party's biggest names, are demanding tens of trillions of dollars in new spending. Finding ways to pay for it all won't be easy and an increasingly vocal minority say Democrats shouldn't bother. After all, it worked for Trump, didn't it?

Pentagon Moves to Support War in the “Grey Zone” - The Department of Defense issued a directive this month based on new authority granted by Congress last year to engage in “low-visibility, irregular warfare” operations.In the FY2018 defense authorization act (PL 115-91, sect. 1202) Congress specifically authorized the Secretary of Defense “to provide support to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing irregular warfare operations by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF).”The new authority was needed, Congress said, in order to fill a perceived gap in the US military’s ability to fight in conflicts that are below the threshold of war.“Adversarial nations are becoming more aggressive in challenging U.S. interests and partnerships and destabilizing regional order through the use of asymmetric means that often fall below the threshold of traditional armed conflict, often referred to as the ‘grey zone’,” according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report (115-125) on the 2018 defense bill (section 1201).“The committee notes that the ability of U.S. SOF [special operations forces] to conduct low-visibility, irregular warfare operations in politically sensitive environments make them uniquely suited to counter the malign activities of our adversaries in this domain.”“However, the committee is concerned that the Secretary of Defense lacks sufficient authority to provide support for irregular warfare operations by U.S. SOF to counter this growing threat and therefore believes that granting this authority will provide the Secretary with the necessary options and flexibility to achieve U.S. military objectives,” the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote last year. The amount of money that was authorized for this purpose — $10 million per year for three years — is minuscule by conventional U.S. military standards, but it could still be meaningful in the context of irregular warfare.

Trump backs talks with North Korea despite nuclear stalemate - The Trump administration is increasingly coming under criticism over the lack of any progress in talks with North Korea over denuclearisation following President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June.A New York Times editorial on Monday derided Trump’s claims to have resolved the North Korean crisis as “the boasts of a man with little grasp of the complexity and difficulty of an issue that has long defied resolution.” It said negotiations over the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear missiles had “stalemated” and Pyongyang continued to produce nuclear fuel and missiles.In a report issued on Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said North Korea continued to develop its nuclear program in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. It declared that such activities were “deeply regrettable” and “a cause of grave concern.”The fact that North Korea is proceeding with its nuclear program is hardly a surprise. The joint statement released from the Trump-Kim summit spoke only in general terms of the need “to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”—a vague phrase that Washington and Pyongyang interpreted differently.North Korea has insisted that any moves toward denuclearisation on its part must be on a step-by-step basis in return for concessions from the US and its allies. Above all, Pyongyang is seeking an easing of crippling economic sanctions imposed unilaterally by the US and through the UN, as well as a formal peace treaty to end to its decades of isolation following the 1950–53 Korean War. As a show of good faith, North Korea has suspended all nuclear and missile testing and taken limited steps to dismantle some testing facilities. In return, the US has done very little—calling a halt to joint military exercises with South Korea, which, as Trump emphasised, could be quickly reversed. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held three rounds of talks with the Pyongyang regime and a fourth is reportedly in preparation. However, the gulf between the two sides was underscored by the North Korean reaction to his visit last month. It denounced Washington’s “gangster” demands—presumably for North Korea to unilaterally dismantle its nuclear arsenal. The Trump administration has repeatedly insisted that sanctions will be lifted only after North Korea has denuclearised.

Trump cancels Pompeo trip to North Korea, cites lack of 'sufficient progress' on denuclearization -President Donald Trump on Friday announced on Twitter that he had asked his secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to cancel a planned trip to North Korea because there had not been enough progress in denuclearization talks so far. Trump's tweets also indicated that he holds China responsible in part for the lack of progress. "I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were," Trump wrote, and claimed the shortage of help was "because of our much tougher Trading stance with China." The Trump administration is currently engaged in an escalating trade war with China that was launched earlier this summer, when the president announced unilateral tariffs on Chinese imports. China responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on American products, which prompted Trump to announce that even more tariffs would be put in place. The latest round of tariffs went into effect this week, despite negotiations that were held in Washington between the U.S. and China aimed at resolving the crisis, which has roiled international markets. Trump said in his tweets Friday that talks with North Korea would be put on hold until trade issues with China were resolved. The State Department did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment. In addition to the escalating trade war with China, Trump's decision Friday likely also reflects his reportedly growing frustration with the media coverage of his administration's diplomatic efforts with North Korea, which have so far achieved little progress. A new report this week from the the International Atomic Energy Agency said the IAEA had "grave concern" over what it called "the continuation and further development of the DPRK's [North Korea's] nuclear program and related statements by the DPRK." Evidence strongly suggests that North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear capabilities, despite a joint statement in June from Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, who met at a summit in Singapore, to "work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

Majority Americans Want Diplomacy With Russia Over Sanctions: Gallup -- A Monday Gallup poll reveals that most Americans feel it is more important for the United States to work towards improving relations with Russia, as opposed to sanctions.  Of those surveyed, 58% say it's "more important to improve relations with Russia," while 36% say "strong diplomatic steps against Russia" are a priority.  The poll, which took place between Aug. 1-12, comes after nearly two years of constant media bombardment over Russian hacking, invasive DOJ investigations which Trump refers to as a "witch hunt," and an admission by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that alleged hacking and social media influence campaigns by Russia had no effect on the 2016 US election. That said, 75% of those surveyed by Gallup believe Russia interfered in the election, while 16% say they did not. Of those who say Russia interfered, 36% said it didn't change the outcome, while 39% say it did.  Opinions over whether Russia actually influenced the election were also highly partisan - with 78% if Democrats saying that Russian interference affected the outcome of the election, and just 9% of Republicans who believe that Russia both hacked - and changed the outcome, of the election. The vast majority of Republicans (58%) think Russia did interfere, but it didn't affect the outcome.  Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced a new round of sanctions against Russia in response to allegations that the Kremlin was behind an attack against former Russia double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.  Gallup's conclusion: "Although U.S.-Russian tensions continue to simmer, more Americans are inclined to believe the U.S. is better off trying to improve relations with Russia. Americans are largely convinced that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election but are divided, largely along party lines, as to whether that country's involvement changed the outcome."

 Senator Paul Suggests Limiting Size of NATO to Influence Russia C-SPAN

US Imposes New Russia Sanctions; Will Stay In Place "Until Change In Russian Behavior" - Having warned several weeks ago it would impose sanctions on Russia for its alleged use of the Novichok chemical agent in the UK, on Friday morning the US followed through with the threat when the U.S. released a notice of sanctions, saying they will take effect when published in Federal Register on Aug. 27.The sanctions will include foreign assistance, arms sales, denial of U.S. government credit through the ExIm bank, other financial assistance, and will remain in place for at least one year and until further notice.Exceptions include on flight safety, wholly-owned U.S. subsidiaries, space flight - as Russia is a primary supplier of space engines for US rockets - commercial end-users, deemed exports and reexports. Even before the latest announcement, there was growing bipartisan support in the Senate for separate pieces of legislation that would ramp up the pressure on Moscow as evidence emerges of continued Russian meddling ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. And as we discussed before, among the most stringent measures being proposed in Congress are ones that would impose curbs on Russian sovereign debt sales and tougher limits on some of the country’s biggest banks as punishment for election meddling.

"Thank God This Is Happening" Russia Says Time Has Come To Ditch The Dollar - With the US unveiling a new set of sanctions against Russia on Friday, Moscow said it would definitely respond to Washington’s latest sanctions and, in particular, it is accelerating efforts to abandon the American currency in trade transactions, said Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov."The time has come when we need to go from words to actions, and get rid of the dollar as a means of mutual settlements, and look for other alternatives," he said in an interview with International Affairs magazine, quoted by RT."Thank God, this is happening, and we will speed up this work,” Ryabkov said, explaining the move would come in addition to other “retaliatory measures” as a response to a growing list of US sanctions.Previously, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said that a growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar as a medium in global oil trades and other transactions.“There is a common understanding that we need to move towards the use of national currencies in our settlements. There is a need for this, as well as the wish of the parties,” Novak said.According to the minister, it concerns both Turkey and Iran, with more countries likely to join the growing dedollarization wave.“We are considering an option of payment in national currencies with them. This requires certain adjustments in the financial, economic, and banking sectors” to accomplish. Last week, we reported that the Kremlin was interested in trading with Ankara using the Russian ruble and the Turkish lira. India has also vowed to pay for Iranian oil in rupees.

 Pakistan pivots toward Putin's Russia after Trump gets tough -  Nuclear-armed Pakistan is embracing Cold War-foe Russia amid unraveling ties with Washington.The Trump administration has penalized Islamabad for failing to rein in militants waging war on the U.S.-backed government in neighboring Afghanistan. American military aid to Pakistan was suspended earlier this year. Ali J. Siddiqui, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., last week confirmed to NBC News that the U.S. had also axed a long-standing military training program between the countries. Many of Pakistan’s top military commanders participated in the program, which also proved to be a useful back channel for American diplomats. A total of 66 Pakistani officers were due to be involved this year.Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s recent charm offensive has included the signing of a military cooperation pact, helicopter deliveries and officer training exercises. A Russian-language radio service, Dispatch News Desk, has also started broadcasting in Pakistan. Russia and Pakistan were sworn enemies during the Cold War, when Pakistan and CIA-backed guerrillas defeated the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Shehzad Chaudhry, a retired Pakistani military air vice marshal and former diplomat, said "a new relationship is very much on the cards" between the former foes. “With the Russians and the Pakistanis, it’s a big strategic change," he added.  Pakistan's powerful military appeared to have "had enough of America’s blackmailing, threats and blockage of sales."

Exclusive: Trump vows 'no concessions' with Turkey over detained U.S. pastor  (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday ruled out agreeing to any demands from Turkey to gain the release of a detained American pastor and said he was not concerned that his tough stance could end up hurting European and emerging market economies. U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah MillisIn a wide-ranging Oval Office interview with Reuters, Trump complained about interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve and suggested he was having second thoughts about Jerome Powell, his choice for Fed chair. He also said he “most likely” will have a second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and indicated he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia if Moscow took some actions in return. Trump said he thought he had a deal with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan when he helped persuade Israel to free a detained Turkish citizen. He had thought Erdogan would then release pastor Andrew Brunson, who denies Turkey’s allegations that he was involved in a plot against Erdogan two years ago. “I think it’s very sad what Turkey is doing. I think they’re making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions,” he said. Turkey has demanded that the United States hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric in the United States suspected in the coup plot against Erdogan, but the United States has balked at this.  Trump has imposed tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum in response to Erdogan’s refusal to free Brunson, raising concerns of economic damage in Europe and in emerging market economies.  “I’m not concerned at all. I’m not concerned. This is the proper thing to do,” he said, when asked about the potential damage to other economies.

Pentagon: US Forces To Stay In Iraq "As Long As Needed" --US forces will stay in Iraq “as long as needed” to help stabilise regions once controlled by the Islamic State (IS) group, a spokesman for the US-led international coalition said on Sunday.“We’ll keep troops there as long as we think they’re needed ... The main reason, after ISIS (IS) is defeated militarily, is the stabilisation efforts and we still need to be there for that, so that’s one of the reasons we’ll maintain a presence,” Colonel Sean Ryan told a news conference in Abu Dhabi.The Pentagon said last week that IS appears to be “well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge,” Voice of America reported.A couple of thoughts on this intriguing statement from the Pentagon: “ISIS probably is still more capable than al-Qaida in Iraq at its peak in 2006-2007, when the group had declared an Islamic State and operated under the name Islamic State of Iraq,” 1/2— Hassan Hassan حَسَنْ حَسَنْ (@hxhassan) August 16, 2018 In its latest intelligence estimates, the Pentagon put the number of IS militants operating in Iraq and Syria at between 28,000 and 32,000, VOA said.

On Iran, Is It Trump Versus His Own Neocons? - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of the creation of a new Iran Action Group at the White House–almost exactly on the anniversary of the CIA-led coup against Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 no less–was as usual short on substance but heavy on on accusations and demands. Yet, it may still be quite significant precisely because of the growing fissures within the Trump administration in regards to Iran policy.Hawks on Iran were caught off guard when Donald Trump announced last month that he would be willing to meet with Iran’s leaders “any time they want to” and without preconditions. The Israeli intelligence community–who otherwise have claimed authorship of Trump’s Iran policy–were “struck dumb for two days” amid fears that Trump might abandon the pressure strategy and instead seek to mend ties with Tehran. Steadfast supporters of kinetic action against Iran, such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), nervously took to twitter to warn Trump that he should be ready “to be taken to the cleaners” unless he approached the Iranians from a position of strength.Trump’s surprise provided some insight into the fissures within his administration regarding Iran policy. Trump, who mindful of his fondness for summits and his desire to be seen as a deal maker probably does want to meet with the Iranians, appears rather alone in favoring a pivot to diplomacy. Here, he certainly does not have backing from John Bolton, Mike Pompeo or Brian Hook, who all the offer of negotiations as yet another instrument of pressure, rather than a genuine offer. This group has already walked back Trump’s offer for dialogue with Iran without preconditions. And John Bolton famously wrote in a memo to Trump that as the US would increase the pressure on Iran, it should also consider “rhetorically leaving that possibility open in order to demonstrate Iran’s actual underlying intention to develop deliverable nuclear weapon.”

Germany Calls For Global Payment System Independent Of The US -  In a stunning vote of "no confidence" in the US monopoly over global payment infrastructure, Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US that would allow Brussels to be independent in its financial operations from Washington and as a means of rescuing the nuclear deal between Iran and the west.Writing in the German daily Handelsblatt, Maas said "Europe should not allow the US to act over our heads and at our expense. For that reason it’s essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels that are independent of the US, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent Swift system," he wrote, cited by the FT. Maas said it was vital for Europe to stick with the Iran deal. "Every day the agreement continues to exist is better than the highly explosive crisis that otherwise threatens the Middle East," he said, with the unspoken message was even clearer: Europe no longer wants to be a vassal state to US monopoly over global payments, and will now aggressively pursue its own "Swift" network that is not subservient to Washington's every whim.Swift, a Belgium-based global payment network, enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions. The system’s management claims Swift is politically neutral and independent, although it has previously been used to block transactions and enforce US sanctions against various countries, most notably Iran.  In 2012, the Danish newspaper Berlingske wrote that US authorities managed to seize money being transferred from a Danish businessman to a German bank for a batch of US-sanctioned Cuban cigars. The transaction was made in US dollars, which allowed Washington to block it.According to Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute, a Berlin-based think-tank, Maas’s intervention was the “strongest call yet for EU financial and monetary autonomy vis-à-vis US." The German foreign minister’s article highlights the depth of the dilemma facing European politicians as they struggle to keep the Iran deal alive while coping with the fallout of US sanctions imposed by Mr Trump against companies doing business with Tehran.

Bomb that killed 40 children in Yemen was supplied by the US: Report -- The bomb used by the Saudi-led coalition in an attack on a school bus that killed 40 children in Yemen last week was sold as part of a US State Department-sanctioned arms deal with Saudi Arabia, munitions experts told CNN. Working with Yemeni journalists and munitions experts, CNN reported late Friday that the weapon that hit the bus on 9 August was a 500-pound (227kg) laser-guided MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of the top US defence contractors. Of the 51 people who died in the air strike, 40 were children, the Houthi health ministry said last week, adding that of the 79 people wounded, 56 were children. The bomb used by the Saudi-led coalition in a devastating attack on a school bus in Yemen was sold as part of a US State Department-sanctioned arms deal with Saudi Arabia, munitions experts told CNN — CNN (@CNN) August 17, 2018 The bomb is similar to one used in an attack on a funeral hall in Yemen in October 2016 in which 155 people were killed and hundreds more wounded, CNN said. The Saudi coalition blamed "incorrect information" for that strike. After the funeral hall attack, president Barack Obama banned the sale of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia over "human rights concerns," CNN said, adding that the ban was overturned by the Trump administration's then secretary of state Rex Tillerson in March 2017. The US says it does not make targeting decisions for the coalition, which is fighting a Houthi rebel insurgency in Yemen, according to CNN, but it does support its operations through billions of dollars in arms sales, the refueling of Saudi combat aircraft and some sharing of intelligence. The day of the air strike, the US State Department called for the Saudi-led coalition to investigate it.  On 13 August, thousands of Yemenis protested against Riyadh and Washington as they took part in a mass funeral for the children killed in the strike. Many of the children were on a field trip after graduating from summer school, according to a CNN report and video showing the students playing before the attack.

End U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war Editorial Board, WaPo. - ON AUG. 9, an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen struck a bus packed with young boys in the northern village of Dahyan, killing at least 51 people, including 40 children, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. As Saudi spokesmen defend this horrific massacre — one called the bus a “legitimate military target” — Trump administration officials are being pressed by members of Congress and reporters to say whether the bomb that was dropped was supplied by the United States, and whether the plane that dropped it was refueled by the U.S. military under an ongoing support operation. The administration’s response has amounted to a shrug. When journalists questioned a senior U.S. official this week, he responded: “Well, what difference does that make?” The obvious answer is, a big one. If it assisted in an airstrike that killed innocent civilians — the boys, according to the New York Times, ranged in age from 6 to about 16 — the United States is complicit in a probable war crime. And the Dahyan bombing was not an isolated incident. Previous airstrikes have hit weddings, funerals and food markets. Thousands of civilians have been killed since the Saudis and their allies launched their intervention in April 2015. As a letterto the Defense Department from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) put it, “U.S. refueling, operational support functions, and weapons transfers could qualify as aiding and abetting these potential war crimes.” It is long past time to end U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war. There is a clear path out: A U.N. mediator has called the various parties to Geneva early next month to discuss a peace process. Among the first steps would be a cease-fire, along with the transfer to U.N. control of the Houthi-held port of Hodeida, through which flows 70 percent of Yemen’s food and aid supplies. U.N. sources say the Houthis, who have the support of Iran, are ready to strike these accords, but the Saudi and UAE regimes have been resistant.

Trump reportedly showing renewed interest in Erik Prince's plan to privatize Afghanistan war -- President Donald Trump is showing renewed interest in a proposal to privatize the war in Afghanistan, according to an NBC News report citing current and former senior administration officials. NBC said Trump is increasingly venting frustration to his national security team about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, and is reportedly eyeing a proposal by Blackwater founder Erik Prince that envisions replacing troops with private military contractors. The idea, which came up last year during Trump’s Afghanistan strategy review, would have those contractors work for a special U.S. envoy for the war, who would report to the president. Prince’s proposal has raised ethical and security concerns among senior military officials as well as lawmakers and members of Trump’s national security team, NBC writes. The report says the president’s advisers are worried his impatience with the Afghanistan conflict will cause him to seriously consider plans like Prince’s, or order a complete U.S. withdrawal. Prince, whose sister is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, told NBC he plans to launch a media campaign to try to get Trump to embrace the proposal.  A spokesperson for the National Security Council told NBC “no such proposal from Erik Prince is under consideration” and that Trump is committed to the current U.S. strategy. Blackwater, a security-contracting firm, is now known as Academi.

Not One More American Life Should Be Expended for Afghanistan -- There is no prospect for any kind of American victory in the war against the Afghan Taliban that would correspond to what U.S. officials have been promising throughout the 17-year struggle. As if any rational observer needed further evidence of this fundamental reality, the Taliban a week ago attacked the strategic city of Ghazni, located barely 100 miles from the Afghan capital of Kabul, and laid waste to major parts of it. The insurgents killed dozens of Afghan soldiers and police officials, seized strategic points in the city, and cut the central artery between Kabul and important southern regions. In reporting on this turn of events, reporter Mujib Mashal of The New York Times wrote, “The Ghazni assault has demonstrated a stunning display of Taliban tenacity that belies the official Afghan and U.S. narrative of progress in the war….” The Wall Street Journal dispatch, by three reporters filing from Kabul, put it similarly, saying the the drawn-out confrontation, “requiring at least 1,500 government forces backed with U.S. firepower to put down a far smaller and more lightly armed number of insurgents,” has “cast doubt over the progress of the U.S. military in building security forces in Afghanistan.”   According to reports, some 1,000 Taliban and assorted insurgent allies stormed the city and killed some 100 Afghan combatants as well as about 20 civilians. The Times quoted an Afghan military spokesman as saying the insurgents had been cleared from the main part of Ghazni, but added that fighting had continued for a fifth straight day and that hundreds of bodies were strewn about the streets and in the Ghazni River. As one local man told The Wall Street Journal, “The city stinks of human remains. People are traumatized.”  Another verdict on prospects for U.S. victory was issued over the weekend when the Times Magazine published an excerpt from a new book by C.J. Chivers, The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those failed campaigns, suggested the author, have “left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another.”

Millennials are so over US domination of world affairs -- Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, see America's role in the 21st century world in ways that, as a recently released study shows, are an intriguing mix of continuity and change compared to prior generations. For over 40 years the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which conducted the study, has asked the American public whether the United States should "take an active part" or "stay out" of world affairs. This year, an average of all respondents – people born between 1928 and 1996 – showed that 64 percent believe the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs, but interesting differences could be seen when the numbers are broken down by generation. The silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945 whose formative years were during World War II and the early Cold War, showed the strongest support at 78 percent. Support fell from there through each age group. It bottomed out with millennials, of whom only 51 percent felt the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs. That's still more internationalist than not, but less enthusiastically than other age groups. There is some anti-Trump effect visible here: Millennials in the polling sample do identify as less Republican – 22 percent – and less conservative than the older age groups. But they also were the least supportive of the "take an active part" view during the Obama administration as well. Four sets of additional polling numbers help us dig deeper.

 Military Faces a Sweeping Turnover Among Upper Commanders WSJ —President Trump is expected to nominate a former operations officer who played a critical role in the 2011 raid targeting Osama bin Laden to head of the U.S. Special Operations Command as part of a series of military promotions in coming months, according to U.S. officials. The changes, which include commanders for the Middle East and Europe, will mark the administration’s largest imprint on military leadership thus far. The personnel moves stand to affect top officers overseeing conflicts in the Middle East, U.S. policy to counter Russia, the detention center on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as stealth operations globally. Mr. Trump is expected to formally nominate Army Lt. Gen. Richard Clarke to head U.S. Special Operations Command, in Tampa, Fla., to succeed Army Gen. Tony Thomas, who is due to retire next year, the officials said. The Special Operations Command oversees highly trained, specialized forces of all the military branches, such as the Navy SEALs, Green Berets and others. The White House is poised to make two other nominations to replace outgoing heads of regional combatant commands, several U.S. officials said. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. is expected to succeed Army Gen. Joseph Votel at U.S. Central Command, officials said. That command, also in Tampa, is considered the most prominent within the military, with responsibility for all of the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Gen. Votel is expected to retire next spring. Gen. McKenzie now is director of the Joint Staff, a job often seen as a launching pad for top officers, and has years of experience both in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and inside Washington. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters is considered a likely pick as the next head of the U.S. European Command and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Gen. Wolters now heads Air Force Europe, Air Force Africa and Allied Air Command, all based in Germany. He would succeed Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who is retiring, according to officials.

Someone Is Waging a Secret War to Undermine the Pentagon’s Huge Cloud Contract -- As some of the biggest U.S. technology companies have lined up to bid on the $10 billion contract to create a massive Pentagon cloud computing network, the behind-the-scenes war to win it has turned ugly.In the past several months, a private investigative firm has been shopping around to Washington reporters a 100-plus-page dossier raising the specter of corruption on the part of senior Defense Department and private company officials in the competition for theJEDI cloud contract. But at least some of the dossier’s conclusions do not stand up to close scrutiny.The dossier insinuates that a top aide to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis worked with Mattis and others to steer the contracting process to favor Amazon Web Services, or AWS — and enrich the aide. The aim of the dossier seems clear: to prevent the deal from going solely to AWS, the odds-on favorite in part because it operates the CIA’s classified commercial cloud. Far less clear, however, is who backed its creation and distribution.It’s an unusually hardball form of backroom maneuvering in the world of lucrative but rigidly controlled defense contracting. The firm that prepared the dossier, RosettiStarr, shopped it to various Washington reporters earlier this year. Defense One was given a copy in May. At the time, RossettiStar President and CEO Rich Rosetti declined to reveal who funded the firm’s efforts.Former defense officials told Defense One they received inquiries about the allegations from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Reuters, and the Intercept. For months, the accusations went unaired by news outlets, including Defense One and Nextgov, sister publications in Atlantic Media’s Government Executive Media Group. But in the past few weeks, some of the information in the dossier has surfaced in various publications. Now that the dossier’s targets have been publicly accused, they are speaking out. In exclusive interviews with Defense One and Nextgov, they vehemently deny any wrongdoing and seek to turn the spotlight on their mysterious accusers. 

Trump asks Mike Pompeo to look at South African land seizures and 'large scale killing of farmers' (Reuters) - US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures" and the killing of farmers there. "I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and large scale killing of farmers," Trump said in a post on Twitter. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Aug. 1 that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is forging ahead with plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation, as whites still own most of South Africa's land more than two decades after the end of apartheid. Trump's tweet appeared to be a response to a Fox News report on Wednesday that focused on South Africa's land issue and murders of white farmers. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a "willing-seller, willing-buyer" model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks. Progress has been slow. South Africa's state-owned Land Bank said on Monday a plan to allow the state to seize land without compensation could trigger defaults that could cost the government 41 billion rand ($2.8 billion) if the bank's rights as a creditor are not protected. Trump's tweet comes days after it was announced that his wife, Melania, will travel to Africa in October for her first major solo international trip as first lady. In January, South Africa protested to the US embassy in Pretoria about reported remarks by Trump that some immigrants from Africa and Haiti come from "s--thole" countries. South Africa's foreign ministry called the remarks, which sources said Trump made during a meeting on immigration legislation, "crude and offensive" and said Trump's subsequent denial was not categorical.

Rand Slumps As Trump Questions "South Africa Land Expropriations" From White Farmers - Just days after the first 'Zimbabwe-fication' actions of South African President Ramaphosa's plan to confiscate white farmers' land with no compensation and hand them to the black population begins, President Trump - seemingly following a story by Fox News' Tucker Carlson - has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations” raising concerns that the U.S. might target South Africa with possible sanctions next.I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018 The reaction was swift in the Rand... Here is the Tucker Carlson segment that appears to have triggered President Trump.As Ryan Martinez writes for, tensions among the country’s white farming community have been rising since the election of Cyril Ramaphosa who assumed office earlier this year and committed his African National Congress (ANC) to land expropriation. ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe sparked panic last week when he said:“You shouldn’t own more than 25,000 acres of land. Therefore, if you own more it should be taken without compensation.” “People who are privileged never give away privilege as a matter of a gift,” he continued.  “And that is why we say, to give you the tools, revisit the constitution so that you have a legal tool to do it.”

    South Africa hits back at Trump over land seizure tweet - -- South Africa accused United States President Donald Trump of sowing division Thursday after he tweeted that the U.S. State Department would probe "land and farm seizures... and the large scale killing of farmers."Trump's tweet apparently followed a segment on Fox News which claimed that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had started "seizing land from his own citizens without compensation because they are the wrong skin color." South Africa's foreign ministry said the tweet was "based on false information."I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018   As elections due in 2019 approach, Ramaphosa has intervened to accelerate land reform in order to "undo a grave historical injustice" against the black majority during colonialism and the apartheid era that ended in 1994. 24 years later, the white community that makes up eight percent of the population "possess 72 percent of farms" compared to "only four percent" in the hands of black people who make up four-fifths of the population, according to Ramaphosa.South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past. #landexpropriation @realDonaldTrump @PresidencyZA— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) August 23, 2018  To remedy the imbalance, the president recently announced that the constitution would be altered to allow for land to be seized and redistributed without compensation to the current owners.Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton sparked a diplomatic row with Pretoria in March after he said that Canberra should give "special attention" to white South African farmers seeking asylum because they faced a "horrific" situation.

    White farmers: how a far-right idea was planted in Donald Trump's mind - On Wednesday night, the Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson once again talked about the alleged plight of white South African farmers on his Fox News program. On Twitter, Donald Trump indicated that he had been watching. The president’s tweet called for further study, but treated the “large scale killing of farmers” as a settled fact, when reporting indicates that against the background of a generally high murder rate in South Africa, there is no evidence of white farmers being specifically targeted.But Trump’s tweet came at the end of a long process whereby the far-right idea of “white genocide” in South Africa had been mainstreamed, working its way from far-right websites and forums, into the rightward edge of mainstream media, and then into policy proposals. News Corp outlets have played an outsized role in that process. The conspiracy theory of “white genocide” has been a staple of the racist far right for decades. It has taken many forms, but all of them imagine that there is a plot to either replace, remove or simply liquidate white populations.South Africa and Zimbabwe in particular have exerted a fascination on the racist far right because in the mind of white nationalists, they show what happens to a white minority after they lose control of countries they once ruled.The Charleston shooter Dylann Roof was obsessed, like many other white supremacists, with “Rhodesia”, as Zimbabwe was known under white minority rule. As the Christian Science Monitor reported in the wake of his massacre, the fates of the two countries are “held up as proof of the racial inferiority of blacks; and the diminished stature of whites is presented as an ongoing genocide that must be fought”.

      Donald Trump cuts more than $200m in aid to Palestinians - The United States said on Friday it had cancelled more than $200m in aid for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, leading their ambassador to accuse Donald Trump’s administration of being “anti-peace.” A senior State Department official said the decision, made “at the direction of the president,” came after a review of aid programs to the Palestinian territories. The funding previously allocated for programs in the West Bank and Gaza will “now address high-priority projects elsewhere”, said the official. The move “takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation”, he said. In January, the United States had already made drastic cuts to its contribution to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. Relations between the US administration and the Palestinian Authority took a nosedive after Trump announced the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians have suspended contacts with the administration and consider that it can no longer play a mediation role in the Middle East peace process. The decision to cut Palestinian funding comes amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has seen a surge of violence since Palestinian protests began in March.

     China-US talks but trade war set to escalate -- Trade talks between US and Chinese delegations will take place this week on the eve of what could be a major escalation by Washington in its tariff war against Beijing. Tariffs of 25 percent against $16 billion worth of Chinese goods are due to come into effect on Thursday with China to impose retaliatory measures on the equivalent amount of US products, bringing to $50 billion the value of goods being hit by each.Further measures are in the pipeline as the US Commerce Department holds public hearings this week on a proposal to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on a further $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. In response, Beijing has indicated it will impose measures on $66 billion worth of US products along with other, so far unspecified, retaliatory actions. These new imposts could be in place by next month or early October. No concrete proposals to resolve the intensifying conflict are expected from the latest discussions because the two negotiating teams comprise lower-level officials who do not have the authority to make final decisions.The Chinese delegation, which is expected to be in Washington for two days, will be led by Wang Shouwen, the Vice Commerce Minister, while the US delegation will be headed by Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs, David Malpass. Previous Chinese trade delegations have been led by Vice Premier Liu He. But Beijing has downgraded its representation after Liu reached an agreement last May with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to increase Chinese imports from the US by up to $100 billion only to have the deal overturned by President Trump. The basic point of conflict remains the demand set out by the US in its position statement presented to Beijing last May that China not only lessen the trade deficit but should also significantly pull back on its plan to boost its industrial and technological base under its “Made in China 2025” plan. While China has agreed to expand its imports from the US and toned down official references to “Made in China 2025”, there is deep opposition in Beijing to what is seen as a US drive to halt its economic development.

     More than tariffs: China sees trade war as a new US containment tactic For nearly two weeks, China’s top leaders disappeared from public view as they gathered at a secluded beach resort in eastern Hebei province this month. Though the heavily guarded gathering in Beidaihe was secret, their agenda was likely dominated by the trade war with the United States – and the emerging view that the nations’ escalating tensions go beyond trade and economic disputes. There are signs of a new resolve that sees the trade conflict as part of Washington’s design to temper China’s rise to greater power. While Beijing is willing to continue engaging the US – it has dispatched commerce vice-minister Wang Shouwen to the US for talks this month – the earlier optimism of finding a quick solution has been replaced by a grittier determination. Observers said Wang was unlikely to achieve any breakthroughs other than paving the way for more negotiations. “Trump is very confident now, and China should not appear weak,” a former Chinese trade official said, referring to US President Donald Trump. “China has to appear confident and stand firm, resisting the maximum challenges by Trump. Making too many concessions at an early stage will only push Trump to be more provocative.” Leading up to and during the Beidaihe meeting, state media published a series of editorials and commentaries casting a harsher light on Sino-US relations. A signed commentary published by party mouthpiece People’s Daily on August 10 said the Trump administration had continued the “engagement plus containment” approach to China, hoping to significantly reshape China’s development in America’s image. “A review of the trade negotiations with the US shows the American government has been inconsistent, ambivalent and capricious,” it said. “But the behind-the-scenes logic is pretty clear – it is never just about narrowing trade deficits, but to contain China in much broader areas.” Another commentary by the overseas edition of People’s Daily on August 12 said the US was seeking hegemony, and China should be determined to fight. 

    US trade panel hears harsh criticism of proposed new tariffs – and praise for Chinese craftsmanship -- American business representatives voiced their frustration and anger on Monday over a proposed new round of US tariffs on Chinese imports, telling federal trade officials that the duties would wreak financial havoc on their industries and harm US consumers. The comments came on the opening morning of a scheduled six-day public hearing before the inter-agency “301 committee” in Washington over possible duties on US$200 billion of Chinese goods – imports that witnesses said were crucial to their business operations. Witnesses cited the quality of Chinese labour, China’s capacity for production volume and the impossibility of shifting supply chains to other countries on short notice in opposing further punitive tariffs. The public airing of opposition to the tariffs came on the same day that US President Donald Trump said he had “no time frame” for bringing the trade war to a close. In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Trump, who in the past month called tariffs “the greatest” and said the United States “was built on tariffs”, said he was not hopeful about the outcome of mid-level talks between the US and China scheduled for this week in Washington. While it is finalising the list of products subject to the new duties, which could go into effect next month, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is also considering raising the initially proposed 10 per cent tariff to 25 per cent, at Trump’s request. The tariffs would be the third round to be levied by the US government on Chinese imports. A 25 per cent tax on US$34 billion of goods went into effect in July, followed by 25 per cent duties on another US$16 billion of imports that will begin on Thursday. China has vowed to match the tariffs. 

    A major hurdle in trade talks: US and China 'play by different rules - This week’s trade talks between China and the United States are unlikely to result in a substantial breakthrough because their economic systems are incompatible with each other, a former US trade official said. “Economic interaction between China and the US is like a football game being played between the winner of the US Super Bowl and the winner of the World Cup,” Timothy Stratford, managing partner of Covington & Burling’s Beijing office and a former assistant US trade representative, said in an interview. “The two teams have very different ideas about how to play the game, and each is showcasing different approaches and skills for moving the ball down the field,” he said. “Arguing about who is following the rules and who is breaking them would not accomplish anything. But if neither team wants to change the rules it’s playing by, then you either have to stop playing with each other or you have to come up with new rules to reduce the harm that each team inflicts on the other.”Multinational companies with Chinese or US operations have been caught in the crossfire of the trade war, which officially began on July 6 when the two countries imposed 25 per cent tariffs on US$34 billion of each other’s goods. As a result, some companies have started adjusting their supply chains or investment plans, despite the costs and the unknown factor of how long the trade war will last. “What’s happening now is that the current deadlock is causing companies from both countries to rethink their sourcing and investment plans in order to reduce risks,” Stratford said. “The result is that a gradual process of decoupling the two economies has begun.”

    China, US "Not Optimistic" Trade Negotiations Will Succeed: FT - Commenting on the upcoming, fourth round of trade talks between the US and China, which are scheduled to take place in Washington tomorrow ahead of the Aug.23 implementation of new China tariffs by the US, the FT reports that "neither side is optimistic that the meeting in Washington, between teams led by Wang Shouwen and David Malpass, can succeed where three earlier rounds failed."There has been a resurgence in market optimism that the ongoing trade war between the two nations may be resolved after the WSJ reported last week that a November summit between Trump and Xi seeks to find a common ground on trade, sending global risk sharply higher in the past 3 days.And yet, it was only in May that China’s Vice-Premier, Liu He, and Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury Secretary, said publicly after meeting in May that neither side would resort to tariffs while negotiations continued. But just days later Donald Trump announced his intention to proceed with punitive tariffs on Chinese industrial exports worth $50bn annually.Meanwhile, in private conversations, the FT reports that Beijing officials said that "what they see as Mr Trump’s constant provocations — such as his recent threat to target additional Chinese exports worth $200bn with tariffs of up to 25 per cent— have made it extremely difficult for them to offer conciliatory gestures."China is also exasperated by the Trump administration’s "good-cop, bad-cop" approach to the negotiations personified by Mr Mnuchin and Robert Lighthizer, US Trade Representative; China's exasperation stems from the fact that while Mnuchin and other Treasury officials have indicated a willingness to negotiate a speedy end to the dispute, Trump has repeatedly sided with the China hawks at the Office of the US Trade Representative."We are not optimistic because we don’t think Trump is willing to compromise," one Chinese official told the Financial Times, noting that this week’s talks may - at best - lead to other, higher-level negotiations before Mr Trump decides to up the ante again.

    U.S.-China Trade Talks End With No Sign of Progress Trade talks between the U.S. and China failed to produce any visible sign of progress, reducing the prospects of a deal soon, people closely tracking the talks said. The two sides largely repeated talking points during the discussions, these people said. The Chinese side seemed unready to offer new ways to address the Trump administration’s concerns that the bilateral trade deficit was too steep and that Beijing was coercing U.S. companies into transferring technology to Chinese partners, they said.The two sides “exchanged views on how to achieve fairness, balance, and reciprocity in the economic relationship, including by addressing structural issues in China,” the White House said, adding that the U.S. side would brief more-senior officials on the results.The statement was significant for what it didn’t say as well, people said after the talks. There was no discussion of follow-up talks or any accomplishments.“To get a positive result from these engagements,” the Chinese must address the issues raised by the U.S., a senior U.S. official familiar with the negotiations said. “We haven’t seen that yet.” In a statement, China’s Commerce Ministry said the two sides held “constructive and frank” talks and will stay in contact about the next step.  The midlevel talks, headed by U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David Malpass and Chinese Commerce Vice Minister Wang Shouwen, were designed to kick-start higher-level discussions that could end the trade impasse. If all went well, a deal could be completed in November after the U.S. election, when President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping could meet at already planned multilateral summits.  The poor results raise questions about that timeline, U.S. officials said. The U.S. side was already sharply divided between those pushing for a deal, led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and those who wanted to hold off on talks until the U.S. increased the pressure on Beijing by applying more tariffs. For now, the hard-liners seem to have the upper hand in the White House.  For now, the U.S. continues to turn to tariffs to pressure China. As negotiations wrapped up on Thursday, the U.S. put in place tariffs on $16 billion in Chinese goods, raising the total to $50 billion. The Chinese have matched them dollar for dollar.

    U.S.-China trade talks end with no breakthrough as tariffs kick in (Reuters) - U.S. and Chinese officials ended two days of talks on Thursday with no major breakthrough as their trade war escalated with activation of another round of dueling tariffs on $16 billion worth of each country’s goods. “We concluded two days of discussions with counterparts from China and exchanged views on how to achieve fairness, balance, and reciprocity in the economic relationship,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a brief emailed statement. The discussions included “addressing structural issues in China,” including its intellectual property and technology transfer policies, Walters said. The mid-level Trump administration officials participating in the talks would brief the heads of their agencies on the discussions, she added. Implementation of the latest 25 percent tariffs on Thursday did not derail the talks, led by U.S. Treasury Under Secretary David Malpass and Chinese Commerce Vice Minister Wang Shouwen. They were the first face-to-face U.S.-China meetings since early June to try to find a way out of a deepening trade conflict and escalating tariffs. Earlier, a senior Trump administration official downplayed chances for success, saying China had yet to address U.S. complaints about alleged misappropriation of U.S. intellectual property and industrial subsidies. “In order for us to get a positive result out of these engagements, it’s really critical that they (China) address the fundamental concerns that we have raised,” the official said on a press call on the new U.S. security review law for foreign acquisitions. “We haven’t seen that yet, but we are going to continue to encourage them to address problems that we have raised.” 

    "No Further Talks Scheduled": China-U.S. Trade Negotiations A Complete Bust - When reports emerged last week of a low-level Chinese delegation coming to meet with members of the Treasury department ahead of what the WSJ described would be a November trade summit in the US, stocks spiked and yields ran up (they have since tumbled with the 2s10s yield curve collapsing to just 20 basis points) on hopes that the long-running trade feud between the US and China may finally be coming to an end.Skeptics laughed and said that after three rounds of failed trade talks, the fourth one would be no different.The skeptics were right because after the conclusion on Thursday of the second day of the closely watched trade talks between the U.S. and China, there was "no major progress" according to Bloomberg, with the stage once again set for further escalation of the trade war between the US and China.Worse, according to the Bloomberg source, not only are no further talks scheduled at this point but the Chinese officials have reportedly raised the possibility that no further negotiations could happen until after November’s mid-term elections in the U.S. The White House issued a statement which said the countries “exchanged views on how to achieve fairness, balance, and reciprocity in the economic relationship, including by addressing structural issues in China” identified by the U.S. in an investigation into Chinese intellectual-property practices. The Chinese commerce ministry was even more terse, stating that two nations had "constructive, candid" communication, and will keep in touch about the next steps. Translation: nobody was willing to compromise by even an inch.

     U.S. drops agriculture demand from NAFTA talks: Mexico farm lobby (Reuters) - The United States has dropped a contentious demand from the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement to impose restrictions on Mexican agricultural exports, Mexico’s top farm lobby said on Sunday. Talks to rework the 24-year-old pact are entering a crucial phase and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said outstanding bilateral issues between Mexico and the United States could be resolved by the middle of this week. Much of the renegotiation, which has gone on for more than a year, has focused on revamping rules for the automotive industry. The U.S. government wants the rules changed to try to secure more business for American manufacturing workers. Another divisive issue has been a proposal by the Trump administration to put seasonal curbs on some agricultural exports to the United States. But a senior executive at Mexico’s National Agricultural Council (CNA) said that had been dropped. “Our U.S. counterparts tell us that ... the United States has decided to withdraw (the proposal) from the table,” Mario Andrade, CNA vice president for foreign trade, told Reuters. Mexico’s Economy Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Andrade’s remarks. A spokeswoman for the office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer could not immediately be reached for comment. Andrade said the move followed a lobbying effort that sought to show that the “seasonality” demand stood to benefit a small fraction of U.S. agricultural producers while putting many other U.S. farmers at risk from Mexican retaliation. The withdrawal of the seasonality measure would allow U.S. and Mexican negotiators to focus on the remaining outstanding issues when they reconvene for talks this week. Officials say that Canada, which has not taken part in the latest talks while the United States and Mexico resolve their differences, could soon be asked back to the negotiating table. 

    Mexico’s President-Elect Balks at Including Energy Chapter in New Nafta - A split has emerged among Mexico’s incoming and outgoing administrations over how to handle the subject of energy in continuing talks to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement, possibly complicating attempts to reach a deal. The incoming government of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to prevent a new chapter on energy investment from being included in the pact, something the current Mexican team and its U.S. and Canadian counterparts had already agreed upon, according to people with knowledge of the talks. Energy wasn’t included in the original 1994 trade deal because Mexico at the time had a state monopoly in oil and its constitution forbade any private investment in the sector. But in 2013, the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto overhauled the charter to open the industry to private and foreign investment. Mr. López  Obrador was against the changes. Since then, dozens of foreign oil companies, including major U.S. ones, have won the rights to drill for oil and gas in Mexico, pledging billions of dollars in investment. The incoming administration has said it doesn’t plan to roll back the changes, but it remains unclear if it will press ahead with any new auctions. Negotiators from the U.S. and Mexico are meeting this week in Washington in a last minute dash to get a deal done before the end of this month, giving enough time for lawmakers in Mexico to give approval before Mr. López Obrador takes office in December. Trade negotiators from both countries want to sort bilateral trade issues in the treaty before Canadian negotiators rejoin talks, possibly in coming days. Mr. López Obrador’s team isn’t part of the formal Mexican negotiating team, but current Mexican officials are consulting on trade with the president-elect’s aides, who are in Washington as well.  Mexican and U.S. officials have said that the inclusion of an energy chapter in Nafta seeks to cement North America’s energy integration.

     US continues to terrorize immigrants: Over 500 children still not reunited with parents --Over 500 immigrant children who were separated from their parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, have yet to be reunited despite court orders. In June, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the Trump administration reunite parents by July 26 with the more than 2,500 children, aged up to 17, that had been taken from them at the border. Under massive public pressure demanding an accounting of the separated children, the US government released figures last Thursday that show many families have still not been reunited, two months after Sabraw’s court order.  Out of 2,654 children initially in government custody, 2,089 have been “discharged,” meaning the children have been reunited with their parents or placed with sponsors within the United States. The exact proportion who have been returned to their parents from whom they were taken, not a guardian, remains unclear. The remaining 565 children are still being detained by the government. Of those, 24 children are under the age of 5. Parents of 366 of the still-separated children have been deported and are no longer in the US. Six children under the age of 5 have parents who have been deported. The Trump administration has offered a slew of excuses as to why families have still not been reunited. Government officials have claimed many parents either cannot be located or face criminal charges.  The repeated accusations that these immigrants are “criminals” are completely bogus. They are being used to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment and scapegoat this section of the population for the dire state of social conditions.  This attempt to demonize immigrants has very little traction among the population. Judge Sabraw, who ruled in the case about reuniting children with parents, made it clear that the alleged “crimes” of parents do not justify tearing children away from their families. Earlier this month, Sabraw expressed his opposition to the government’s actions. “For every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child,” Sabraw said in his San Diego courtroom. “That is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.” In many cases, parents were reportedly tricked or coerced into being deported while their children remained in the United States.

    Trump, Republicans exploit murder of Molly Tibbetts to stoke anti-immigrant racism --On Wednesday, President Trump released two video tweets responding to the news that the body of Mollie Tibbetts had been found and that a suspect had been arrested for her apparent murder. He first cited the death the night before, at a campaign-style rally in West Virginia, where he used the tragedy to vilify his political opponents.Tibbetts, a 20-year-old college student from Iowa, had been missing for 34 days, and her case has been widely reported in the media. What motivated the Trump administration response to the story is the fact that the man arrested for the crime, 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera, is allegedly an undocumented immigrant.Trump’s official response took the form of a video of him speaking directly to the camera and using the murder of Mollie Tibbetts to justify every aspect of his foul anti-immigrant agenda: “Mollie Tibbetts, an incredible young woman is now permanently separated from her family. A person came in from Mexico, illegally, and killed her ... This is one instance of many. We have tremendous crime trying to come through the borders. We have the worst laws anywhere in the world.” Shamelessly turning what was supposedly an expression of condolence into a midterm election pitch for Republicans, he added: “We need the wall. We need our immigration laws changed. We need our border laws changed. We need Republicans to do it because the Democrats aren’t going to do it ... And the wall is being built. We’ve started it. But we also need the funding for this year’s building of the wall. So, to the family of Mollie Tibbitts [sic], all I can say is: God bless you. God bless you.”  The White House official response was even more grotesque. The video released simultaneously with Trump’s statement is headlined “Permanently Separated,” with the text merely stating, “The Tibbets [sic] family has been permanently separated. They are not alone.” It features unidentified men and women speaking directly to the camera, and describing, at times in excruciating detail, how their children were killed by people “not supposed to be here.” The video concludes with each hammering home the point that “their separation” is “permanent.”

    DC Judge Backpedals On His Own DACA Ruling; Says Trump Can Deny New Requests - US District Court judge John Bates walked back his January ruling forcing the Trump administration to restart the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty program, ruling that the government does not have to accept brand new applications, reports the Washington TimesJudge John D. Bates acknowledged the legal mess that’s arisen around DACA and said he didn’t want to make it worse, so he issued a partial stay of his own ruling.That means that while illegal immigrant “Dreamers” who already have had DACA protections can apply for renewals, no brand new applicants can apply to start the process.Judge Bates also delayed part of his previous ruling that would have allowed those with DACA to apply for special protections known as advance parole — permission to travel outside the U.S. and then return — which can, in some cases, turn into a pathway to citizenship. -Washington TimesHundreds of DACA recipients were found to have exploited the advance parole loophole under the Obama administration, only to find it shut down by Trump. The government argued that restarting DACA would cause a flood of more than 100,000 new applications and 30,000 advance parole requests - overwhelming US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Bates agreed. “Because that confusion would only be magnified if the court’s order regarding initial DACA applications were to take effect now and later be reversed on appeal, the court will grant a limited stay of its order and preserve the status quo pending appeal, as plaintiffs themselves suggest,” said Bates late Friday opinion.aThe ruling is likely to be appealed to the DC circuit court, which are already handling appeals in similar decisions handed down in New York and California challenging the Trump administration's decision to phase out DACA last year.

    Seventy percent of Americans support 'Medicare for all' in new poll | TheHill: A vast majority — 70 percent — of Americans in a new poll supports "Medicare for all," also known as a single-payer health-care system. The Reuters–Ipsos survey found 85 percent of Democrats said they support the policy along with 52 percent of Republicans. Medicare for all has been in the headlines after a study by the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University found it would lead to $32.6 trillion increase in federal spending over a 10-year period. The study’s author, Charles Blahous, wrote in The Wall Street Journal earlier this month that even doubling taxes would not cover the bill for a single-payer health-care system. The policy’s proponents, however, point to a note in the study showing that health-care costs would also decrease by $2 trillion by 2031 if it became law. Sen. Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.), who has introduced a Medicare for all bill, has said that the Mercatus study is “grossly misleading and biased.” The new Reuters poll also showed that a majority of Americans supports free college tuition. Forty-one percent of Republicans said they supported the policy, pollsters found, compared with 79 percent of Democrats. 

    A Koch-funded think tank tries hard to pretend that it didn’t find savings from Bernie Sanders’ Medicare plan - Michael Hiltzik - The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a libertarian think tank partially funded by the Koch brothers, appears to be mighty embarrassed about its finding in a recent paper that the Medicare for All proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) might actually reduce Americans’ overall spending on healthcare. We know this because Mercatus has sent out several emails pushing back against reports about the finding. And the paper’s author, Mercatus fellow Charles Blahous, took to the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal to complain that “some have seized on a scenario in my estimates showing a slight decline in projected total public and private health expenditures under Medicare for All.” Among those who “seized” on the scenario is Sanders himself, who crowed about it on Twitter after the paper was published at the end of July, mischievously getting the Koch brothers into his tweet because, why not?   Blahous grouses that Sanders and his followers overlook his main point, which is that the Sanders plan would sharply increase government spending on healthcare. He’s got the support of several conservative commentators and not a few credulous journalists. We analyzed Blahous’s paper here. The problem with Blahous’ complaint, as it happens, is that he actually did find that the Sanders plan could reduce overall healthcare costs. That conclusion is right there on page 18 of his 24-page paper. Under the assumptions in the Sanders plan, he writes, “aggregate health expenditures remain virtually unchanged: national personal healthcare costs decrease by less than 2%, while total health expenditures decrease by only 4%, even after assuming substantial administrative cost savings.” According to his own math, under Medicare for All, national health expenditures would total $57.6 trillion through 2031. They’re currently projected to be $59.7 trillion. In other words, Medicare for All would reduce total U.S. spending on healthcare by 3.44% (a bit less than the 4% Blahous cited).

    What to Expect from a Kavanaugh Court – Government-Funded “Religious” Education - Gaius Publius - This begins a short series detailing the radical changes to the way our government operates — changes to its constitution if you will — that will be force on the nation by an unelected Supreme Court containing Brett Kavanaugh as the final piece of a 5-4 radical majority. The list of these changes is long and frightening. They include:

    That’s a hefty, scary list, especially the last, which will not be difficult at all to document. For a hint at what the “Koch network” (author Nancy MacLean’s phrase) has planned for America, consider just some of the constitutional amendments they want to pass at the Constitutional Convention they’re pushing so hard to create.

    Microsoft: Russian Hackers Are Targeting Republicans Ahead of Midterms - Microsoft announced Monday that it had detected and thwarted the early stages of an attempted attack on the U.S. Senate and two conservative think tanks by Fancy Bear, the Russia-linked group that hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016.Microsoft president Brad Smith told The New York Times that the latest detected threat demonstrates a broadening in the types of websites hackers are going after, to now include organizations that are “informally tied to Republicans.”   Eric Rosenbach, the director of the Defending Digital Democracy project at Harvard University, similarly told the Times that Russians are attacking organizations based on their own self-interest rather than a preference between the two major American parties: “It’s about disrupting and diminishing any group that challenges how Putin’s Russia is operating at home and around the world.”

    Duncan Hunter and his wife indicted for using campaign funds for personal expenses - Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret, routinely -- and illegally -- used campaign funds to pay personal bills big and small, from luxury vacations to kids' school lunches and delinquent family dentistry bills, according to a stinging 47-page indictment unsealed Tuesday.The charges of wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign finance violations and conspiracy were the culmination of a Department of Justice investigation that has stretched for more than a year, during which the Republican congressman from California has maintained his innocence.The detailed indictment portrays the Hunters as living well beyond their means and said they "knowingly conspired with each other" to convert campaign funds to personal use.Federal prosecutors contend that the Hunters repeatedly misrepresented what their expenses were for -- in one instance buying personal clothing at a golf course so that the purchase "could be falsely reported to the treasurer as 'balls for the wounded warriors,'" the indictment says. The indictment also charges that Duncan Hunter facilitated the "theft of campaign funds" by directing his treasurer to obtain a campaign credit card for his wife at a time when she had no formal role.

    Top Republican on Tax Subcommittee Received Yacht Loan From Foreign Bank Lobbying on 2017 Tax Bill - As Republicans were finalizing tax cut legislation in late 2017, a foreign-owned bank seeking to shape the bill gave a seven-figure yacht loan to a top GOP lawmaker on the committee writing the measure, according to documents reviewed by Capital & Main and MapLight.  Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL), who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and leads its tax policy subcommittee, has been under fire in recent weeks for purchasing a yacht on the same day he voted for the GOP tax package. Buchanan registered a 73-foot Ocean Alexander vessel named Entrepreneur with the U.S. Coast Guard a month later, according to federal records. Although Buchanan is one of the wealthiest members of Congress — worth at least $80 million — federal records show one of his limited liability companies financed the purchase with a BMO Harris Bank loan worth as much as $5 million. Since 2016, Buchanan’s companies have received three loans worth as much as $35 million from BMO Harris, which is the American subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal. In total, since he was appointed to the Ways and Means Committee in 2010, Buchanan and his companies have received between $17 million and $85 million worth of loans from four lenders. At the time Buchanan’s company received the 2017 yacht loan, BMO Harris was lobbying congressional lawmakers on tax policy overseen by the Ways and Means Committee, according to federal records. Buchanan received a separate BMO Harris loan for a plane in 2016. Records show that loan, worth between $5 million and $25 million, was made around the same time that the bank began lobbying lawmakers on “tax reform proposals.” In all, BMO spent $760,000 lobbying lawmakers in 2017, and records show the bank paid for tax reform lobbying from Tony Podesta, whose firm is being investigated for potential violations of foreign lobbying laws. Craig Holman, an ethics advocate at Public Citizen, said that the bank’s loans to Buchanan’s company pose a “particularly egregious” conflict of interest. “It isn’t just business for Buchanan,” he said. “The loans grant Buchanan the luxuries of a personal jet and a yacht. It is very reasonable to assume those luxuries could well influence Buchanan’s official actions.”

     Black Voter Support For Trump Nearly Doubles To 36%: Rasmussen - Support for President Trump among black voters hit 36% according to a new Rasmussen poll released on Thursday - nearly doubling his approval rating among African-Americans from the same day last year, which stood at 19%. The boost corresponds with all-time low unemployment among blacks of 5.9% in May, which President Trump and others have been touting:  What's more, the Rasmussen poll comes amid controversy over the reported existence of a tape which contains Trump saying the N-word. The curiously timed allegations were brought by former White House aide and apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman - who was fired from the Clinton administration after being shuffled around four times.  That said, the Washington Post refutes Rasmussen's results with a Friday article entitled "No, one-third of African Americans don’t support Trump. Not even close."Polling firms that have interviewed far more African Americans, and that are much more transparent than Rasmussen, all show that Trump’s black approval rating is much lower than 36 percent. For example, Gallup has interviewed thousands of African American respondents in 2018. Its polling suggests that Trump’s black approval rating has consistently been around 10 to 15 percent through 2018. Perhaps it depends on who's doing the asking, and what part of the country the questions are being asked?

    Judicial Watch Demands Re-Opening Of Hillary Email Probe After More Classified Info Found - Judicial Watching is calling for a re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails after finding more classified information on the former Secretary of State’s non-“” email system.  On Thursday, the watchdog revealed that it had received two batches, 184 pages and 45 pages, of newly uncovered emails belonging to Hillary Clinton from the U.S. Department of State sent and received over her unsecured server.The emails were uncovered by a FOIA lawsuit filed on May 6, 2015, after the State Department failed to respond to a March 4, 2015 FOIA request seeking all emails sent or received by Clinton in her official capacity as Secretary of State, as well as all emails by other State Department employees to Clinton regarding her non-“” email address. Judicial Watch broke down what they found:

    • On June 7, 2011, Clinton received classified information on her non-secure email account from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which Blair also forwarded to Jake Sullivan, about Blair’s Middle East negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians and the French
    • On January 26, 2010, Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan sent classified information via his unsecure Blackberry to Huma Abedin’s State Department email account that he’d earlier sent to Clinton’s and Abedin’s non-secure email accounts about U.K. negotiations with Northern Ireland.
    • On October 28, 2010, Clinton exchanges information with her friend Marty Torrey – a congressional aide – who asks Clinton in an email if she would advise that Torrey meet with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Clinton responds through her non-secure email account approving the meeting and notes that she is emailing him from Hanoi, Vietnam.
    • An email chain dated April 8, 2010, which contains a memo from Sid Blumenthal to Hillary Clinton related to the change of government in Kyrgyzstan, contains information classified “confidential” and is redacted as “foreign government information” and “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.” Blumenthal urges Clinton to “develop relations” with the new government in Kyrgyzstan.

     Internet Buzzing After Julian Assange's Mother Implicates Seth Rich In DNC Leak --The internet is buzzing with theories after Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange's mother, Christine Assange, tweeted - and then deleted - what many believe to be a suggestion that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich "leaked docs proving corruption." In response to the question "why did Julian publish damning docs against Hillary at such a crucial time which gave Humpty Dumpty Trump the upper hand?" Christine Assange replied "Its the duty of media to inform citizens about corruption," adding "a #DNC #Bernie supporter disgruntled with rigging leaked docs proving corruption." "What should Wikileaks should have done? Hold on to them till after the election to advantage #Hillary?" she continued, adding "You are shooting the messenger!"  Many have pointed out that Mrs. Assange's the description fits that of Seth Rich, a Bernie Sanders supporter and DNC IT staffer who was slain on his way home from a local bar on July 10, 2016, five days after a forensics analysis indicated that the DNC emails were copied locally - which was the same day Romanian hacker "Guccifer 2.0" claims to have hacked the DNC, per the Washington Post.12 days after Rich's murder, on July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee revealing that Bernie Sanders' campaign was undermined when the DNC and the Clinton campaign colluded to share questions before a debate.  Of note, cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike reported on June 14, 2016 that Russia had infiltrated the DNC, after the DNC reported a suspected breach in April of that year. The DNC has received criticism for not allowing the FBI to analyze their servers for hacking, relying only on the Crowdstrike analysis performed by anti-Putin Russian expat Dmitri Alperovitch - a senior fellow on the very anti-Russia Atlantic Council.  Christine Assange's supposed admission caused many on Twitter to note that her son, Julian Assange, "heavily implied" that Rich was a Wikileaks source in an August, 2016 interview on Dutch television when he brought up Assange in the context of WikiLeaks whistleblowers, and then nodded his head when asked directly if Rich was a source.

    Trump meets with promoter of 'QAnon' conspiracy theory in Oval Office | TheHill: President Trump met with one of the leading promoters of the "QAnon" conspiracy theory in the Oval Office on Thursday. The Daily Beast first reported on Friday that YouTube conspiracy theorist Lionel Lebron was at the White House for an event and that during his visit he posed for photos with Trump in the Oval Office.  “There simply are no words to explicate this profound honor," Lebron wrote on Instagram while sharing a photo of him and Trump.Lebron is a leading promoter of a fringe far-right conspiracy theory that, among other things, claims some Democratic lawmakers are part of a globalist pedophile cult. One “QAnon” theory that has been popularized by the president is the claim that the “criminal deep state” is operating behind the scenes of the government. The theories have been shared by notable figures on the right, including actress Roseanne Barr and Infowars founder Alex Jones. 

    Scores of ex-spies join in rebuking Trump over security clearances - An avalanche of retired senior intelligence officials and spies have joined more than a dozen of their former bosses in issuing a public rebuke of President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, the ex-CIA chief who has become a strong critic of the president.   In a rare public campaign, a total of 60 former CIA station chiefs, analysts and operations officers — along with a former director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center — declared on Friday afternoon their “firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views.” “We believe equally strongly that former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so,” they added in a brief statement. The statement follows a similar one issued late Thursday by 11 former directors and deputy directors of the CIA and one director of national intelligence. They served in Democratic and Republican administrations, and decried the removal of the security clearance “as a political tool.” The back-to-back statements also follow a blistering op-ed by retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, who, in an act of solidarity with Brennan, appealed to Trump to revoke his security clearance, as well.

    A Rough Guide to the 12 Intelligence Officials Who Condemned Trump for Revoking John Brennan’s Security Clearance -- naked capitalism by Lambert Strether  -- As those of us who still follow the news know, President Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance. (For those who came in late, Brennan organized torture and “extraordinary rendition”[1], and was a “vocal advocate” of giving the telcos immunity for Bush’s enormous program of warrrantless surveillance[2], under President George W Bush. Under President Barack Obama, Brennan organized the “kill list,” later rebranded as a “disposition matrix,” which Obama used in at least one case to kill a U.S. citizen with a drone strike, while avoiding any form of due process.) In response to Trump’s action, twelve “top” intelligence officials wrote and published a statement denouncing it (here). This is the key paragraph:  We know John to be an enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual who devoted his adult life to the service of this nation. Insinuations and allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Brennan while in office are baseless. (Scores of “ex-spies” later joined the original twelve.) In this post, I’m not going to discuss motive, whetherTrump’s for revoking Brennan’s clearance, or the intelligence community’s outrage that he did so, or the media’s. Rather, I’m going to focus on the question of whether “the twelve” should have any standing to issue such a statement in the first place. After all, if torture, extraordinary rendition, warrantless surveillance, and whacking US citizens without due process are not “wrongdoing,” then what on earth can be?[3] To this end, I will first present a table sketching the careers and personal networks of “the twelve.” Next, I’ll look at those who did not sign the statement. After that, I’ll make a few brief comments about “the twelve” as a class. I’ll conclude by raising the issue of standing again. I hope this post will be especially useful to those who haven’t been following politics since 9/11, who may take our current institutional structures for granted (see especially footnotes [1] and [2]).

    How Important Is the Protest Against Trump from the National-Security Establishment? -- It is therefore tempting to dismiss the growing protests against Trump’s decision to revoke the former C.I.A. director John Brennan’s security clearance as just another summer squall in the nation’s capital, one that will quickly blow over. But possibly—just possibly—this could turn out to be a significant political moment.The blowback intensified on Thursday, when seven former C.I.A. directors issued a public letter supporting Brennan and denouncing the President’s decision. “We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar actions against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances—and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” the letter said. The letter’s signatories included William Webster, George Tenet, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and Robert Gates, whose tenures as the head of the C.I.A. spanned five Presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. (Five former deputy directors of the Agency also signed the letter.) That is quite a list. Even the stoutest Trump defenders will have difficulty describing the letter as a partisan political ambush, although, of course, that will not stop them from trying. And the letter wasn’t the only protest of its kind directed at Trump this week, or even the most cutting. Also on Thursday, William McRaven, a retired Navy admiral who oversaw the 2011 Navy seal raid that killed Osama bin Laden, published an op-ed in the Washington Post, On Thursday afternoon, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

    John Brennan Stands By His Claim That Trump’s Behavior Is ‘Treasonous’ - Former CIA Director John Brennan is sticking by his assertion that President Donald Trump’s behavior is “treasonous,” a comment Brennan made in July regarding Trump’s meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.     During NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, host Chuck Todd asked if Brennan regretted accusing the president of treason.  “I called his behavior treasonous, which is to betray one’s trust and to aid and abet the enemy,” Brennan responded. “And I stand very much by that claim.”Todd pushed back, emphasizing that Brennan is not just a private citizen but the former head of America’s top intelligence organization.  “These are abnormal times,” Brennan said. “A lot of people have spoken out against what Mr. Trump has done.”“I have seen the lights blinking red in terms of what Mr. Trump has done and is doing,” he added. “And it’s bringing this country down on the global stage. He’s fueling and feeding divisiveness in our country.”Earlier in the interview, Brennan said Trump’s revocation of his security clearance is another example of the president’s abuse of authority. While Trump may have the power to do such a thing, the former CIA chief said, that doesn’t mean he’s doing it for the right reasons.“If you cross him, if you speak out against him, he is going to use whatever tools he might have at his disposal to punish you,” Brennan said. 

    Former National Intelligence chief turns on John Brennan claiming former CIA head is ‘subtle like a freight train’ over his Trump ‘rhetoric’ -- The former Director of National Intelligence has hit back at an ex-CIA chief embroiled in a bitter war of words with president Donald Trump.   James Clapper said Sunday on CNN that he thinks John Brennan's anti-Trump rhetoric is becoming an issue 'in and of itself'.     'John is subtle like a freight train and he's gonna say what's on his mind,' Clapper said, in response to a scathing New York Times op-ed by Brennan saying that the president colluded with Russians during the 2016 presidential election and Trump's denial is 'hogwash'.   'I think that the common denominator among all of us (in the intelligence community) that have been speaking up ... is genuine concern about the jeopardy and threats to our institutions and values,' Clapper said, 'and although we may express that in different and I think that's what this is really about.'     The president blasted Brennan, tweeting early Saturday morning that the former CIA director 'is a loudmouth, partisan, political hack who cannot be trusted.'  'Has anyone looked at the mistakes that John Brennan made while serving as CIA Director?,'  Trump wrote on his Twitter account.  'He will go down as easily the WORST in history & since getting out, he has become nothing less than a loudmouth, partisan, political hack who cannot be trusted with the secrets to our country!' he added.

    Trump Essentially Dares Brennan to Sue Over Stripped Clearance - Donald Trump on Monday essentially dared former CIA Director John Brennan to sue him over the security clearance the president revoked last week.Trump ordered Brennan’s security clearance turned off after the former Barack Obama aide and Cabinet official harshly criticized the sitting president, even dubbing his performance last month alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin as “treasonous.”Brennan told MSNBC Friday night he is “thinking” about taking Trump to court over the matter, saying, “As you can imagine, a number of lawyers have reached out to say there is a very strong case here, not so much to reclaim mine but to prevent this from happening in the future. And so, I am thinking about what it is that I might want to do.”That first prompted Trump’s personal counsel, former New York Mayor and U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, to say over the weekend he would “love to hear” Brennan testify under oath. His client followed up a day later, tweeting this: “I hope John Brennan, the worst CIA Director in our country’s history, brings a lawsuit.”If the clearance flap lands in court, Trump calculates, it would “be very easy to get all of his records, texts, emails and documents to show not only the poor job he did, but how he was involved with the Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt.” After issuing the dare, Trump appeared to try to bait Brennan into filing a lawsuit, predicting, “He won’t sue!”

    Buchanan: In Spies Battle, Trump Holds The High Ground - In backing John Brennan’s right to keep his top-secret security clearance, despite his having charged the president with treason, the U.S. intel community has chosen to fight on indefensible terrain. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seemed to recognize that Sunday when he conceded that ex-CIA Director Brennan had the subtlety of “a freight train” and his rhetoric had become “an issue in and of itself.” After Donald Trump’s Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin, Brennan had called the president’s actions “nothing short of treasonous.”  The battle is now engaged. Trump cannot back down. He must defy and defeat the old bulls of the intel community. And he can.For a security clearance is not a right. It is not an entitlement. It is a privilege, an honor and a necessity for those serving in the security agencies of the U.S. government — while they serve.Brennan is not being deprived of his First Amendment rights. He can still make any accusation and call the president any name he wishes.But to argue that a charge of treason against a president is not a justification for pulling a clearance is a claim both arrogant and absurd.  Again, a security clearance is not a constitutional right.  With 4 million Americans holding top-secret clearances, and this city awash in leaks to the media from present and past intel and security officials, it is time to strip the swamp creatures of their special privileges.The White House should press upon Congress a policy of automatic cancellation of security clearances, for intelligence and military officers, upon resignation, retirement or severance.Clearances should be retained only for departing officers who can demonstrate that their “need to know” national secrets remains crucial to our security, not merely advantageous to their pursuit of lucrative jobs in the military-industrial complex. Officials in the security realm who take clearances with them on leaving office are like House members who retain all the access, perks and privileges of Congress after they step down to earn seven-figure salaries lobbying their former congressional colleagues.The White House statement of Sarah Huckabee Sanders on John Brennan’s loss of his clearances was spot on: “Any access granted to our nation’s secrets should be in furtherance of national, not personal, interests.

    What the Brennan Affair Really Reveals -- John Brennan, CIA director under President Obama, however, went much further, characterizing Trump’s press conference with Putin as “nothing short of treasonous.” Presumably in reaction, Trump revoked Brennan’s security clearance, the continuing access to classified information usually accorded to former security officials. Leaving aside the missed occasion to discuss the “revolving door” involving former US security officials using their permanent clearances to enhance their lucrative positions outside government, Cohen thinks the subsequent political-media furor obscures what is truly important and perhaps ominous:  Brennan’s allegation was unprecedented. No such high-level intelligence official had ever before accused a sitting president of treason, still more in collusion with the Kremlin. (Impeachment discussions of Presidents Nixon and Clinton, to take recent examples, did not include allegations involving Russia.) Brennan clarified his charge: “Treasonous, which is to betray one’s trust and to aid and abet the enemy.” Coming from Brennan, a man presumed to be in possession of related dark secrets, as he strongly hinted, the charge was fraught with alarming implications. Brennan made clear he hoped for Trump’s impeachment, but in another time, and in many other countries, his charge would suggest that Trump should be removed from the presidency urgently by any means, even a coup. No one, it seems, has even noted this extraordinary implication with its tacit threat to American democracy.   Why did Brennan, a calculating man, risk leveling such a charge, which might reasonably be characterized as sedition? The most plausible explanation is that he sought to deflect growing attention to his role as the “Godfather” of the entire Russiagate narrative, as Cohen argued back in February. If so, we need to know Brennan’s unvarnished views on Russia.  They are set out with astonishing (perhaps unknowing) candor in a New York Times op-ed of August 17. They are those of Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover in their prime. Western “politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright, by Russian operatives…not only to collect sensitive information but also to distribute propaganda and disinformation.… I was well aware of Russia’s ability to work surreptitiously  within the United States, cultivating relationships with individuals who wield actual or potential power.…”

    Reality Winner, National Security Agency Leaker, Sentenced To 5 Years - HuffPo - A former government contract employee who leaked information to the press about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was sentenced Thursday to more than five yearsin prison. Reality Winner, 26, worked for federal contractor Pluribus International Corp. in Augusta, Georgia, when she was arrested last year after “removing classified materials from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet,” a criminal complaint said at the time.  The former Air Force linguist sent a National Security Agency memo that detailed Russia’s attempts to gain access to “multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards” to The Intercept. She had faced a maximum of 10 years in prison, but reached a plea deal with prosecutors. Still, her sentence of 63 months is the longest yet for a government leaker, prosecutors said when requesting the sentence.

     Mueller Wants Papadopoulos in Jail, Citing Harm to Probe - Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has recommended a prison sentence of up to six months for former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, arguing in a court filing on Friday that he successfully sought to harm the Russia investigation in its critical early stages. Last October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI regarding his contacts with Russian operatives during the Trump campaign — including at least one meeting where he was offered thousands of emails meant to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Papadopoulos did not ultimately provide “substantial assistance” to investigators, however, and prosecutors insisted his crime — which consisted of “at least a dozen lies” — “was serious and caused damage to the government’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.” Papadopoulos, who is one of the 32 people charged with crimes by the Mueller investigation thus far, signed no formal cooperation agreement as part of his plea agreement, but prosecutors had said that they would not seek the maximum possible sentence of five years, opting for zero to six months instead. They also agreed to inform the judge of any cooperation he did provide, but it sounds like they weren’t very impressed on that front, and even pointed out that Papadopoulos’ wife, Simona Mangiante, had subsequently inflated the significance of his assistance in media interviews. The Mueller team set the record straight on Friday. “Much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrants and subpoenas well after the defendant’s FBI interview as the government continued its investigation,” prosecutors said in the filing. “The government does not take a position with respect to a particular sentence to be imposed, but respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration, within the applicable guidelines range ofzero to six months’ imprisonment, is appropriate and warranted.”

    Jury convicts Manafort on eight felony counts | TheHill: — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty in a Virginia courtroom on Tuesday of eight charges of bank and tax fraud. The jury found Manafort guilty on five charges of filing false income tax returns, one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts and two counts of bank fraud. Judge T.S. Ellis III declared a mistrial on the remaining 10 counts — three counts of failing to report foreign bank accounts, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy and two counts of bank fraud. Manafort looked stunned after the verdict was read, and the courtoom was silent and still. He winked at his wife, Kathleen Manafort, as he was escorted out of the room after Ellis adjourned the proceedings. Kathleen Manafort, who had sat behind her husband in the first row each day, was stone faced as the verdict was read. The one guilty count of failing to report foreign bank accounts carries a maximum of five years in prison and each count of bank fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.The decision is a victory for special counsel Robert Mueller's team of prosecutors, which faced its first test in court on the Manafort case. Russia and the 2016 election, however, were not major parts of the trial against Manafort. It was also part of a difficult day for President Trump, who saw his former campaign chairman convicted on the same day that his former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in a New York courtroom to eight counts related to charges of tax evasion, false statements to a financial institution and and illegal campaign contributions. Both of these stories broke as Trump took off on Air Force One for a campaign rally in West Virginia. Trump did not answer questions about the Cohen guilty plea from reporters on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland. 

    Paul Manafort found guilty on eight counts - President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes, a major victory for special counsel Robert Mueller. But jurors were unable to reach a verdict on 10 charges, and Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on those counts. Manafort was found guilty of five tax fraud charges, one charge of hiding foreign bank accounts and two counts of bank fraud. He faces a maximum of 80 years in prison. The news came at the same time Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen was in a New York federal court to plead guilty to multiple counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. Landing in Charleston, West Virginia, Trump said that the charges Manafort was convicted of on Tuesday have "nothing to do with Russian collusion" and criticized Mueller's investigation for arriving at this point. Manafort was charged with 18 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and hiding foreign bank accounts in the first case Mueller brought to trial as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. Ellis spoke directly to Manafort at podium to tell him he has been found guilty of several charges. He did not smile. His attorney Kevin Downing stood behind him. Manafort's wife Kathleen expressed no emotion and stared ahead. She had her hands clasped on her lap and made no comment upon leaving the court. Prosecutors said Manafort collected $65 million in foreign bank accounts from 2010 to 2014 and spent more than $15 million on luxury purchases in the same period, including high-end clothing, real estate, landscaping and other big-ticket items. Track the latest developments in the trials of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. They also alleged that Manafort lied to banks in order to take out more than $20 million in loans after his Ukrainian political work dried up in 2015, and they accused him of hiding the foreign bank accounts from federal authorities. Manafort received loans from the Federal Savings Bank after one of its executives sought a position in the Trump campaign and administration, according to prosecutors. "Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn't," prosecutor Greg Andres told jurors during closing arguments. "This is a case about lies." Manafort, 69, has been in jail since June after his bail was revoked following new charges of witness tampering against him.

    Paul Manafort found guilty on 8 counts; judge will declare mistrial in 10 others - A jury found former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty Tuesday on tax and bank fraud charges — a major if not complete victory for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as he continues to investigate the president’s associates.The jury convicted Manafort on eight of the 18 counts against him and said it was deadlocked on the other 10. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III declared a mistrial on those charges.  Wearing a black suit, Manafort stood impassively, his hands folded in front of him, and showed little reaction as the clerk read the word “guilty” eight times. As through most of the three-week trial in Alexandria, Va., Manafort, 69, showed no emotion as he looked at the six women and six men who convicted him.President Trump reacted to the verdict by denouncing Mueller’s investigation.“Paul Manafort’s a good man,” the president told reporters in West Virginia. The verdict, he said, “doesn’t involve me, but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened.”Trump said the charges in Manafort’s case did not involve Mueller’s core mission of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether any Americans conspired with those efforts.Paul Manafort's attorneys, Kevin Downing, center, Richard Wetling, left, and Thomas Zehnle leave the federal courthouse after their client, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post) “This is a witch hunt that ends in disgrace,” Trump said. For Trump, the outcome of Manafort’s trial was only half of a double-barreled blast of bad news Tuesday. Shortly after the verdict was read, the president’s former longtime attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in an unrelated case to eight crimes, saying that among other things, he helped arrange hush-money payments during the campaign at Trump’s direction. Manafort was found guilty of filing a false tax return in each of the years from 2010 through 2014, as well as not filing a form in 2012 to report a foreign bank account as required. He was also convicted of two instances of bank fraud, related to a $3.4 million loan from Citizens Bank and a $1 million loan from Banc of California. The charges on which the jury deadlocked were three counts of not filing a form to report a foreign bank account and seven counts of committing bank fraud or conspiring to commit bank fraud.

     Michael Cohen Under Federal Investigation For Bank Fraud Totaling "Well Over $20 Million" -- Federal investigators are probing whether President Trump's former attorney and self-described fixer, Michael Cohen, committed bank and tax fraud, reports the New York Times, citing people familiar with the matter. Authorities are reportedly zeroing in on "well over $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses that he and his family own."   While the investigation had previously been reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the amount in question "hundreds of thousands of dollars," not north of $20 million.   Investigators are also examining whether Mr. Cohen violated campaign finance or other laws by helping to arrange financial deals to secure the silence of women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. The inquiry has entered the final stage and prosecutors are considering filing charges by the end of August, two of the people said. Any criminal charges against Mr. Cohen would deal a significant blow to the president. Mr. Cohen, 52, worked for the president’s company, the Trump Organization, for more than a decade. He was one of Mr. Trump’s most loyal and visible aides and called himself the president’s personal lawyer after Mr. Trump took office. -New York Times The loans under scrutiny were originated by two New York financial institutions; Sterling National Bank and Melrose Credit Union, according to business records and people with knowledge of the matter - including a banker the Times says reviewed the transactions. In particular, New York investigators are looking into whether Cohen inflated the underlying value of his assets to obtain the loans.

    Michael Cohen pleads guilty to 8 counts: Live updates -  Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court Tuesday to eight criminal counts. Here's how it went down:

    • The charges: The counts against Cohen included tax fraud, false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations tied to his work for Trump, including payments Cohen made or helped orchestrate that were designed to silence women who claimed affairs with the then-candidate.
    • Where Trump fits in: Cohen admitted that "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office" he acted to keep information that would have been harmful to the candidate from becoming public. Though Trump himself isn't named, the court filing refers to an Individual-1, who by January 2017 had become president of the United States.
    • What happens next: A sentencing date is set for December. Cohen faces up to 65 years in prison.

    Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty, Says Trump Told Him to Pay Off Women -  — Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, told a federal judge that Donald Trump had directed him during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen made the statement as he pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight criminal charges, including campaign-finance violations. He said he paid $130,000 to adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, and coordinated a $150,000 payment by the publisher of the National Enquirer to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.Mr. Cohen, who has described himself as Mr. Trump’s “fixer,” said he made both payments “for the purpose of influencing the election” and acted at the direction of “the candidate,” referring to Mr. Trump. That was the first time Mr. Cohen has admitted to coordinating with the president on the hush-money deals with women, both of which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The surprising admission by Mr. Cohen directly implicated Mr. Trump in a federal crime, escalating pressure on the president. Three other Trump associates have been charged with felonies and a fourth was convicted by a jury on Tuesday. Mr. Trump and his representatives previously denied that he knew about the payments at the time they were made. Mr. Cohen “worked to pay money to silence two women who he believed would be detrimental to” Mr. Trump and his campaign, said Robert Khuzami, the deputy U.S. attorney in Manhattan, at a news conference. “For that, he is going to pay a very, very serious price.”   Mr. Cohen, 51 years old, pleaded guilty to a total of eight criminal counts: two counts of illegal campaign contributions related to payments to women; five counts of evading personal income taxes from 2012 to 2016; and one count of making false statements to a financial institution. The plea agreement doesn’t require Mr. Cohen to cooperate with prosecutors, according to people familiar with the deal. That doesn’t preclude him from providing information later on to the government, including to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s associates colluded with Russia in the 2016 campaign.

    Cohen’s Guilty Plea Puts Trump in a Perilous Spot -- Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted in open court Tuesday to violating federal campaign finance laws — at the direction of a candidate who told him to do so. Cohen is saying that Trump was a principal of the crime he admits to having committed. Under federal law, that makes Trump criminally liable as an accomplice. The closest historical analogy is when Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski named President Richard Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator. That was based in part on testimony by John Dean, who had implicated Nixon in congressional testimony while Nixon was still in office. But even Dean’s 1973 guilty plea in court to obstruction of justice did not state that he had committed his crimes at the direction of the president. This event is therefore unprecedented in U.S. history. Never before has someone pleaded guilty in open court and said he acted at the direction of the president. We are therefore entering into a new phase of the Trump presidency — one that will be complex and treacherous for the president and for the country. When it became clear that Nixon was criminally liable for acts he had committed as part of the Watergate cover-up, Congress initiated impeachment proceedings. Nixon soon resigned rather than face impeachment. As president, Trump cannot be criminally charged under current Department of Justice guidelines. And he has shown no interest in leaving office. In a rational world, Congress would wake from its torpor and get serious about investigating the president. Assuming Cohen is telling the truth — and he has no obvious reason to lie, and no promise of a reduced sentence — then candidate Trump ordered a federal criminal violation in order to hide the fact that he was paying hush money to Stormy Daniels, a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair. That’s a federal crime. Cohen is probably going to go to prison for following through on the order to violate campaign finance law. This suggests that Trump should be subject to criminal liability for giving the order. Although he won’t be charged while he’s president, Trump could be charged with a federal crime the moment he leaves office. The prospect of criminal prosecution is therefore almost certainly going to loom over the rest of Trump’s term. The best possible scenario for Trump is that the crime could be seen as technical.   Trump was funneling the payment to Daniels through Cohen. If this is true, Trump was making an unauthorized and illegal campaign contribution to his own campaign. That’s a crime, but maybe not an earth-shattering one, if you already support Trump. Congressional leaders could see it the same way.  We would be faced with the bizarre scenario of a president, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, who has been directly implicated in a federal crime — and suffers no legal consequences, at least while he’s in office.

    Traders Respond To Michael Cohen's Guilty Plea -  As noted previously, following the admission of Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that he violated campaign finance laws by paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels at the "direction of a federal candidate... for (the) principal purpose of influencing (the) election", S&P500 futures slumped, dropping to session lows while the SPY ETF fell 0.3% to $285.38, down from $286.34 at the close. Courtesy of Bloomberg, here are some kneejerk responses from traders in the aftermath of Cohen guilty plea:

    • "Some folks are going to tie it back to Trump and the fact that he’s probably not walking as clean a line as they would like to see coming from the president,” said Gary Bradshaw, a portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas. “All these trials were going on during the day and the market was hitting new highs, so the market kind of ignored it. But after hours, when guilty verdicts come out, the market is looking at it differently."
    • Matt Schreiber, president and chief investment strategist at WBI Investments: “It’s just uncertainty, that’s all it is. And at the same time there’s obviously been some trade deals, China is looking to come back to the bargaining table, so I don’t know that this isn’t just more of the same short-term effect that we’ve had in terms of bad news that we’ve had for 2 years now. I just don’t see this taking markets that much lower since it’s the same story and we haven’t gotten that much further. Yeah a couple guys have been found guilty of things that they did, but they still have to draw line to the big guy. Smoke and guns would cause markets to go down further, but until they have that, I don’t think you’re going to have downward velocity.”
    • "People are not going to be dumping the stocks or panicking -- none of the stuff has hurt the market so far,” said Matt Maley, equity strategist at Miller Tabak. “I don’t think this is going to create a lot of fear that will cause people to sell, but it will definitely force people to step back and refrain from buying, at least short-term. Fewer buyers in a rather thin market can cause a further downside. The markets are near an all-time high, investors would need the time to assess whether this is the news that will help the markets to go down."

    Trump Slams Cohen, Calls Out Obama Campaign Finance Violations - President Trump fired off a tweet early Wednesday slamming his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, warning people: "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!"  If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018 Trump's tweet comes on the heels of Cohen pleading guilty on Tuesday to helping the President pay hush money to two women, which some have suggested was in violation of campaign finance laws.Nearly an hour later, Trump tweeted: "Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!"Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018  In 2013, Politico noted:    President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for campaign reporting violations — one of the largest fees ever levied against a presidential campaign

      Trump Denies Directing Cohen to Break Campaign-Finance Laws - President Trump denied playing a part in illegal hush-money payments to two women during the 2016 campaign and berated his former lawyer for swearing in court a day earlier that he had, leaving the White House and both political parties Wednesday to sort through the fallout less than three months before midterm elections.  Mr. Trump and administration officials sought to discredit Michael Cohen, who said Tuesday as part of a guilty plea in federal court that the president directed him to buy the silence of the women so their allegations about affairs with Mr. Trump wouldn’t harm his presidential bid.   On Twitter, Mr. Trump accused Mr. Cohen of lying and mocked his legal talents. On Fox News, Mr. Trump said he became aware of the payments to the women “later on,” echoing his statement in April that he wasn’t aware of the payment to Stephanie Clifford, the former adult-film star who goes by the name Stormy Daniels, at the time it took place.  Last month, a lawyer for Mr. Cohen released a tape of a September 2016 conversation between Mr. Cohen and the president in which they discussed buying from a magazine publisher the rights to the story of the second woman, a former Playboy model, about an affair with Mr. Trump.   One person close to the White House said Mr. Cohen’s shifting accounts about the payments raised questions about his truthfulness—a line that presidential aides expect to emphasize going forward.On Capitol Hill, both parties began to assess how Mr. Cohen’s revelations could affect the November elections, in which Democrats need to flip 23 seats to take the House and Republicans are seeking to hold their narrow Senate majority. Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea to tax fraud and campaign finance violations—on the same day former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty by a federal jury in Virginia of tax evasion and other crimes—heightened the GOP challenge. “It’s not helpful to Republicans,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who at times has allied with the president. “It’s just one more narrative of people around the president doing bad things. The economy’s going strong, we’ll have our side of the story, but I don’t think you have to be a political genius to understand that stuff like this doesn’t help.”

      Trump contradicts Cohen: ‘Hush money payments came from me’ – as it happened -- Here’s a look at what’s unfolded in the aftermath of the verdicts against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and ex-lawyer Michael Cohen.

      • Trump lashed out at Cohen (“I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”) and praised Manafort (“He refused to break”). Trump again called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt”.
      • In an interview with Fox & Friends, Trump denied knowing about payments made by Cohen during the presidential campaign to silence two women who said they had affairs with Trump until “later on”. But he said the payments “came from me” and claimed that they were not illegal.
      • At the White House press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed: “The president has done nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. There has been no collusion.” She would not rule out the possibility that Trump could pardon Manafort. And when asked if Trump has lied to the American people, Sanders replied: “that’s a ridiculous accusation”.
      • In a series of interviews on Wednesday, Michael Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis said his client has information that would be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller about a Russian conspiracy to “corrupt American democracy” and “a failure to report that knowledge to the FBI.” He also said Cohen would “not accept” a pardon from Trump.
      • Democrats called for postponing the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for judge Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of Cohen’s guilty plea. Republicans said the hearing will go ahead as planned.
      • A new report says Manafort went to Kyrgyzstan and promoted Russian interests.

      Why Michael Cohen Agreed to Plead Guilty—And Implicate the President - Michael Cohen had many reasons to play ball last weekend when his legal team sat down to talk to federal prosecutors. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office had testimony from Mr. Cohen’s accountant and business partners, along with bank records, tax filings and loan applications that implicated not only Mr. Cohen in potential criminal activity, but also his wife, who filed taxes jointly with her husband. Prosecutors signaled Mr. Cohen would face nearly 20 criminal counts, potentially carrying a lengthy prison sentence and staggering financial penalties. Adding to the pressure, David Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, provided prosecutors with details about payments Mr. Cohen arranged with women who alleged sexual encounters with President Trump, including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals.  This account of how Mr. Cohen went from a pugnacious defender of the president to turning on Mr. Trump is based on details provided by people close to Mr. Cohen and others briefed on the discussions with prosecutors. For weeks, the president had been distancing himself from Mr. Cohen, including by stopping paying his longtime attorney’s legal fees, making clear amid the pressure that he was on his own. Under oath on Tuesday, before a packed courtroom, Mr. Cohen created a spectacular moment without parallel in American history when he confessed to two crimes that he said he committed at the behest of the man who would become president. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes, including tax evasion and making false statements to a bank, capping a monthslong investigation into his business dealings and work as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer. For the president, it opens up a perilous new legal front.Mr. Cohen in court said Mr. Trump directed him to arrange payments during the 2016 campaign to two women who alleged they had sexual encounters with Mr. Trump. The payments violated caps on campaign contributions and a ban on corporate contributions, prosecutors said. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump denied he directed Mr. Cohen to buy the women’s silence. Contradicting earlier statements, the president said he became aware of the payments to the women “later on” and said Mr. Cohen was reimbursed from his personal funds, not his 2016 campaign coffers.

      WaPo: Despite Talk Of Trump Impeachment After Cohen Betrayal, Charges Unlikely The Washington Post writes on Wednesday that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen's claim that he broke campaign finance laws at the direction of then-candidate Trump may spark calls to impeach, however even if true it "probably will not have any legal consequences for the president while he is in office," according to legal analysts. The 51-year-old Cohen, Trump's lawyer for a decade, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to campaign finance violations and other charges, including bank fraud totaling "well over $20 million." The alleged campaign finance violations in connection with paying hush money to two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump, however, are at the heart of what many think could be the start of impeachment talks (since that whole Russia thing hasn't panned out so far). But even if campaign finance laws were broken, WaPo says it may not matter: Such an explosive assertion against anyone but the president would suggest that a criminal case could be in the offing, but under long-standing legal interpretations by the Justice Department, the president cannot be charged with a crime.The department produced legal analyses in 1973 and 2000 concluding that the Constitution does not allow for the criminal indictment of a sitting president. –WaPo Supporting this notion, special counsel Robert Mueller admitted in May that he will follow DOJ guidance and not indict President Trump as part of the Russia investigation.  "All they get to do is write a report," said Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.Giuliani, himself a former federal prosecutor and mayor of New York City, also told Fox that Mueller's investigators have not responded to five information requests from the president's team. That has forced Trump's legal team to push off making a decision about whether the president will sit for an interview with the special counsel -- a decision they had hoped to reach by Thursday.  -Fox NewsAnd as far as campaign finance violations go, the Post notes that "[Mueller] determined months ago that allegations of  campaign finance violations involving payments to women before the presidential election were outside the scope of his mandate to investigate whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia’s operation to influence the vote."

      What Michael Cohen’s Plea and Paul Manafort’s Conviction Mean for Trump and the Mueller Investigation - Lawfare -  On Tuesday afternoon, Manafort was found guilty on eight felony counts of tax evasion and bank fraud in the Eastern District of Virginia. The judge declared a mistrial on the remaining 10 counts after the jury deadlocked. Shortly thereafter, in the Southern District of New York, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies of his own: five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, and two counts of campaign finance violations involving hush-money payments to the actress Stormy Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) and to Karen McDougal. Here are seven questions and some related observations pointed up by Tuesday’s events.

      • Does Donald Trump choose the “best people”?   We didn’t need a raft of criminal convictions to answer this question. The consistent incompetence of Trump’s inner circle is all the answer one needs. That said, the starting place in this conversation must be the degree to which close associates of the president of the United States keep turning out to be felons. Yes, only one portion of Cohen’s criminal conduct and none of the charges on which Manafort was convicted connect directly to President Trump. But the parade of greed and the continuous criminal conduct on the part of two people closely associated with Trump and his campaign sheds disturbing light on who the president regards as appropriate top aides and associates. That Trump himself continues to express sympathy with Manafort, not outrage at his conduct, further undermines confidence in his judgment of character.
      • Do these convictions have implications for L’Affaire Russe? They may, and in both cases, there is reason to suspect they do, but we don’t know yet know for certain. With both defendants, there are reasons to suspect the individual may have important information for Robert Mueller’s investigation. And in both cases, the current moment is one in which cooperation would be extremely well advised. In Cohen’s case, cooperation is almost certainly happening, though the plea agreement contains no cooperation provision.
      • How big a deal is the Manafort verdict? Pretty big. It is a big deal first because the failure to obtain it would have been an immense setback to the investigation. Going to trial is always a fraught process. And for the Mueller investigation to have failed to garner a conviction would have risked consequences for the legitimacy of the entire enterprise. A conviction on eight counts and a mistrial on 10 other counts may seem like a split decision—but it is not. The jury found Manafort guilty of substantial criminal conduct, and he faces significant jail time at his sentencing in December. Having the jury hang on some charges and convict on others shows independence and makes it hard to argue that Manafort did not get a fair shake. Mueller’s shop is no doubt satisfied with this outcome.
      • How big a deal is the Cohen plea agreement? Very big. The president’s former lawyer has not only confessed to criminal campaign finance violations, but he has also said under oath that he was doing so at the direction of the president himself. It’s hard to say yet what precisely this means. But it is not a small thing. Setting aside the question of whether Cohen will cooperate with Mueller, it remains to be seen whether prosecutors will pursue additional criminal charges against individuals mentioned but not charged in the criminal information.
      • How close is this to the president? “It doesn’t involve me,” the president said Tuesday afternoon when asked about the Manafort verdict. Setting aside the implications of the Manafort case for the Mueller investigation as a whole, Trump is certainly correct that the specific charges on which Manafort was convicted, and those on which the jury could not reach a verdict, do not involve the president’s conduct.  As we noted above, the story is quite different in the Cohen case. Among the counts to which the president’s former lawyer pleaded guilty are two violations of federal election law: “causing an unlawful corporate contribution,” regarding Cohen’s role in silencing Karen McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump by persuading her to sell the rights to a tabloid that then quashed the story; and “excessive campaign contribution,” regarding Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels as part of a hush agreement, for which he was then reimbursed by the Trump Organization.

      Newspapers in Rural Areas Ignore Michael Cohen Bombshell --  The fact that the President’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty yesterday to an array of fraud charges and fingered the President as an unindicted co-conspirator in campaign finance fraud, which dominated cable news last night for a non-stop six hours, has failed to get front-page placement in newspapers across rural America. This news censorship may explain why suburban and urban voters give such a low approval rating to Donald Trump while rural voters continue to give the President high marks. Rural voters are simply being starved of important national news by their local newspapers. Consider the stark difference in reporting between the digital front pages of big city papers and their rural peers this morning: The New York Times leads today with the headline Cohen Pleads Guilty, Implicating President. The Washington Post has this: Cohen pleads guilty, implicates Trump in payoff scheme. The Los Angeles Times explains it this way: “For a president who campaigned on a platform of ‘drain the swamp’ and ‘lock her up,’ Tuesday provided a moment of reckoning that could put his administration in league with Nixon’s for the level of scandal that surrounds it.” The President spoke at a rally in West Virginia yesterday, where he is popular because of his pro-coal stance. We looked to see how a newspaper in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the Exponent Telegram, was covering the Cohen story today. It had zero news on the matter on its digital front page. Its digital front page did have this, however: “Woman charged with disorderly conduct at Bridgeport city hall; later carried shouting off to jail.” The Sioux City Journal in Iowa also has nothing about the Cohen arrest, guilty plea and campaign fraud allegations against the President on its digital front page this morning. The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire, which covers both suburban and rural areas, also had nothing about Michael Cohen. Its digital front page led with a story about an owl protecting its nest by swooping down and harassing hikers on a local trail. Let that sink in for a moment — a menacing bird beat out the President of the United States being implicated in campaign finance fraud and a hush money coverup.

      Newspaper front pages from where Trump held his rally Tuesday night perfectly illustrate how Americans see the news differently - Three of the four West Virginia newspapers included President Donald Trump's rally on their Wednesday front pages rather than the guilty convictions of his former attorney Michael Cohen and campaign chairman Paul Manafort. All four newspaper front pages included Trump's decision this week to do away with coal emission standards the Obama administration implemented. The only West Virginia newspaper to include the Cohen and Manafort guilty convictions on its front page was the CharlestonGazette-Mail, which placed both stories in sidebars to the right of its main story on the coal news.The Huntington-based Herald-Dispatch, the Beckley-basedRegister-Herald, and the Morgantown-based Dominion Post all ran Trump's West Virginia rally and his decision to roll back the Clean Power Plan as the lead stories for Wednesday.The Register-Herald mentioned Cohen and Manafort in two blurbs at the bottom of their front page. As Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget commented on Twitter, "This makes it much easier to understand why Americans have such divergent views of what is actually happening."   At his rally in Charleston on Tuesday night, Trump barely discussed the guilty convictions of Cohen and Manafort.Cohen struck a deal on Tuesday afternoon with prosecutors to plead guilty to eight federal crimes, including five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, two counts of campaign finance violations.During his plea entry, Cohen said Trump directed him to make the illegal campaign and corporate contributions in order to influence the election. Meanwhile, a jury found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign bank accounts.

      Donald Trump Could’ve Paid Off Stormy Daniels Legally If Michael Cohen Were a Better Lawyer - On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted something genuinely funny:If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018  Trump is angry at Michael Cohen, of course, because Cohen just pleaded guilty to (among other things) making an illegal contribution to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign by paying hush money to Stormy Daniels just before the election. Moreover, Cohen told the judge in the case that he did so “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump.Cohen’s actions were illegal because individuals may only contribute a limited amount of money or in-kind services to political campaigns. During the 2016 election, the maximum was $5,400. Cohen fraudulently obtained a home equity loan and then wired $130,000 of it to the lawyer representing Daniels on October 27, 2016.What Trump certainly doesn’t understand, and what makes his tweet extra-wonderful, is that the problem with Cohen isn’t just that he (in Trump’s mind) betrayed Trump. It’s that Cohen is genuinely a terrible lawyer.J.P. Morgan famously said, “I don’t know as I want a lawyer to tell me what I cannot do. I hire him to tell me how to do what I want to do.” But what Cohen managed to do was fail in both ways. He didn’t tell Trump that Trump couldn’t pay off Daniels using Cohen himself as a conduit — but he also failed to advise Trump that there was a way to do it that would have been totally legal. Here’s how…

      Michael Cohen paid a mysterious tech company $50,000 'in connection with' Trump's campaign - President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments during the summer and fall of 2016 to silence two women who claimed they'd had sexual relationships with the married candidate.But silence is not all that Cohen appears to have purchased in order to help his boss win the White House.Buried in the legal documents released Tuesday as part of Cohen's guilty plea on eight felony counts, there was a new, previously unreported payment Cohen made in 2016 to help Trump: $50,000 for work that prosecutors say Cohen "solicited from a technology company during and in connection with the campaign." The documents do not identify which tech company Cohen paid the money to, or what, exactly, the company did for him. But the mere existence of the previously unknown payment suggests that Cohen may have been doing more for Trump, and for the Trump campaign, than simply paying off women. Furthermore, the way that Cohen reported the $50,000 expense to the Trump Organization in January 2017 suggests the money may not have been paid out through traditional financial channels. According to prosecutors, Cohen presented Trump executives with bank records for several of the expenses he incurred on Trump's behalf. But for his $50,000 payment to a tech company, Cohen provided no paperwork, just a handwritten sum at the top of one of the other bank documents. The Trump Organization would later say that the $50,000 was a "payment for tech services." However, prosecutors say the $50,000 "was in fact related to work Cohen had solicited from a technology company during and in connection with the campaign."  A spokesman for the Trump Organization did not respond to questions from CNBC Wednesday about the payment. Trump's campaign, likewise, did not answer questions about whether it knew Cohen had paid a tech company $50,000 to aid in Trump's election bid.It's not clear exactly when Cohen spent the money, only that it was during the campaign. And without knowing precisely what it was for, it's difficult to tell whether Cohen violated the law by not reporting it as a campaign expense.

      Cohen Willing To Tell Mueller About Trump's "Conspiracy To Collude" With Russia - If there was any doubt whether Michael Cohen had flipped, despite statements that he was not cooperating with the government as part of his guilty plea and refusing to name the "candidate" who instructed him to violate campaign finance law, that was promptly dissolved in the following hours when Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis said that his client has "knowledge" about computer hacking and collusion, and is willing to speak with Special Counsel Robert Mueller about a "conspiracy to collude" with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.Cohen, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to helping President Trump pay hush money to two women, wants to tell Mueller that Trump knew of an infamous 2016 meeting at Trump Tower and the Russian hacking of Democratic institutions before they took place, Davis told MSNBC, deciding that any "attorney client" privilege in this case is strictly optional."Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel and is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows," Davis told MSNBC on Tuesday."Not just about the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude and corrupt the American democracy system in the 2016 election, which the Trump Tower meeting was all about, but also knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.”WATCH: Lanny Davis, attorney for Michael Cohen, tells @maddow that his client has information that should be of interest to the special counsel and is "more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows."— MSNBC (@MSNBC) August 22, 2018More troubling for Trump, Davis said on Wednesday then said that "there is no dispute that Trump committed a crime" as he repeated that "Cohen has knowledge of a Russian conspiracy", even if it was still unclear if Cohen or Davis have any evidence or proof to substantiate their allegations.

      Michael Cohen Subpoeaned By NY Investigators In Trump Foundation Probe - New York investigators have subpoenaed President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in connection with an ongoing probe of the Trump Foundation, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. "A subpoena has been issued to Michael Cohen for relevant information in light of the public disclosures made yesterday," James Gazzale, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, told CNBC. Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a Manhattan federal court to eight criminal charges - including tax fraud and campaign finance crimes, while at the same time claiming that President Trump instructed him to make payments to two women who have accused the president of affairs over a decade ago. The probe into the Trump foundation was intitially opened by then-NY Attorney General Eric "We Could Rarely Have Sex Without Him Beating Me" Schneiderman in September, 2016 as the election was drawing to a close. Schneiderman's replacement, NY AG Barbara Underwood, filed suit against Trump and several family members in June alleging a pattern of "persistently illegal conduct" at the family's nonprofit foundation. As The Hill reported in 2016, The Donald J. Trump Foundation had been coming under increasing media pressure for misreporting a number of donations and using its money in a questionable fashion. Schneiderman reportedly told CNN’s “The Lead” on Tuesday that his interest in Trump's foundation connects with his role "as regulator of nonprofits in New York state." "We have been concerned that the Trump Foundation may have engaged in some impropriety from that point of view,” Schneiderman reportedly said on CNN.

      Prosecutors grant immunity to Enquirer's David Pecker: report | TheHill: Prosecutors reportedly granted immunity to David Pecker, the CEO of the company that publishes National Enquirer, as part of their investigation into President Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen. Pecker met with the prosecution to discuss Cohen's involvement in Trump's hush-money deals with women leading up to the 2016 presidential election, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. Pecker has emerged as a central figure in the scandal involving the payments. CNN last month released audio of Trump and Cohen discussing payment to a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, in which Cohen apparently references Pecker, telling Trump that he needs “to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David." Dylan Howard, the chief content officer at American Media, the Enquirer's publisher, will also not be criminally charged, according to the Journal. Neither the two men nor American Media responded to the newspaper's request for comment. Pecker's possible involvement in the payments first drew attention when The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2016 that the Enquirer had withheld a story about an alleged affair McDougal had with Trump. The Enquirer reportedly paid McDougal $150,000 for a story about the alleged affair in 2006, but never published it.People familiar with McDougal's account told the newspaper that the affair lasted for approximately 10 months to a year. The Enquirer endorsed Trump for president, and Pecker has long been on friendly terms with him. 

      Ex-Reagan official: If Mueller had nothing, Trump 'would ignore him' | TheHill: A former official from several Republican administrations said he believes President Trump’s repeated attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation are a sign that Trump is worried the investigation is closing in on him. Peter Wehner, who worked in President Reagan’s administration and both Bush administrations, said Monday on CNN that the stronger the case is that Mueller has, “the more vitriolic, the more acrimonious, the more libelous” Trump and his supporters will be in their attacks on the special counsel.“It’s actually a sign of the strength of the case that Mueller is assessing and their fear of what he’s going to reveal,” Wehner said. “If Robert Mueller didn’t have anything, they would ignore him. But they know that he’s got something. And they can’t refute it on the facts, so they have to try and delegitimize him and the investigation.” Wehner added that he doesn’t think Trump’s attacks on Mueller will prove successful. “In the end, Robert Mueller is going to come forward with his report,” he said. “My suspicion is that it’s going to be a very powerful indictment that’s going to demonstrate layers and layers of wrongdoing.” 

      As Trump attacks attorney general, Democrats seek to channel all opposition behind anti-Russia campaign - The Trump administration descended deeper into crisis Thursday, with an unprecedented exchange of verbal attacks between the president and the attorney general he nominated 18 months ago, former Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Trump vilified Sessions Wednesday in an interview with Fox News, claiming that Democratic Party holdovers “are very strong” in the Department of Justice and that “Jeff Sessions never took control.” He was responding to a question about Tuesday’s plea agreement with Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, and the conviction the same day of Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, both in cases prosecuted by the Department of Justice.Trump again denounced Sessions for recusing himself from any role in supervising the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign, the root cause of all his grievances against the attorney general. Sessions had little choice about the recusal, from the standpoint of traditional legal norms, since he had played a major role in the 2016 Trump campaign—he was Trump’s first Senate endorser, and for a long time the only one—and was therefore a potential target of the probe.Sessions responded Thursday morning with an unusually pointed public statement, albeit prefaced by a declaration of loyalty to Trump’s policies. He wrote: “I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda…”He then added, in the closest thing to a rebuke that any cabinet secretary has given to Trump since he took office, “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States.” This unusual exchange immediately touched off open discussion of the firing of Sessions by his former Senate Republican colleagues, who had previously urged Trump, after earlier anti-Sessions tweets, not to move against him. One possible successor to Sessions, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, flatly stated that Sessions would be removed after the November 6 election because he had “lost the confidence” of President Trump.

      US Attorney General Sessions hits back at Trump - US President Donald Trump drew a sharp rebuttal from his attorney general after giving a scathing assessment of Jeff Sessions as being unable to take control of the Justice Department.Trump intensified his criticism of the Justice Department in a Fox News interview broadcast on Thursday as the White House grappled to respond to the conviction of former Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, on multiple fraud counts and a plea deal struck by Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, that implicated the president.Trump reprised a litany of complaints about the Justice Department and the FBI, attacking both without providing evidence they had treated him and his supporters unfairly.Trump also renewed his criticism of Sessions, blaming him for what he called corruption at the Department of Justice."I put in an attorney general who never took control of the Justice Department," Trump told Fox.  Sessions, in a rare rebuttal to Trump, issued a statement defending the integrity of his department. "I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in," he said. "While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."Sessions, a longtime US senator and early supporter of Trump's presidential bid, drew Trump's ire when he recused himself in March 2017 from issues involving the 2016 White House race. That removed him from oversight of the federal special counsel's investigation of Russia's role in the election and whether Trump's campaign worked with Moscow to influence the vote. Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a witch-hunt and maintained there was no collusion.

      White House Counsel "Cooperating Extensively" With Obstruction Probe, Trump Says He Allowed It -- White House counsel Donald McGahn II, has been quietly cooperating "extensively" with special counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to an explosive New York Times report published Saturday afternoon.Sources told the Times that McGahn has had at least three voluntary interviews with Mueller's team totaling 30 hours, in which he discussed accounts of multiple episodes at the center of Mueller's probe into whether President Trump obstructed justice, as well as the president’s furor toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged McGahn to respond to it. For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual. Lawyers are rarely so open with investigators, not only because they are advocating on behalf of their clients but also because their conversations with clients are potentially shielded by attorney-client privilege, and in the case of presidents, executive privilege. Among the episodes McGahn reprotedly discussed with investigators is Trump’s firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey and the president's repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of the special counsel despite his recusal from Russia probes. McGahn was also centrally involved in Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, himself which investigators might not have discovered without him.  Update: Trump has commented on the story, saying he allowed McGahn "and all other requested members of the White House Staff" to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. He also notes that the White House has given over one million pages of documents adding "No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!" I allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn, and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. In addition we readily gave over one million pages of documents. Most transparent in history. No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2018

      What if the dreaded ‘pee tape’ is real? - From the Telluride Daily Planet, founded 1898, published Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in Telluride, Colorado, comes a local news item that may have wider significance.   The newspaper reports that:   A former CIA officer called Bob Baer began digging after becoming privy to the Trump-Russia ties during the 2016 election cycle, when he received a tip from a current Democratic operative who asked him to reach out to an ex-KGB officer. ‘I knew from the phone number from the FBI that it was a legit KGB guy,’ he said.  He added that the man on the other end of line said, ‘We have a tape of Donald Trump.’  The ‘tape’ was supposedly of Trump getting prostitutes to urinate in front of him in a Moscow hotel room. This was the allegation revealed later with publication of the ‘dossier’ written by a former MI6 officer, Christopher Steele. The ‘Democratic operative’ in Baer’s account was Cody Shearer, not in fact a member of the Clinton campaign or working for the DNC, but a journalist who was also an old friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In the summer of 2016, he was investigating Donald Trump and had come across the ‘ex KGB man’. He asked Baer for his opinion.  Shearer’s ‘journalists’ notes’ were later obtained by the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes. He wanted to use them to discredit the Steele ‘dossier’. Since both documents talked about a sex tape that could be used to blackmail Trump, Nunes hoped to push the story that Steele’s claims had all been cooked up in the first place by the Clintons and their allies. Unfortunately for Nunes, the timeline does not support this. Steele wrote most of his reports in June 2016. Shearer did not write his notes until September and October 2016 – they could not have been the origin of the dossier.  However, Shearer did write his notes months before Steele’s dossier was published, which was in January 2017. Was Shearer’s ‘ex-KGB’ man then a second source providing corroboration for the dossier’s sensational story of the ‘pee-tape’. Perhaps. Perhaps not…

      Trump: "If I Got Impeached, The Market Would Crash And Everybody Would Be Very Poor" -  The US president is starting to sound uncharacteristically defensive in the aftermath of the Manafort and Cohen turmoil.Overnight, at 1am, a sleepless President Trump blasted out one of his signature tweets: "NO COLLUSION - RIGGED WITCH HUNT!" Blame it on the ambien?   NO COLLUSION - RIGGED WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018But in a more tangible threat - one which some said is a classic from an Arab dictator playbook - President Trump said that if he ever got impeached, the stock market would crash and "everybody would be very poor."In an interview with Fox and Friends' Ainsley Earhardt that aired on Thursday, Trump was asked if he thought Democrats would move to file articles of impeachment should they take over control of the House and Senate come November. The president argued that he's done a great job in office, despite the critical coverage in connection with the Cohen case and other controversies. "If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor. Because without this thinking [points to head] you would see, you would see numbers that you wouldn't believe in reverse."

        Giuliani: "The American People Would Revolt" If Trump Impeached - President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told Sky News on Thursday that Americans would "revolt" if Trump is impeached.   "I think impeachment would be totally horrible," Giuliani said. "There’s no reason. He didn’t collude with the Russians, he didn’t obstruct justice. Everything [Michael] Cohen says has been disproved. You’d only impeach him for political reasons. And the American people would revolt against that." On Tuesday, Trump's former longtime attorney and self-described "fixer," Michael Cohen, said that President Trump directed him to pay off two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump over a decade ago. Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, says its "absolutely clear that Donald Trump committed a felony" by paying hush money to the women during the run-up to the 2016 US election. Giuliani, on the other hand, says Trump has been "completely cleared" by Cohen's testimony.   "You have this Cohen guy, he doesn't know anything about Russian collusion, he doesn't know anything about obstruction, he's a massive liar," said Giuliani. Evidence against Trump includes a tape recording made before the election in which Trump and Cohen discuss payments to the keep the women's stories silent. On Thursday, Giuliani downplayed the significance of the tape, saying "The tape recordings say very clearly that Cohen did it on his own, didn't tell the president until much later."  Meanwhile, Giuliani lashed out at the Department of Justice on Thursday for the intense focus on Trump, while Hillary Clinton's conduct has gone unaddressed - tweeting: "If there is any justice left at DOJ why is payment by Hillary Clinton and DNC to FusionGPS for the phony Steele dossier not under investigation. On your theory in Cohen plea it’s an illegal campaign contribution.Let’s go DOJ wake up. where’s the indictment. Clintons not above law."

        Aides expect Trump to go rogue on Manafort pardon--President Donald Trump’s lawyers and a cadre of informal White House advisers claim they’ve convinced him not to pardon Paul Manafort — but White House officials expect the president to do it anyway. The president’s characterization of his former campaign chairman as a victim and “brave man” is being read by aides as a signal that Trump wants to use his unilateral authority to issue pardons to absolve Manafort, according to eight current and former administration officials and outside advisers. Story Continued Below ..“Trump is setting it up. He’s referring to the investigation as a ‘witch hunt’ and saying this never would have happened to an aide to Hillary Clinton,” said one former campaign official. Three senior administration aides said the president has not expressed to them directly any immediate intention of pardoning Manafort, who was convicted earlier this week on eight counts of felony tax evasion and bank fraud. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, told The Washington Post on Thursday that the president had agreed not to pardon Manafort, who faces a second trial on lobbying violations in Washington next month, until after the midterms if at all. Giuliani did not return a call for comment. Members of the president’s informal group of outside advisers, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have stepped in over the past few weeks to caution the president against exonerating Manafort before the midterms. “He certainly does not need to do it. The things Manafort has been convicted of have nothing to do with Trump,” Gingrich told POLITICO. “The president thinks Manafort’s biggest crime was running the Trump campaign. If he had run the Clinton campaign, then he would have gotten immunity and never would have had any problems.”

        Evidence Mounts that President Trump May Have a Serious Personality Disorder -  Pam Martens - The media’s focus on President Donald Trump currently revolves around whether he is or is not an unindicted co-conspirator in criminal campaign finance fraud following that implication by prosecution documents and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in Federal court testimony on Tuesday.  .The graver risk to the country, however, may stem not from whether Donald Trump is a crook but whether he is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, a condition with the potential to elevate to dangerous psychotic behavior. Last year, 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assessed Donald Trump’s behavior in the book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.  One of the most revealing articles came from Dr. Craig Malkin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, lecturer for Harvard Medical School, and author of the internationally acclaimed Rethinking Narcissism. Dr. Malkin explains that narcissistic personalities are common and not necessarily bad in a president. He writes “When does the double-edged sword of narcissism – Trump’s or any other president’s – turn dangerous?” He says it’s based “on whether or not their narcissism is high enough to count as an illness.” Pathological narcissism according to Malkin “begins when people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they’ll do anything to get their ‘high,’ including lie, steal, cheat, betray, and even hurt those closest to them.” Malkin says this starts around 9 on the narcissism spectrum and gets worse around 10. “At these points,” writes Malkin, “you’re in the realm of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).” Psychology Today, citing the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, writes that narcissistic personality disorder is “indicated by five or more of the following symptoms”:

        • Exaggerates own importance;
        • Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance;
        • Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions;
        • Requires constant attention and admiration from others;
        • Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment;
        • Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals;
        • Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy;
        • Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her;
        • Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes.

        That’s a total of nine symptoms with only five needing to be present to qualify an individual for NPD. Yesterday, Fox and Friends released Ainsley Earhardt’s interview with President Donald Trump at the White House. Each and every one of the nine symptoms listed above were on dramatic display.

        The Trump Organization's finances are coming under the microscope by federal prosecutors: Even as Donald Trump rose from New York real estate mogul to U.S. president, the innermost workings of his namesake real estate and branding company stayed shielded behind the black-tinted windows of his eponymous Fifth Avenue skyscraper. Always run more like a family business than a blue-chip corporate empire, the private Trump Organization has operated free from the oversight of independent board members or pesky shareholders. But now that secrecy has cracked.The plea agreement in federal court this week by Michael Cohen, who spent 10 years as executive vice president and special counsel at the Trump Organization and later served as Trump’s personal attorney, showed that federal prosecutors had excavated invoices, receipts, tax records, emails and other internal documents from Trump’s business. Federal prosecutors also made clear their willingness to squeeze friends of the president. They reportedly got David Pecker, a longtime Trump ally who heads the company that publishes the National Enquirer tabloid, to provide evidence in the Cohen case in exchange for immunity from criminal charges. Now the question is how much further they will dig into the murky business dealings and personal scandals at a carefully guarded company that remains key to Trump’s narrative of personal success despite years of bankruptcies, lawsuits and other controversies. “The more you peel back, the more you’re likely to see irregularities that are worthy of investigation,” said Juan Zarate, a former Justice Department prosecutor who also helped pioneer tactics for tracking illicit cross-border financial transactions during the George W. Bush administration. Two federal investigations pose the greatest threat so far. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan is prosecuting the case against Cohen. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is looking into whether anyone from Trump’s campaign — which was based at Trump Tower — conspired with Russians to interfere in the 2016 election. 

        Trump Organization CFO granted immunity in latest blow to the president - In what may be the biggest legal blow yet to President Donald Trump, federal prosecutors in New York have granted immunity from prosecution to Allen Weisselberg, the man who knows Trump’s financial secrets — and those of his family and his global business empire. At the very least, Weisselberg — the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer — has provided key information to federal prosecutors in their case against former Trump lawyer and self-described fixer Michael Cohen and his hush-money payments to two women during the 2016 election, according to a person familiar with the matter. ..But federal prosecutors in Manhattan could use Weisselberg’s cooperation to investigate a broad array of potential financial crimes and irregularities, including any other payoffs and campaign finance violations, false statements to the government, corrupt business dealings overseas and tax evasion by Trump, his family members and their eponymous company and all of its related entities and offshore shell companies, legal experts told POLITICO on Friday. “What we have right now is a campaign finance issue,” said Joyce Vance, a 25-year former federal prosecutor and U.S. Attorney for Alabama in the Obama administration. “But there’s a whole amusement park of potential crimes out there given what we know about Donald Trump, and Weisselberg is the guy who knows where the entrance is and has the roadmap of it.” In many ways, Weisselberg isn’t just the keeper of the roadmap, he is the roadmap, with a head full of information about names, dates and reasons for why the secretive Trump entered into particular transactions. For several decades, Weisselberg has done Trump’s personal tax returns and watched over his personal finances in addition to acting as CFO for the Trump Organization. Currently, he is also running that financial empire with Trump’s two eldest sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. 

        Trump on Weisselberg: ‘He Did Whatever Was Necessary’ -- “Think Allen Weisselberg,” a person who knows Donald Trump well told me a few days ago. Even as news was breaking about the president’s personal attorney’s stunning, Trump-implicating, plea-deal admission that he had arranged hush-money payments to an ex-Playboy playmate and a porn star, it was a reminder to not lose sight of the enduring importance of the Trump Organization’s under-the-radar longtime chief financial officer.On Friday, it was hard not to see the wisdom of the statement. The news from the Wall Street Journal that Weisselberg was granted immunity by federal prosecutors to talk to them in their criminal investigation of flipped fixer Michael Cohen was but the latest concussive blow to Trump—an additional instance in this history-book week of a person who had been seen as unflinchingly loyal to Trump gauging the increasingly fraught legal terrain and opting to cooperate with investigators at the potential expense of the president. “I don’t think Allen would do anything illegal,” former Trump Organization executive vice president Barbara Res said Friday afternoon, “but I know he would not go to jail for Donald.”“Executive 1,” prosecutors in the Cohen case called Weisselberg, according to NBC News—and it’s an apt description. Weisselberg has worked for Trump for so long he actually started working for his father—in 1973, the same year the Department of Justice filed suit against the Trumps for discriminating against nonwhite people. He is simultaneously one of the most important and least known employees who works on the 26th floor of Trump Tower. In the myriad biographies and newspaper and magazine profiles written about Trump over the past five decades, Weisselberg’s name appears with notable infrequency. He seldom speaks on the record. Others in Trump’s orbit talk only so much about him. The person who’s probably said the most, actually, is Trump himself. And some of what he’s shared has a new and interesting resonance now.

        Trump World Tower Doorman Is Free to Discuss President’s Alleged Affair with Ex-Housekeeper - Another scandalous accusation kept quiet for years by American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, is about to drop on Donald Trump’s head.CNN reported on Saturday that AMI has released former Trump World Tower doorman Dino Sajudin from a so-called “catch-and-kill” contract that would have made him liable for a $1 million payment had he gone public with his story. Last April, several news organizations reported that Sajudin had knowledge that Trump had an affair with a former housekeeper that resulted in a child. AMI bought the exclusive rights to that story in November 2015 for $30,000. Then, the publishing company killed the story.The deal with Sajudin was made just months after Trump launched his presidential campaign, as Splinter reported at the time.CNN published the contract here. All of that has now changed since prosecutors offered AMI’s owner, David Pecker, who for years was a close Trump ally, immunity in exchange for his cooperation in the investigation of “catch-and-kill” schemes to protect then-candidate Trump from public revelations of his numerous extramarital affairs with porn stars, models, and apparently, housekeepers.

        Facebook is rating the trustworthiness of its users on a scale from zero to 1 — Facebook has begun to assign its users a reputation score, predicting their trustworthiness on a scale from zero to 1.The previously unreported ratings system, which Facebook has developed over the past year, shows that the fight against the gaming of tech systems has evolved to include measuring the credibility of users to help identify malicious actors.Facebook developed its reputation assessments as part of its effort against fake news, Tessa Lyons, the product manager who is in charge of fighting misinformation, said in an interview. The company, like others in tech, has long relied on its users to report problematic content — but as Facebook has given people more options, some users began falsely reporting items as untrue, a new twist on information warfare for which it had to account.It’s “not uncommon for people to tell us something is false simply because they disagree with the premise of a story or they’re intentionally trying to target a particular publisher,” Lyons said.A user’s trustworthiness score isn’t meant to be an absolute indicator of a person’s credibility, Lyons said, nor is there is a single unified reputation score that users are assigned. Rather, the score is one measurement among thousands of new behavioral clues that Facebook now takes into account as it seeks to understand risk. Facebook is also monitoring which users have a propensity to flag content published by others as problematic and which publishers are considered trustworthy by users. It is unclear what other criteria Facebook measures to determine a user’s score, whether all users have a score and in what ways the scores are used.

        Facebook: the new Credit Reporting Agency? - Facebook, it seems, has developed a system of rating users trustworthiness. It's not clear if this is just a system for internal use or if users' trustworthiness scores are for sale to third parties, but if the latter, then would sure seem that Facebook is a Consumer Reporting Agency and subject to CRA provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). FCRA defines a CRA as any person which, for monetary fees, dues, or on a cooperative nonprofit basis, regularly engages in whole or in part in the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties, and which uses any means or facility of interstate commerce for the purpose of preparing or furnishing consumer reports. A consumer report is, in turn, defined as: any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for [credit, insurance, employment or government license]. Thus, if Facebook is selling information about a consumer's general reputation—trustworthiness—to third parties that might reasonably be expected to use it for credit, insurance, or employment, it's a CRA, and that means it's subject to a host of regulatory requirements as well as civil liability, including statutory damages for willful noncompliance.  Facebook is hardly the only tech company that might be a CRA--I've written about this in regard to Google previously.  While Facebook has a bunch of money transmitter licenses and knows it is in the consumer finance space on payments, I suspect it hasn't thought about this from the data perspective.  Indeed, I don't think tech companies think about the possibility that they might be CRAs because we think of CRAs as being firms like Equifax that specialize in being CRAs, but FCRA's definition is broader.  If I collect data on you that I sell to third parties for employment or insurance or credit purposes, I'm a CRA. 

        Google’s data collection is hard to escape, study claims CNN - Short of chucking your phone into the river, shunning the internet, and learning to read paper maps again, there's not much you can do to keep Google from collecting data about you. So says a Vanderbilt University computer scientist who led an analysis of Google's data collection practices. His report, released Tuesday, outlines a myriad ways the company amasses information about the billions of people who use the world's leading search engine, web browser, and mobile operating system, not to mention products like Gmail, platforms like YouTube, and products like Nest. Although the report doesn't contain any bombshells, it presents an overview of Google's efforts to learn as much as possible about people. And it comes at a time of heightened concern about how much information tech companies collect, what they do with it, and how they secure it. Google has largely escaped the public and regulatory backlash directed at Facebook. "There's been a lot of attention obviously on Facebook in light of Cambridge Analytica," said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, which published the study. (DCN is a trade organization representing media publishers, including CNN.) "This quantifies and kind of establishes a baseline of, 'Here is everything Google is doing.'" According to the 55-page report, Google is doing a lot. Professor Douglas Schmidt and his team intercepted data as it was transmitted from Android smartphones to Google servers. They also examined the information Google provides users in its My Activity and Google Takeout tools, as well as the company's privacy polices and previous research on the topic. The researchers claims that almost every move you make online is collected and collated, from your morning routine (such as music tastes, route to work, and news preferences) to errands (including calendar appointments, webpages visited, and purchases made). "At the end of the day, Google identified user interests with remarkable accuracy," the report states.

        Elizabeth Warren’s Proposal for “Co-Determination”: Really a Second New Deal? -- naked capitalism by Lambert Strether - Elizabeth Warren has introduced S.3348, the “Accountable Capitalism Act,” and launched it with an editorial in the Wall Street Journal: “Companies Shouldn’t Be Accountable Only to Shareholders.” (Warren’s bill has noco-sponsors; Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), introduced a similar bill, S.2065, the Reward Work Act, co-sponsored by Warren and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Neither bill has been co-sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)). The heart of Warren’s “Accountable Capitalism” bill is a new Federal charter for corporations, which Warren describes in her one-pager summarizing the Act (PDF):Very large American corporations must obtain a federal charter as a “United States corporation,” which obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders: American corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue must obtain a federal charter from a newly formed Office of United States Corporations at the Department of Commerce. The new federal charter obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders – including employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities in which the company operates. In addition:Borrowing from the successful approach in Germany [co-determination, see below] and other developed economies, a United States corporation must ensure that no fewer than 40% of its directors are selected by the corporation’s employees   And: A United States corporation that engages in repeated and egregious illegal conduct may have its charter revoked I urge you to read the one-pager in full; there are other provisions as well, including a neat strategem of class warfare that would set fire to reams of the 0.1%- and 9.9%’s paper wealth[1], but the directorships and charter revocations are the topics I will ultimately critique today. I’ll begin with the obvious point that (1) corporations are indeed creatures of the State, and so there’s no principled reason for opposing opposing charter changes as such. I’ll then go on to show (2) the parallels to Warren’s Act in the German concept of “co-determination,” and (3) set the Act in the political context of the United States today, (4) contrasting co-determination with co-operatives, and then conclude with (5) a comparison to the New Deal, with suggestions on directorships and charter revocation. (Much of the commentary on Warren’s Act focuses on how it would reverse the “neoliberal turn” to “shareholder value” in the 1970s, so I don’t see a reason to add to it; Yves has already discussed this topic, concluding that Warren’s Act might actually increase shareholder value, as a byproduct of John Kay’s principle of Obliquity.)

        ‘Padlock the revolving door’: Elizabeth Warren makes anti-corruption pitch --— Wall Street’s toughest critic in the Senate has unveiled comprehensive legislation to limit the revolving door between corporations and the government, touting it as the “most ambitious anti-corruption legislation proposed in Congress since Watergate.”“At a time when this country faces enormous challenges, our government actively serves the richest and most powerful and turns its back on everyone else,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a speech at the National Press Club Tuesday. While the bill is likely dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Congress, Warren's legislative push is yet another sign that she is setting her sights on a presidential run in 2020. It comes as she has continued to blast recent deregulation efforts and praised the Dodd-Frank Act. The legislation includes a ban on individual stock ownership by members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, senior congressional staff, White House staff, federal judges and senior agency officials. It also includes restrictions on former federal employees joining the lobbying ranks, as well as on lobbyists going to work for the government, among other things.The bill would prohibit the world’s biggest companies, including banks, from hiring former senior government officials for four years after they leave the public sector. It would impose lifetime lobbying bans on presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, federal judges and Cabinet secretaries. Lobbyists, meanwhile, could not take government jobs for two years; that period is six years for "corporate lobbyists.""Sure, there's lots of expertise in the private sector, and government should be able to tap that expertise," Warren said. "And, yes, public servants should be able to use their expertise when they leave government. But we've gone way past expertise and are headed directly into graft. Padlock the revolving door." The legislation would also reform the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to block recent rulemakings and has been used by the GOP-held Congress to unwind some financial regulatory policies.  Under those review powers, Congress can do more than just expunge a rule. Once a regulation is blocked, agencies are also barred from ever reviving a similar rule. But Warren's bill would give regulators the ability to issue regulations that resemble those that were previously overturned. In her speech, Warren called out numerous government officials, both current and former, that she said favored the interests of industry over those of the public.In particular, she criticized Gary Cohn, the former National Economic Council director who was a Goldman Sachs executive before joining the Trump administration; Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director; and Mary Jo White, the former Securities and Exchange Commission chair in the Obama administration, who was an industry attorney before and after her stint at the SEC.

         Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at The National Press Club YouTube

        Agencies open to extending Volcker comment period: FDIC chair --  The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. signaled Thursday that regulators are receptive to extending the comment period on a proposal to revise the Volcker Rule.  “I believe we’re open to an extension,” FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams said in public remarks around the agency’s release of the Quarterly Banking Profile.  Before McWilliams was sworn in this June, the FDIC and four other agencies released a proposal known colloquially as Volcker 2.0. It would adjust how banks comply with the proprietary trading ban mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, change certain definitions of prohibited trades and tailor the rule for banks with different trading volumes.  But banks have raised objections with the proposal. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a meeting where industry representatives urged the Federal Reserve Board to change certain aspects or risk unintended consequences.  The current comment period for the proposal expires on Sept 17. Banning proprietary trading at banks was first proposed following the crisis by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker.  “That rule is going through its comment period and as such we are not in a position to comment on any outcomes,” McWilliams said. McWilliams was also asked about a separate proposal issued by the Fed and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in April that would make changes to a big-bank capital measure known as the “enhanced supplementary leverage ratio.” The FDIC had opposed the plan under former FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg, arguing that it would significantly reduce the amount of Tier 1 capital institutions would have to hold. The Fed and OCC’s plan would replace a static ratio with a dynamic ratio that is a specific to a bank’s risk profile. McWilliams did not comment on the leverage ratio plan specifically, but said she is reviewing past agency policies.

         The Fed’s “Supervision” of Wall Street Has Made It More Dangerous -  Pam Martens - The Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation was signed into law on July 21, 2010 as the U.S. was still reeling from the aftermath of the epic 2008 Wall Street crash and economic meltdown. In addition to giving the Federal Reserve enhanced powers to supervise the behemoth bank holding companies on Wall Street, Section 1108 created a new position on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. The legislation reads: “The Vice Chairman for Supervision shall develop policy recommendations for the Board regarding supervision and regulation of depository institution holding companies and other financial firms supervised by the Board, and shall oversee the supervision and regulation of such firms.’’ The President of the United States was mandated to fill this slot and the Fed’s Vice Chairman for Supervision was to give semi-annual testimony to the Senate Banking and House Finance Committees. Under the presidency of Barack Obama, the post was never formally filled, likely because Wall Street did not want it to happen. President Donald Trump nominated Randal Quarles to the post in July of last year and the Senate confirmed the nomination on October 5. Quarles was sworn in on October 13. For the decade prior, Quarles was engaged in investment firms – the Cynosure Group and prior to that the Carlyle Group. Quarles had previously spent 15 years at the large Wall Street law firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell, where he traveled through the revolving door multiple times to the U.S. Treasury Department. According to Bloomberg’s bio of Quarles, while at Davis Polk he was “the co-head of the firm’s Financial Institutions Group and advised on transactions that included a number of the largest financial sector mergers ever completed.” In other words, Quarles ties to Wall Street are extensive.Here’s the problem. The Wall Street mega banks may have increased their common equity capital by more than $700 billion but the five largest Wall Street bank holding companies are still holding $242.1 trillion in notional (face amount) of derivatives as of March 31, 2018 according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). (See graph below.)Despite the fact that these obscene levels of derivatives, concentrated among a handful of  counterparties, played an outsized role in the collapse of Wall Street in 2008, the OCC and the Federal Reserve still have their blinders firmly in place today. This was true during the Obama administration and the situation has become even more dangerous today as the Trump administration is gutting already inadequate safeguards.

        Reg reform hasn't translated into relaxed enforcement - Banks may have secured some regulatory relief, but they still have to worry about enforcement actions. Lawmakers and regulators have eased up in several areas, including qualified mortgages, exam schedules, call reports and reciprocal deposits. The threshold for becoming a systemically important financial institution was raised, and pending legislation would reduce the reporting burden for suspicious activity reports. Though welcome news for bankers, the reality is that regulators will remain diligent in their oversight of areas such as fair lending, money laundering compliance and the Community Reinvestment Act, industry experts said. Many hot-button issues remain for regulators to enforce, said Pam Perdue, chief regulatory officer at Continuity, a consulting firm. “My advice to bankers: Don’t take your eye off the ball when it comes to regulations you know are already there.” There was a 63% increase in net new enforcement actions in the second quarter from a year earlier, at 116, based on data compiled by Continuity. Nearly 40% of new actions were taken against banks with more than $50 billion in assets. Recent reform of the Dodd-Frank Act doesn’t necessarily mean banks will see drastic changes, said Peter Dugas, a managing principal at Capco’s Center of Regulatory Intelligence. Rather, the main difference could be in regulators' interpretation and approach to compliance issues. In fact, the changes mean extra work in the short term for bankers because they will need to update every business process affected by the reform, Perdue said. Bankers should identify how risk exposures have changed and establish policies and procedures to reflect new standards. After that, management must revise or develop training, operating, and audit procedures to reflect the new normal.

        An ATM attack the FBI warned of came to pass. Expect more. -- A recent FBI warning about ATM attacks was quickly followed by a large heist in India, but the danger has by no means passed.Over the last several years cyberthieves have honed their techniques to make ATM attacks less work on the ground, untraceable and close to a perfect crime, experts say. Last Friday the FBI sent a confidential notice to U.S. banks warning them to watch out for a coming wave of ATM cashouts, in which criminals break into a network through malware, direct ATMs to do their bidding and hire on-the-ground “money mules” to withdraw substantial amounts of money from the machines.The FBI says the warning was “provided in order to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cybercriminals.” Translation? The threat is not over, experts say. Bloomberg News The very next day, hackers broke into an ATM network operated by Cosmos Bank in India, set up a proxy server to which ATM transaction approval requests were redirected, then directed 14,849 ATM withdrawals in 28 countries in about two hours. The bank lost $13.5 million. The hackers also transferred 139 million rupees to a Hong Kong company’s account by issuing three unauthorized transactions over the Swift global payments network, according to Reuters.  Asked if the India ATM attack was what the FBI referred to in its recent warning, an FBI spokeswoman reiterated the bureau’s earlier statement: “In furtherance of public-private partnerships, the FBI routinely advises private industry of various cyberthreat indicators observed during the course of our investigations. This data is provided in order to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cybercriminals.” Several security experts say the attack in India was what the FBI was warning about, but that the alert still remains in effect.

        Should N.Y.'s strict cybersecurity rule be a model for the country?— The approaching deadline for New York State companies to comply with a stricter set of cybersecurity requirements is stoking a debate over whether the state's tough rule could be a model for federal regulators.  The New York State Department of Financial Services recently issued a statement warning firms that they have until Sept. 4 to be in compliance with the third phase of the cybersecurity rule that first took effect last year. Next month banks and other institutions must start encrypting nonpublic data and keeping "audit trails" to help manage the aftermath of a breach.  But with federal regulators signaling their interest to strengthen cybersecurity rules, many observers are asking whether New York's framework could provide a road map. “The NYDFS cybersecurity regulations really were groundbreaking and they are serving as a model now for other legislative and regulatory” proposals, said Edward McAndrew, co-practice leader of the privacy and data security group and head of the national cyberincident response team at Ballard Spahr.

        8 banks entangled in Trump-related probes - In the 1976 film "All the President’s Men," the shadowy character played by Hal Holbrook famously asserted that the key to unraveling the Watergate scandal that was enveloping Richard Nixon’s presidency was to “follow the money.”Forty-four years later, the money trail is a key part of investigations that are dominating headlines in the Trump era.  Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is on trial and the office of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was raided, all while special counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate whether the Trump campaign had any connection to Russia's attempt to interfere in the 2016 election. Some of the probes involve the president directly, while others could be used by prosecutors as leverage to secure the cooperation of Trump confidants. As investigators dig deeper, they are focusing attention on banks that have facilitated transactions for various people in Trump’s orbit. Here is a look at some of the banks that have been pulled into Trump-related probes.

        Loan Demand Suddenly Tumbles As Companies Revolt To Rising Rates After a period of surprisingly strong growth following the near contraction in early 2017, commercial bank C&I lending tumbled during the period July 11th to August 8th by $15bn, or 0.68% - the biggest 4-week decline since March 2017 and before that the aftermath of the financial crisis. That period mostly follows the relevant time frame of reference for the most recent Senior Loan Officer survey, which as we noted previously, showed banks loosening lending standards and small increases in loan demand just as the loan bubble - which has grown to a $1 trillion size and is rapidly closing in on the entire US junk bond market - showed first signs of popping. What is causing the unexpected slump? According to Bank of America, it appears that - despite such favorable survey results - commercial banks are having an unusually slow summer in terms of lending activity to companies. As we would think that banks are unlikely to have suddenly decided to flip and tighten lending standards, the reduction in C&I lending activity is likely driven by demand. This is troubling, and probably indicates that companies this year are finally responding to the increase in the relative cost of debt by using less of it, especially when M&A activity is subdued as we are seeing right now. And if rates continue to rise - as they most likely will absent an unexpected dovish turn by the Fed in coming months - it would indicate that for the majority of US corporations the clearing level of rates has finally been hit, with loan demand expects to accelerate to the downside, hitting not only bank interest income, but also the broader economy as the average US company hits a growth plateau, with significant consequences for both corporate earnings growth and the broader economy.

          FDIC needs a state regulator on its board - The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is the federal regulator for most of the nation’s state-chartered banks. But even though it is required by law, there is no one with state bank supervisory experience on the FDIC’s board of directors. That must change — and now is the time. The administration has an opportunity to fill a current vacancy on the board and it should use this opportunity to nominate someone with state bank supervisory experience. State-chartered banks make up 79% of the nation’s banks. They are regulated by state bank supervisors, and most also are examined at the federal level by the FDIC. That makes the FDIC arguably one of their most important federal standard-setters. As a state bank supervisor, I know first-hand the importance of these institutions in our communities. It is just as important to have someone who has been a state bank supervisor on the FDIC board, as is required by law. There are approximately 4,400 state-chartered banks, which are mostly community banks, in the United States. Many have a small but vital footprint in their communities. State-chartered banks provide 75% of all agriculture lending and nearly half of all small-business lending in the nation. That means they are helping farmers finance their new equipment and a local restaurant or hardware store maintain its business or grow. In small-town America, these issues are critically important. And I think it is equally important for the FDIC board to have someone who understands the state banking system. State bank supervisors have a unique perspective on banking services in local communities. They are mandated to ensure the safety and soundness of these banks, protect consumers and support economic development of their communities. Congress recognizes this need. In 1996, it amended the Federal Deposit Insurance Act to require that, separate from the comptroller’s and the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s seats on the FDIC board, one of the three independent positions must be held by someone with state bank supervisory experience. The law is clear that this requirement is only met by a person who has worked in state government as a supervisor of state-chartered banks, and as Congress noted, someone with “state bank regulatory expertise and sensitivity to the issues confronting the dual banking system.” Yet no one has met this requirement on the FDIC board since former Massachusetts State Bank Commissioner Thomas Curry finished his term in 2012 to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

        Bank lobbyists’ hollow campaign against credit unions --For most companies, $174 billion would blow past any previously set revenue benchmarks and place them well on their way to becoming one of America’s most successful firms. But for Wall Street banks, that is the total amount they shelled out in fines and settlement fees to help make amends for their role in the financial crisis. To put that number into greater perspective, it is nearly twice the asset size of America’s largest credit union. Yet bank lobbyists have been taking to the pulpit this Congress to raise concern over credit unions’ growth. Not fines. Not egregious offenses of trust. But growth. As nonprofit, member-owned financial institutions, credit unions successfully serve 114 million consumers across the country. Shortly after the financial crash, credit unions gained attention for being the better financial alternative to the big banks, and rightfully so. Their growth, to put it simply, is the result of better service, better rates and adhering to a better mission. But the banks have grown too, despite claims of suffering from over-regulation. Their growth has been so tremendous, it is hard to understand why some credit unions are being scrutinized for also growing their customer base and asset size, sparking debate over what makes a credit union a credit union. From nonprofit status and member eligibility requirements to simply growing the customer base, the credit union industry has been relentlessly attacked by bank lobbyists. Considering Americans still have not fully recovered from an economic crash big banks created — why are the bank trade groups making noise now? Who gains from their argument? Simple. They do. By creating less competition with credit unions and other small financial institutions. 

        The strange case of the shrinking stock markets -- Here is one of the many ways in which Karl Marx failed to understand what he was writing about: “Capital” can be public as well as private. In his day, it was unimaginable that workers could simultaneously be owners by holding shares in their US-style 401(k)s or other pension or brokerage accounts. But that’s how capitalism developed in the late 20th century, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries.This expansion in developed countries of stock exchanges (here measured not by market capitalization but by the number of listings) had many advantages. Public companies must disclose more, thus making industry more transparent to society. And the broad availability of stocks allows investors to diversify their portfolios (either directly or through mutual funds). Capital, in the process, is usually allocated quite productively. That’s why it is a problem that stock markets have in recent years been shrinking (again, by listings, not by market cap). In America during the four decades to 2016, the number of exchange-listed firms dropped by 27 percent to 3,627. In Germany, where private “Mittelstand” capital is glorified, the number of listed firms fell by 41 percent during the past decade, to only 450. Listings are growing only in China and other parts of Asia which converted to capitalism only recently. The reasons include mergers, fewer IPOs, and more buyouts by private equity. In that sense, Tesla became a sign of the times when Elon Musk, its founder, casually announced on Twitter the other day that he wants to take his firm private, presumably because he finds the costs of complying with all those modern regulations too onerous.   Apple this month became the world’s first company valued at $1 trillion. This is part of a pattern in which fewer, and generally older, companies get ever larger, more valuable and more profitable, while young and small firms get less profitable and drop off the exchanges. René Stulz, a professor at The Ohio State University, has calculated that the 3,281 listed American firms that were not in the top 200 by earnings actually made losses. Why?

         We're officially in the longest bull market for stocks in history -- At the close of trading in New York today, the stock market will make an impressive milestone. It will set the record for the longest bull market in history.  A bull market generally begins when the market rises 20% from the low set at the end of a bear market, which itself is measured by a 20% fall from a previous peak. (There are other ways to measure all this, and other records that can be argued over.) The last low set by the benchmark S&P 500 index was on March 9, 2009. It’s been 3,453 days of fairly steady growth since then, with the S&P 500 climbing by more than 320% over that period. The previous record bull run was set between Oct. 1990 and March 2000.This is another sign that the current economic recovery is getting long in the tooth. And though it’s said recoveries don’t die of old age, many people are convinced the end of the cycle is rapidly approaching. A long run of loose central bank policies following the financial crisis has helped stretch out this bull market, making stocks more attractive than low-yielding bonds and giving companies leeway to borrow freely. Recently, corporate tax cuts have added another boost to corporate balance sheets. This bull run has struggled to survive at times. In August 2015, global stocks suffered a rout that threatened to end the bull market. A selloff that started in Chinese stocks ultimately wiped off more than $5 trillion in global stock value in just a few days. In February of this year, the S&P 500 dropped by more than 10% and stocks had theirmost volatile quarter since 2011. Given these setbacks, this bull run hasn’t been the strongest in history, even if it is now the longest. It has recorded the third-largest total return of bull markets going back to the 1930s, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices. On an annualized basis, the returns have been particularly weak, at only 16.5% per year, making it 10th out of 13 bull markets. By comparison, the 1990-2000 market produced an annualized return of 19%. The strongest on that measure ran from June 1932 to March 1937, which returned just under 36% on an annual basis.

        S&P 500 and Nasdaq Close at Record Highs — Wall Street ended a week of milestones with a few more Friday.The benchmark S&P 500 index closed at an all-time high, just two days after the current bull market in U.S. stocks became the longest in history. The Nasdaq composite and the Russell 2000 indexes also ended the day at all-time highs.Technology companies, the best-performing sector in the market this year, accounted for much of the gains. The price of oil snapped a seven-week losing streak, finishing this week about 5 percent higher. The rally capped another solid week for the stock market, which has been riding a wave of strong corporate earnings even amid uncertainty over simmering global trade tensions. “It appears that the market is really focusing on fundamentals,” said Rob Eschweiler, global investment specialist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. “We’re at the very tail end of earnings season and there’s no other way to characterize the earnings season other than ‘spectacular.'”

        CRA-like standards for fintechs could reduce access to credit - As reported in American Banker, consumer advocacy groups are concerned that financial inclusion expectations for fintechs chartered as special-purpose national banks may not perfectly mirror the requirements of the Community Reinvestment Act. This possibility exists because the final version of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s licensing manual supplement for fintechs lacks the same level of specificity as the draft manual that was published for comment last March. Consumer advocates have been steadfast in their insistence that the substance of the CRA, which by its terms applies only to depository institutions, be applied to nondepository fintech national banks. Yet imposing CRA-like requirements on these institutions would likely result in reduced credit opportunities for low-income communities. . The CRA is designed to ensure that banks and thrift institutions “serve the convenience and needs of the communities in which they are chartered to do business,” particularly low- and moderate-income communities. But as the Congressional Research Service noted in a 2015 report, “generally speaking, regulatory guidance that discourages banks from making higher-risk loans may result in customers migrating to nonbank financial service providers (including payday lenders), thus weakening the effectiveness of the CRA.”In sum, the report makes a strong case for the position that nonbank lenders located in low-income communities owe their existence to the ineffectiveness of the CRA in fostering credit availability. The same could hold true if these same standards are applied to fintechs that have been approved as national banks.

        Why fintechs should be held to CRA standards -- A recently released Treasury report advocated an industry-friendly approach to fintech regulation. It was immediately followed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s announcement that it will begin accepting fintech bank charter applications with a much relaxed “financial inclusion” standard instead of conventional Community Reinvestment Act requirements.But the problem with this approach to fintech regulation is that a financial inclusion “commitment,” however ultimately defined by them, is at best “CRA-lite” and at worst an outright CRA exemption. In other words, financial inclusion suggests CRA exclusion.Financial inclusion is already evaluated for banks, not only in their fair-lending reviews but also in CRA exams. Basic banking accounts and other community development activities designed to make financial services broadly accessible are considered in the community development portion of CRA’s service test.  Financial inclusion is therefore just one subset of CRA’s broader menu of lending, investment and service activities. CRA requires regular exams and public evaluations and ratings, with considerable community input, which is considerably different from a fintech making a financial inclusion commitment. Consequently, the use of a financial inclusion standard for fintech charters would place traditional banks at a disadvantage. Fintechs want a bank charter but not the expenses or community obligations that go with it. They already have a major overhead advantage with their branchless delivery system, and now they want an additional regulatory advantage with a CRA exemption.

        Senate committee narrowly confirms Kathy Kraninger to head CFPB - Kathy Kraninger is a step closer to becoming the nation’s top consumer financial watchdog: A Senate committee on Thursday narrowly approved the White House aide's nomination to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau despite strenuous objections from Democrats that she’s not qualified for the job. Opponents of President Trump’s nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said that she has no experience in consumer protection, financial regulation or the banking industry and questioned her involvement overseeing the budgets of agencies that developed and implemented the child-separation policy at the border and the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Democrats complained that Kraninger would not detail her role in those policies during her confirmation hearing or in written questions. “She is refusing to describe her role in two very public management failures because she knows it would destroy her case for her nomination,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. But Republicans brushed off those concerns. All 13 of them voted to confirm Kraninger on Thursday, while all 12 Democrats opposed her nomination.  Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said Thursday that she had “significant leadership experience at federal agencies and on Capitol Hill.” He said her “her depth and diversity of public service experience” gave him “confidence she is well prepared to lead the bureau.”  Trump’s decision to tap Kraninger for the job leading the controversial agency, created in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, was a surprise. She holds a mid-level White House position as associate director for general government at the Office of Management and Budget and her background has been largely in Homeland Security.  At the Office of Management and Budget, Kraninger oversees spending at five agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, she served as deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration and also worked for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee handling Homeland Security funding.

        Can state AGs really serve as 'mini-CFPBs'? - Late last year, 17 state attorneys general pledged to fill the gap if Consumer Financial Protection Bureau slowed its enforcement activity under acting Director Mick Mulvaney. But their efforts to compensate for a less aggressive CFPB have so far been a mixed bag.  Only a handful of states, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have announced plans to create so-called "mini-CFPBs" to focus on consumer issues in their respective jurisdictions. In other states, budgets have been too constrained to expand enforcement operations beyond what AGs were already doing to assist the CFPB under former Director Richard Cordray.  Meanwhile, with the CFPB actually accelerating enforcement actions of late, some argue that the void left for states to fill may not be that big. Indeed, many observers say not much has changed in how states and the CFPB investigate financial firms for potential wrongdoing.The creation of mini-CFPBs "hasn't been as necessary as some would have thought," said Richard Gottlieb, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. The AGs sent Mulvaney a letter in December warning the Trump administration appointee that they stood ready to ramp up efforts if the CFPB let down its guard."If incoming CFPB leadership prevents the agency's professional staff from aggressively pursuing consumer abuse and financial misconduct, we will redouble our efforts at the state level to root out such misconduct and hold those responsible to account," they said.In the time since, the agency has certainly shown signs of a less aggressive approach. After Mulvaney decried the agency's enforcement apparatus as overaggressive, it took months before the agency revived public actions against companies. But since mid-June, enforcement actions have accelerated. Observers say state AG offices that had participated most willingly in Cordray-led investigations have continued to operate at full tilt in the Mulvaney era, pursuing fraud allegations and other claims as if nothing had changed. To be sure, there have been state officials that have tried to go even further. But with no general drop-off in investigatory activities, state budgets in some cases are too tight to establish mini-CFPBs around the country more broadly.

        Senate Dems to CFPB's Mulvaney: Don't end military lending exams  — All 49 Senate Democrats urged acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick Mulvaney to continue to protect military personnel from predatory lenders after reports that he may suspend examinations of firms for Military Lending Act compliance.The senators, led by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said they were concerned that ending the exams could be a costly burden to service members. “The CFPB should not be abandoning its duty to protect our servicemembers and their families, and we seek your commitment that you will utilize all of the authorities available to the CFPB to ensure that servicemembers and their families continue to receive all of their MLA protections,” the senators said in a letter dated Wednesday.

        Lawsuit, taped recordings by accuser keep pressure on FHFA’s Watt -  — Scrutiny of Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt continues to mount as he faces an equal-pay lawsuit from the employee who alleged he sexually harassed her and mainstream news outlets report more details about the growing scandal. Simone Grimes, a special adviser at the agency, made her first public comments about her complaint regarding Watt in a Bloomberg News report Monday. That same report cited anonymous sources saying Watt has said he has no plans to step down and intends to fight Grimes' charges. In an interview with American Banker Tuesday, Grimes' attorney said Watt's apparent defiance "reeks of arrogance."  "The right course is to apologize and make things better, not to cross your arms in front of your chest and be quoted by multiple sources as telling people you intend to defiantly resist resigning," said Diane Seltzer Torre of the Seltzer Law Firm. But it is still unclear what will be the ultimate outcome of Grimes' initial equal employment complaint, which was first reported by Politico. Both the U.S. Postal Service and the agency's inspector general are investigating her claims, but Watt's term as FHFA director is winding down anyway. He is due to step down in January.  "The precise investigation timeline is uncertain, but the general expectation is that it could take until the end of 2018," said Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point Research & Trading, in a research note Tuesday. On Tuesday, National Public Radio reported on the scandal, airing partial recordings of Grimes' conversations with Watt that she taped in November 2016 and released to the radio network. “I’m guilty of having an attraction to you, that is true,” Watt can be heard saying on the tape, “so it makes me more conscious not to leave some impression.” According to her lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Grimes claims she was paid less than the man who held her position before her. She assumed the special adviser duties in addition to her previous duties as a supervisory program management analyst but received about $70,000 less per year than her male predecessor, her lawsuit said. She alleged the pay discrepancy was related to her turning down Watt's advances. (The FHFA and Watt declined to comment.)

        US regulators target Facebook on discriminatory housing ads -- Federal regulators are alleging that Facebook’s advertising tools allow landlords and real estate brokers to engage in housing discrimination. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleged in a complaint this week that Facebook violated the Fair Housing Act because its targeting systems allow advertisers to exclude certain audiences, such as families with young children or disabled people, from seeing housing ads. "When Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to help advertisers to discriminate, it's the same as slamming the door in someone's face," HUD Assistant Secretary Anna María Farias said in a statement Friday. Service providers such as Facebook typically aren't liable for the actions of their users. In a separate, civil lawsuit filed by housing advocates, the Justice Department says Facebook doesn't fall under that category because it mines user data, some of which users have to provide, and customizes ads for specific audiences. The government says that counts as being a content creator, rather than merely a transmitter of user content.The HUD action is separate from the federal lawsuit, filed in March in New York by the National Fair Housing Alliance and other organizations. The lawsuit says investigations by fair housing supporters in New York, Washington, D.C., Miami and San Antonio, Texas, show that Facebook continues to let advertisers discriminate even though civil rights and housing groups have notified the company since 2016 that it is violating the federal Fair Housing Act. It seeks unspecified damages and a court order to end discrimination. The Justice Department's position came in a filing in that case. Facebook said it plans to respond in court. 

         HUD fair housing complaint against Facebook came via a rare source - The Department of Housing and Urban Development took the very rare step of filing a secretary-initiated fair housing compliant — only three were made in the last two fiscal years — against Facebook.HUD's move, along with a separate statement of interest by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in a case filed by fair housing advocates, indicated the practices allegedly continued even after Facebook reported disabling those features after their existence became common knowledge nearly two years earlier.The agency filed only one secretary-initiated complaint in fiscal year 2017 and two the year before that. There were over 8,300 complaints filed in total in fiscal year 2016. After the initial article by ProPublica appeared in October 2016, Facebook's ethnic attributes selections were supposed to have been disabled, the company said in November of that year. Advertisers could select who could or couldn't see marketing materials, but several selections allegedly violated the rights of protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.

        Race to the bottom? Nonbank mortgage lenders ease credit standards to compete for 'super' jumbos - An uptick in private investor liquidity is bringing more nonbank lenders into the market for super jumbo mortgages, often with weaker credit standards than the banks that traditionally dominate this niche. Super jumbo mortgages, loosely defined as loans with an original balance of more than $1 million, are often offered by banks to build tight-knit relationships with high-net-worth customers in their private banking and wealth management divisions. But nonbanks, which in recent years have seen their influence and market share grow considerably, are now starting to gain traction with super jumbos.  The total number of super jumbo originators — nonbanks, as well as banks and credit unions — grew 15% in June 2018 over the previous year, according to estimates by Optimal Blue, a provider of loan product and secondary market data and technology.  Nonbank super jumbo originators, which Optimal Blue estimates number in the "few hundred," grew 10% year over year and now outnumber depositories by a 2-to-1 margin. Banks that offer super jumbos tend to hold the loans in portfolio. But the rise in nonbank activity is being driven by private-label secondary market investors that are willing to buy super jumbos for both whole loan and securitized investments. The number of nonbank investors and aggregators that offer super jumbos was 60% higher in June than it was a year ago, Optimal Blue said. Recent loan performance has been strong for mortgages originated at $2 million to $3 million, said Vince Furey, senior vice president, lending solutions at OpenClose, an origination software company. That's emboldened the secondary market appetite for even higher- balance loans. "The market to securitize those high loan balances is there now, where it really wasn't before. Liquidity drives everything," Furey said.

        US Foreclosures Rise For First Time In 36 Months - One month ago we discussed why according to the recent data, the "Housing Market Headed For "Broadest Slowdown In Years." Fast forward to today, when we received the latest confirmation that the US housing market appears to have recently hit a downward inflection point: according to the just released July 2018 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report released by ATTOM Data Solutions, foreclosure starts in July increased by 1% from a year ago — the first year-over-year increase following 36 consecutive months of decreases.Foreclosures rose from a year ago in 96 of the 219 metropolitan statistical areas, or 44% of the markets analyzed in the report; 33 of those areas posted their third straight monthly increase. A total of 30,187 U.S. properties started the foreclosure process for the first time in July, up 1 percent from the previous month and while the increase was less than 1% from a year ago, it marked the first annual increase in exactly 3 years.21 states posted a year-over-year increase in foreclosure starts in July, including Florida (up 35 percent); California (up 3 percent); Texas (up 7 percent); Illinois (up 7 percent); and Ohio (up 2 percent).Metro areas posting year-over-year increases in foreclosure starts in July included Los Angeles, California (up 20 percent); Houston, Texas (up 76 percent); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (up 10 percent); Miami, Florida (up 29 percent); and San Francisco, California (up 10 percent). "The increase in foreclosure starts is not just a one-month anomaly in many local markets given that July represented the third consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in 33 metro areas, including Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Detroit, San Diego and Austin," said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president with ATTOM Data Solutions."Gradually loosening lending standards over the past few years have introduced a modicum of risk back into the housing market, and that additional risk is resulting in rising foreclosure starts in a diverse set of markets across the country. Most susceptible to rising foreclosure starts are affordability-challenged markets where homebuyers are more financially stretched and markets with some type of trigger event such as a natural disaster or large-scale layoffs."

        Higher foreclosure starts due to looser mortgage underwriting - July's year-over-year increase in foreclosure starts for 44% of the nation's metro areas is a result of looser underwriting standards and a sign of future growth in defaults, said Attom Data Solutions. A total of 30,187 properties started the foreclosure process for the first time in July, up 1% from June and up less than 1% from a year ago. This is the first year-over-year increase in foreclosure starts nationwide following 36 consecutive months of year-over-year decreases. "The increase in foreclosure starts is not just a one-month anomaly in many local markets given that July represented the third consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in 33 metro areas, including Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Detroit, San Diego and Austin," Daren Blomquist, senior vice president, said in a press release.

        Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Decreased in July, Lowest Since March 2006 -- From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Increased Mortgage Cures in July Push Delinquencies to Lowest Level Since March 2006; Foreclosure Starts Rise 11 Percent

        • Continued hurricane-related cure activity pushed delinquencies to their lowest level in more than 12 years
        • Foreclosure starts rose 11 percent over June’s 17-year low to 48,300, for the highest total in three months
        • Though starts rose nationwide, foreclosure referrals in hurricane-affected areas of Texas increased by a higher-than-average 19 percent
        • Fewer completions and an increase in starts caused foreclosure inventory to rise slightly in July, for just the second such increase in the past three years
        • Improving delinquencies outweighed the slight increase in foreclosures, bringing the total non-current population (all loans 30 or more days delinquent or in active foreclosure) to a more than 12-year low
        According to Black Knight's First Look report for July, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 3.4% in July compared to June, and decreased 7.5% year-over-year.

        Mortgage defaults recovered but originations down since crisis - Better consumer credit quality helped push the serious mortgage delinquency rate to its lowest level since the Great Recession, but originations remain low due to a combination of tighter underwriting standards and eroding homebuyer affordability, according to TransUnion. The serious mortgage delinquency rate fell 25 basis points to 1.67% in the second quarter from a year ago, while mortgage originations declined by 0.6%. The 30-year mortgage rate shot up 14% during this same time frame, making it a likely contributor to falling origination volumes, at a time when home price appreciation also created financial hurdles for homebuyers. A shift in lender strategy since the crisis also kept mortgage originations down; the subprime share of mortgage originations fell by nearly half since 2008 and product offerings also changed, which may have helped develop a less risky population of borrowers. "The proliferation of subprime mortgage lending in the mid-2000s, among other market factors, led to massive increases in the percentage of borrowers 60+ days past due. The metric, which traditionally had hovered around 2%, spiked to nearly 4% by Q2 2008 and peaked at over 7% in Q1 2010. Following the crisis, the tightening of lending standards has helped push the delinquency rate to much-improved levels," according to TransUnion's Industry Insights Report.About 52% of scorable consumers had VantageScore 3.0 and credit scores of 661 and above, which most lenders consider prime or above, in the second quarter of 2008. This share jumped to 60% in this year's second quarter.Like originations, the homeownership rate has also declined, holding steady at 64.2% since 3Q17 after hitting 70% at the beginning of the decade.

        MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Latest Weekly Survey --From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications increased 4.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending August 17, 2018.... The Refinance Index increased six percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased three percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased one percent compared with the previous week and was one 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 from 4.81 percent, with points decreasing to 0.42 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

        Mortgage application volume rises for first time in six weeks - Mortgage applications rose for the first time in six weeks as interest rates held steady, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.The MBA's Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending Aug. 17 found that the refinance index increased 6% from the previous week. The refinance share of application activity increased to 38.7% from 37.6% the previous week."Treasury rates dropped last week, as continuing worries over Turkey's currency and ongoing trade tensions spurred a flight to quality by global investors," Joel Kan, the MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a press release. "After several weeks of declining application activity, both purchase and refinance applications increased last week." Kan said despite the increase in purchase applications, they remained below their 2018 average "due to persistent problems of affordability and low inventory." The seasonally adjusted purchase index increased 3% from one week earlier, while the unadjusted purchase index increased 1% compared with the previous week and was 1% higher than the same week one year ago.Adjustable-rate loan activity increased to 6.5% from 6.2% of total applications, while the share of Federal Housing Administration-guaranteed loans decreased to 10.2% from 10.4% the week prior. The share of applications for Veterans Affairs-guaranteed loans decreased to 10.5% from 10.6% and the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Rural Development share decreased to 0.7% from 0.8% the week prior.

        FHFA House Price Index: Up 1.1% in Q2 - The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for June. Here is the opening of the report: – U.S. house prices rose 1.1 percent in the second quarter of 2018 according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 6.5 percent from the second quarter of 2017 to the second quarter of 2018. FHFA’s seasonally adjusted monthly index for June was up 0.2 percent from May. [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.

        Wolf Richter: Here Comes the Second Wave of Big Money in the “Buy-to-Rent” Scheme --The first wave came during the housing bust when large private-equity firms acquired tens of thousands of single-family homes out of foreclosure for cents on the dollar. The biggest players have since been sold off to the public as REITs, such as Blackstone’s Invitation Homes which owns about 48,000 rental houses. Blackstone was the trailblazer in financializing rents. It issued the first rent-backed structured securities in November 2013. This has become a common funding mechanism. And shortly before the Invitation Homes IPO, it obtained Fannie Mae guarantees for $1 billion in rental-home mortgage-backed securities. This second wave is different. PE firms are paying prices at the peak of the market, amid ceaseless complaints that there isn’t enough inventory of homes for sale, for folks who actually want to live in the homes they buy. And these are just the biggest players. There are thousands of smaller players. And all but mom-and-pop investors pay cash and then fund the purchases with leverage at the institutional level. This big business of buying massive numbers of single-family homes and financializing rents got started in late 2011, initiated and supported by the Federal Reserve as part of its efforts to “heal” the housing market. Then-chairman Ben Bernanke pitched this in various talks. The Atlanta Fed, while lamenting soaring eviction rates at some of the mega-landlords, summarized this beautifully in January 2017:In unwinding their bank-owned properties, the GSEs [Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, etc.], U.S. Treasury, and Federal Reserve innovated new structured transactions for disposing of hundreds of thousands of bank-owned homes, also known as real estate owned (REO). The Federal Reserve was the first to suggest that private equity firms were the one group with cash on hand to invest in foreclosed homes (Bernanke, 2012). In 2012, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), conservator of the GSEs, issued a pilot to develop structured transactions that could be used to sell its REO homes in bulk. The private market followed by developing and standardizing financial instruments to allow broader market investment in converting foreclosed homes into single-family rentals. Rental housing, traditionally the purview of mom-and-pop landlords, caught the attention of large financial firms.

        NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decline in July -- From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Slip 0.7 Percent in July  Existing-home sales subsided for the fourth straight month in July to their slowest pace in over two years, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The West was the only major region with an increase in sales last month.  Total existing-home saless, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, decreased 0.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.34 million in July from 5.38 million in June. With last month’s decline, sales are now 1.5 percent below a year ago and have fallen on an annual basis for five straight months.   Total housing inventory at the end of July decreased 0.5 percent to 1.92 million existing homes available for sale (unchanged from a year ago). Unsold inventory is at a 4.3-month supply at the current sales pace (also unchanged from a year ago). This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in July (5.34 million SAAR) were 0.7% lower than last month, and were 1.5% below the July 2017 rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory decreased to 1.92 million in July from 1.93 million in June. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory. Year-over-year Inventory Inventory was unchanged year-over-year in July compared to July 2017. Months of supply was at 4.3 months in July. Sales were below the consensus view. For existing home sales, a key number is inventory - and inventory is still low, but appears to be bottoming.

        A Few Comments on July Existing Home Sales --Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decline in July -- A few key points:
        1) This is a reasonable level for existing home sales, and doesn't suggest any significant weakness in housing or the economy. The key for the housing - and the overall economy - is new home sales, single family housing starts and overall residential investment.
        2) Inventory is still very low, but was unchanged year-over-year (YoY) in July. Inventory for June was initially reported as up slightly year-over-year, but inventory was revised down. Following 37 consecutive months with a year-over-year decline in inventory, inventory was unchanged (a first since June 2015).
        3) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer to the NAR report than the consensus. See:Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in July.   The consensus was for sales of 5.43 million SAAR, Lawler estimated the NAR would report 5.40 million SAAR in July, and the NAR actually reported 5.34 million.
        The following graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).Sales NSA in July (522,000, red column) were  above sales in July 2017 (513,000, NSA).Sales NSA through July (first seven months) are down about 1.6% from the same period in 2017. This is a small YoY decline in sales to-date - 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).

        U.S. New Home Sales Fell in July – WSJ —Sales of new homes in the U.S. fell for the second straight month in July after a stark drop in June. Purchases of newly built single-family homes-a relatively narrow slice of all U.S. home sales-declined 1.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 627,000 in July, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 2.2% gain. A sharp 52.3% decline in new-home sales in the Northeast helped drive down overall sales in July. This was the largest one-month drop for new-home sales in this region since the beginning of 2015. Sales grew 7.2% in January through July from the prior year. Still, the pace of new-home sales remains well below the elevated levels seen before the 2007-09 financial crisis and recession. More widely, housing market inventory has been tight, driving up home prices and pricing some potential buyers out of the market. At the same time, skilled construction labor shortages, rising input costs and rising mortgage rates are also making the overall cost of buying a home more expensive. Sales of previously owned homes in July continued their longest downward slide in five years. Meanwhile, a gauge of U.S. home-builder confidence fell in August after plateauing in July and declining for much of 2018. “The combination of higher mortgage rates and the gradual tightening of lending standards for conventional mortgages is weighing on activity,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note to clients earlier this month. “Demand is not collapsing, but it is falling, and home builders’ six-month sales expectations are at the lowest since November 2016.” 

        New Home Sales decrease to 627,000 Annual Rate in July --- The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in July were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 627 thousand.
        The previous three months were revised down, combined (June was revised up, but April and May were revised down). "Sales of new single-family houses in July 2018 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 627,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 1.7 percent below the revised June rate of 638,000, but is 12.8 percent above the July 2017 estimate of 556,000. " 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 July to 5.9 months from 5.7 months in June. 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). "The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of July was 309,000. This represents a supply of 5.9 months at the current sales rate." "A house is considered for sale when a permit to build has been issued in permit-issuing places or work has begun on the footings or foundation in nonpermit areas and a sales contract has not been signed nor a deposit accepted." 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.

        A few Comments on July New Home Sales -- New home sales for July were reported at 627,000 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 July were up 12.8% year-over-year compared to July 2017.   This was strong YoY growth, however this was an easy comparison since new home sales were soft in mid-year 2017. Earlier: New Home Sales decrease to 627,000 Annual Rate in July. This graph shows new home sales for 2017 and 2018 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). Note that new home sales have been up year-over-year every month this year (so far). Sales are up 7.2% through July compared to the same period in 2017. Decent growth so far, and the next month will also be an easy comparison to 2017.This is on track to be close to my forecast for 2018 of 650 thousand new home sales for the year; an increase of about 6% over 2017.   There are downside risks to that forecast, such as higher mortgage rates, higher costs (labor and material), and possible policy errors.   And new home sales had a strong last few months in 2017, so the comparisons will be more difficult.And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.  Now I'm looking for the gap to close over the next several years.The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through July 2018. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s.  I expect existing home sales to move more sideways, and I expect this gap to slowly close, mostly from an increase in new home sales.  However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. If not, then the gap will persist. Another way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales. This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. In general the ratio has been trending down since the housing bust, and this ratio will probably continue to trend down over the next few years. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

        AIA: "July architecture firm billings remain positive despite growth slowing" -- Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.  From the AIA: July architecture firm billings remain positive despite growth slowing: Architecture firm billings growth slowed again in July but remained positive overall for the tenth consecutive month, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA).AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score for July was 50.7 compared to 51.3 in June. Any score over 50 represents billings growth. While July’s ABI shows that aggregate demand for architecture firm services continues to increase, much of that growth came from one region—the South. “Billings at architecture firms in the South remained robust in July, offsetting declining billings in other regions of the country,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, “Despite the dip in the overall ABI number in July, firms are still reporting a healthy increase in new projects.”
        • Regional averages: West (49.6), Midwest (49.3), South (55.2), Northeast (48.0)
        • Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (54.6), institutional (51.1), commercial/industrial (50.1), mixed practice (48.2)

         AAA: US Motorists Buying Less Gasoline, Paying Less for It -- With some exceptions, motorists throughout the United States are gradually paying less for regular unleaded gasoline, the AAA reports. With some exceptions, motorists throughout the United States are gradually paying less for regular unleaded gasoline, the American Automobile Association (AAA) reported Monday. “Compared to July, consumer demand for gasoline is weaning and prices are following suit,” Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson, said in a written statement. “The national average is expected to keep moving lower, especially with the switchover to lower grade gasoline in September.” According to AAA, the national gasoline price average for August 20 is $2.84 per gallon – three cents lower than the price at the beginning of the month. With the exception of several states, most U.S. motorists are enjoying “slow, but steady pump price drops” as summer draws to a close. AAA pointed out that fuel retailers will start selling winter-blend gasoline next month. The blend, designed to help engines operate properly when they are cold, is cheaper to produce, the organization explained. Although the national gasoline price average is two cents lower week-on-week and a penny cheaper month-on-month, motorists are still paying 50 cents more than at this time last year, AAA continued. As this AAA graph shows, $2.84 is the highest national gasoline price average for this time of year over the past four years. AAA also reported Monday that motorists in Michigan saw the largest week-on-week change in gasoline prices: a 10-cent decline to $2.99 a gallon for regular unleaded. Other Top 10 states in terms of largest weekly price changes include: 

        Used Car Prices Hit All Time High --  Regular readers know that we consider used car prices an important, if overlooked, indicator of the true state of the US economy. More Americans buy used vehicles than new ones, making them a deeper measure of consumer sentiment. And since the supply of used cars and trucks is essentially fixed – you can’t “make” one – prices are exceptionally twitchy and move noticeably on both dealer (and therefore small business) sentiment and underlying retail demand.The Manheim Used Vehicle Index is one widely watched measure, and it just made a new all time high for data from July 2018 auction results.The numbers and some historical perspective:

        • Wholesale (the index tracks dealer-only auction results) prices for used cars/trucks were +1.5% from June to July 2018 and +5.1% versus July 2017.
        • More affordable vehicles saw the largest price increases, with compact and midsized cars outperforming the overall market. This is unusual; for the last several years it has been hotter-selling SUVs and pickup trucks that have led used vehicle prices higher.
        • Cox Automotive (which owns the Manheim auction business) notes that the overall used vehicle market (both dealer and private sales) is currently robust, with a July 2018 selling rate of 39.2 million vehicles, +3% over last year and at +5 year highs. For comparison, July 2018 new vehicle sales were flat versus last year.

        While it would be tempting to pin the surge in used vehicle prices on tariff worries, a look at the data since 2010 shows a different story entirely. Used car prices were remarkably stable from the start of the decade through 2016. The breakout to new historical highs was in mid-2017 (i.e. long before recent tariff announcements) and current year prices look similar to those levels. So yes, tariff fear-related buying clearly plays a role but the overall picture has been good for longer than that factor can explain.The upshot here: strength in used car prices is more a function of good consumer demand than temporary factors like tariffs concerns. On the plus side, that’s a promising sign about the state of the US economy. On the downside, it says much about the lack of affordability of new cars and trucks; automakers face a real challenge there. On balance, we take it as positive news with only a small asterisk beside it.

         Could The Genoa Disaster Happen In The US? - After the catastrophic bridge collapse in Genoa earlier this week, fears are mounting that the U.S. could experience a similar event. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) listed 54,259 bridges that were deemed "structurally deficient" in 2017 and it would take an estimated 37 years to repair all of them. Additionally, as Statista' Niall McCarthy notes, the data also listed the 10 most-traveled structurally deficient bridges in America. You will find more infographics at Statista.  All of them are in either California or Missouri with US Route 101 over Kester Avenue having the highest volume - 289,000 daily crossing.  In total, American drivers cross structurally deficient bridges 174 million times every day.

          Durable Goods Orders – August 24, 2018 - A stunning showing for core capital goods orders steals the show in what looks on the surface, based on the 1.7 percent headline drop, to be a weak durable goods report for July. Orders for core capital goods (nondefense ex-aircraft) surged 1.4 percent to easily beat Econoday's consensus for a 0.5 percent gain and also top Econoday's high forecast for 1.2 percent. Computers & electronics as well as machinery were positive contributors for the capital goods group where July's strength points to further acceleration for what has already been very strong growth in business investment. The headline weakness is tied to the always volatile commercial aircraft component where orders come in big batches, and July does not include one of those big batches as orders fell 35.4 percent. Orders for defense aircraft were also weak and together with commercial aircraft skew the transportation reading to a 5.3 percent decline. This decline masks another strong positive in today's report and that's a 3.5 percent jump in motor vehicle orders. Excluding all transportation equipment, orders inched 0.2 percent ahead in July. Turning back to core capital goods, the surge in orders will feed into shipments which is what the GDP account for business investment specifically tracks. Shipments here are up 0.9 percent following a 2 tenths upward revised gain of also 0.9 percent in June. The July gain marks a fast start for third-quarter nonresidential fixed investment while the upward revision to June will give a small boost to revision estimates for second-quarter GDP. Other details include a very large 1.3 percent build in durable inventories which had looked too lean going into the third quarter. Large builds for commercial aircraft equipment as well as continuing builds for primary metals and fabrications, both affected by tariffs, gave inventories a boost, one that will also be a plus for third-quarter GDP. Shipments of durables slipped 0.2 percent in the month and may reflect stubborn shortages of truck drivers in the transportation sector. Unfilled orders, which had been on the climb, were unchanged. Durable goods are one of the most volatile indicators on the economic calendar and today's results further cement this reputation. But looking past the headline and at the strength of computers and machinery and vehicles, the factory sector continues to be the headline strength of the 2018 economy.

        Headline Durable Goods Orders Down 1.7% in July -- 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 July decreased $4.3 billion or 1.7 percent to $246.9 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This decrease, down three of the last four months, followed a 0.7 percent June increase. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.2 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 1.0 percent. Transportation equipment, also down three of the last four months, drove the decrease, $4.6 billion or 5.3 percent to $82.8 billion. Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at -1.7% month-over-month (MoM) was worse than the Investing.comconsensus of -0.5%. The series is up 9.2% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods came in at 0.2% MoM, which was worse than the consensus of 0.5%. The core measure is up 8.0% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is up 1.5% MoM and up 8.6% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 1.4% MoM and up 8.5% 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.

        Durables Goods Orders Drop Most In Six Months As US Slowdown Accelerates --After managing a modest bounce in June, expectations were for a drop in Durable Goods Orders in July and just as we have seen soft survey and hard 'real' data disappoint, so did preliminary data showing a worse than expected 1.7% drop MoM. Against expectations of a 1.0% drop, durable goods orders in July were ugly with a 1.7% drop - the most since January. Core durable goods orders (ex-transportation) also missed expectations, rising only 0.2% MoM vs economists' best guess of a 0.5% gain. Orders rose for machinery, computers and electronic products and motor vehicles and parts last month, according to the report. The data, representing the first results since the U.S. and China imposed tariffs on each other’s goods in early July, signal that business investment remains intact even as President Donald Trump widens a trade war to a growing range of products from China. There was a modest silver lining in the report as Capital Goods Shipments ex-air (proxy for capex spending) jumped more than expected - rising 0.9% MoM... The drop in overall durable-goods orders reflects bookings for aircraft and parts, typically a volatile category. Civilian airplane orders fell 35.4 percent in July, while the military side dropped 34.6 percent. Boeing Co. previously reported that the planemaker received 30 orders in July, down from 233 in June. US macroeconomic data disappointments continue to pour cold water on the 'greatest economy' narrative...

        Kansas City Fed: Regional Manufacturing Activity "Expanded at a Slightly Slower Pace" in August  From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Expanded at a Slightly Slower Pace The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the August 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 expanded at a slightly slower pace, while expectations remained solid.
        “Our composite index came down a bit again in August,” said Wilkerson. “But the pace of growth in regional factories is still at the solid levels that prevailed in late 2017 and early 2018.” The month-over-month composite index was 14 in August, down from readings of 23 in July and 28 in June. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. Growth in factory activity remained relatively stable at nondurable goods plants, while durable goods activity slowed slightly, particularly for machinery, computers and electronics. Most month-over-month indexes moderated in August, but were still generally solid. The production, new orders, employment, and new orders for exports indexes all decreased modestly. In contrast, the shipments index rose from 12 to 18 after falling considerably last month. The finished goods inventory index dipped slightly, while the raw material inventory index was unchanged. 
        The regional surveys for August have mostly indicated somewhat slower growth as compared to July.

        Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 210,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending August 18, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 210,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 212,000. The 4-week moving average was 213,750, a decrease of 1,750 from the previous week's unrevised average of 215,500. The previous week was unrevised. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

         Employment: Preliminary annual benchmark revision shows upward adjustment of 43,000 jobs --The BLS released the preliminary annual benchmark revision showing 43,000 additional payroll jobs as of March 2018. The final revision will be published when the January 2019 employment report is released in February 2019. Usually the preliminary estimate is pretty close to the final benchmark estimate.  The annual revision is benchmarked to state tax records. From the BLS: In accordance with usual practice, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is announcing the preliminary estimate of the upcoming annual benchmark revision to the establishment survey employment series. The final benchmark revision will be issued in February 2019 with the publication of the January 2019 Employment Situation news release.  Each year, the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey employment estimates are benchmarked to comprehensive counts of employment for the month of March. These counts are derived from state unemployment insurance (UI) tax records that nearly all employers are required to file. For National CES employment series, the annual benchmark revisions over the last 10 years have averaged plus or minus two-tenths of one percent of total nonfarm employment. The preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision indicates an upward adjustment to March 2018 total nonfarm employment of 43,000 (< 0.05 percent).  Using the preliminary benchmark estimate, this means that payroll employment in March 2018 was 43,000 higher than originally estimated. In February 2019, the payroll numbers will be revised up to reflect the final estimate. The number is then "wedged back" to the previous revision (March 2017).  Construction was revised up by 42,000 jobs, and manufacturing revised down by 9,000 jobs.This preliminary estimate showed 17,000 fewer private sector jobs, and 60,000 more government jobs (as of March 2018).

         A few comments on the Labor Force Participation Rate -  Bill Mcbride - Last week an article misrepresented my writings on the Labor Force Participation Rate (not a big deal, this happens). But this gives me an excuse to post a few graphs and discuss the likely path of the labor force participation rate (LFPR) over time. Back around 2010 and 2011, when the unemployment rate started falling, following the great recession, a number of observers claimed that the decline in the unemployment rate wasn't a real improvement in the labor market, and that the decline was mainly because of the decline in the participation rate. I had the opposite view. For example, in 2012 I wrote"Bottom line: If someone says the "actual" unemployment rate is much higher than reported because of the decline in the participation rate, they are unaware of a key demographic shift."This graph show the overall labor force participation rate over time (the red arrow points to approximately when I made the above two comments).   The LFPR continued to decline for a couple more years, and then  moved mostly sideways over the last 5 years.A key point: Those expecting the LFPR to bounce back to prerecession highs were mistaken. Because of the demographics impact, and the impact of some long term trends (more people going to college is an example), I recommended using the LFPR for those "25 to 54 years old".   I post this every month after the employment report is released. Note: The reason everyone uses this age group (aka "Prime age group"), is the BLS puts out data every month for this group.   If we looked at say "25 to 59" or "25 to 64", we'd have to do a little more work (I've done this, but mostly I stick with the 25 to 54 group).Here is the participation rate and employment-population ratio for this key working age group: 25 to 54 years old.In the earlier period the participation rate for this group was trending up as women joined the labor force. Since the early '90s, the participation rate moved more sideways, with a downward drift starting around '00 - and with ups and downs related to the business cycle. With more younger workers (and fewer 50+ age workers), the prime participation rate might move up some more.  The employment population ratio is almost back to the pre-great recession highs.

        Standards Go Out The Window As Employers Struggle To Fill Jobs -- Getting a job in the United States has never been easier. The U.S. unemployment rate dipped to 3.9 percent in July, the lowest point since 2000, and one new trend is helping: Employers are ditching requirements for college degrees and previous experience.  As of last year, there are more jobs available than people to fill them, so it’s time to throw age-old standards out the door.In the first half of 2018, the share of job postings requesting a college degree fell from 32 percent to 30 percent, according to an analysis by labor-market research firm Burning Glass Technologies covering some 29 million job postings.Share of posts requiring three or more years of job experience have dropped from 29 percent in 2012 to 23 percent in 2018, which translates to 1.2 million jobs that could be open to less-experienced candidates.Even better... some one million job openings - for everything from preschool teachers and warehouse workers to e-commerce analysts - have opened up to candidates with “no experience necessary” in the last year. Some companies no longer even insist on performing criminal background checks or drug testing on the candidates.  So, what started as a recent trend of relaxing job requirements is now becoming the new mantra for businesses trying to attract talent - and keep it at a time when Americans are increasingly job-hopping and shopping around for better deals. Amy Glaser of staffing agency Adecco Group, told the Wall Street Journal that in a strong economy, job seekers are the ones who get to be choosy about their next job. “If a company requires a degree, two rounds of interviews and a test for hard skills, candidates can go down the street to another employer who will make them an offer that day,” Glasser said.

        Fewer Americans Uproot Themselves for New Jobs. -- Fewer U.S. workers are moving around the country to seek new job opportunities, as changing family ties and more openings near home make people less willing to uproot their lives for work.  About 3.5 million people relocated for a new job last year, according to U.S. census data, a 10% drop from 3.8 million in 2015. The numbers have fluctuated between 2.8 million and 4.5 million since the government started tracking annual job-related relocations in 1999—but have been trending lower overall, even as the U.S. population grew by nearly 20% over that stretch. Experts cite a number of factors that in some periods have kept people in one place, including a depressed value for their home or limited job openings. In the current strong economy, real-estate values have rebounded, but that has made housing costs prohibitively high in some regions where jobs are abundant, such as major East and West Coast cities.  And while more positions are available, often at better pay, many people aren’t interested in relocating for family reasons or because they can get a better job nearby without the disruption and expense of moving.  Heather Murray recently got a call from a former colleague who tried to tempt her to his tech company. The senior vice president role he had in mind came with more pay and more responsibility—the logical next step in her career. But it also came with a deal breaker: She would have to move from Florida to a city in the Mid-Atlantic region.  “Making another $100,000, $200,000, whatever it is, that’s not what motivates me,” said Ms. Murray, who shares custody of her two children with her nearby ex-husband. “Kids need their parents.”  People with children are less likely to move after a divorce than they were in prior decades, as more parents opt for shared-custody arrangements that include their children living with them for periods of time, according to Thomas Cooke, a demographer at the University of Connecticut who studies U.S. mobility patterns. “Any way you measure it, families are more complex than they used to be,” he said.

         As Maersk Sounds Trade War Alarm, Walmart Tells Some Suppliers To Look Outside China For Sourcing - Despite reporting blockbuster earnings, the best sales growth in a decade and a stellar outlook which sent its stock soaring, there were some lagging concerns surrounding the latest Walmart results: will rising tariffs on Chinese imports lead to sharply higher prices at the "everyday low prices" retailer?As if to validate fears, overnight Bloomberg reported that Walmart has asked its cosmetics suppliers to "consider sourcing their goods in countries outside of China," a sign that the world’s largest retailer is i) worried about escalating costs and ii) hopes to dilute the impact of the Trump administration’s looming tariffs by reorganizing its supply chains.In an August 7 email as seen by Bloomberg, titled "potential alternative plan for WMUS D46 orders" and sent from Walmart’s procurement division to some of its cosmetics suppliers, the company warned that a "large amount" of items in the cosmetics category will be caught under the umbrella of the most-recent proposed levies on Chinese goods. The list of Chinese goods that could get hit with additional tariffs includes lipstick, eye makeup, powders, shampoo and other haircare products.More importantly, the letter asks suppliers if they have facilities outside of China, and if not, "whether they would consider investing in some to broaden their sourcing ability."“We are closely monitoring the tariff discussions and are actively working on mitigation strategies, particularly in light of potentially escalating duties,” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said. “One of those mitigation strategies is to understand what our suppliers are doing and what their plans and alternatives are.” The company itself is also stumped: in the email to makeup companies, Walmart admitted it too was actively looking for other ways to circumvent the tariffs, asking its suppliers, "Any resources or ideas so far?"Meanwhile, downplaying the impact of tariffs, on its Thursday conference call Walmart Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs said the impact of the tariffs "is difficult to quantify." He also said that the company wasn't too concerned about its reliance on Chinese suppliers: "We buy more merchandise, by a wide margin, in the U.S. than from any other country," the company said.

         Amazon is paying people to tweet nice things about warehouse working conditions - A small army of accounts have popped up on Twitter to tweet positive things about the working conditions at Amazon's warehouses. TechCrunch discovered 15 accounts following a standardized format after the Twitter user Flamboyant Shoes Guy drew attention to them. TechCrunch found that all the accounts bore the Amazon smile logo as backgrounds and had identical structures to their bios and the title "FC Ambassador" in their name, followed by a cardboard-box emoji. The accounts engage with people about the working conditions in Amazon's order-fulfillment centers, weighing in when people tweet negatively about the company. But while Flamboyant Shoes Guy thought these accounts were bots posing as Amazon workers, the company says the ambassadors are real people being paid to spread the firm's message. "FC ambassadors are employees who have experience working in our fulfillment centers," an Amazon representative told Business Insider. "The most important thing is that they've been here long enough to honestly share the facts based on personal experience.

        Thousands of Amazon workers get food stamps. Bernie Sanders wants Amazon to pay for them: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants large employers such as Amazon, Walmart and McDonald's to fully cover the cost of food stamps, public housing, Medicaid and other federal assistance received by their employees. The goal, he said, is to force corporations to pay a living wage and curb roughly $150 billion in taxpayer dollars that go to funding federal assistance programs for low-wage workers each year. Sanders plans to introduce a bill in the Senate on Sept. 5 that would impose a 100% tax on government benefits received by workers at companies with 500 or more employees. For example, if an Amazon employee receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300."At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the gap between the very rich and everyone else continues to grow wider," Sanders said. Labor groups say that gap is particularly pronounced at the nation's largest and most profitable companies, including Walmart, which has roughly 2.2 million workers, and Amazon, which employs more than 575,000. Public records obtained by the New Food Economy, a nonprofit news organization, show that thousands of Amazon employees rely on the government's Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program to make ends meet. As many as 1 in 3 Amazon employees in Arizona — and about 1 in 10 in Pennsylvania and Ohio — receive food stamps, according to an April report by the New Food Economy, based in New York. Amazon spokeswoman Melanie Etches said the figures were misleading. "They include people who only worked for Amazon for a short period of time and/or who chose to work part-time," she said in a statement.  Sanders' bill would be an extension of a petition he started Tuesday calling on the world's richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to pay workers a living wage and to improve working conditions at Amazon warehouses. As of Thursday morning, it had 105,000 signatures. (Bezos also the owns the Washington Post.)

        And The Top Thing People Spend Their Food-Stamp Money On Is... --Politicians may fret about welfare recipients loading up their carts with non-essentials, but more than 44 million people rely on food stamps to feed their families. With the average food stamp recipient receiving $125.79 per month in benefits, let’s take a look at what they’re buying the most, according to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The researchers present their data with a couple of caveats. For one, the data analyzed doesn’t include purchases from outlets like farmers markets. In addition, when people use both SNAP benefits and cash or a credit or debit card to make a purchase, it’s impossible to determine which items had been purchased using food stamps and which had been bought with the person’s own money.  Finally, the researchers note the difference in spending on various items was often very small. At first glance, it looks like food stamp households spend far more money on lunch meat (No. 10 out of 100 ranked commodities) than on apples (No. 67). In reality, SNAP recipients spend about half a cent of every food dollar on apples and about 1½ cents of every dollar on lunch meat. Let’s take a quick look at the 10 items food stamp recipients are most likely to purchase.

        Some Workers Who Helped Rebuild After Harvey Were Never Paid For Their Labor - Several workers tasked with rebuilding in Texas after Hurricane Harvey say they haven’t been paid by the contractors who hired them.Unfortunately, exploitation by private contractors – like wage-theft after natural disasters – isn’t unusual. But if the problem is well-known, couldn’t the state have done something to protect workers this time around?James Barragán is a statehouse reporter for the Dallas Morning News. He has been investigating this story along with Reveal, from the Center For Investigative Reporting. Barragán says his team documented 19 cases of workers who completed post-Hurricane work on apartment buildings or hotels, and were then not paid.“They went to the state to file a wage claim, and got very mixed results,” Barragán says. “The majority of them still have not received their money.”Barragán says workers can file wage claims at the Texas Workforce Commission. But processing a wage claim could take several months. Receiving unpaid wages could take additional months. “Only about 42 percent of cases that are investigated actually award out the wages that are claimed to have been not paid,” Barragán says.

        Year after Harvey, poor having toughest time recovering - - Harvey has been described as the storm that didn't discriminate, inflicting an estimated $125 billion in total damage on rich and poor alike. But community leaders say that in the year since the storm came ashore , those in the poorest afflicted areas are having a harder time recovering. Unlike wealthier homeowners who could draw on savings and were more likely to have flood or homeowners insurance , low-income residents have been more reliant on a patchwork of organizations to meet their recovery needs."If you were living on the edge and lost everything, you really are back to square one," said Elena Marks, president and CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation.A survey of residents from 24 of Texas' hardest-hit counties that was conducted by Episcopal Health and the Kaiser Family Foundation in June and July found that 40 percent of Hispanics and 60 percent of African-Americans said they weren't getting the help they need, including assistance for home repairs and with completing applications for aid.In the coastal city of Port Arthur , where nearly 30 percent of the roughly 55,000 residents live in poverty, Harvey "pushed some of the folks that were just barely holding on, pushed them over the edge," said Mayor Derrick Freeman. Harvey damaged up to 85 percent of the structures in the city, and only 15 to 20 percent of residents had flood insurance.

        What Happened in the Dark: Puerto Rico’s Year of Fighting for Power -- ALL ACROSS PUERTO Rico over the past year, people like Bracero have taken matters into their own hands in ways that are both inspiring and distressing. When it became clear to Javier Jiménez, the mayor of a northwestern town called San Sebastián, that power wasn’t going to be restored right away after Maria, he decided to go rogue. He gathered a handful of brave (some might say reckless) city workers, along with a few retired Prepa employees willing to volunteer, and mobilized them to reconnect the 40,000-person town to the grid themselves. It was inordinately dangerous, but Jiménez felt that the greater risk was inaction. San Sebastián is about two hours from the capital, San Juan, and for many residents, particularly the elderly and the infirm, having electricity was a matter of life and death. “It was a state of emergency,” the mayor told me. “Nobody could’ve stood in my way. Not Prepa. Not the governor. Not the president of the United States.” Jiménez called his band of vigilante line workers the PPA—the Pepino Power Authority—after the surrounding Pepino mountains. The PPA asked men and women in San Sebastián to come out with their own machetes to prune back the brush and tree limbs, helping clear a path to fallen poles near their homes. Then the PPA’s core team of volunteers would step in, repairing poles, scavenging parts, and running new cable. Officially, Prepa was not pleased to have a local amateur utility reconnecting high-voltage power lines. Unofficially, Prepa employees were slipping spare parts to the renegade municipal power crew, one volunteer told me, to help speed up the reelectrification.

         New Study Finds Explosion In Concealed Carry Permits, Especially Among Women -- New research from economist and author John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center reveals that Americans have been applying for permits to carry concealed weapons (CCW) in record numbers, especially among women. According to Lott, there were 890,000 CCW permits issued in 2017, while 4.6 million have been issued between 2007 and 2018, according to official state records - meaning 2017 saw a jump of nearly 24% in one year. "We have seen an increase from 4.6 million permits in 2007 to 17.25 million now, with the number increasing every year," Lott - the author of the highly cited book More Guns, Less Crime told Fox News. There were 2.7 million concealed handgun permit holders in 1999, 4.6 million in 2007, 8 million in 2011, 11.1 million in 2014, and now 17.25 million in 2017. The growth in permits has been continuous. -Crime Prevention Research Center  "The states that we have seen a slowing of permits have primarily been these Constitutional Carry states where a permit is no longer required, indeed some of those states have even seen a drop in the number of permits even though the number of people carrying in those places has undoubtedly gone up," added Lott.The report also notes that despite the common assumption that CCW applications would drop off after the 2016 election, quite the opposite has happened.  “Conventional wisdom held that the sharp rise in gun sales during Obama’s presidency was driven, at least in part, by the threat of guns control,” the study says. “That’s why everyone expected gun sales to decline after Trump’s victory.”

        Major prison strike spreads across US and Canada as inmates refuse food - A prison strike has begun to take hold in custodial institutions across North America, with reports of sporadic protest action from California and Washington state to the eastern seaboard as far south as Florida and up to Nova Scotia in Canada.Details remain sketchy as information dribbles out through the porous walls of the country’s penitentiaries. Prison reform advocacy groups liaising with strike organisers said Wednesday that protests had been confirmed in three states, with further unconfirmed reports emerging from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.The confirmed cases related to a hunger strike in Folsom state prison in California. A 26-year-old inmate called Heriberto Garcia managed to dispatch to the outside world a smartphone recording of himself refusing food. The video was then posted on Twitter. When he was told the contents of the meal, Garcia could be heard replying: “Burritos or not, not eating today. Protest. I’m hunger striking right now.”The second confirmed action was in the Northwest detention center in Tacoma, Washington, where as many as 200 detained immigrants joined the nationwide protest. The Canadian unrest occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where prisoners at Burnside jail put out a statement in solidarity with their striking US equivalents complaining that they were being “warehoused as inmates, not treated as human beings”.The 19-day strike is the first such nationwide action in the US in two years and was triggered by April’s rioting in Lee correctional institution in South Carolina in which seven inmates were killed. The start of the strike on Monday was symbolically timed to mark the 47th anniversary of the death of the Black Panther leader George Jackson in San Quentin prison in California.

        West Virginia lower House impeaches entire state Supreme Court --The West Virginia Senate reconvened Monday to consider articles of impeachment against all four justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Last week, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates approved 11 of 14 articles of impeachment by majority vote.The effort to remove all members of the state supreme court is a transparently political drive to place under Republican control the last branch of state government controlled by the Democrats. The state’s highest court had a 3-2 majority of justices elected as Democrats, until July 27, when Justice Menis Ketchum resigned. On August 14, hours after the impeachment vote, a second Democrat, Justice Robin Davis, announced her resignation.Both resignations have the effect of depriving Republican Governor Jim Justice of the opportunity of naming a replacement. The state constitution provides that a vacancy created more than 84 days before a general election shall be filled by voters, not the governor. Davis resigned on the 85th day before the election, after 21 years on the high court.Under proposed draft rules pending adoption in the Senate, each justice will get a separate trial followed by a closed-door vote of the Senate. A two-thirds vote to sustain one or more of the articles against the judge will result in a conviction and removal from office. A separate vote, also requiring a two-thirds majority, will determine if the convicted justice will be barred from ever holding public office in West Virginia again. The Republican Party has a majority of 22-12 in the State Senate, meaning that at least one Democrat must support removal of the justices to achieve a two-thirds majority. Following a two-day special session which stretched into the early morning of Tuesday, August 14, the House charged the justices with the impeachable offenses including maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty, and other offenses, all in relation to abuse and misuse of state resources, including money, cars, computers, and furniture.

         Brutal conditions in US prisons drive inmates to strike -- Prisoners incarcerated at various state and federal correctional facilities across the United States began a 19-day strike Tuesday to protest the inhumane living conditions imposed upon them, the slavery-like work regimes they are forced to labor under, and the reactionary sentencing laws that strip away their constitutional rights and prevent them from challenging in court the conditions of their confinement.  The strike, which is being spearheaded by an intra-prison organization known as Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, was called in response to the recent riot at Lee correctional institution in South Carolina where 7 inmates were killed and another 17 injured. At the prison, which is notorious for its overcrowding and brutality, the correctional staff allowed the violence to continue for hours and left injured inmates untreated.First among the actions called for by the inmates are work strikes. Prisons in the United States typically have two different forms of employment. First are institutional jobs, such as working in the kitchen, laundry, or performing janitorial work. Second are “industry” jobs, in which prisoners work in on-site workshops that produce manufactured goods for businesses that have a contract with the prison system.Wages for this work vary across the prison system. For institutional jobs, in many states, prisoners are paid nothing for their labor. In other prisons, inmates are paid a flat rate, usually equal to no more than a dollar a day, at the very most. Industry jobs are often paid by the hour, with wages starting as low as 20 cents per hour.In the federal prison system, wages for institutional jobs range from 12 cents to 40 cents per hour, for a seven-hour minimum workday. Federal industry jobs start at 23 cents per hour and top out at $1.15 per hour. In most prisons, inmates are required to work. Those who refuse are placed in solitary confinement, known in institutional parlance as “administrative segregation,” where an individual is confined to his or her cell for 23 hours a day and kept isolated from other convicts. Due to the impoverished background of most inmates, whose only other source of income is money sent to the prison by family or friends, this work is the only source of income to procure necessities such as postage stamps, writing materials, and items from the prison commissary to supplement the inadequate and low-quality food prisoners are forced to eat.

        Majority Of Young Americans Live In A Household Receiving Welfare - New analysis from CNS News finds that the majority of Americans under 18 live in households that take "means-tested assistance" from the US government.The study, based on the most recently available data from the Census Bureau, leads with the question: Will they be called The Welfare Generation?  The data presented by CNS editor Terrence Jeffrey shockingly reveals that in 2016 "there were approximately 73,586,000 people under 18 in the United States, and 38,365,000 of them — or 52.1 percent — resided in households in which one or more persons received benefits from a means-tested government program." It's a slim majority, but a majority which nonetheless presents an extremely worrisome trend regarding the number of young Americans and possibly young families who've experienced some level of government dependency.To put it in another, perhaps more alarming way, if you're under 18 the data shows you are more likely that not to be living in a home that receives some form of taxpayer-financed largesse.  In terms of the country's total population of 319.9 million Americans, the data finds that 114.8 million, or about 36 percent, lived as part of a household in which someone collected welfare.

        New Study: Robots Can Brainwash Children Into "Mindless Conformity" - A new study has shown that robots can brainwash children, essentially programming their minds into “mindless conformity.” Children can be significantly influenced by machines, even when the robots were obviously wrong. Writing in Science Robotics, the University of Plymouth researchers behind the study said the findings raise concerns about the potential for robots to have a negative influence on vulnerable children.  Children were shown to trust the answer a robot provides over their own assessment, even though it was easily wrong, making “robot pressure,” the new peer pressure, reported RT.“People often follow the opinions of others and we’ve known for a long time that it is hard to resist taking over views and opinions of people around us. We know this as conformity. But as robots will soon be found in the home and the workplace, we were wondering if people would conform to robots.” “What our results show is that adults do not conform to what the robots are saying. But when we did the experiment with children, they did. It shows children can perhaps have more of an affinity with robots than adults, which does pose the question: what if robots were to suggest, for example, what products to buy or what to think?” – Professor in Robotics Tony Belpaeme, one of the scientists behind the study.Professor Noel Sharkey, who heads the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, responded to the research on Twitter. “If robots can convince children that false information is true, the implication for the planned commercial exploitation of robots for childminding and teaching is problematic,” he wrote.

        As students return to school, US teachers face nationwide struggle to defend education --As the new school year begins across the United States, teachers are angry and determined. None of the demands teachers and school employees raised in last spring’s strikes and protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and North Carolina have been met. Many of the supposed gains touted by the teachers’ unions have proven to be fictitious, and next to nothing has been done to restore the billions of dollars in education cuts carried out over the past decade.It has not taken long for the claims of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) and their pseudo-left allies such as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) that the spring struggles resulted in “victories” to be exposed as lies. In each state, teachers are returning to school facing broken promises. In West Virginia, there is no fix for health care funding under the Public Employee Insurance Agency. In Arizona, the $1 billion in school funding has not been restored and wage increases for many teachers have fallen far short of the contract terms announced by the unions. As the new school term begins, contract battles are ongoing in Seattle and Spokane, Washington. Teachers in the Los Angeles United School District, the second largest in the US, have been working without a contract for a year and negotiations are at an impasse. In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers has agreed to work under an expired contract until after the midterm elections, pointedly avoiding any action in November that might prove embarrassing to Democratic Party candidates. Unions are similarly forcing educators to work under expired or extended contracts in other locations such as Denver, Colorado and Oakland, California. A report by the Brookings Institution looked at teachers’ salaries and per-pupil spending on a state-by-state basis and concluded that conditions were “favorable” this fall for statewide teachers’ strikes in such largely nonunion states as Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. Brookings added that growing calls for action have been reported in Indiana and Texas. An Education Weekblog predicted that Louisiana would be next.

        Teacher hostility grows to Michigan Department of Education’s curriculum changes --Anger over proposed changes in the social studies curriculum by the Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE) curriculum standards panel continues to spread among teachers in the state. On August 9, about a hundred teachers and parents attended one of a dozen “Listen and Learn” town hall-style meetings called by the MDE to discuss these changes. As a result of backlash against the proposed standards, six more meetings will take place statewide through September. A final draft of the curriculum will voted on by the State Board of Education. As in the previous gatherings, those attending the Ann Arbor meeting added their voices to the sense of anger and dismay over the character of the curriculum changes, as well as the intervention of a cabal of Republican state legislators, led by the extreme right-wing state Senator Patrick Colbeck (Seventh District), who insinuated themselves into the process of determining what teachers teach and what will be tested on statewide mandatory exams.Colbeck and his team were actually invited to attend the standards panel deliberations, and quickly proceeded to push through a far-reaching proposed standard that essentially rewrites history, expunges the crimes of U.S imperialism, minimizes the struggle for democratic rights, and places in jeopardy the ability of teachers and students to inquire about the nature of historical truth. The proposed omissions eviscerate teaching about the revolutionary character of the democratic rights proclaimed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the founding documents of the American Revolution. Under the proposed standards, examples of the Constitution’s core values no longer include equality, rule of law, unalienable rights, social compact theory and the right of revolution. Likewise, examples of rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights no longer include the freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Everywhere they previously appeared, the words “separation of church and state” are removed. These references or “examples” are literally struck out of the text, which means that educators will no longer be required to mention them.

        Puerto Rico’s teachers hold one-day strike - Puerto Rico’s public-school children started school on August 13, many crowding into crumbling school rooms or sitting in the open air. Two days later, their teachers walked out to protest the dire state of education and the government’s plans, utilizing the pretext of Hurricane Maria, to privatize the territory’s public schools.The one-day strike was called by Puerto Rico Teachers’ Federation (Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, FMPR). It called attention to the threat to close almost a third of the island’s schools—over 250—and Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s wide-ranging attacks on education under his “reform” law signed in March.Despite mass anger throughout the island over the state of the schools, the FMPR refused to call more than a one-day action. For its part, the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, known by its Spanish acronym AMPR, which has long claimed to be fighting privatization, refused to participate in the strike at all.  As of the beginning of the school year, an estimated 7,000 teachers had been laid off, and adding to the chaos, of those who are returning to teach this year, more than 1,000 had not been notified where they would be assigned.Students and teachers have voiced anger against closed schools and unrepaired buildings. Several schools whose buildings were relatively unscathed, including at least two for special needs children, were closed.  Speaking to Radio Isla, one mother explained that her disabled daughter had first learned to speak at Lorencita Ramirez, but now would have no comparable school to attend. “I worked for five months to get my daughter into this school, and now they want to close it,” she said. “There’s just no way that I could have ever imagined that they could close this excellent school, and that I would be in this struggle. But when something is wrong, and it affects your child. … Well, here I am. In the struggle.” Damage to many operating schools is so extensive that children have been forced into half-day schedules. The Department of Education has shelled out nearly $43,000 apiece for 200 notorious FEMA trailers to house students, while saying “there is no money” to keep schools open.

        Los Angeles teachers vote on strike authorization - Over 26,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) began a strike vote yesterday. It is expected to be passed by wide margins. Were there to be a strike, it would be the first since 1989, nearly 30 years ago. The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) is the second largest teachers union in the country and serves over 640,000 students. The UTLA has kept Los Angeles teachers working without a contract for 13 months, deliberately isolating them from the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky and Colorado during the spring. During that time, many teachers across the US were demanding a national strike, yet the UTLA forced teachers to stay in the classroom. Los Angeles teachers have demanded the union finally take action, pointing to overflowing classes, lack of school nurses or counselors and low wages. They have also opposed the drive for school privatization, noting California already has more privately run charter schools than any other state. Union membership in the LAUSD has dropped from 42,000 to 31,000 since 2007, reflecting school closures, reduced services and growing class sizes. Now, after more than 17 months of negotiations, the union has declared an impasse, which was made official by the California Public Employees Relations Board on August 3. The strike authorization vote is taking place between August 23 and 30, with a mandatory court-appointed mediation meeting scheduled for September 27. This means that should the strike vote pass, Los Angeles teachers would still not potentially strike before October at the earliest, pending the outcome of mediation. The UTLA has proposed a pay increase of 6.5 percent retroactive to July 1, 2016, an amount which does little to address the skyrocketing cost of living in the expensive state of California. For its part, the district has proposed an insulting 2 percent ongoing salary increase along with a one-time 2 percent bonus, supposedly sweetened with a mere $500 stipend to assist teachers in the purchase of school supplies. School superintendent Austin Beutner is a former partner of the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, and a former CEO of the Los Angeles Times.

        Betsy DeVos Eyes Federal Education Grants to Put Guns in Schools - NYT— When Congress created its academic support fund three years ago, lawmakers had in mind a pot of money that would increase student access to art and music, mental health and technology programs at the nation’s most impoverished schools.  But back-to-back school shootings this year and inquiries from the state of Texas have prompted the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to examine whether to allow states to tap the school enrichment fund for another purpose: guns. Such a move would reverse a longstanding position taken by the federal government that it should not pay to outfit schools with weaponry. It would also undermine efforts by Congress to restrict the use of federal funding on guns. As recently as March, Congress passed a school safety bill that allocated $50 million a year to local school districts, but expressly prohibited the use of the money for firearms. But the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in 2015, is silent on weapons purchases, and that omission would allow Ms. DeVos to use her discretion to approve or deny any state or district plans to use the enrichment grants under the measure for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bans such funding through legislative action.  “The department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. The $1 billion student support program, known as the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, is intended for the country’s poorest schools and calls for school districts to use the money toward three goals: providing a well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning and improving the use of technology for digital literacy. Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, introduced legislation on Thursday to block the Education Department from allowing school districts to use federal funds to purchase firearms. The ranking Democrat on the House education committee, Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, said granting state requests to use federal funds for firearms would be “openly violating the spirit of the law as well as common sense about gun safety.”

        The 'Tuition Insurance' Industry Is Red Hot As Cost Of College Skyrockets - Not only is tuition insurance now a thing, but the industry is absolutely booming. The Wall Street Journal reports that 70,000 policies were written across the United States over the course of the last year, which was up from just 20,000 policies that were written five years ago. But the reported rise in students attending universities with disabilities as a result of mental health disorders – combined with the rapidly rising cost of tuition - has caused the birth of an industry that doesn't look like it has any plans of slowing down. Just as it is in any industry that is attracting large quantities of cash, money making derivatives and alternative products tend to pop up. This was notably the case in the world of cryptocurrency, when we reported back in July that the crypto-insurance industry not only existed, but similarly, was also blooming. The Wall Street Journal was recently out with an article that led off by detailing the case of a woman who paid $238 for tuition insurance and was able to receive a full reimbursement of $16,000 in tuition that she spent when her daughter, a junior at Marymount Manhattan College in New York, had to withdraw from school due to an allergic reaction to an anxiety medication.Tuition insurance is pitched as being able to protect against these specific types of scenarios. With the cost of tuition so drastically high, it is becoming a more and more appealing option to those funding their children to attend university. When asked about what was driving the boom in the tuition insurance industry, an insurance executive simply commented, "the cost of college is driving this", and then followed up by saying "families cannot afford the loss of $30,000". But, tuition insurance only insures that a student's tuition is reimbursed (sometimes, partially) if they drop out during a period after their university's allowed withdrawal deadline and before the end of the semester.

        U. of Akron Will Phase Out 80 Degree Programs and Open New Esports Facilities - The University of Akron will phase out 80 degree programs, about 20 percent of what it now offers, in part, to save money for the future, the university announced on Wednesday. The cuts come after a yearlong review of Akron’s degrees and degree tracks. Among the university’s strengths are nursing, biosciences, engineering, dance, and music, Akron’s Board of Trustees said in a statement. The 10 Ph.D. programs, 33 master’s programs, 20 bachelor’s programs, and 17 associate-degree programs that will be phased out suffered low enrollment or were duplicates of prosperous programs at other, similar institutions. The process will take a few years, and will free up about $6 million for reallocation, Alex Knisely, a university spokesman, said in an email. There’s no plan to terminate any faculty or staff members because of the program cuts, the statement said. Akron also wants to hire 31 full-time faculty members in those programs identified as priorities, the statement said. As the university ends what it deems unpopular degrees, it is leaning into a current trend on college campuses: competitive video gaming, known as esports. On Thursday, Akron announced that it would open three facilities to accommodate varsity, club, and recreational gamers. The university said the centers would represent “the largest amount of dedicated esports space of any university in the world to date.” Five inaugural varsity teams will compete this fall in the video games Overwatch, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Rocket League. The games explore themes of fantasy and horror; thwarting insidious terrorist plots; and soccer with rocket-powered cars.

        Protesters Destroy 105-Year-Old "Silent Sam" Confederate Statue At UNC-Chapel Hill - Chaos broke out Monday night as a group of around 300 demonstrators gathered at the base of Silent Sam, a Confederate memorial statue on the University of North Carolina Campus.  After covering it in gray banners to turn it into an "alternative monument" which read, in part "For a world without white supremacy," Silent Sam was pulled down just after 9:15 p.m. Protesters were apparently working behind the covering with ropes to bring the statue down, which happened more than two hours into a rally. It fell with a loud clanging sound, and the crowd erupted in cheers. After Silent Sam tumbled to the ground, people darted in and out of the crowd through a haze from smoke bombs. Atop the statue someone placed a black cap that said, “Do It Like Durham,” an apparent reference to the toppling of a Confederate statue there a year ago. -News Observer After the statue had fallen, protesters rushed to the remains to take selfies and stomp on the 105-year-old monument which was erected with donations from the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  Silent Sam had been the focus of protests and vandalism for decades - much more so in recent years, however. UNC had installed surveillance cameras as part of a $390,000 outlay for security around the statue last year. Andrew Skinner, 23, who graduated from UNC earlier this year, said he was glad the statue fell in an illegal act.“It shows that we have the power to be on the right side of history,” Skinner said. “We are part of a long tradition of civil rights in this country.....We as a country have a lot of change and a lot of healing to do, and we are not going to get there putting racism on a pedestal.” -News Observer The Monday protest started on downtown Franklin Street as a demonstration in support of a student who threw red ink and blood on the Confederate statue in April - leading to criminal and honor court charges.

        The Changing Demographics Of Higher Education - Women beat men in all degree categories of higher education, and they have for decades—and worldwide. Men, it seems are slowing enrollment at an alarming rate, and young women are driving the change. While men once outnumbered women in terms of collection enrollment by as much as 58 percent to 42 percent in the 1970s, the ratio has now almost reversed. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women comprised more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide last year. That same year, about 2.2 million fewer men than women were enrolled in college.And it’s a trend that shows no sign of veering off course. The National Center for Education Statistics also estimates that 57 percent of college students will be women by 2026. So who is the new minority in higher educations? Hello, Men—welcome to a brand new world.  According to U.S. Census Bureau data for 2017, women between ages 18 and 24 earned more than two-thirds of all master's degrees. Put in other terms, there were 167 women with master's degrees for every 100 men. In fact, women have held the Master’s Degree advantage in the U.S. since 1981.  Regarding professional degrees, women in the same age were handed three-quarters of professional degrees and 80 percent of doctoral degrees.Another research study confirms the trend. In 2017, about 34.6 percent of women graduated college or obtained a higher educational degree. Compared to 1940, more than 8 times more women have attended college and nearly 6 times more men have in 2017. Women are gaining in educational attainment, and now we’re seeing the effects in the work force, too. A Pew Research Center report shows that among adults ages 25 to 64, women are now more likely than men to have a four-year college degree. In 2017, 38 percent of these women and 33 percent of men had a bachelor’s degree. Women are also outpacing men in postgraduate education. In 2017, 14 percent of women ages 25 to 64 had an advanced degree, compared with 12 percent of men. That compares with 1992, when 9 percent of men and 6 percent of women in this age group had advanced degrees.

        Student Loans Are Starting To Bite The Economy - It’s that time of year, when students prepare to head back to the classroom. For many taking the next step in higher education, the question is increasingly, “Is it worth it?” Millions of millennials have already put off settling down because of the rising costs of servicing college debts to the detriment of economic growth. Student loans are now the second-largest category of household debt in America, topping $1.4 trillion and trailing only mortgages at $9 trillion. And while Korn Ferry puts the average starting salary for a 2018 college graduate at $50,390, up 2.8 percent from 2017, the just-released July Consumer Price Index report shows the inflation rate rose 2.9 percent over the last 12 months. Does the phrase “treading water” come to mind?A recent report by Bloom Economic Research breaks out the demographic challenges that have resulted from the 176 percent increase in student loan debt in the decade through 2017. In the years leading up to the housing crisis and the dramatic loosening of mortgage credit standards, many families tapped readily available home equity to finance pricier higher educations for their children than they would have otherwise been able to afford. After the bust, this avenue was blocked, leaving only the higher education inflation it had fueled.From 2007 through 2017, the CPI rose by 21 percent. Over that same period, college tuition costs jumped 63 percent, school housing surged 51 percent and the price of textbooks by 88 percent. These troubling growth rates wipe away any mystery behind today’s staggering levels of student loan debt, which have almost tripled from the 2007 starting point of $545 billion. As of the fourth quarter, student loans represented 10.5 percent of a record $13.1 trillion in U.S. household debt, up from 3.3 percent at the start of 2003.Regardless of income bracket, housing is the biggest line item in family budgets. On that count, the best news for fresh grads is that rent growth appears to be slowing as a flood of apartment supply hits the market. According to RentCafe, the average rent in the U.S. was a record $1,409 in July, a 2.8 percent from a year earlier. While rent growth has stopped outpacing gains in salaries, the level is nevertheless prohibitively high for many, especially those weighed down by student loans the minute they cross the stage. The average student loan payment is $351. Tack that on to average rents and you’re pushing $1,800 before you hit the online grocery app icon on your smart phone, the bill for which runs at least $100 a month for most of us. Using college grad starting salaries, that takes up a large chunk of monthly take-home pay of about $3,400 if you live in Texas or $3,100 if you’re in New York.

        One Million Americans Default On Their Student Loans Each Year, Report Reveals - More than one million American student loan borrowers default on their debt each year, a new report says.That means by 2023, approximately 40 percent of borrowers are expected to default.That is according to a new report by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to developing evidence-based insights on critical socioeconomic issues. Researchers found about 250,000 student loan borrowers see their debts go into default every quarter, and an additional 20,000 to 30,000 borrowers default on their rehabilitated student loans. “My results indicate that the likelihood of student loan default is positively correlated with holding other collections debt (e.g., medical, utilities, retail, or bank debt). About 59 percent of borrowers who defaulted on their student loans within four years had collections debt in the year before entering student loan repayment (compared with 24 percent among non-defaulters). Those who will default on their student loans are more likely to reside in neighborhoods that have more residents of color and fewer adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, but a borrower’s personal credit profile is a stronger predictor of default than the neighborhood where she resides,” said Kristin Blagg, a research associate in the Education Policy Program at the Urban Institute.The average defaulter is more likely to live in Hispanic and black neighborhoods, Blagg found. Her previous research has shown that minorities are more burdened by their education debt because their parents have a lower net wealth as well as higher rates of unemployment. These neighborhoods also have a median income of around $50,000, compared with $60,000 for non-defaulters.The Urban Institute made a startling discovery: Those with the smallest loan balances had a higher probability of not paying off their debt. In fact, 1 in 3 people who had a student loan balance less than $5,000 defaulted within four years, compared with 15 percent of borrowers who owed more than $35,000. This is because students who dropped out of college have less debt, but are easily burdened by debt since they do not have the benefit of a degree, said Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert, who spoke with CNBC.  “They often lack awareness of options for dealing with the debt, such as deferments, forbearances, income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness.”

         Miscalculating Medicare-for-all -- J.d. Alt - A report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University calculating the “cost” of Medicare-for-all has received much attention recently—first, because Bernie Sanders claimed the report concluded that Medicare-for-all would save the American people $2 trillion over a 10-year period. That claim was still warm when the report’s author, Charles Blahous, told the Washington Post that Bernie’s interpretation of the report’s conclusions were blatantly false. The real conclusion of his report, Blahous said, was that Medicare-for-all will “raise government expenditures by $32.6 trillion” in the first decade—or, about $3.3 trillion per year. Blahous went on to say this: “For perspective on these figures, consider that doubling all currently projected federal individual and corporate income tax collections would be insufficient to finance the added federal costs of the plan.”  So, there you have it: blown out of the water again. When will Democrats understand they can’t collect enough tax-dollars to pay for Medicare-for-all, or to pay America’s public college tuitions, or to pay for pre-school day-care for America’s working-class families? When are Democrats going to get REAL? End of conversation.  Except it should not be the end of the conversation at all, but rather the beginning of a learning experience to help Americans get it right when it comes to understanding what U.S. democracy can “afford” to do. It turns out the arguments framed by Mr. Blahous are, themselves, based upon a particular assumption which is illogical from the perspective of macro-economic bookkeeping in a modern money system—which is what the U.S. has been operating now for over three-quarters of a century. To see why this is so, begin with the simple statement that Medicare-for-all will increase federal expenditures by $3.3 trillion per year. The first thing to notice is that this number—$3.3 trillion—represents the total amount of health-care services someone has calculated that Americans are going to need. let’s not even consider whether the $3.3 trillion figure is an overpayment—let’s just accept the fact that it is a number somebody calculated about how many services and procedures American’s will need, and how much each service and procedure is estimated to cost. Here’s the second thing to notice about this $3.3 trillion in health-dollars: If Uncle Sam didn’t write the checks for those health-services, someone else would have to. In aggregate, then, if Uncle Sam pays $3.3 trillion for America’s health-care services, America’s families and businesses save $3.3 trillion in expenditures they don’t have to pay—which could be viewed as the same as “earning” an extra $3.3 trillion each year.

        The Large Hidden Costs of Medicare’s Prescription Drug Program --At a glance, Medicare’s prescription drug program — also called Medicare Part D — looks like the perfect example of a successful public-private partnership.Drug benefits are entirely provided by private insurance plans, with generous government subsidies. There are lots of plans to choose from. It’s a wildly popular voluntary program, with 73 percent of Medicare beneficiaries participating. Premiums have exhibited little to no growthsince the program’s inception in 2006.But the stability in the premiums belies much larger growth in the cost for taxpayers. In 2007, Part D cost taxpayers $46 billion. By 2016, the figure reached $79 billion, a 72 percent increase. It’s a surprising statistic for a program that is often praised for establishing a competitive insurance market that keeps costs low, and that is singled out as an example of the good that can come from strong competition in a private market.Much of this increase is a result of growing enrollment — it has doubled in the past decade to 43 million — and higher drug prices. But there is also a subtle way in which the program’s structure promotes cost growth.When enrollees’ drug costs are relatively low, plans pay a large share, typically about 75 percent. But when enrollees’ drug spending surpasses a certain catastrophic threshold — set at $5,000 in out-of-pocket spending in 2018 — 80 percent of drug costs shifts to a government program called reinsurance. This gives people in charge of private insurance plans an incentive to find ways to push enrollees into the catastrophic range, shifting the vast majority of drug costs off their books. For example, they could be less motivated to negotiate for lower drug prices for certain types of drugs if doing so would tend to keep more enrollees out of the catastrophic range. Reinsurance spending, which is not reflected in premiums, has been rising rapidly. “This harms the very competition that Part D was supposed to establish,”

        Medicare Part D: Delight, or Debacle? -- naked capitalism by Lambert Strether  --This post — inspired by this Times article on Medicare Part D (non-paywalled duplicate) — is or was going to be my first foray into actual Medicare, as opposed to #MedicareForAll.[1] I say “was” because in fact my foray failed, as I recoiled in horror when I tried to understand the system. WikiPedia:Medicare is further divided into parts A and B—Medicare Part A covers hospital (inpatient, formally admitted only), skilled nursing (only after being formally admitted for three days and not for custodial care), and hospice services; Part B covers outpatient services including some providers services while inpatient at a hospital. Part D covers self-administered prescription drugs. Part C is an alternative called Managed Medicare by the Trustees that allows patients to choose plans with at least the same benefits as Parts A and B (but most often more), often the benefits of Part D, and always an annual out of pocket spend limit which A and B lack; the beneficiary must enroll in Parts A and B first before signing up for Part C. Four parts is three parts too many. It’s clear at the outset that Medicare has a serious neoliberal infestation problem, since complex eligibility determinationwe call it “shopping” — is the hallmark of the neoliberal approach to the provision of services. (That’s why “free at the point of care” is essential to any #MedicareForAll program; it’s the only way to blow away the eligibility system, along with its gatekeepers and rent-seekers.) Clearly, doping out what my Medicare coverage should be will be a large, even enormous, tax on my time, and I don’t want to pay that tax just now. So, a change of course (and a shorter post). First, I’ll provide a brief potted history of Medicare Part D; then I’ll look at the the issues that the Times raises; then — as a #MedicareForAll supporter — I’ll explain why Medicare Part D shouldn’t exist in the first place; and finally I’ll open the floor for readers to share their own experiences.

        More Americans Forced to Drop Traditional Health Insurance In Favor Of Cheaper Alternatives - More and more cash-strapped Americans are reportedly seeking "alternative" ways to cover themselves with cheaper healthcare, as an exodus from traditional health insurance plans continues.Traditional health plans are now pricing people out of the market and consumers are looking closely at alternatives. Many consumers are finding cost relief in alternatives like healthcare-sharing ministries, which are cost sharing plans usually rooted in local religious communities. A Bloomberg report found that the number of people joining these sharing ministries was up 74% from 2014 to 2016. More than 1 million people are participants in these programs. The report details the story of one family, the Bergevins, who realized that they had to make some big changes in their healthcare when they were charged $7,000 in out-of-pocket expenses that their insurance didn’t cover after their son was born. Two years after the birth of their son, the couple ditched their health insurance plan, a move that helped them pay off the $7,000 debt.As the couple prepares to have their second child, they have since decided not to go back to traditional coverage and instead to use a combination of a religious group and a primary care doctor that they can pay monthly. “I was so jaded with the whole health-care insurance situation,” the mother, Lindsie, told Bloomberg. These monthly payment-style primary care clinics are also popping up more often. There are now almost 900 of them, up from "just a handful" in the early 2000‘s. Even though the ACA expanded coverage to 19 million Americans, 28 million people still remain uninsured.

        ‘Inconsistent’ Results for Home Baby Monitors Measuring Vital Signs - Performance of smartphone-integrated baby monitors claiming to measure vital signs varied widely when compared to hospital monitors, researchers found.Of the two consumer baby monitors tested that use pulse oximetry, one detected hypoxemia, but had an "inconsistent performance," while the other did not detect hypoxemia and also showed pulse rates that were falsely low, reported Christopher P. Bonafide, MD, of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues.One had sensitivity of 88.8% and specificity of 85.7% for hypoxemia, but 0% sensitivity and 100% specificity for bradycardia. The second had sensitivity of 0% and specificity of 100% for hypoxemia, with 0% sensitivity and 82.3% specificity for bradycardia, the authors wrote in JAMA. They noted that these monitors that measure vital signs are not approved by the FDA, but have been "popular among parents." The authors also wrote an opinion piece last year that raised questions about these baby monitors.

        CDC: 25% Of Adults Have Life-Impacting Disability - According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in four adults report having a disability that impacts major life activities - "the most dominant one affecting mobility," reports UPI.  The CDC measured six types of disability; mobility, cognition, hearing, vision, independent living and self-care, using data from 458,811 adults who participated in the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.  The report reveals that disability is more common among women, non-Hispanic American Indians / Alaska Natives, low-income adults, and those living in the South Census region of the US. Disability affects about 41 percent of those age 65 and older, compared with younger adults at 16.6 percent and middle age people at 28.6 percent. Overall, 25.7 percent of participants reported any disability. -UPI"At some point in their lives, most people will either have a disability or know someone who has a one," said Dr. Coleen Boyle, director of CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "Learning more about people with disabilities in the United States can help us better understand and meet their health needs."The study also found that adult disability rates increase as income decreases.Among the younger age groups (18-44 years old), the most common type of disability is cognative, at 10.6%. Mobility was most prevalent among middle-aged respondants (45-64 years old) at 18.1%, as well as older people (65+) at 26.9%.  Specifically, mobility disability is nearly five times as common among middle-aged people -- 45 to 64 years old -- living below the poverty level compared with those whose income is twice that level.Hearing, mobility and independent living disabilities were higher among older adults. –UPI The study also reveals that more adults over 65-years-old with disabilities are covered by health insurance, have a primary doctor and get routine checkups, vs. middle-aged and younger adults with disabilities. 98% of Americans have access to Medicare coverage by the age of 65, however older adults reporting self-care disabilities come under increased financial strain due to higher medical needs.

        Outbreak Alert: Rare "Flesh-Eating" STD Reported In England - A rare flesh-eating STD (sexually transmitted disease) has been reported in England. An unnamed female patient, who lives in Southport has been diagnosed with donovanosis within the last 12 months. Donovanosis is an STD that causes flesh-eating ulcers on a patient’s genitalia; it has now popped up in England. Donovanosis is also spread by coming into contact with a patient’s infected ulcer and it is typically seen in India, New Guinea, parts of the Caribbean, central Australia, and southern Africa, according to Fox News.  The disease is painless, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but it causes horrifying and progressive ulcerative lesions on the genitals or perineum, which can be prone to heavy bleeding.  Is it painless as the CDC said?  It may sound like something straight out of a zombie horror movie, but this is actually a very real disease, warned researchers according to ABC 7 News. Antibiotic treatment may be able to stop the progression of the lesions, but patients are still at risk of relapse for 6-18 months post-treatment. According to the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), there have been no prior cases reported in the U.K, that anyone is aware of...yet.  But this young woman (aged 15-25)who contracted the Donovanosis disease got it from somewhere…An update on the infected patient was not provided, nor was it clear if any sexual partners she had encountered were also infected. The woman’s case only came to light through a Freedom of Information request submitted by, the Lancashire Evening Post reported. The website submitted the request as part of its “The Great British STI Taboo” investigation, which reported that 69 percent of the 1,000 British adults polled had never been tested for an STD.A pharmacist with told the news outlet that any delay in treatment “could cause the flesh around the genitals to literally rot away.”

        Anti-vaxxers are still spreading false claims as people die of measles - In the early 2000s, after the link between the MMR vaccine and autism was thoroughly debunked, healthcare professionals, including GPs and our teams, worked hard to re-establish public confidence in vaccinations. It took years to restore, but uptake rates in children receiving the MMR vaccine began to improve and there was a time, not so long ago, when we thought we had eradicated measles entirely.That is why recent data about the surge in measles cases across Europe will come as distressing news – even to us here in the UK. However, it backs up concerns that were published last month in the British Journal of General Practice. The World Health Organization has reported that a total of 41,000 people in the European region were infected in the first six months of 2018 – up from 23,927 cases in 2017 and 5,273 in 2016. Of the cases reported so far this year, 37 deaths have been recorded. The rapid spread of measles across Europe is an inevitable consequence of lower uptakes of the MMR vaccine globally, and the particularly virulent nature of this disease and how easily it can spread. It has put the UK on high alert and prompted warnings about the risk of measles spreading here, but it has also put the need for a strong, consistent vaccination campaign high on the political agenda. Vaccination is one of the great successes of modern medicine so it is tragic that a decade after the MMR scandal was thoroughly exposed, we are still suffering from the setbacks of the 1990s. While uptake rates of the vaccine are high in the UK, this year’s outbreak of more than 800 confirmed measles cases in England shows that we are still in dangerous territory. Many of the cases reported will be a direct result of susceptible teenagers and young adults who missed their MMR vaccine as children. Another reason for the outbreak is people travelling in and out of Europe, and mixing with groups of people with low rates of vaccination. As a society, we have collectively failed to adequately tackle the strong anti-vaccination movement which continues to influence some parents.

        Cell Phones in Schools? France Says No, San Francisco Educators Urge Caution -- As the school year begins, the movement to exercise caution in students' use of cell phones and other wireless devices is gaining international momentum.  The French Parliament voted last month to ban cell phones in nursery, elementary and middle schools. More than 5,000 miles away, San Francisco educators are urging the school district to make sure that students and teachers know about the state of California's guidelines for safer use of cell phones. "Peer-reviewed research has found that radiofrequency radiations emitted by cell phones and Wi-Fi routers and other wireless devices can impact the brain and the reproductive system," said Sarahn Aminoff, a teacher in the San Francisco district. "We are concerned about the health of the city's educators and about the students whose growing bodies may be more susceptible to the effects of wireless radiation." The latest research from the federal National Toxicology Program has linked long-term exposure to cellphone radiation with brain and heart cancer. And a recent study from Switzerland linked cellphone use withdecreased memory performance in teenagers, joining a growing number of reports finding that wireless devices can affect brain function. Scientists, physicians and educators have called for caution given that most Americans, including children, use electronic devices like cellphones, tablets and smartwatches, for hours every day in a pattern that resembles addictive behavior.

        Why is San Francisco … covered in human feces? - It’s an empirical fact: San Francisco is a crappier place to live these days. Sightings of human feces on the sidewalks are now a regular occurrence; over the past 10 years, complaints about human waste have increased 400%. People now call the city 65 times a day to report poop, and there have been 14,597 calls in 2018 alone. Last year, software engineer Jenn Wong even created a poop map of San Francisco, showing the concentration of incidents across the city. New mayor London Breed said: “There is more feces on the sidewalks than I’ve ever seen growing up here.” In a revolting recent incident, a 20lb bag of fecal waste showed up on a street in the city’s Tenderloin district. A city covered in poop is so disgusting it has to be almost comical. But the uptick in street defecation is the symbol of a human tragedy. People aren’t pooping on the streets because they have suddenly forgotten what a bathroom is, or unlearned basic hygiene. The incidents are part of a broader failure of the city to provide for the basic needs of its citizens, and show the catastrophic, socially destructive effects of unchecked inequality. It’s impossible to talk about street feces without talking about homelessness and housing. While there aren’t actually more homeless people than there have been in the past, the gentrification of San Francisco has had a severe effect on the homeless. Development has pushed homeless residents out of secluded spaces, and there is less and less space for them to inhabit as “places where homeless people used to sleep becoming offices and housing”, in the words of a city official. The city routinely clears away encampments, causing people to wander around the city in search of a new temporary space. Poop on the streets has another obvious cause: a lack of restroom access. Many businesses restrict their bathrooms to customers only, precisely because they don’t want their facilities to be frequented by the homeless. But the “privatization of bathrooms” means people are left without obvious places to go.  In a city with generous public spaces and a commitment to equal access, no one would ever have to use the street.

        San Francisco "Poop Patrollers" Make $185,000 - We wish we could say this was a satire piece, but a new story in the San Francisco Chronicle reveals just how lucrative collecting shit actually is. It's but the latest in a string of shocking revelations to hit headlines throughout the summer exposing how deep San Francisco's crisis of vast amounts of vagrant-generated feces covering its public streets actually runs (no pun intended). We detailed last week how city authorities have finally decided to do something after thousands of feces complaints (during only one week in July, over 16,000 were recorded), the cancellation of a major medical convention and an outraged new Mayor, London Breed, who was absolutely shocked after walking through her city: they established a professional "poop patrol".  As described when the city initially unveiled the plan, the patrol will consist of a team of five staffers donning protective gear and patrol the alleys around Polk Street and other "brown zones" in search of everything from hepatitis-laden Hershey squirts to worm-infested-logs. At the Poop Patrol's disposal will be a special vehicle equipped with a steam cleaner and disinfectant.  The teams will begin their shifts in the afternoon, spotting and cleaning piles of feces before the city receives complaints in order "to be proactive" in the words of the Public Works director Mohammed Nuru, co-creator of the poop patrol initiative. While at first glance it doesn't sound like the type of job people will be knocking down human resources doors to apply for, the SF Chronicle has revealed just how much each member of this apparently elite "poop patrol" team will cost the city: $184,678 in salary and benefits.  The surprisingly high figure is buried in the middle of the SF Chronicle's story on Mayor London Breed's morning walks along downtown streets with her staff, unannounced beforehand to her police force and department heads so she can view firsthand what common citizens endure on a daily basis.  After quoting Mayor Breed, who acknowledges, “We’re spending a lot of money to address this problem,” the following San Francisco Public Works budget items are presented:

        • A $72.5 million-a-year street cleaning budget
        • $12 million a year on what essentially have become housekeeping services for homeless encampments
        • $2.8 million for a Hot Spots crew to wash down the camps and remove any biohazards
        • $2.3 million for street steam cleaners
        • $3.1 million for the Pit Stop portable toilets
        • $364,000 for a four-member needle team
        • An additional $700,000 set aside for a 10-member, needle cleanup squad, complete with it’s own minivan

        And crucially, there's now "the new $830,977-a-year Poop Patrol to actively hunt down and clean up human waste." The SF Chronicle casually notes in parenthesis, "By the way, the poop patrolers earn $71,760 a year, which swells to $184,678 with mandated benefits."

        The Problem With Cannabis Packaging -- Packaging is increasingly becoming a way for cannabis products to declare that they aren’t illegal drugs anymore. But at what cost?Two very interesting stories came out this week. One, from Janet Burns at Gizmodo, details the booming trend of fancy packaging in legal cannabis products: artful tins, minimalist tubes, modernist cubes, faux-vintage cases. The other, from Kristen Millares Young at the Washington Post, examines how this same packaging is clogging the sewers, landfills, waterways, and recycling operations of Washington state, where recreational use is legal. Cannabis, given its sudden push from longstanding contraband to legal consumer product, is facing growing pains. We’ve detailed those here before, focusing on the agricultural side of things. Cannabis was, for a long time, one of the most environmentally destructive crops in the United States, with truly astounding bad practices involving rat poison, pollution, and forest death.A strange assumption held by many cannabis consumers—this isn’t a generalization, somebody actually did research on this—is that cannabis production is somehow greener, more environmentally friendly and sustainable, than other crops. It isn’t, and because it isn’t federally legal, the USDA can’t certify organic cannabis farms, which would provide a visible and well-understood label for ethical consumers.  Packaging has boomed in the wake of legalization. Free of gram-sized Ziploc bags stamped with smiley faces, which are symbols of an earlier, less legal time for cannabis, legal sellers find themselves able to rebrand themselves however they want. Cannabis products can be twee, vintage-inspired, sleekly modern, or serious and medical. But a boom in packaging is not good for the environment.

        Flushed contact lenses are big source of microplastic pollution -- Contact lenses that are flushed down the toilet or dropped in sink drains contribute vastly to microplastic pollution in the oceans, researchers warned Monday. The amount of plastic waste created by lenses and their packaging in the United States alone is equal to 400 million toothbrushes each year, said researchers at Arizona State University who described their findings at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston. "These are significant pollutants," researcher Rolf Halden of ASU's Biodesign Institute's Center for Environmental Health Engineering told reporters. "There are billions of lenses ending up in US wastewater every year. They contribute a load of at least 20,000 kilograms (44,000 pounds) per year of contact lenses." Roughly 45 million people in the United States alone wear contact lenses, amounting to at least 13 billion lenses worn each year. A survey of US contact lens wearers "found that 15 to 20 percent of contact wearers are flushing the lenses down the sink or toilet," Researchers tracked them to waste water treatment plants, where they discovered the lenses fall apart but do not degrade. The plastic particles either flow out into the ocean, or become part of sewage sludge, which is often applied to land as fertilizer. Runoff then brings these contaminants back to the oceans. Tiny fish and plankton can mistake microplastics for food. These indigestible plastics then make their way up the food chain, and into the human food supply. 

        'Green hajj' slowly takes root in Mecca - Thousands of cleaners are busy separating plastic from other rubbish as more than two million Muslims wrap up a pilgrimage to Mecca that presents a huge environmental challenge for Saudi Arabia. The Mamuniya camp in Mina near the holy city is dotted with colour-coded barrels -- black for organic waste and blue for cans and plastics for recycling. It's all part of an initiative to reduce the environmental footprint of the hajj, one of the world's largest annual gatherings. More than 42,000 tonnes of waste are produced during the pilgrimage to Islam's holiest sites, according of Mohammed al-Saati, head of sanitation for the Mecca municipality. "We're facing some real challenges, primarily the sheer volume of waste produced ... along with the number of pilgrims, the limited space around the holy sites, different nationalities and the weather," Saati told AFP. The hajj, which started on Sunday and ends on Friday, drew nearly 2.4 million Muslims from around the world this year, according to official Saudi figures. More than 13,000 sanitation workers and supervisors were hired during the pilgrimage season, which saw temperatures rise to 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) this week. 

        Why Asbestos Is Still a Major Public Health Threat in the U.S. -- Reports surfaced this month that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) for asbestos in June, requiring anyone who wanted to start or resume importing or manufacturing the carcinogenic mineral to first receive EPA approval.Advocates and some EPA employees raised concerns that the SNUR could pave the way for expanded asbestos use in the U.S., while agency spokespeople maintained the new rule would help the agency better regulate the material that different studies estimate kills between 12,000 and 39,275 Americans a year. But beyond that dispute lay a broader question: Why isn't asbestos banned in the U.S. altogether?  Sixty-five countries currently ban the fibrous mineral that was once widely used as an insulator and flame retardant in buildings, but the U.S. still is not one of them."I think there is … a misunderstanding or a misperception that the asbestos problem has been taken care of, that asbestos is banned, which it isn't," Dr. Celeste Monforton, a public health expert who worked for the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) during the Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. administrations and now works at George Washington University, said in an interview.  "It's really something that the general public, and I even think lawmakers and policy makers, think is a problem of the past," she said.

        Judge orders top Michigan health official to stand trial for Flint deaths -- A state court judge ruled Monday that Nick Lyon, the executive director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, will be brought to trial for two counts of involuntary manslaughter, as well as other felony charges related to the Flint water crisis. This ruling marks the first time anyone has been ordered to stand trial for the criminal conspiracy committed against the population of this working class city north of Detroit. Lyon was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder and still holds the position as head of the state health agency. The maximum sentence for the involuntary manslaughter charges could be as much as 30 years in prison, plus another five for misconduct in office. In a packed courtroom with standing room only, Judge David J. Goggins of the 67th District Court took 160 minutes reading through pages of his detailed notes before giving the decision.  The charges against Lyon stem from his role in concealing the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014-2015 that killed at least 12 people and sickened at least another 79 people. No warning was given by Lyon in spite of residents’ protests about foul-smelling water producing rashes and other illnesses. Flint’s water source was switched from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River in April 2014 without adding anti-corrosion controls, as part of a state-encouraged plan to move towards privatization of the water supply. The state investigation of the Flint catastrophe, under the direction of Attorney General Bill Schuette—who is the Republican candidate to succeed Snyder in the November eletions—has been winding slowly through the legal system since January 2016. No political officials have been charged, including Republican Governor Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon, a Democrat appointed by Snyder who authorized the Flint water switch. Susan Hedman, the top federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official in the Midwest, was aware as early as April 2015 that the water being piped into the homes of Flint, Michigan residents was not being treated for corrosion control, yet said nothing. This despite the fact that it is common knowledge among water professionals that the lack of such treatment, especially with highly corrosive water like that found in the Flint River, will cause lead to leach into tap water from pipes and fixtures.

        ‘Devastating’ dolphin loss in Florida red tide disaster (AFP) - A state of emergency has been declared in Florida as the worst red tide in a decade blackens the ocean water, killing dolphins, sea turtles and fish at a relentless pace.More than 100 tons of dead sea creatures have been shoveled up from smelly, deserted beaches in tourist areas along Florida's southwest coast as a result of the harmful algal bloom this month alone. In just the past week, 12 dolphins washed ashore dead in Sarasota County, typically the toll seen in an entire year. "It is physically and mentally exhausting," said Gretchen Lovewell, who is in charge of a skeleton crew at Mote Marine Laboratory that collects dead or distressed sea turtles and marine mammals.  On Sunday Lovewell recovered the remains of a decomposing dolphin. A faint number, 252, was visible, freeze-branded onto its dorsal fin. It was a 12-year-old male named Speck, who had been spotted more than 300 times by researchers monitoring generations of bottlenose dolphins in the Sarasota Bay."It was devastating," said Randall Wells, director of the Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, the world's longest-running study of a wild dolphin population, under way since 1970.Wells pulled out a map showing where researchers have seen Speck over the years. He often swam in waters right near Wells' own home.Researchers had also tracked Speck's mother and grandmother before they died from swallowing fishing gear. "Speck is somebody we have known from the time he was born," said Wells, who began studying dolphins when he was 16.

        Fla. manatee deaths already higher than last year -- So far, 554 manatees have died in Florida in 2018, and toxic algal blooms are to blame. The number already exceeds the 2017 total of 538, and there are still four months left of the year. Red tide is the suspected cause of more than 100 of the deaths. "We find that the primary route is through ingestion of seagrass that has the toxins on it," said Martine de Wit of the state's marine mammal pathology laboratory in St. Petersburg. Jeff Ruch, executive director of the environmental group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said that the state's manatees "have no defense against this ecological disaster." 

        New England Seal Die-Off Could be Linked to Chemical Pollution - Researchers think a mysterious die-off of seals along the Maine coast could be linked to chemical pollution, the Portland Press Herald reported Sunday.More than 400 dead or stranded seals have washed up on the Maine coast so far this year, more than in any of the past seven years, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statistics.The immediate cause of the die-off is not yet known, but marine biologist Susan Shaw told the Portland Press Herald it could be related to toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), which are found in high quantities in Maine harbor seals and make it harder for marine mammals to fight off disease."We find this in young animals. They are immune-suppressed from birth," she said. "When some pathogen comes along like this, they are very susceptible to becoming very sick and dying very quickly."  More than 130 seal deaths have been reported in Maine in the past 30 days, and the die-off is spreading south, with 26 dead seals reported in New Hampshire and Massachusetts in July and 25 in August so far,NBC Boston reported Aug. 17.  "It's significantly more than we should expect to see for those states this time of year," NOAA greater Atlantic regional spokesperson Jennifer Goebel said. "We aren't seeing any external injuries. There have been reports of coughing, sneezing, and lung issues."

        Tons of Plastic Trash Enter the Great Lakes Every Year – Where Does It Go? -- Matthew Hoffman has estimated that around 10,000 tons of plastic enter the Great Lakes annually. Plastic enters the Great Lakes in many ways. People on the shore and on boats throw litter in the water. Microplastic pollution also comes from wastewater treatment plants, stormwater and agricultural runoff. Some plastic fibers become airborne—possibly from clothing or building materials weathering outdoors—and are probably deposited into the lakes directly from the air.  When plastic pollution was initially found in the Great Lakes, many observers feared that it could accumulate in large floating garbage patches, like those created by ocean currents. However, when we used our computational models to predict how plastic pollution would move around in the surface waters of Lake Erie, we found that temporary accumulation regions formed but did not persist as they do in the ocean. In Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes, strong winds break up the accumulation regions.  Subsequent simulations have also found no evidence for a Great Lakes garbage patch. Initially this seems like good news. But we know that a lot of plastic is entering the lakes. If it is not accumulating at their centers, where is it?  Using our models, we created maps that predict the average surface distribution of Great Lakes plastic pollution. They show that most of it ends up closer to shore. This helps to explain why so much plastic is found on Great Lakes beaches: In 2017 alone, volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes collected more than 16 tons of plastic at beach cleanups. If more plastic is ending up near shore, where more wildlife is located and where we obtain our drinking water, is that really a better outcome than a garbage patch?

        General Mills Faces Lawsuit Over Glyphosate in Cereals - Monsanto's—and now Bayer's—glyphosate problem is also a headache for General Mills. The Cheerios-maker could face a class action lawsuit alleging the company failed to warn consumers about traces of the controversial herbicide in its products.A Florida woman filed the lawsuit Thursday in Miami federal court, according to Reuters. The move comes about a week after a California jury awarded $289 million to a school groundskeeper who claimed Monsanto's blockbuster weedkiller Roundup gave him cancer.Plaintiff Mounira Doss cited the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) widely circulated report last week that found Cheerios contained 470 to 530 parts per billion (ppb) of glyphosate, Food Navigator reported. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets its tolerance for glyphosate at 30,000 ppb in grains and cereals but the EWG sets their health benchmark at 160 ppb.The plaintiff said she never would have purchased the company's Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios had she known they contained the chemical, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) classified as a "probable human carcinogen" and is listed on California's Prop 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals, which was based on IARC's findings."Scientific evidence shows that even ultra-low levels of glyphosate may be harmful to human health," Doss said, as quoted by Food Navigator.General Mills "failed to disclose or actively concealed information reasonable consumers need to know before purchasing" the cereals, she argued. She claimed the company "knew or should have known that Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios contained glyphosate but withheld this information from consumers and the general public."

         The Much-Loathed Monsanto Name Is About to Die -- The public seems to loathe Monsanto. A recent poll ranked the company among the 20 most hated in America (nearly every other name on the list is a consumer-facing company the public deals with regularly, like health insurers, telecoms, and airlines) and entire marches are organized against them. As German corporation Bayer AG folds Monsanto into its portfolio, Bayer is making what is probably a shrewd business choice: killing the Monsanto name.  In a press release, Bayer announced the decision: "Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio." In other words, you'll no longer find Monsanto-brand Roundup in your Home Depot; it'll be Bayer-branded Roundup. (That is if Roundup continues to be sold.)  Monsanto has become synonymous with the agrochemical industry and a perceived disregard for human, public, and environmental health. There are plenty of other companies in the field at around the same size—Syngenta, Dow, BASF—but Monsanto's success in the United States, along with what seems like a pathological need to blunder in public relations, makes it a figurehead. In its past, Monsanto produced Agent Orange and DDT. In more recent history, the company blamed farmers for dicamba drift, ran ads promoting bioengineered foods that were widely interpreted as condescending and arrogant, and sued hundreds of small farmers for seed saving, among many other public relations disasters.

        Threat of chlorpyrifos ban puts alternatives in spotlight - Makers of farm chemicals are fighting a potential ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos, but ending its use wouldn't send bugs swarming on crops, industry sources say. That's because farmers would still have a wide array of pesticides at their disposal, and new ones are always being developed, said Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, the trade group representing farm chemical companies. That isn't to say the industry would let a prohibition on chlorpyrifos go into place without objection, Vroom said. CropLife hopes an Aug. 9 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordering a ban within 60 days will be overturned, he said. The Justice Department said it was reviewing the ruling, which the Trump administration could appeal. EPA has asked the court to clarify whether the 60-day window began when the opinion was issued or after the court has reviewed petitions for rehearing, which are due within 45 days of the opinion. The court said EPA couldn't justify its decision last year not to ban chlorpyrifos, despite earlier findings by the agency that the chemical can cause neurodevelopment damage to children when they're exposed to residue on food. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed EPA's moves toward banning chlorpyrifos as one of his first official actions. Chlorpyrifos is frequently used on apples, among other crops. In California, it is an important weapon against bugs on almonds as well as on alfalfa, a staple in the diet of dairy cows, according to a 2014 report on chlorpyrifos by the University of California. Its use has been declining, though, Vroom said, as companies develop other treatments. Vroom said pyrethroid pesticides — a synthetic version of natural chemicals found in chrysanthemums — are another choice for farmers. The natural version, called pyrethrin, is recommended by advocates for organic agriculture.

        New Pesticide as Harmful to Bees as Neonicotinoids - Agricultural pesticides are used to kill the pests that damage or destroy our crops, but at the same time, these pest killers are also killing the very pollinators that make agriculture possible. So it is with Sulfoxaflor, a new pesticide.  It has only been recently that the widely used neonicotinoid pesticides were discovered to be responsible for bee population declines. This has resulted in three of these pesticides now being banned in Europe and two will be phased out in Canada, and that is good news for the bees.  Based on the phase-out over time of neonicotinoids, chemical companies have been searching for something to replace the pest killer. However, newly developed pesticides could be just as bad for pollinators if allowed to be marketed. One such pesticide is Sulfoxaflor, the first branded sulfoximine-based insecticide, Sulfoximine-based insecticides are either licensed for use or under consideration for licensing in several worldwide markets, including the European Union, where certain neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam) are now banned from agricultural use outside of permanent greenhouse structures Currently, 47 countries allow the use of sulfoximine-based pesticides.  Sulfoxaflor, the branded product, was given EPA approval in the United States in October 2016, although it is a limited approval, meaning it is supposed to be used selectively on crops that don't attract pollinators or "for crop- production scenarios that minimize or eliminate potential exposure to bees."  A new study published in the journal Nature on August 15, 2018, has just reported that these pesticides could be just as harmful as the ones that they are replacing.

        Germany Is Abuzz, Literally --Cherrypicking the vast mire of policy regulations, German newspapers hit tabloid gold this summer with the headline: ‘Killing a Wasp Can Cost You 5,000 Euros!’ A headline designed to make the reader’s blood boil for reasons I’ll get into.  Since Berlin was sweltering with uncommonly high temperatures this summer, the wasp situation became uncomfortably relevant. You would get your lager and your currywurst and prepare to enjoy it at a picnic table or outside, on the sidewalk, when here they came: the bomber squadron of wasps, or what I, from my Georgia childhood, would call yellowjackets.  There would soon be two dogpaddling in your Erlanger and three laying dibs to your currywurst.  Since wasps have a sharp sting, and since, unlike bees (who die if they sting), they have no problem deploying them, all of this foraging was also threatening. You’d look around at the other tables and see basically two reactions. Some customers began a seated version of the Freak, that popular dance from the 70s, as they tried to shoo the beasts. Unfortunately, this only stirred the wasps to even more aggressive Lebensraum frenzies. Other diners (who looked like experienced Berliners) took the Buddhist approach of refusing to shoo, thus, theoretically, radiating love peace and compassion to the invading hordes. Neither tactic worked.  I talked to one waiter who held up his arms and demonstrated six separate stings: “This is how much they have stung me today.”   There is a good reason that the wasp fine came into existence: Europe is suffering a catastrophic loss of insect populations and diversity, due to climate change. But bureaucratic rules are slow to catch the changes that are happening; seeking to protect honeybees, they may simply be advancing another species in the bee niche.

        Canada Takes Action To Save The Bees -- The Canadian government announced it will ban two pesticides that have been linked to the falling numbers of pollinators, including bees. The pesticides include: clothianidin and thiamethoxam, both of which fall under the category of neonicotinoid (called neonics) pesticides. Health Canada announced that it will ban most outdoor uses of these pesticides within 3 to 5 years.Neonicotinoid pesticides are currently in widespread use in agriculture, horticulture, forestry, aquaculture, and urban and household pest control products. Clothianidin was developed by Bayer CropScience and Takeda Chemical Industries’ developed the pesticide clothianidin while Syngenta developed thiamethoxam. Interestingly, the decision to ban the two pesticides came on the heels of a lawsuit collectively initiated by the David Suzuki Foundation, Friends of the Earth (Canada), Ontario Nature and The Wilderness Committee against the Canadian federal government for allowing the use of two common neonic pesticides that were banned earlier this year by the European Union (EU). The EU also banned a third pesticide: Bayer CropScience’s chemical known as imidacloprid, which Canada previously banned as well. The toxic pesticides have been linked to the deaths of countless bees and other pollinators. Prior to the decision to ban the pesticides, Health Canada, a Canadian federal government agency tested dead bees and found neonicotinoid on 70 percent of the corpses. Known as “colony collapse disorder,” Harvard researchers in conjunction with Massachusetts beekeepers studied the widespread deaths of bee colonies and concluded in the  Bulletin of Insectology that neonics were directly linked to bee deaths, even at supposedly sub-lethal exposures.

        Millions of Dead Bees Devastate Mexican Beekeepers' Business  – The death of millions of bees in the apiaries of the La Candelaria commons, in the heart of the Maya area of Quintana Roo, inflicted disaster and desolation on the beekeepers of the region, who thought the possible cause could be the spraying of a nearby crop of habanero chili peppers. Up to now some 365 beehives have been counted in 18 apiaries within a radius of 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the field of habanero peppers, which could be why the beekeepers are losing their main source of income. The volume of bees affected has not been totally quantified, however, because more bees keep dying in hothouses farther away. Also because, according to professors at the Maya Intercultural University of Quintana Roo, further studies are needed to analyze the impact on other types of insects such as butterflies, spiders and wild bee species, on the ground water and even on the health of farm workers exposed to the chemicals. At more than two weeks after the first dying bees in the apiaries closest to the habanero peppers were reported, the beekeepers face losing the harvest season and all their installations, since after being contaminated, the hives must be burned to avoid spreading the poisonous insecticide. 

         West Texas Vineyards Hit by Herbicide Drift -- Wine makers in West Texas are reeling from herbicide drift injuries on their grapevines, an emerging threat to the state's $13 billion a year industry, NPR's Morning Edition reported Tuesday.The damage likely originates from use of Monsanto's dicamba and Dow's 2,4-D formulations on nearby cotton fields. The companies sell cotton seeds that are genetically modified to withstand applications of the weedkillers. If farmers use the products improperly, the highly volatile chemicals can get picked up by the wind and land on off-target crops. When exposed to the herbicides, the leaves on non-target plants are often left cupped and distorted.Drift damage has ranged from "light exposure" that does not harm the grapes to "total devastation" at some wineries, according to NPR.   Pierre Helwi is a viticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, who monitors dozens of the region's vineyards estimates that 90-95 percent of them have been damaged.    Texas, the fifth largest wine producer in the country, is home to more than 400 wineries, according to theTexas Wine and Grape Growers Association. West Texas, which has a dry climate ideal for growing cotton as well as wine grapes, has become the backbone of the state's wine industry and grows about 80 percent of its wine grapes. Last year, West Texas vintners expressed this very concern that federal approval of Monsanto and Dow's formulations could jeopardize the sector. This is the third year in a row where dicamba has affected the nation's crops. A report from the University of Missouri last month found that dicamba drift caused more than 1 million acres of crop injuries across the U.S.  The ongoing saga of pesticide drift highlights the growing issue of herbicide-resistant weeds, or superweeds, that have evolved to resist the herbicide glyphosate, or Roundup. In response to weeds such as pigweed that have infested farms across the U.S., agribusinesses such as Monsanto and Dow have developed stronger formulations to help farmers. The companies have said their weedkillers can be safely used with proper training and if farmers adhere to label instructions, although some have complained that the instructions are too restrictive or difficult to follow.

        Scientists are raising the alarm that upcoming USDA overhaul will slash research funding  - Scientists are raising alarms over a Trump administration plan to overhaul two federal offices tasked with food and agriculture research, calling the move a ploy to slash funding to projects on climate change, nutrition and other top concerns.  The plan, announced by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week, would relocate one top research office — the Economic Research Service — into the Office of the Secretary, a political branch of the Agriculture Department. It would also move ERS and a second scientific office, the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, out of Washington by the end of 2019. The reorganization, one of several launched over the past 15 months, would streamline the USDA’s operations, save taxpayer money and help the agency recruit and retain top staff, Perdue said in a statement. But a number of leading agricultural scientists and economists say the move risks gutting both agencies and stifling important federal research. The Trump administration has already targeted ERS for steep funding cuts, saying in its 2019 budget proposal that some of the agency’s research duplicated work being done at nonprofits and in the private sector. ERS research spans topics from crop yields and food prices to farm conservation practices, rural employment and nutrition assistance. Occasionally, its findings appear to contradict the administration’s official positions: One February ERS report concluded that trade liberalization benefited U.S. farmers.  “It seems weirdly punitive,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, who served as NIFA’s administrator until his six-year term expired in May. “I can’t figure out why they would do this. ... There’s no compelling rationale.” ERS and NIFA account for just over half of the $2.5 billion Congress budgeted for agricultural research in 2018. ERS employs 300 people in the D.C. region, according to the USDA. NIFA, which funds competitive research grants at U.S. universities, employs a D.C. staff of roughly 400.

        Does Global Warming Make Food Less Nutritious? - It is difficult to say whether or not the climate change we are now experiencing is negatively impacting the nutritional quality of our food, researchers warn that it may be only a matter of time. “Humanity is conducting a global experiment by rapidly altering the environmental conditions on the only habitable planet we know,” reports Samuel Myers, a research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.Earlier this year, Myers and his colleagues released the results of a six year study examining the nutritional content of crops exposed to levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) that are expected to exist by mid-century. The conclusions were indeed troubling. They found that in wheat grains, zinc concentrations were down some 9.3 percent and iron concentrations were down by 5.1 percent across the seven different crop sites (in Australia, Japan and the U.S.) used in the study. The researchers also noted reduced protein levels in wheat and rice grains growing in the CO2-rich test environment.According to Myers, the findings—published in June 2014 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature—are particularly troubling when one considers that some of the two to three billion people around the world who depend on wheat and rice for most of their iron and zinc already might not be getting enough of these essential nutrients. Zinc deficiency, which can exacerbate pneumonia, malaria and other health problems, is already linked to some 800,000 deaths each year among children under five. Meanwhile, iron deficiency is the primary cause of anemia, a condition that contributes to one in five maternal deaths worldwide. Myers and company aren’t the only ones worried about global warming and nutrient losses. Another recent study by mathematical biologist Irakli Loladze analyzed data from thousands of “free-air CO2 enrichment experiments” on 130 different species of food plants and found that increased CO2 reduced overall mineral (nutrient) content across the board. “People don't need large quantities of the manganese or potassium they get from plants, but they do need some,” comments David Berreby on in response to Loladze’s findings. “And for billions of people, plants are their only source.”

        China culls thousands of pigs as African swine fever spreads - More than 14,500 pigs have been culled in an eastern Chinese city, officials said Wednesday, as the world's largest pork producer scrambles to contain an outbreak of African swine fever. Beijing reported its first case of the disease in early August, and since then the virus has spread to pigs in several cities across China, requiring authorities to destroy large numbers of hogs. African swine fever is not harmful to humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in domesticated pigs and wild boar that almost always ends in death within a few days. There is no antidote or vaccine, and the only known method to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of the infected livestock. The government of the port city of Lianyungang, about 500km (300 miles) north of Shanghai, said it had culled the swine by Monday night in a quarantined area. Authorities said they had inspected four million other pigs in the city and found no other abnormalities. In a report to the World Organisation for Animal Health, Beijing said an emergency plan had been launched and control measures taken to halt the spread of the disease. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned in May of the risk of the spread of African swine fever from Russia. Around half of the world's pigs are raised in China, and the Chinese are the biggest consumers of pork per capita, according to the FAO. 

        Giraffe Parts Sold Across U.S. Despite Plummeting Wild Populations - Conservation groups say the United States is playing a role in the significant decline of wild giraffe populations by allowing their skin, bones and other body parts to be sold on the U.S. market.  From 2006 to 2015, the U.S. imported approximately 40,000 giraffe parts and products, thought to represent nearly 4,000 individual giraffes, according to a report released Thursday by Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International.The report reveals that giraffe parts and products are sold online and in stores by at least 51 dealers across the country. An undercover investigator visited 21 of these stores and found products such as giraffe leather boots, knives and carvings made from their bones, taxidermy trophies, and pillows, rugs, book covers and furniture made from skin and hide.  Additionally, the report said that some of these sellers have criminal records for serious animal-related crimes, including the trafficking of rhino horn. The U.S. does not prohibit the sale of such products, which is why Humane Society and other conservation organizations are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the giraffe as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act to restrict the import, export and sale of giraffe specimens in the U.S.

        Surge in invisible, deadly pollutant is choking Hong Kong - On the surface, efforts to improve air quality in Hong Kong have paid off, and the government’s Environmental Protection Department earlier this year furnished the figures to prove it. Between 2013 and last year, average concentrations in the air of major pollutants such as tiny particulates of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide plummeted by between 28 and 36 per cent.Yet the city is still choking, and one cause is an invisible, lesser-known pollutant lurking in the lower atmosphere, vexing policymakers and scientists who seek a solution: ground-level ozone.This variety of ozone differs from the high-level toxic gas in the upper atmosphere that shields the Earth from the sun’s powerful rays. From an annual average concentration of 25 micrograms per cubic metre of air in 1997, the figure had by this June climbed to 45mcg, according to the NGO Clean Air Network.  “Ozone is a huge problem,” said Dr Alexis Lau Kai-hon, a veteran atmospheric scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “But our understanding of the components that comprise it, and how to control them, is just not adequate.”The pollutant takes several hours to form and rise to its peak level, and its precursors can be transported to other areas downwind of their sources. Two major culprits are nitrogen oxides (NOx) – belched from vehicles, power plants and industrial activities – and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted from most of the same sources, as well as others. VOCs are found in solvents such as paints, printing inks, adhesives, sealants, and various consumer products, including cosmetics and hairsprays. Factories account for about 30 per cent. Previous control measures for sulphur dioxide, NOx and particulate matter have not helped reduce ozone concentrations.

        Smoke Brings Seattle its Worst Air Pollution in Decades - Weather Underground Smoke from the wildfires raging in southwestern Canada and the Northwest U.S. have brought Seattle and much of Washington State their worst PM2.5 air pollution in the past twenty years over the past few days. At Seattle’s 4103 Beacon Hill S monitoring site, 24-hour-average fine particle pollution (PM2.5) levels hit 57.3 μg/m3 on August 14. That’s well in excess of the EPA standard of 35 μg/m3, and is the highest PM2.5 level ever measured at the site, in EPA records that extend back to 1999. The pollution fell in the red “Unhealthy” Air Quality Index (AQI) range, which the EPA warns can cause “increased aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; increased respiratory effects in general population.” At Seattle’s Duwamish monitoring site at 4700 E Marginal Way, PM2.5 levels of 55.4 μg/m3 were measured on August 14, which ranked as the second highest PM2.5 reading of the past twenty years; a slightly higher value of 57.6 μg/m3 was measured on August 3, 2017, during another smoke episode. PM2.5 (particles that are less than 2.5 microns or 0.0001 inch in diameter)—is the most deadly form of air pollution, and causes over 80,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S. In Central Washington, smoke levels have been even more concentrated over the past few days, with a monitoring site in Chelan recording PM2.5 levels of 177.9 μg/m3 on August 15, 171.4 μg/m3 on August 11, and 160.8 μg/m3 on August 14. Another monitoring site in Wenatchee recorded 165 μg/m3 on August 14 and August 15. Those values fall in the purple “Very Unhealthy” Air Quality Index (AQI) range, which the EPA warns can cause “Significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; significant increase in respiratory effects in general population.” In records going back to 1999, these are the highest PM2.5 levels ever observed at these sites. They were also the highest values recorded in the entire state of Washington over the past twenty years, with the exception of a smoke episode that affected eastern Washington in the Yakima and Spokane region during August and September of 2017.

        Wildfires Choke Washington State's Air, Delaying Flights and Trash Collection -- Unhealthy levels of air pollution caused by smoke from wildfires delayed flights and trash collection in parts of Washington state Sunday and Monday.The city of Spokane in Eastern Washington had the worst air quality in the country Monday morning, according to measurements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Spokesman-Review reported.The EPA measured the city's air as 382 on a 500 point scale air quality index scale 6 a.m. Monday, clearly in the worst, "hazardous" air pollution category. The city has delayed trash collection in some areas till Tuesday to limit the time city employees spend outdoors.At 257, the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency 24-hour average air quality index Sunday was the worst it has been since record-keeping began in 1999, surpassing last year's record set Sept. 7."Wildfire smoke has the potential to significantly impact air quality, as we've seen over the past few summers," Spokane Clean Air Executive Director Julie Oliver said in a statement reported by Newsweek. "Smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles. The severity of its impact depends on weather patterns. If the air isn't moving, the concentration of fine particles increases."In addition to delaying trash pick-up, the polluted air has also brought summer activities to a stand-still, closing the city's athletic fields, aquatic centers and park attractions and prompting the cancellation of sports camps and the Riverfront Eats lunch-time food truck event scheduled for Tuesday, The Spokesman-Review reported. Across the mountains, in Western Washington, air quality was also impacted, with some cities and towns around Puget Sound, such as Tacoma, Auburn and Port Angeles, reporting air quality levels of "very unhealthy," while other sites had air deemed either "unhealthy" or "unhealthy for sensitive groups," KOMO News reported.

        Hard to see, hard to breathe: US West struggles with smoke (AP) — Smoke from wildfires clogged the sky across the U.S. West, blotting out mountains and city skylines from Oregon to Colorado, delaying flights and forcing authorities to tell even healthy adults in the Seattle area to stay indoors. As large cities dealt with unhealthy air for a second summer in a row, experts warned that it could become more common as the American West faces larger and more destructive wildfires because of heat and drought blamed on climate change. Officials also must prioritize resources during the longer firefighting season, so some blazes may be allowed to burn in unpopulated areas. Seattle's Space Needle was swathed in haze, and it was impossible to see nearby mountains. Portland, Oregon, residents who were up early saw a blood-red sun shrouded in smoke and huffed their way through another day of polluted air. Portland Public Schools suspended all outdoor sports practices. Thick smoke in Denver blocked the view of some of Colorado's famous mountains and prompted an air quality health advisory for the northeastern quarter of the state. The smoky pollution, even in Idaho and Colorado, came from wildfires in British Columbia and the Northwest's Cascade Mountains, clouding a season that many spend outdoors. In Spokane, air quality slipped into the "hazardous" range. Thick haze hung over Washington's second-largest city, forcing vehicles to turn on their headlights during the morning commute. The air quality was so bad that everyone, regardless of physical condition or age, will likely be affected, according to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.

        When I woke up this week, the sun was blocked out by smoke - When I woke up this week, the sun was blocked out by smoke.  It would be a lie to say it was dark as night, because it was darker than that. Streetlights turned on, but even then visibility was poor. Birds flew low and, weirdly, I heard a rooster crowing in the distance.   I’m writing this on August 19, 2018 from Prince George which, according to the map on my computer, has an air quality index rating of 224 aka Purple aka “Very Unhealthy.” The Air Quality Index map, giving me a visual representation of air pollution around the world in close to real-time, is one of many maps I never knew I needed four years ago — the first time I first woke up to find the sun blocked out by smoke. Those maps include Emergency Info B.C.’s map of evacuation orders and alerts province-wide, the B.C. Wildfire map and, for the spring, the B.C. River Forecast Centre’s 10-day predictions for which rivers and streams might overflow. Now I pore over those maps, trying to decipher which way the wind is blowing in the hopes of discovering a patch of land I can retreat to for temporary relief from this smoke: a lake, a river, a mountain somewhere I can breathe. This weekend that desire drove me somewhere I rarely go for recreational reasons: the mall, with its open space and double doors and frosted overhead windows providing a simulation of being out in the world without actually having to be there. I wondered, vaguely, is this the future? Cheap imitations of the outdoors to sate us when the real outdoors verge on uninhabitable? Wildfire evacuees line up at the CN Centre in Prince George at 9:30 in the morning as smoke blocks out the sun. I think to myself, “don’t be alarmist” but then another part of me asks “doesn’t this warrant some alarm?” Maybe the fact I’ve had to keep my windows closed for the entire month of August to prevent ash from drifting into my lungs warrants a little more alarm than I’m allowing myself to feel. Isn’t this exactly what all those post-apocalyptic movies look like? The rich and well-to-do in islands of luxury while the rest languish outside? 

        'Ridiculous' Spokane event calls for blowing smoke to Canada - A Facebook event that's planned for noon Friday calls for Spokane, Wash., residents to put at least five box fans on their roofs, set them on high and point them toward "northeastern Canada." The effort is meant to blow wildfire smoke across the U.S. border. Caleb Moon, a Spokane resident and the organizer of the event titled "Blow Spokane's Smoke Away to Canada," says he's serious. "We figure a small box fan can move smoke about 6 feet, so if you put 500,000 of them together, you can do the math on that, we can probably get it pretty far into Canada," Moon said, acknowledging that his love of hockey and Canadian bacon makes him feel bad that there's no other solution. The plan won't work and is "very ridiculous," says Sarah Henderson, senior environmental health scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. "One sort of floor fan could move a little smoke around, but there's no way that a large group of fans is going to move as much smoke as there actually is," she told Global News.  One fan has a radius of influence of about 10 feet, she added. "So all it's going to do is clear smoke, maybe, out of that 10 feet, but a fan also pulls. It doesn't just push air, it pulls air through it."

        California wildfires: New evacuations ordered for Mendocino Complex -  Overnight fire activity in the north and northeastern portions of the Mendocino Complex pushed more people out of their homes Sunday evening and early Monday morning as the Glenn County Sheriff’s Office announced mandatory evacuations.The order includes all areas north of the Glenn-Colusa County Line, east of the Mendocino National Forest boundary, south of County Road 308 and west of County Road 306, according to the sheriff’s alert.Glenn County’s mandatory evacuations follow others in neighboring Lake, Mendocino and Colusa counties.  The Ranch Fire — the largest in state history — grew an additional 8,895 acres overnight, stretching to 349,942 acres total. Persisting dry and warm weather has driven the blaze over the past several days. Containment levels dipped from 76 percent Sunday to 74 percent Monday. Flames from the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of the Ranch Fire and River Fire, have consumed 398,862 acres and destroyed 157 residences and 120 other structures, while 1,050 structures remain under threat.The Carr Fire in Shasta and Trinity counties is inching closer to full containment at 88 percent Monday morning, up from 85 percent Sunday evening. The blaze still gobbled up another 2,651 acres overnight, now up to a total of 229,651.To date the flames have destroyed 1,079 residences and caused three firefighter fatalities. In a weekend win firefighters declared victory over the Ferguson Fire, announcing 100 percent containment Sunday morning. The Ferguson Fire devoured nearly 100,000 acres in Mariposa County and emptied out tourist destination Yosemite Valley due to heavy smoke for much of the summer.

        California's largest wildfire brings new dangers for firefighters on front lines: After more than three weeks, firefighters Monday continued to struggle against the largest fire in modern California history as the Mendocino Complex blaze prompted more evacuations and posed new dangers to those on the front lines. While battling the fire, five members of Los Angeles Fire Department Strike Team 1880C were injured Sunday. All five suffered minor injuries and were treated and released from area hospitals. AdvertisementMany of the nearly 3,500 firefighters on the lines aren’t familiar with the steep terrain in the area, which has made battling the blaze more difficult and dangerous, said Capt. Cary Wright, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The dense timber and brush provide continuous fuel for flames and make it arduous for firefighters to access the area safely. “Trees burn and then fall, so it’s dangerous to get ground resources in there,” he said. The dense brush also makes water and retardant drops by plane less effective. Crews are on especially high alert after Matthew Burchett, a firefighter who traveled from Draper City, Utah, to help battle the blaze, died last week. A Cal Fire report released Monday said Burchett was struck by falling tree debris during a retardant drop. The report called on the agency to make sure firefighters were clear of areas with overhead hazards during drops.

        The smoke in Redding, CA is so thick you can't see the sun most days -Across California and the West, where dozens of large wildfires are burning, public health agencies are urging people to seal off their windows and doors, change filters in air conditioning units and in some places wear masks if they have to go outside for any extended period.Just as the wildfire season is getting longer and more destructive in the West because of climate change and prior forest management, scientists are warning of a lengthening — and worsening — smoke season. The fires themselves have burned hundreds of homes and forced thousands to evacuate. But the smoke, and the unhealthy toxins blowing in with it, will directly affect hundreds of thousands more people. It used to be just a few days here or there. Now, the smoke pollution is lasting for weeks, even months. "You've heard a lot about air pollution in Beijing, that's what it's like," says Anthony Wexler, director of the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California Davis. Advisories for unhealthy air have been in place in and around Glacier National Park in Montana lately, as well as eastern Washington and up and down the West Coast. In some places, air quality readings have easily been 10 times worse than the federal standard, even higher.  Near Redding, Calif., where the Carr Fire continues to burn out of control, Richard Libscomb's home has been choked by smoke for weeks. At first it was just a nuisance, until one afternoon when he was outside doing work."I started breathing hard, getting dizzy and I fell down," Libscomb, 81, says. His doctor told him wildfire smoke particles were coating his lungs. Until the air gets clearer, he's on oxygen, carrying a small tank with him everywhere in case of emergencies.

        Breathing Fire: All This Smoke Means Smaller Newborns And More ER Visits - Ask anyone who lived in Washington’s Wenatchee Valley in 2012 about the smoke that year, and they’ll remember. The fires were close and the valley’s dry hillsides trapped the wildfire smoke. It was so bad clinics and drug stores ran out of masks. The air was so choked with smoke that summer camps were canceled and children were kept inside.  Anastazia Burnett won’t forget that summer. More than once, asthma attacks drove her to the walk-in clinic for emergency treatment. At the time, she was newly pregnant with her first child.  It was scary, she remembers, “because, when your blood oxygen is low, your baby’s blood oxygen is low, too.”  Snowpack is decreasing, and summers are hotter and drier. A century’s worth of fire suppression is leaving forests overloaded with fuel.  Fire seasons are now 105 days longer in the western U.S. than they were in the 1970s. And longer wildfire seasons means more smoke pouring into cities and towns. So even while air quality has generally been improving across the U.S. since the passage of the Clean Air Act, air quality is getting worse in large swathes of the West during fire season. That is a major threat to public health, because air pollution aggravates conditions like asthma and emphysema, and it can also harm those who were previously healthy. People with lung conditions are more likely to refill their prescriptions, go to the doctor, and be hospitalized during wildfire smoke events. Researchers with the EPA say that, between hospital admissions, emergency room visits, and premature deaths, wildfire smoke exposure costs the U.S. between $11 billion and $20 billion per year.  People with pre-existing conditions aren’t the only ones who are affected. Children are also vulnerable because their lungs are developing. Low-income people are at risk as well, in part because they’re less likely to have well-sealed homes and air conditioning. When pregnant mothers are exposed to wildfire smoke, there’s a “small but significant decline in birth weight,” says Colleen Reid, a geography professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder who researches the public health effects of wildfire smoke. Reid says scientists haven’t finished teasing out all the other potential health effects of wildfire smoke. They’re most worried about PM2.5, a component of wildfire smoke and other sources of air pollution that is so small it can make its way into human lungs and bloodstream.

        Ryan Zinke’s claim that “environmental terrorists” are to blame for wildfires, explained -  Massive infernos continue to rage across much of the West. California’s Mendocino Complex Fire is now the largest in state history, covering more than 317,900 acres as of Thursday.Fires are a natural occurrence in many woodlands and are essential to a healthy ecosystem. But the growing scale and destruction from these fires stems from human activity.What kinds of human activity? According to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, environmental terrorists.“[Fires] have been getting worse,” Zinke said in an interview with Breitbart News Saturday. “We have longer seasons, hotter conditions, but what’s driving it is the fuel load. And we have been held hostage by these environmental terrorist groups that have not allowed public access, that refuse to allow the harvest of timber.” I asked the Interior Department who these terrorists are and they pointed me toward Zinke’s August 8 editorial in USA Today, where he said that radical environmentalists “make outdated and unscientific arguments, void of facts, because they cannot defend the merits of their policy preferences year after year as our forests and homes burn to the ground.” One example of radical environmentalism the Interior Department cited was the Pickett Hog timber sale near Medford, Oregon. Environmental activists sent 29 formal protests to the Bureau of Land Management and organized rallies to stall the harvest of Douglas Firs and Ponderosa Pines spread over 318 acres. However, the opponents of the timber sale said they’re in favor of strategically thinning forests by cutting down high-fire-risk trees and removing dry vegetation. “We have done a lot of work supporting quite a bit of active management and we believe there is a lot of work to do in the forests,” said Joseph Vaile, executive director of KS Wild, a group that contested the sale. “What we oppose is the logging of old growth forests.”

        Verizon throttled fire department’s “unlimited” data during Calif. wildfire - Verizon Wireless' throttling of a fire department that uses its data services has been submitted as evidence in a lawsuit that seeks to reinstate federal net neutrality rules. "County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon," Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a declaration. "This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."  Bowden's declaration was submitted in an addendum to a brief filed by 22 state attorneys general, the District of Columbia, Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the California Public Utilities Commission. The government agencies are seeking to overturn the recent repeal of net neutrality rules in a lawsuit they filed against the Federal Communications Commission in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. "The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fire engines, aircraft, and bulldozers," Bowden wrote.Santa Clara Fire paid Verizon for "unlimited" data but suffered from heavy throttling until the department paid Verizon more, according to Bowden's declaration and emails between the fire department and Verizon that were submitted as evidence. The throttling recently affected "OES 5262," a fire department vehicle that is "deployed to large incidents as a command and control resource" and is used to "track, organize, and prioritize routing of resources from around the state and country to the sites where they are most needed," Bowden wrote.

        Fire Chief: Verizon Throttled Data Speed, Endangering Firefighting Efforts -- A Northern California fire chief said in a court filing (pdf) Monday that during its efforts in battling the Mendocino Complex Firethe largest in state history—that one of the department's trucks, equipped with Verizon wireless service, had its connection speeds significantly slowed and made communication effectively impossible."This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services," Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a declaration, first reported by Ars Technica on Tuesday.The fire department paid Verizon for an "unlimited" data plan but suffered heavy throttling after it surpassed its monthly data allowance of 25GB."Data rates had been reduced to 1/200, or less, than the previous speeds," Bowden wrote, noting that without full-speed service on the communications rig, "resources could be deployed to the wrong fire, the wrong part of a fire, or fail to be deployed at all. Even small delays in response translate into devastating effect, including loss of property, and, in some cases, loss of life." "The Internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fire engines, aircraft, and bulldozers," he noted.In a series of email exchanges between Verizon and County Fire that were included in the filing, the company confirmed the throttling but told the department they would have to switch to a $99.99 a month data plan, more than twice the cost the department had been paying. County Fire eventually upgraded to the more expensive plan. Bowden claimed Verizon throttled data during previous fires. "It is likely that Verizon will continue to use the exigent nature of public safety emergencies and catastrophic events to coerce public agencies into higher-cost plans, ultimately paying significantly more for mission-critical service—even if that means risking harm to public safety during negotiations," he wrote.

        2018 Colorado wildfires part of worst year in history, five make top 20 biggest blazes -   Colorado’s wildfire season isn’t close to being over, but it’s already become the second worst year in history in terms of acreage that’s been burned with five fires making the list of the top 20 largest.In 2018, Colorado wildfires have already burned more than 431,606 acres and Caley Fisher, a public information officer for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (CDPS), explained to Newsweek that the wildfire season could be far from over. While Colorado’s wildfire season has traditionally been confined to the months from May to September, Fisher explained that now, wildfires occur year-round.“In other words, we can have a wildfire every day of the year in Colorado when there's not snow on the ground or we haven't seen a lot of precipitation,” she said. With about four months left in 2018, this year’s wildfires are already creating the second worst season for Colorado with regard to acreage burned in the last 10 years. The five biggest fires that have burned in Colorado this year collectively spanned 267,428 acres and earned spots two, six, 11, 13 and 16 on the list of the top 20 biggest fires in Colorado.The Spring Creek fire, which began on July 27 burned 108,045, and has only been surpassed by the Hayman fire of 2002, which burned 137,760 acres. On June 1, about 10 miles north of Durango, Colorado, the 416 fire broke out for what would be just short of a two-month burn, spanning 54,129 acres and earning itself the number six spot on the top 20 list.Number 11 belongs to the MM 117 fire that burned 42,795 acres. It began on April 17 and burned for slightly over a month. Following MM 117 on the list is the Badger Hole fire at number 13, which burned 33,421 acres in Colorado and an additional 50,761 acres in Kansas. The Bull Draw fire at the number 16 spot burned at least 29,038 since its beginning on July 29. The fire is only at 24 percent containment and is expected to grow, possibly enough that it overtakes the Burn Canyon fire of 2002 for the number 15 spot. An additional 1,580 fires have broken out throughout Colorado this year, as well.

        Study cites longer dry spells as fueling U.S. wildfires (Reuters) - Less rain and longer droughts are the major cause behind larger and more intense wildfires in the U.S. West, not higher temperatures and early snowmelt as previously thought, according to research released on Monday. The findings by the U.S. Forest Service and University of Montana could help scientists better predict the severity of fire seasons, said the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study comes as tens of thousands of firefighters battle more than 100 blazes that have charred more than 1.9 million acres (770,000 hectares) in the Western United States. California is marking one of the most destructive fire seasons on record. The researchers compared snowmelt timing and warming summer temperatures to fluctuations in the amount and distribution of summer rains on lands scorched by wildfires and determined that the latter were drivers. Lack of summer rain and the extended duration of droughts foster warmer, drier air during fire seasons, leading to more surface heating, which, in turn, sucks moisture from trees, shrubs and vegetation, the study found. “This new information can help us better monitor changing conditions before the fire season to ensure that areas are prepared for increased wildfire potential,” Matt Jolly, USDA Forest Service research ecologist and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “Further, it may improve our ability to predict fire season severity.” The research also comes amid heated public debate ignited by high-ranking officials within the Trump administration about the cause of California’s wildfires, which have killed at least 11 people, destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. The administration has alternately rejected or downplayed the role of climate change in the worsening wildfire picture. After recently visiting some of California’s major fire zones, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed “gross mismanagement of forests” because of timber harvest restrictions that he said were supported by “environmental terrorist groups.” 

        Summer Rainfall Declines ‘Primary Driver’ of Surge in U.S. Wildfires -- Sharp declines in summer rainfall could be a "primary driver" of the record-breaking wildfires ripping across the western U.S., research shows.Using satellite data, the study finds that there have been "previously unnoted" declines in summer rainfall across close to a third of forests in the western U.S. over the past four decades. These declines are "strongly correlated" with wildfire increases, the study finds.  The findings suggest that the role of declining rainfall in worsening wildfires has been previously "overlooked" in comparison to other major drivers such as rising temperatures, the author adds. California is currently facing its largest wildfires on record. Across the state, more than 332,000 hectares (820,000 acres) of forest have already been scorched—more than twice the area burnt during the same time last year.Out of the 15 largest wildfires ever recorded in California, 10 have occured since 2000. Across the western U.S., forest fires have become fives times more frequent and six times larger, on average, since the 1970s,research shows.As Carbon Brief recently explained in a detailed fact check, the chances of a wildfire spreading and becoming large are affected by myriad factors. However, research shows that there is a correlation between rising spring and summer temperatures and the amount of land burned by forest fires in the western U.S. in recent decades.When temperatures are warmer, rates of evaporation increase—meaning more moisture is drawn out from the land, leaving it dry. A parched land surface creates tinderbox conditions—allowing wildfires to spread more quickly. The new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pinpoints a second important driver of wildfires—recent declines in summer rainfall.

        Researchers claim water irrigation efficiency efforts actually cause more water use - An international team of researchers has found that efforts to make irrigation systems more efficient are actually prompting more water use. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group explains the basis for their argument and offers suggestions about better ways to manage water use.  In recent years, it has become clear that the world is heading into a water crisis—there does not appear to be enough fresh water available to meet the coming demand. Also, natural aboveground and underground water reservoirs are being depleted with no clear alternatives in sight. In this new effort, the researchers note that one of the biggest uses of water is for growing crops—and many of those crops are grown in places that do not receive enough rainfall for proper growth. That has led to widespread irrigation. But irrigation in places like California's Central Valley is not sustainable at its current pace—groundwater levels there have been dropping for decades. Noting that they need to take action, governments around the world have paid for research efforts aimed at finding ways to use water more efficiently—and one approach has been methods to make irrigation systems more efficient. These include technology such as drip systems, which offer plants the least amount of water possible to keep them growing. The researchers have been studying the efficiency of such systems, and have found that instead of using less water, they actually use more. They explain that this is because with normal watering systems, such as spraying fields, excess water makes its way back to surface or underground water systems. When using the more efficient methods, however, less water is able to re-enter natural systems, resulting in net losses. The researchers suggest that such efforts have thus far resulted in wasted money as many governments pay farmers to use the more efficient systems.

        Thousands stranded as floods submerge southern Indian state (AP) — Thousands of stranded people were waiting to be rescued and officials pleaded for more help from relentless monsoon floods that have partially submerged the southern Indian state of Kerala, where more than 190 have died in a little over a week.Heavy rains hit parts of the state again Saturday morning, slowing attempts to deploy rescuers and get relief supplies to isolated areas. Many have seen no help for days and can only be reached by boat or helicopter.More than 300,000 people have taken shelter in over 1,500 state-run relief camps, officials said. But authorities said they were being inundated with calls for assistance, local media reported."We are receiving multiple repetitive rescue requests," the office of the state's top official, Pinarayi Vijayan, said in a tweet, asking those in need to provide their exact location and nearby landmarks so rescuers can find them. Officials have called it the worst flooding in Kerala in a century, with rainfall in some areas well over double that of a typical monsoon season.The downpours that started Aug. 8 have triggered floods and landslides and caused homes and bridges to collapse across Kerala, a picturesque state known for its quiet tropical backwaters and beautiful beaches. Officials estimate more than 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of roads have been damaged. One of the state's major airports, in the city of Kochi, has been closed. Meteorologists expect the rains to ease up over the next few days.

        Unprecedented monsoonal floods kill over 370 in southwest India -- More than 370 people have been killed and some two million displaced by flash flooding and landslides caused by heavy monsoonal rains which began on August 8 in the southwest Indian state of Kerala. Twelve of the state’s 14 districts have been inundated, in what has been described as Kerala’s worst disaster since 1924. Crop and property damage is estimated at about 80 billion rupees ($US1.146 billion), with 20,000 homes and 40,000 hectares of agricultural crops destroyed and at least 83,000 kilometres of roads damaged. Most of the fatalities occurred when entire villages were wiped out by catastrophic landslides. Tens of thousands of flood victims are currently being accommodated in over 4,000 relief camps.According to state government officials, tens of thousands remain marooned, including up 5,000 people trapped in the riverside town of Chengannur. Authorities also fear outbreaks of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and leptospirosis could take more lives. Although flood waters subsided in most areas on Sunday, and official “red alert” warnings were lifted in most of the state, dam levels remain dangerously high . The Indian Meteorological Department has also warned that rain will continue falling on the state until August 23, with heavy downpours forecast for the districts of Idukki, Kozhikode and Kannur. Idukki, which has received more than 321 centimetres of rain since June, is now virtually cut off from the rest of the state.

        How Delhi’s rising heat and a love of concrete caused a deadly water crisis - It’s about 4pm on a muggy monsoon day in Wazirpur, a low-income urban village in Delhi. A group of 30 women are lined up in the 34C heat (93F) behind an assortment of empty coolers, buckets, petrol containers – anything they can store water in once the government tanker arrives.    For many in this megacity of 29 million, this desperate jostle for water has become a part of daily life, with people sometimes missing out on work to wait for water that may not come.  . “Here we wait for water and manage our routine based on that.”  Population growth, climate change, disputes between states, urbanisation and poor management of resources have made water – especially fresh, clean water – a commodity that is not readily available to all. A recent government thinktank report revealed that several major cities in India, including Delhi, could run out of groundwater as soon as 2020. Access to water is already a matter of life and death, with gross inequities in its distribution leading to desperate scrums. In furnace-like conditions, tensions can easily boil over. In Wazirpur in March, a 60-year-old man reportedly died of a heart attack after being beaten with a pipe when an argument broke out over the distribution of water from a tanker. Ironically, the fight for water now comes amid heavy rain. May’s heatwave has given way to the monsoon season, causing flooding across India. Last week flash floods in Kerala killed 37 people and displaced a further 36,000.For much of Delhi’s history, this seasonal rainfall was harnessed for use during the summer from March to May, with water stored and distributed through check dams, stepwells (baolis) and natural drains (nullahs). The city’s 1976 master plan featured 201 natural drains; as of last year, only 44 could be traced. Those that remain are mostly filthy open sewers, while the rest have been paved over with roads and parks. The Delhi water board did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

         Farmworkers are dying from extreme heat - On June 16, Miguel Angel Guzman Chavez arrived in Georgia from Mexico. He was 24 years old and went right to work picking tomatoes. The Georgia heat was consistently more than 90 degrees, and on June 21, the temperature soared to 95 degrees. That day, Chavez collapsed in the field, suffering from heat stroke, which then led to cardiac arrest. Less than two hours later, he was pronounced dead at the Colquitt Regional Medical Center. “People don’t realize what a serious problem this is,” David Arkush, managing director of the climate program at Public Citizen, tells Mother Jones. When farmworkers are out picking tomatoes or spraying pesticides in the high heat, they can be exposed to heat-related illnesses, some of which can lead to death if left untreated. According to Public Citizen, 130 million workers who make their living outside — from farmworkers to construction workers — lack heat stress protections. Between 1992 and 2016, nearly 70,000 workers were seriously injured from heat, and 783 of them died.Since farmworkers are often from marginalized groups like undocumented immigrants — the Department of Labor estimates 47 percent of them are undocumented — fear of deportation can lead to a reluctance to report incidents or even seek medical attention. That means the real numbers may be even higher. Amid the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants coupled with the reform of the visa system, many farmers have been struggling to find workers.   Those exposed to high heat are susceptible to a variety of heat-related illnesses ranging from rashes and cramps to heat stroke that damages the kidneys and brain. If steps aren’t taken to cool the body down immediately, extreme heat can also lead to death. The long-term effects have not yet been firmly established, but there is emerging evidence that working outdoors in extreme temperatures can also lead to chronic kidney disease.

        State of the climate: 2018 set to be fourth warmest year despite cooler start -- Temperatures on the Earth’s surface in the first half of 2018 were lower than over the same period for the three previous years. This was due, in part, to a moderate La Niña event during late 2017 and the first half of 2018.  However, the world is quickly switching to El Niño conditions, which should contribute to a somewhat warmer finish to the year.Sea ice has been at record or near-record lows in the Arctic for much of the year, but has recovered slightly over the past two months.Antarctic sea ice extent has generally been on the low-end of normal for the first half of 2018.With the data now in for the first half of the year, Carbon Brief estimates that 2018 is most likely to be the fourth warmest on record for the Earth’s surface. Depending on what happens in the remaining six months, it could be as high as the second warmest in some temperature datasets, or as low as the sixth warmest in others. Global surface temperatures have warmed about 1.1C since 1850 – with 0.8C of that warming occurring since the 1970s. The best estimate provided by scientists is that almost all of this long-term warming is due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. However, there is still a sizable amount of year-to-year variation on top of this warming trend. Short-term variations in the Earth’s climate are mainly associated with El Niño and La Niña events, fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the tropical Pacific which help to make some years warmer and some cooler. (Large volcanic eruptions can also lead to a run of relatively cooler years, though there has been no eruption with a major climate impact since Mount Pinatubo in 1991.)

        Summer weather is getting 'stuck' due to Arctic warming - Summer weather patterns are increasingly likely to stall in Europe, North America and parts of Asia, according to a new climate study that explains why Arctic warming is making heatwaves elsewhere more persistent and dangerous.  Rising temperatures in the Arctic have slowed the circulation of the jet stream and other giant planetary winds, says the paper, which means high and low pressure fronts are getting stuck and weather is less able to moderate itself. The authors of the research, published in Nature Communications on Monday, warn this could lead to “very extreme extremes”, which occur when abnormally high temperatures linger for an unusually prolonged period, turning sunny days into heat waves, tinder-dry conditions into wildfires, and rains into floods. “This summer was where we saw a very strong intensity of heatwaves. It’ll continue and that’s very worrying, especially in the mid-latitudes: the EU, US, Russia and China,” “It’ll have an affect on agricultural production. Harvests are already down this year for many products. Heatwaves can also have a devastating impact on human health.” Circulation stalling has long been a concern of climate scientists, though most previous studies have looked at winter patterns. The new paper reviews research on summer trends, where it says there is mounting evidence of planetary wind systems – both low-level storm tracks and higher waves in the troposphere – losing their ability to shift the weather.One cause is a weakening of the temperature gradient between the Arctic and Equator as a result of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The far north of the Earth is warming two to four times faster than the global average, says the paper, which means there is a declining temperature gap with the central belt of the planet. As this ramp flattens, winds struggle to build up sufficient energy and speed to push around pressure systems in the area between them. As a result, there is less relief in the form of mild and wet air from the sea when temperatures accumulate on land, and less relief from the land when storms build up in the ocean.

        Heatwaves, rains may become more severe as weather stalls: study (Reuters) - Scorching summer heatwaves and downpours are set to become more extreme in the northern hemisphere as global warming makes weather patterns linger longer in the same place, scientists said on Monday. They said there was a risk of “extreme extremes” in North America, Europe and parts of Asia because manmade greenhouse gas emissions seemed to be disrupting high-altitude winds that blow eastwards in vast, looping “planetary waves”. “Summer weather is likely to become more persistent - more prolonged hot dry periods, possibly also more prolonged rainy periods,” said Dim Coumou, lead author of the study at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “Both can lead to extremes” such as heat, drought, wildfires or flooding, he told Reuters of the findings in the journal Nature Communications, based on a review of existing scientific literature. Many parts of the northern hemisphere have experienced baking heat this summer, with wildfires from California to Greece. Temperatures topped 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) even in the Arctic Circle in northern Europe. The stalling of weather patterns could threaten food production. “Persistent hot and dry conditions in Western Europe, Russia and parts of the U.S. threaten cereal yields in these breadbaskets,” the authors wrote. They linked the slowdown in weather patterns to the Arctic, which is heating at more than twice the global average amid climate change. The difference in temperature between the chill Arctic and warmth further south is a main driver of winds that blow weather systems around the globe, they wrote. With less contrast in temperatures, winds slow and heat or rain can linger longer. “Evidence is mounting that humanity is messing with these enormous winds,” The extent of Arctic ice and snow has been shrinking in recent years, exposing ever more darker-colored water and ground, which soaks up ever more heat and accelerates warming, they said. 

        Air pollution is fighting global warming - Burning wood and coal pollutes the air with tiny particles like soot and smog, but some of those same particles can temporarily mitigate some effects of global warming.  Aerosols reflect back more of the sun's rays, reducing solar warming. Their role has been significant as humans continue to warm the planet with carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, a third of the warming driven by greenhouse gases has been offset by aerosols in the last 50 years, researchers have found. Policymakers have tended to take the mitigation effects of aerosols for granted, assuming that they could have an even effect on reducing global warming throughout the planet. But new research published in Nature Communications on Friday shows that is not the case, and that some areas of the planet could have greater spikes in warmth connected to the reduction in aerosols. "These aerosol pollutants that have been a big cooling offset to greenhouse gases over the last several decades, the strength with which they offset greenhouse gases is really different depending on which country is emitting them on the order of 20 times more depending on where it is emitted from," Researchers looked at eight key regions where emissions were high in the past as well as those where they are expected to increase in the future. They found that location matters for aerosol pollution and that not all aerosols are created equal. Aerosol emissions that occur during a monsoon may be rained away quickly, while those that are emitted in the desert may stay in the atmosphere longer and therefore have a greater effect on warming, researchers found. Thus, aerosol emissions in India cool the country 20 times more than they cool the planet, researchers found, while emissions in Western Europe cool the region twice as much as the planet. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, stay in the atmosphere longer than aerosols and have a greater effect on warming. Aerosols can cut into that rate of warming, but the effects are short-lived and vary greatly by region. For comparison, researchers found that the global-cooling effect of aerosols is 14 times greater when emitted from the highest-impact area, which is Western Europe, when compared with the lowest impact, which is India. Currently, aerosol pollution in the United States, Europe and China is decreasing as coal use declines. Aerosol pollution in India and Africa is increasing.

         Geoengineering Could Lead To Lower Crop Yields: New Study - A new study has determined that spraying the skies with chemicals to combat global warming will likely come with the unintended side-effect of reducing crop yields.  Researchers with the University of California, Berkeley, have published a new study which calls into question the scientific efforts to block sunlight via climate engineering, also known as geoengineering. Geoengineering is the deliberate and large-scale manipulation of the weather and climate using a variety of technologies. One popular form of geoengineering being explored by scientists is known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM), a process which involves spraying aerosols from planes equipped with particulates designed to reflect sunlight in an effort to combat “anthropogenic global warming.”However, the UC Berkeley team has found new evidence that sun-blocking material will likely also reduce the yields of certain crops. The researchers came to this conclusion by studying previous volcanic eruptions in Mexico and the Philippines. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and El Chichon in Mexico in 1982 caused a decrease in wheat, soy, and rice production due to the volcanic ash blocking sun light. “Here we use the volcanic eruptions that inspired modern solar radiation management proposals as natural experiments to provide the first estimates, to our knowledge, of how the stratospheric sulfate aerosols created by the eruptions of El Chichón and Mount Pinatubo altered the quantity and quality of global sunlight, and how these changes in sunlight affected global crop yields,” the researchers wrote.The researchers concluded that “projected mid-twenty-first century damages due to scattering sunlight caused by solar radiation management are roughly equal in magnitude to benefits from cooling”. The team calls for more studies on the effects of solar radiation management on other global systems, including human health. The research team published their study, Estimating global agricultural effects of geoengineering using volcanic eruptions,  in the journal Nature.

        Volkswagen In Trouble For Altering Mexico's Weather - With a headline torn straight from a futurist global dysphoria movie, The FT reports that Volkswagen is reversing course on the use of controversial weather-altering technology at a major Mexican car plant after local farmers complained that the system caused drought by preventing rainfall. Hail storms present significant problems for car manufacturers, which often have large numbers of finished vehicles parked outside at distribution centers or plants. The German carmaker had installed hail cannons, which fire shockwaves into the atmosphere, at its Puebla site to prevent the formation of ice stones that had been damaging finished vehicles parked outside its facility.  However,  as The FT reports, local farmers said the devices, which were set to fire automatically under certain weather conditions, caused a drought during the months that should have been Mexico’s rainy season. Gerardo Perez, a farmers’ representative in the area, told the AFP agency that the cannons meant the “sky literally clears and it simply doesn’t rain." A spokesman for VW said on Wednesday that the company would immediately suspend the use of the machines in automatic mode, following meetings with state authorities this week. “Once the anti-hail nets are installed in the yards, they will be used as the main measure for the protection of vehicles, while the devices will serve as a secondary tool and will only be used in manual mode,” he added. “With these actions, Volkswagen de México expresses its commitment to maintain sustainable relationships with its stakeholders: environment, neighbouring communities and authorities.” In case you're wondering how an anti-hail cannon works... Volkswagen is not alone, when Nissan installed cannons at its Mississippi plant in 2005, neighbours complained about the noise of the devices, which push water droplets away to prevent them from forming hail, firing off shockwaves every six seconds during stormy periods.

        Research Highlight: Climate Model Predicts Faster Warming for the North Atlantic Ocean -   Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have predicted faster rates of warming than previously predicted for the North Atlantic Ocean in a recent paper published in the Journal of Climate. This warming could disrupt major oceanic cycles and have worldwide impacts on climate systems.The researchers modeled scenarios based on possible future greenhouse gas and aerosol emission rates. One likely scenario focuses on future decline in aerosols and continued increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Aerosols are minute particles suspended in the atmosphere. Some scatter sunlight, thereby actually acting as cooling agents.The aerosol cooling effect is about 50 percent of the warming effect of anthropogenic carbon dioxide at present. Aerosols released from human activities are pollutants, however, and their health concerns have triggered worldwide efforts to curb emissions. An aerosol decline could spark an interesting catch-22: Because of their cooling effect, this decline would accelerate ocean warming that is already being caused by increasing carbon dioxide emissions–most notably initiating major warming in the North Atlantic.Historically, the Southern Ocean has been the predominant heat absorber, accounting for roughly 72 percent of uptake of anthropogenic greenhouse heat in the oceans, due in part to the area’s low levels of cooling aerosols. The opposite is true of the North Atlantic: under strong aerosol cooling, the North Atlantic has not taken up much heat, meaning that most of the warming in the Northern Hemisphere is happening in the atmosphere and not in the ocean.

        Gulf Of Alaska Cod Are Disappearing. Blame ‘The Blob’ NPR - The cod population in the Gulf of Alaska is at its lowest level on record, according to an expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The culprit is a warm-water mass called "the blob" that churned in the Pacific Ocean between 2013 and 2017. At its peak, the blob stretched from Alaska to South America. In the Gulf of Alaska, the cod population plummeted by more than 80 percent.Climate change didn't cause the blob all on its own. But scientists say global warming made it worse, pushing high ocean temperatures to the extreme.  Kasprzak says he used to think the rich ocean ecosystem he fishes was unshakable. But he has mostly given up on finding more cod here. "We've just seen now that even the mighty Gulf of Alaska, how fragile it actually is, when all you've got to do is warm it up," he says. "You don't even have to warm it up that much, a couple of degrees. It doesn't take that much." Since early 2017, the temperature of the Gulf of Alaska has been close to normal. Now everyone in Kodiak is asking: Will the cod come back?

        Why a New Fisheries Bill Is Being Dubbed the “Empty Oceans Act” - What the farm bill is to terrestrial food production, the fish bill, a.k.a. the Magnuson-Stevens Act, is to the ocean—the law that governs America’s marine fisheries. First passed in 1976 to kick foreign fishing fleets out of American waters, the MSA has evolved into one of the nation’s most effective conservation laws. A reauthorization in 1996 required managers to place all overfished stocks on strict rebuilding timelines, and another in 2006 mandated hard limits on total catches. Those science-based provisions have recovered 44 once-depleted stocks, from the canary rockfish to the barndoor skate.The bill could “undercut the important role science plays in management decisions.”But not everyone thinks the fish bill is still fresh. Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, has long arguedthat its rules against overfishing hurt coastal economies. On July 11, the House passed H.R. 200, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, mostly along party lines. The reauthorization, claimed Young, who sponsored the bill, would strike “a proper balance between the biological needs of fish stocks and the economic needs of fishermen.”Environmentalists see it differently. By weakening the very stipulations that have made Magnuson-Stevens so effective, cautioned Ted Morton, oceans director at the Pew Charitable Trusts, the bill could “undercut the important role science plays in management decisions” and increase overfishing. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, dubbed Young’s legislation the Empty Oceans Act. As the fish bill heads to the Senate—where Dan Sullivan, Young’s fellow Alaska Republican, will likely try to squeeze through companion legislation before midterms rearrange the political landscape—we wanted to unpack H.R. 200’s most consequential changes.

        The end of the oceans -- In June this year, scientists from the University of Tasmania and the University of Technology Sydney published research showing that over the past decade the biomass of large fish in Australian waters has declined by more than a third. The results may have jarred with government claims of Australian fisheries being among the most sustainable in the world, but they closely matched official figures showing a 32 per cent decline in Australian fishery catches in the same period. The declines were sharpest in species targeted for fishing and areas in which fishing is permitted, but even populations of species not exploited by fishing declined across the same period. The notion that a third of large fish in Australian waters disappeared in just 10 years should be of profound concern to all. The health of marine food webs depends upon healthy populations of the predator species that regulate populations of smaller species; declines in their numbers are likely to lead to hastening disruption of ocean ecosystems.  Even more disturbingly, these falls mirror similar declines in marine life around the world. According to a 2015 report by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, populations of marine vertebrates including fish, turtles, birds, whales, dolphins and seals fell by half between 1970 and 2010. And although the drops in numbers were most extreme during the 1970s and early 1980s, in recent years they have accelerated again, suggesting a similar study conducted today would find an even greater decline. And in a separate study the United Nations found that, although demand for fish is still rising, almost 90 per cent of the world’s fisheries are fully fished or overfished. There is no question these headline figures disguise considerable variation between species and regions.  But that should not divert our attention from the fact that declines were worst in those species humans rely upon for food: the WWF study found populations of tuna, mackerel and bonito dropped by 74 per cent in the same period. Or that other studies estimate the populations of large species such as whales, dolphins, sharks, seals, rays and turtles have declined by more than 75 per cent on average, with some species, such as right whales, leatherback turtles and blue whales, declining by 90 per cent or more.

        Parris Island, Charleston Coast Guard threatened by rising seas, global warming -  The Marine Corps training grounds on Parris Island will need a sea wall.That’s what Assistant Commandant Glenn Walters told a congressional committee earlier this year, calling the rising seas and repeated flooding of the base a critical vulnerability. And it’s not just Parris Island. A runway for the Marine Corp Air Station nearby in Beaufort is only a few feet from the Mulligan Creek marsh and has been rip-rapped to protect it. In Charleston, the roads near the Coast Guard stations on the Ashley and Cooper rivers get swamped with a heavy rain during high tides.The base continually reviews their status, said Matt Bournonville, the base commander. While Congress and the administration waffle on the climate change issue, the military is preparing for the reality, said John Conger, the Center for Climate and Security director and a former Department of Defense comptroller.Service budgets for the Pentagon now include funding for proposed mitigation projects, he said, and projects already are underway.  A number of former military leaders will speak Tuesday at the conference “Sea Level Rise & Security in South Carolina: Implications for Military & Civilian Communities.” The gathering is sponsored by the center partnering with the Charleston Resilience Network. It will be at The Citadel.

        Sea level rise is already costing property owners on the coast - WaPo - The sea has risen about eight inches since 1900, and the pace is accelerating, with three inches accumulating since 1993, according to a comprehensive federal climate report released last year. Scientists predict the oceans will rise an additional three to seven inches by 2030, and as much as 4.3 feet by 2100.  Meanwhile, mapping has become increasingly precise, providing near-exact elevations that let researchers predict when individual properties could be underwater. By comparing properties that are virtually the same but for their exposure to the seas, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University found that vulnerable homes sold for 6.6 percent less than unexposed homes. The most vulnerable properties — those that stand to be flooded after seas rise by just one foot ­— were selling at a 14.7 percent discount, according to the study, which is set to be published in the Journal of Financial Economics.The study found the drop in prices appears to be driven primarily by investors buying multiple properties or second homes. Such buyers tend to be wealthier and better educated than owners who occupy their coastal homes, said Ryan Lewis, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Colorado and a co-author of the study.“Sophisticated buyers . . . demand a discount to bear the risk of future sea level rise,” Lewis said in an email.The most-studied market has been Miami-Dade County, parts of which have for years been experiencing regular sunny-day flooding. In a separate paper published in April, researchers at Harvard University found that properties at higher elevations were appreciating faster than properties at lower elevations, a phenomenon they dubbed “climate gentrification.” Last month, the nonprofit First Street Foundation released the first analysis to single out Charleston, a gracious port city founded in 1670. The analysis suggests that exposed homes in Charleston have lost $266 million in value since 2005 because of coastal flooding and expectations of still higher seas. (Using the same method, the First Street researchers found a $465 million loss in Miami-Dade County.)

          Sea Level Rise Has Already Cost 8 East Coast States More Than $14 Billion in Home Values - Sea level rise caused by climate change has already cost the U.S. $14.1 billion dollars in home values across eight East Coast states, according to new data released Thursday by the First Street Foundation, a Brooklyn-based non-profit whose stated mission is "to educate citizens and elected officials on the risks, causes and solutions to sea level rise and flooding."In two separate data summaries released July 25 and Aug. 23, scientists affiliated with the organization looked at how coastal flooding had influenced home values in five Southern coastal states and the tri-states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut between 2005 and 2017.They found that $7.4 billion in home values had been lost in the five Southern states and $6.7 billion in the tri-state area."It is one thing to project what the future impacts of sea level rise could be, but it is quite another to know that the market has already responded negatively to this threat," head of data science at First Street Foundation Steven A. McAlpine said in the July 25 release.The current figures build on a case study conducted by McAlpine and Columbia University professor and First Street Foundation statistics consultant Dr. Jeremy R. Porter, which focused exclusively on Miami-Dade, Florida and was published in the peer-reviewed journal Population Research and Policy Review June 26. The initial study used sea level rise predictions, tide gauge trends and property elevation data to conclude that properties projected to be affected by tidal flooding by 2032 lost $3.08 per square foot of living area per year and properties near roads projected to be impacted by tidal flooding by 2032 lost $3.71 per square foot of living area per year, for a total of $465 million lost in Miami-Dade between 2005 and 2016.

        Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world The Indonesian capital of Jakarta is home to 10 million people but it is also one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world. If this goes unchecked, parts of the megacity could be entirely submerged by 2050, say researchers.  It sits on swampy land, the Java Sea lapping against it, and 13 rivers running through it. So it shouldn't be a surprise that flooding is frequent in Jakarta and, according to experts, it is getting worse. But it's not just about freak floods, this massive city is literally disappearing into the ground. "The potential for Jakarta to be submerged isn't a laughing matter,"   ."If we look at our models, by 2050 about 95% of North Jakarta will be submerged."  It's already happening - North Jakarta has sunk 2.5m in 10 years and is continuing to sink by as much as 25cm a year in some parts, which is more than double the global average for coastal megacities. Jakarta is sinking by an average of 1-15cm a year and almost half the city now sits below sea level.The impact is immediately apparent in North Jakarta.In the district of Muara Baru, an entire office building lies abandoned. It once housed a fishing company but the first-floor veranda is the only functional part left.  The ground floor of this abandoned office building is now underground. The submerged ground floor is full of stagnant floodwater. The land around it is higher so the water has nowhere to go.  But what they can't do is stop the soil sucking this part of the city down. "The walkways are like waves, curving up and down, people can trip and fall,"  As the water levels underground are being depleted, the very ground market-goers walk on is sinking and shifting, creating an uneven and unstable surface. "Year after year, the ground has just kept sinking," he said, just one of many inhabitants of this quarter alarmed at what is happening to the neighbourhood.

        Some Arctic ground no longer freezing--even in winter - Nikita Zimov has spent years running a research station that tracks climate change in the rapidly warming Russian Far East. So when students probed the ground and took soil samples amid the mossy hummocks and larch forests near his home, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Zimov suspected something wasn't right. In April he sent a team of workers out with heavy drills to be sure. They bored into the soil a few feet down and found thick, slushy mud. Zimov said that was impossible. Cherskiy, his community of 3,000 along the Kolyma River, is one of the coldest spots on Earth. Even in late spring, ground below the surface should be frozen solid. Except this year, it wasn't. Every winter across the Arctic, the top few inches or feet of soil and rich plant matter freezes up before thawing again in summer. Beneath this active layer of ground extending hundreds of feet deeper sits continuously frozen earth called permafrost, which, in places, has stayed frozen for millennia. But in a region where temperatures can dip to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the Zimovs say unusually high snowfall this year worked like a blanket, trapping excess heat in the ground. They found sections 30 inches deep—soils that typically freeze before Christmas—that had stayed damp and mushy all winter. For the first time in memory, ground that insulates deep Arctic permafrost simply did not freeze in winter."This really is astounding," says Max Holmes, an Arctic scientist with Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. The discovery has not been peer-reviewed or published and represents limited data from one spot in one year. But with measurements from another scientist nearby and one an ocean away appearing to support the Zimovs' findings, some Arctic experts are weighing a troubling question: Could a thaw of permafrost begin decades sooner than many people expect in some of the Arctic's coldest, most carbon-rich regions, releasing trapped greenhouse gases that could accelerate human-caused climate change?

         Melting Permafrost Below Arctic Lakes Is Even More Dangerous to the Climate, NASA Warns - Scientists have worried for years that rising temperatures will free carbon trapped in frozen soil in the Arctic, accelerating the pace of climate change — but now they believe abrupt thawing below lakes is even more dangerous. That's the finding of a new paper published as part of a 10-year NASA collaboration to study how climate change will play out in the icy Arctic region."We don't have to wait 200 or 300 years to get these large releases of permafrost carbon," “It's already happening but it's not happening at a really fast rate right now, but within a few decades, it should peak."  The new research is based on measurements and models of how climate change and melting permafrost interact. Specifically, the team of scientists looked at permafrost melting below bodies of water known as thermokarst lakes. The team behind the new research measured carbon release at 72 different locations on 11 thermokarst lakes across Siberia and Alaska, plus five locations without lakes, to calculate how much greenhouse gas was being produced and how old the carbon it contained was. Then, they used this data to make sure the models they were building were on the right track. Here's the problem: When permanently frozen dirt melts, the bacteria trapped inside it become active again, munch through whatever organic material is in reach, and produce carbon dioxide and methane, which are both powerful greenhouse gasesBut when that happens below thermokarst lakes, the process is even grimmer because the water at the surface speeds up the melting below. The released gases, built with carbon atoms between 2,000 and 43,000 years old, quickly rise up through the lake and into the atmosphere."Within decades you can get very deep thaw-holes, meters to tens of meters of vertical thaw," Walter Anthony said in the statement. "So you’re flash thawing the permafrost under these lakes. And we have very easily measured ancient greenhouse gases coming out."

         Fast-Melting Lakes Could Increase Permafrost Emissions 118 Percent - Scientists may need to more than double their assessment of how much carbon dioxide and methane thawing Arctic permafrost will release into the atmosphere this century, according to a study published this month.The paper, published in Nature Communications Aug. 15, said that previous estimates for how greenhouse gasses released by thawing permafrost would contribute to global climate change focused on the slow thawing of permafrost near the surface.However, those estimates excluded the impact of thermokarst lakes that form when warming soil melts ground ice, rapidly thawing the soil beneath them and providing food for carbon-dioxide and methane-releasing bacteria. "Thermokarst lakes provide a completely different scenario. When the lakes form, they flash-thaw these permafrost areas," lead study author and University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Water and Environmental Research Center associate professor Katey Walter Anthony said in a UAF press release. "Instead of centimeters of thaw, which is common for terrestrial environments, we've seen 15 meters of thaw beneath newly formed lakes in Goldstream Valley within the past 60 years."Previous models had not incorporated thermokarst lakes because the small size of each lake made them difficult to account for. However, the study found it was important to take their emissions into consideration because, unlike the gradual thawing of permafrost soil, the rapid thawing beneath the melt lakes cannot be reversed this century. "You can't stop the release of carbon from these lakes once they form," Walter Anthony said. "We cannot get around this source of warming."

        Maersk launches first container ship through Arctic route in alarming sign of global warming - Maersk Line, the world’s largest container shipping company, is about to launch the first ever container ship on an Arctic route along Russia’s north coast, as melting sea ice promises to offer a possible future alternative to the Suez Canal.  The Venta Maersk, a new ice-class 42,000 tonne vessel which can carry 3,600 containers, will leave Vladivostok on Russia’s east coast later this week.The ship, carrying a cargo of frozen fish, will then follow the Northern Sea Route up through the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, before travelling along Russia’s north coast and eventually to St Petersburg by the end of September.The route has seen growing traffic during summer months already, with cargos of oil and gas regularly making the journey.Arctic sea ice hit a record low for January this year, and an “extreme event” was declared in March as the Bering Sea’s ice levels reached the lowest level in recorded history as temperatures soared 30 degrees above average. Data released by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Colorado showed this winter’s sea ice cover was less than a third of what it was just five years ago.

        Arctic's strongest sea ice breaks up for first time on record -- The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer. This phenomenon – which has never been recorded before – has occurred twice this year due to warm winds and a climate-change driven heatwave in the northern hemisphere. One meteorologist described the loss of ice as “scary”. Others said it could force scientists to revise their theories about which part of the Arctic will withstand warming the longest. The sea off the north coast of Greenland is normally so frozen that it was referred to, until recently, as “the last ice area” because it was assumed that this would be the final northern holdout against the melting effects of a hotter planet. But abnormal temperature spikes in February and earlier this month have left it vulnerable to winds, which have pushed the ice further away from the coast than at any time since satellite records began in the 1970s. “Almost all of the ice to the north of Greenland is quite shattered and broken up and therefore more mobile,” said Ruth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute. “Open water off the north coast of Greenland is unusual. This area has often been called ‘the last ice area’ as it has been suggested that the last perennial sea ice in the Arctic will occur here. The events of the last week suggest that, actually, the last ice area may be further west.” Ice to the north of Greenland is usually particularly compacted due to the Transpolar Drift Stream, one of two major weather patterns that push ice from Siberia across the Arctic to the coastline, where it packs. “The ice there has nowhere else to go so it piles up. On average, it’s over four metres thick and can be piled up into ridges 20 metres thick or more. This thick, compacted ice is generally not easily moved around. “However, that was not the case this past winter (in February and March) and now. The ice is being pushed away from the coast by the winds.”

        “Hothouse Earth” Co-Author: The Problem Is Neoliberal Economics -- When journal papers about climate change make headlines, the news usually isn’t good. Last week was no exception, when the so-called hothouse earth paper, in which a team of interdisciplinary Earth systems scientists warned that the problem of climate change may be even worse than we thought, made its news cycle orbit. (The actual title of the paper, a commentary published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, is “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene.”)Coverage of the paper tended to focus on one of its more alarming claims, albeit one that isn’t new to climate researchers: that a series of interlocking dynamics on Earth — from melting sea ice to deforestation — can feed upon one another to accelerate warming and climate impacts once we pass a certain threshold of warming, even after humans have stopped pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The best chance we have for staying below that catastrophic threshold is to cap warming at around 2 degrees Celsius, the target enshrined in the Paris Agreement. That’s all correct and plenty daunting. Yet embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system. Asked what could be done to prevent a hothouse earth scenario, co-author Will Steffen told The Intercept that the “obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.” Instead, he suggests something “more like wartime footing”, essentially shifting the U.S. to a centrally planned economy, rather than leaving things like prices and procurement of key resources up to market forces, to roll out renewable energy and dramatically reimagine sectors like transportation and agriculture “at very fast rates.”

        Sixth Mass Extinction Ushers In Record-Breaking Wildfires and Heat - There have been five mass extinction events on Earth, and it is a scientific fact we are well into the sixth mass extinction event. By far, the worst of these was the Permian mass extinction that occurred roughly 252 million years ago. That one annihilated 95 percent of all life on Earth. During the Permian mass extinction, global warming caused by a massive amount of CO2 released from volcanism warmed both the oceans and the atmosphere, which then triggered the release of colossal amounts of methane that had been trapped underneath the ice in the Arctic. This caused an even greater spike in planetary warming, which wiped out nearly all life on Earth. In our current mass extinction event, however, rather than the CO2-caused warming coming from a volcano, it is anthropogenic (human-caused), and the climate is not just warming, it is disrupted. And this time, rather than the process taking tens of thousands of years as it did during the Permian mass extinction, humans are increasing atmospheric CO2 levels far, far more rapidly. Whether or not humans go extinct remains to be seen, but there is no denying that sustaining 7.6 billion humans while we are forcing the extinction of between 150-200 other species each day and have pushed Earth’s climate out of its natural state is very much in question. I’ve spoken to prestigious scientists both on and off the record who believe that sooner rather than later, global population will be reduced to around 1 billion humans. Whichever scenario runs its course, we are all facing massive loss in the future. It is only then can we decide what is truly important in our lives, and how to comport ourselves as we go through our days.

        Saying Goodbye to Planet Earth - Chris Hedges - The spectacular rise of human civilization—its agrarian societies, cities, states, empires and industrial and technological advances ranging from irrigation and the use of metals to nuclear fusion—took place during the last 10,000 years, after the last ice age. Much of North America was buried, before the ice retreated, under sheets eight times the height of the Empire State Building. This tiny span of time on a planet that is 4.5 billion years old is known as the Holocene Age. It now appears to be coming to an end with the refusal of our species to significantly curb the carbon emissions and pollutants that might cause human extinction. The human-induced change to the ecosystem, at least for many thousands of years, will probably make the biosphere inhospitable to most forms of life.The planet is transitioning under our onslaught to a new era called the Anthropocene. This era is the product of violent conquest, warfare, slavery, genocide and the Industrial Revolution, which began about 200 years ago, and saw humans start to burn a hundred million years of sunlight stored in the form of coal and petroleum. The numbers of humans climbed to over 7 billion. Air, water, ice and rock, which are interdependent, changed. Temperatures climbed. The Anthropocene, for humans and most other species, will most likely conclude with extinction or a massive die-off, as well as climate conditions that will preclude most known life forms. We engineered our march toward collective suicide although global warming was first identified in 1896 by the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius."The failure to act to ameliorate global warming exposes the myth of human progress and the illusion that we are rational creatures." The failure to act to ameliorate global warming exposes the myth of human progress and the illusion that we are rational creatures. We ignore the wisdom of the past and the stark scientific facts before us. We are entranced by electronic hallucinations and burlesque acts, including those emanating from the centers of power, and this ensures our doom. Speak this unpleasant truth and you are condemned by much of society. The mania for hope and magical thinking is as seductive in the Industrial Age as it was in pre-modern societies.

        You can kick the planet 'in the butt' — Trump's science pick - President Trump's pick to lead the White House science office told scientists four years ago that "he doesn't know" if there's a climate tipping point and said the planet can be kicked "in the butt really, really hard" and recover.The comments of former University of Oklahoma extreme-weather expert Kelvin Droegemeier, the choice to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, occurred during a discussion at the South Central Climate Science Center. The remarks are in one of several videos online where the nominee sheds more light on his views of warming temperatures.. In the past, Droegemeier also diverged from Trump administration officials in calling for more federal science spending (Greenwire, Aug. 1).In the videos, the Oklahoma meteorologist expresses belief in human-driven climate change but also repeatedly points out the limits of climate models. They are more complicated than weather models, which also are not perfect, he said. During the talk at the science center, Droegemeier said the climate issue has become too politicized and that some people "become kind of crazy" when those limits are pointed out. "If we are intellectually honest with one another, we'll say, yeah, the observations show the planet is warming. The evidence of the models suggest that it's human-induced, or there's a strong human signal ... but we don't know everything there is to know about the nitrogen cycle, about all the carbon cycling, all this stuff. Carbon sequestration. We don't know," he said, according to online audio of the talk.

        Watch Out California! 53 Major Earthquakes Just Hit The Ring Of Fire In A 24 Hour Period - Is something unusual starting to happen to the crust of our planet?  The USGS defines any earthquake of at least magnitude 4.5 as “significant”, and there were 53 earthquakes that met that criteria along the Ring of Fire on Sunday alone.   If you would like to verify that information for yourself, you can so do right here. Not too long ago, I wrote about how “Earth changes” seem to be accelerating all over the world, but even I was stunned by the ferocity of the seismic activity that we witnessed over the weekend.  Because none of the earthquakes happened in the United States, the mainstream media almost entirely ignored this story, but that is a huge mistake.   The entire west coast of the U.S. falls along the “Ring of Fire”, and experts assure us that it is only a matter of time before the seismic tension that is building up along the tectonic plates in that area is released. Much of the seismic activity on Sunday was near the small island nation of Fiji, and it is true that Fiji often experiences earthquakes because it sits directly inside the Ring of FireFiji falls in the Pacific Ring Of Fire – a massive horseshoe-shaped area in the Pacific basin.The ring is formed of a string of 452 volcanoes and sites of seismic activity (earthquakes), which encircle the Pacific Ocean.Roughly 90 percent of all earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire, and 75 percent of the world’s active volcanoes are dotted along the expansive ring.  It certainly is not unusual to see earthquakes happen along the Ring of Fire, but what was unusual about the activity on Sunday was the size of the earthquakes. The largest quake on Sunday was a massive magnitude 8.2 earthquake that could have done an enormous amount of damage if it had been closer to the surfaceA massive quake of magnitude 8.2 struck in the Pacific Ocean close to Fiji and Tonga on Sunday but it was so deep that it did not cause any damage, authorities in Fiji said. The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center also said the quake was too deep to cause a tsunami. Earthquakes that are that deep are usually not so large.  This “deep focus” earthquake on Sunday was actually the second largest “deep focus” earthquake that has ever been recorded… In addition to this massive earthquake in Fiji, other areas of the south Pacific were also hammered on Sunday as well. You may remember that the Indonesian island of Lombok was shaken by a tremendous quake back on August 5th which killed hundreds of people, and on Sunday they were hit once again.  The following comes from CNN

        Powerful 7.3 Earthquake Strikes Coast Of Venezuela -  A powerful 7.3 earthquake struck Sucre, Venezuela on Tuesday at 5:31 p.m. local time on Tuesday, at a depth of 76 miles according to the USGS.  M7.3 earthquake today along the northern coast of Venezuela is one of the largest ever recorded earthquakes along the boundary between the Caribbean & South American plates. There was an M7.7 quake to the west in 1900 but this will have preceded detailed instrumental recordings — Stephen Hicks (@seismo_steve) August 21, 2018   The USGS estimates a 43% chance that up to 100 people are dead, and a 19% chance of up to 1,000 fatalities. No word from the town of Carúpano, which sits 23.9 miles from the epicenter and has a population of 112,000.

        Trump Administration Hit With 7 Major Environmental Setbacks In Court In Past Week - Trump administration suffered seven major environmental setbacks in the past week as mounting losses in federal courts stall its ambitious deregulatory agenda.  On Friday morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency’s June 2017 decision to delay Obama-era safety standards for chemical plants, arguing the “action was arbitrary and capricious.”  On Thursday, the U.S. District Court in South Carolina issued a nationwide injunction against the EPA’s delay of the 2015 Water of the U.S. rule, which extended federal safeguards to 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands, securing the drinking water of more than 117 million Americans. That same day, the U.S. District Court in Fresno, California, overruled the Fish and Wildlife Service’s objection to considering evidence that shows proposed mitigation for the $15 billion “WaterFix” tunnel project under the San Francisco Bay Delta fails to protect endangered fish.  On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana ordered the State Department to complete an additional environmental review of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, effectively halting the administration’s attempt to railroad the controversial tar sands project.   On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of International Trade affirmed an immediate embargo on seafood from Mexico caught with gillnets, a fishing method blamed for killing so many endangered vaquitas that as few as 15 of the porpoises remain. The decision ruled against a challenge from the departments of Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security to a similar order in July.  Last Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in a 2-to-1 decision that the EPA offered “no defense” of its decision to delay a ban on chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide that’s been linked to learning disabilities in children. Pruitt reversed plans to ban the chemical in one of his first and most widely reviled decisions in March 2017. That same day, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ordered the EPA to ban or regulate stormwater discharges from commercial and industrial sites, in a precedent-setting interpretation of the Clean Water Act.

        Indonesia sets palm biofuel plant condition for jet purchases from US, France: minister (Reuters) - Indonesia has asked for its companies to be allowed to build palm oil jet fuel plants in the United States and France as a condition for its airlines to buy Boeing Co and Airbus SE planes, its trade minister said. This marks the latest effort by the world’s biggest palm oil producer to find ways to help mop up output of the tropical oil, its second-largest export, that is increasingly unwelcome in the European Union (EU) and United States given environmental and competitive concerns. Home to the world’s third-largest expanse of tropical forests, Indonesia faces pressure to limit destruction of forests, particularly growing on carbon-rich peatlands, that are at risk from rapidly expanding palm and mining sectors. EU negotiators in June agreed to phase out use of palm oil in transport fuels from 2030 due to concerns over high indirect greenhouse gas emissions, while the United States in April placed an anti-dumping tariff of up to 341 percent on Indonesian biodiesels. Indonesia’s trade minister, Enggartiasto Lukita, on Monday told reporters he had conveyed the country’s palm oil fuel plant requirement for jet purchases to the U.S. secretary of commerce during a visit to Washington in late July. “We have asked that Indonesian companies be allowed to produce jet biofuel in the U.S.,” he said. The aim is to source “all raw materials” for the plants from Indonesia, he added. The United States has responded “positively” and Indonesia has also conveyed the same requirement to Airbus, he added. Indonesian airlines rely on the U.S. and European aircraft makers to meet their demand for planes. The same minister has previously threatened that Indonesia will stop buying Airbus planes if the EU implements a plan to curb palm oil use in biofuels, according to local media. An Airbus spokesman declined to comment, while a Boeing spokesman was not immediately available for comment. 

         A push to eliminate "blood cobalt" from lithium-ion batteries - The U.S. government is funding a push to reinvent lithium-ion batteries so they contain little or no cobalt, an increasingly expensive metal found largely in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where activists say workers often toil in inhumane conditions. Cobalt — contained in virtually every commercial lithium-ion battery on the planet — has unusual energy density and the ability to stabilize volatile electrochemistry. But its price has swung wildly given booming demand for electric cars in China, from Tesla, and elsewhere — in addition to electronic devices like smartphones.

        • By seeking to eliminate or seriously reduce the metal's use in batteries, the Department of Energy, along with several startups, may complicate what has been one of the primary quests of the last decade: to create a safer, cheaper battery that lasts much longer than current technology.
        • In a June speech in Washington, D.C., Peter Faguy, a senior manager in the battery research effort at DOE, used the term "blood cobalt" to describe the metal, suggesting that removing it from lithium-ion batteries is a moral issue.
        • The DOE is funding three-year research efforts at Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley national labs.
        • Jason Croy, who is leading the Argonne effort, said that a leading solution is to swap in nickel. That does well in achieving high energy, but so far hasn't proven stable enough for use in commercial batteries. He said manganese is another potential substitute.
        • At Berkeley, Gerbrand Ceder, the project leader, said he is working on an entirely different material — a battery made with disordered rock salt, which he said does not require cobalt for stability. He said the battery can be charged at a high five volts, a key quality when high energy is sought.
        • Ceder said cobalt may never be removable from electronic devices because the space for a battery is so small that the metal's density is needed.

        Bitcoin’s energy usage is huge – we can’t afford to ignore it -  Bitcoin’s electricity usage is enormous. In November, the power consumed by the entire bitcoin network was estimated to be higher than that of the Republic of Ireland. Since then, its demands have only grown. It’s now on pace to use just over 42TWh of electricity in a year, placing it ahead of New Zealand and Hungary and just behind Peru, according to estimates from Digiconomist. That’s commensurate with CO2 emissions of 20 megatonnes – or roughly 1m transatlantic flights. That fact should be a grave notion to anyone who hopes for the cryptocurrency to grow further in stature and enter widespread usage. But even more alarming is that things could get much, much worse, helping to increase climate change in the process. Burning huge amounts of electricity isn’t incidental to bitcoin: instead, it’s embedded into the innermost core of the currency, as the operation known as “mining”. In simplified terms, bitcoin mining is a competition to waste the most electricity possible by doing pointless arithmetic quintillions of times a second. The more electricity you burn, and the faster your computer, the higher your chance of winning the competition. The prize? 12.5 bitcoin – still worth over $100,000 – plus all the transaction fees paid in the past 10 minutes, which according analysts’ estimates is another $2,500 or so. This is a winner-takes-all game, where the prize is guaranteed to be paid to one, and only one, miner every 10 minutes. Burning more electricity increases your chances of winning, but correspondingly decreases everyone else’s – and so they have a motivation to burn more electricity in turn. The economic outcome of all of this is laid bare in a Credit Suisse briefing note published on Tuesday: the network as a whole will reinvest almost all the bitcoin paid out as mining rewards back into its electricity consumption. (Credit Suisse’s ballpark figure assumes that 80% of the expenses of bitcoin miners are spent on electricity). At current prices for electricity and bitcoin, the bank calculates a maximum profitable power draw of bitcoin at around 100TWh – two-and-a-half times higher than its current rate. Any higher and the miner will lose money. But it gets worse. If bitcoin were to become the global currency its supporters hope it will, its pricewould increase. And if its price increases, so too does the amount of electricity miners can afford to burn. Credit Suisse estimate that a bitcoin price of $50,000 – five times its level as I write – would increase the electricity consumption tenfold. And at a bitcoin price of $1.1m, it would be profitable to use almost all the electricity currently generated in the world for mining.

        European Union to Ban Halogen Bulbs - Halogen lightbulbs will soon flicker out in Europe after the European Union's ban on the sale of the bulbs comes into effect on Sept. 1.Households are expected to switch to LED lights, which tend to be more expensive up front, but usually last longer, consume less energy and can save on electricity bills in the long term compared to halogens. Lighting manufacturer Philips estimated to the Guardian that consumers can save up to £112 ($144) a year from the switch.The EU directive banned less efficient light sources with the goal of cutting carbon emissions. Proponents tout electricity savings across the EU of up to 93 terawatts each year by 2020, or the equivalent of Portugal's annual electricity usage.Phasing out inefficient lights will "save 15.2 million tons of CO² emissions by 2025," Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, European Commission spokeswoman for climate action and energy, told CNN. "This is the equivalent to the emissions generated by around 2 million people per year. This is a significant contribution to the fight againstclimate change." Itkonen added that the ban will also help reduce oil imports to the European Union by nearly 75 million barrels a year.

        Power-Hungry Amazon Sticking Rural Americans With Tab For Data-Center Expansions - Amazon, through negotiated tax incentives and secret deals with power companies and politicians, has perfected the art of sticking rural Americans with the tab for their power-hungry data centers, reports BloombergPower companies, like politicians, actively pursue Amazon. In that way, the company fits into a long U.S. tradition of shifting costs from businesses to poor residents, who already pay about three times more of their income on utility bills than do wealthy households, according to a 2016 ACEEE study. The difference these days is that data-center operators, unlike manufacturing plants, can’t claim to be engines of job growth, says the ACEEE’s Elliott.Bloomberg Meanwhile, data centers typically add few new jobs to rural counties. "When you attracted the steel mill years ago, you got 2,000 employees," says Neal Elliott, senior director of research at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a green lobbying group. "When you attract a data center, you get maybe 50." Despite this, desperate state politicians scrambling to replace shrinking manufacturing industries have worked closely with utility companies to score Amazon data center contracts, "using the company's name as a shorthand for economic resurgence." In Virginia, where Amazon’s Vadata Inc. is believed to operate at least 29 data centers and be planning 11 more, the company’s 78-page application for a special rate agreement has two versions—a heavily redacted public one and another under seal with state regulators.Amazon has also negotiated an unknown rate discount with American Electric Power in Ohio, where it received $77 million in tax incentives for three data centers in 2016. Late last year, Amazon dangled 12 more in exchange for reduced electricity rates, and AEP exempted it from surcharges other Ohioans must pay. -Bloomberg"That’s de facto cost-­shifting," according to Ohio State University economist Ned Hill. "Other businesses and households in Ohio are now bearing all the costs of those riders." Those "other businesses" include Facebook, which opened a $759 million data center in Ohio in 2017. "As a general practice, we do not negotiate exclusive rates," said spokeswoman Melanie Roe.

        Just say no: Wi-Fi-enabled appliance botnet could bring power grid to its knees —At USENIX Security Symposium here on Wednesday, Saleh Soltan from Princeton University's Department of Electrical Engineering presented research that showed that if Wi-Fi-based high-wattage appliances become common, they could conceivably be used to manipulate electrical demand over a wide area—potentially causing local blackouts and even cascading failures of regional electrical grids. The research by Soltan, Prateek Mittal, and H. Vincent Poor used models of real-world power grids to simulate the effects of a "MaDIoT" (Manipulation of Demand Internet of Things) attack. It found that even swings in power usage that would be within the normal range of appliances such as air conditioners, ovens, and electric heating systems connected to "smart home" systems would be enough to cause fluctuations in demand that could trigger grid failures.  These kinds of attacks—focused on home-automation hubs and stand-alone connected appliances—have not yet been seen widely. But the increasing adoption of connected appliances (with many home appliances now coming with connectivity by default) and the difficulty of applying security patches to such devices make a Mirai-style botnet of refrigerators increasingly plausible, if not likely. Soltan and his team looked at three possible categories of potential malicious demand manipulation:

        • Attacks that result in frequency instability on the grid by suddenly spiking demand. As demand increases, the line frequency of the electrical grid—the oscillation of alternating current over the wire—decreases. A sudden surge in demand could cause a corresponding dramatic drop in frequency, taking generators offline.
        • Attacks that cause line failures and result in cascading failures. Soltan, Mittal, and Poor found that an attack focused on unbalancing supply across a grid could cause line failures as power is moved from one part of the grid to another.
        • Attacks that affect the cost of operation. .

        Australia faces increased blackout risks this summer as coal plants age  -- The risk of blackouts in Australia’s upcoming summer has grown from last year as ageing coal-fired power plants have become less reliable, the nation’s energy market operator said on Friday, calling for more power investment in the next few years. The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) latest outlook underscores worries about the country’s grid just days after the government’s signature energy policy to boost power reliability, lower emissions and cut prices collapsed amid political turmoil. “Close collaboration with industry in the lead up and throughout summer will be key to reducing the risks of energy supply shortfalls,” AEMO Managing Director Audrey Zibelman said in a statement.AEMO sees the states of Victoria and South Australia most at risk of outages in the 2018-19 summer, which runs from December through February, with some risk in the most populous state, New South Wales, where a severe drought could deplete hydropower. Electricity demand typically jumps over the summer as households and businesses crank up air conditioning. The Bureau of Meteorology has not issued its forecast for this summer yet, but has said that temperatures this spring are likely to be warmer than average.

         No matter how many leaders Australia knifes, renewable energy will still win: Russell (Reuters) - Imagine a country that is one the world’s largest exporters of energy, but can’t agree on a domestic policy to end electricity blackouts. Imagine a country on the verge of losing a fourth prime minister within a decade to internal party squabbles, mainly over energy policy. Imagine a country that is likely to start importing liquefied natural gas (LNG), even though it is about to become the world’s largest exporter of the super-chilled fuel. The problem for Australia is that this isn’t something being imagined, it’s the reality of a country that can’t find political and social consensus on climate politics and the role of its vast reserves of coal, natural gas and even uranium. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull narrowly survived a vote this week for the leadership of his Liberal Party, held by the party’s parliamentarians amid in-fighting over his signature energy policy, known as the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). Turnbull, whose Liberals and junior coalition partner National Party hold a narrow majority in the country’s lower house of parliament, had hoped to use the NEG as the platform to end policy uncertainty over power generation, and ensure that Australia met its obligations under the Paris accord on climate change. The problem for Turnbull is that a significant number of his party-room are either climate change deniers or sceptics, or strong promoters of the coal industry. Turnbull appears set to follow in the footsteps of former Labor Party prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and his Liberal predecessor Tony Abbott in being knifed by their own parties. Rudd, who won a landslide victory in 2007, was dumped in 2009 by Gillard, with part of the reason being his decision to abandon a planned emissions cap and trade system. Gillard was then toppled by Rudd in 2013, partly because of public anger at rising electricity prices, which then Liberal leader Abbott managed to link to the price on carbon her government introduced. Abbott won a general election over the resurrected Rudd in 2013, before losing the prime ministership to Turnbull in 2015, mainly because of his rising unpopularity following a harsh budget that was viewed as unfairly targeting those less well off. While Abbott may not have been axed because of his energy policy, there is little doubt that his plan to reduce emissions by paying polluters not to pollute as much was largely an expensive farce. 

        Hawaii's unusual electric power system makes it really vulnerable to Hurricane Lane - A rare hurricane is bearing down on Hawaii, and it raises concerns about the state's unusual electric power system. At the heart of the problem is a dirty secret: The island paradise still burns petroleum to provide most of its electric power. Hawaii has pledged to go 100 percent renewable by 2045, but petroleum-fired power plants still produce about two-thirds of its large-scale power generation. That's fairly rare in the developed world, but it's not uncommon in remote locations with isolated power systems. Hawaii certainly fits that profile, and it makes the state's electric power system uniquely vulnerable to hurricanes.Hurricane Lane is weakening as the center of the storm blows toward Hawaii, but it's still classified as a Category 4. The system is currently pounding Hawaii's Big Island with rain, and flooding and landslides have been reported in some areas.Meteorologists are concerned about Lane because it's a fairly slow-moving storm, which increases the likelihood of heavy rainfall. Last year, Hurricane Harvey lingered over the Houston area, where devastating flooding knocked out refineries and petrochemical plants. In the end, Harvey temporarily wiped out about a quarter of U.S. refining capacity.  There are two oil refineries located in Honolulu, the Hawaiian capital on the southwestern coast of the island of Oahu. Those two facilities process crude oil into most of the gasoline and other fuels consumed in Hawaii. The products are then shipped by sea to the other islands in the archipelago state. Hawaii also relies on imports of jet fuel and some diesel. "The transport of refined product between the refineries and the smaller islands is going to come to a complete halt," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. "Vessels that deliver crude to the refineries will be diverted outside of the path of the storm until the storm passes."That's not a problem if the storm comes and goes without causing too much trouble. However, storm damage to the Honolulu refineries or to ports anywhere in the archipelago could snarl the supply chain. In a worst-case scenario, Hawaii would burn through its limited petroleum stockpiles, leaving power plants short of fuel.

        U.S. leading all Paris Accord signatories in emissions reduction -  Stephen Moore at the Washington Times reviewed the results of the latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy and discovered that America’s place in the global emissions puzzle isn’t living up to our billing as the evil climate change deniers we’re supposed to be. In fact, not only are our emissions not going up, but in 2017 we reduced our emissions more than any other developed country in the world. Go figure.Take a wild guess what country is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions the most? Canada? Britain? France? India? Germany? Japan? No, no, no, no, no and no. The answer to that question is the United States of America. Wow! How can that be? This must be a misprint. Fake news. America never signed the Kyoto Protocol some two decades ago. We never enacted a carbon tax. We don’t have a cap and trade carbon emission program. That evironmental villain Donald Trump pulled America out of the Paris climate accord that was signed by almost the entire rest of the civilized world. Yet the latest world climate report from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy finds that in 2017, America reduced its carbon emissions by 0.5 percent, the most of all major countries.That’s especially impressive given that our economy grew by nearly 3 percent — so we had more growth and less pollution — the best of all worlds.

        EPA Is Set to Roll Back Restrictions on Coal-Burning Power Plants - The Trump administration is escalating an effort to revive the flagging U.S. coal industry with a planned move next week to replace restrictive Obama-era climate policies with new rules designed to help coal-burning plants run harder and stay open longer. The proposed new rules, which the Environmental Protection Agency plans is expected to release within days, would be the latest in a series of reversals of policies the Obama administration adopted to slow climate change. It would replace the agency’s so-called Clean Power Plan for the electricity business with regulations that cede power to states, and could ultimately lead to more heat-trapping gases going into the atmosphere even as it sets parameters to boost efficiency at coal-fired power plants. President Trump has repeatedly promised to support coal, an industry beset by a shrinking customer base, competition, falling prices and bankruptcies; the plan may be his administration’s most ambitious effort yet to kill regulations on coal’s behalf. And yet plummeting costs of cleaner fuels including natural gas, wind and solar in recent years have driven consumers and power companies away from coal so dramatically, they may blunt the proposal’s ultimate effect. The Trump administration proposal would have to be submitted for a public rule-making process before taking effect. It would apply to the power industry at large, but is firmly targeted at coal. Senior administration officials familiar with the proposal say it outlines technology that coal-burning plants can employ to produce more power from less fuel. It would also eliminate triggers that would mandate overhauls at plants, a rollback to encourage coal-burning units to make smaller improvements, which could extend the profitable lifespans of those plants by many years. Administration officials say the upshot would be existing coal-fired plants that burn cleaner, and they estimate efficiency gains of about 4%. The proposed rules are designed to address what many conservatives and coal-industry supporters criticized as overreach by the Obama administration determined to force coal plants to run less frequently and close more quickly.

        Trump administration reveals greenhouse gas rule for power plants to replace Obama-era plan --The Trump administration on Tuesday revealed its long-awaited plan to scale back an Obama-era rule designed to cut planet-warming emissions from the nation's power plants.The proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency — the Affordable Clean Energy Rule — will hand authority to states to create their own narrower rules for coal-fired power plants. That would give states the option to impose looser restrictions that allow utilities to emit more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and other pollutants.The measure also stands to relieve pressure on the coal industry, a sector President Donald Trump has vowed to revive. Coal miners have seen their fortunes fade as coal-fired plants retire ahead of schedule, under pressure from cheap natural gas and falling prices for renewable energy projects.Tougher regulation under former President Barack Obama put additional stress on the coal industry by requiring power plants in some cases to undertake expensive upgrades or shut down. On Tuesday, the EPA said Obama's plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants was "overly prescriptive and burdensome.""The ACE Rule would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans," EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.Obama's signature Clean Power Plan established the first nationwide rules for carbon emissions. It set emissions goals for each state and gave them many options to reduce climate pollution, with the goal of cutting the nation's emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Trump is expected to tout the new Affordable Clean Energy Rule at a rally in West Virginia on Tuesday evening. Politico first reported the broad outline last week. The New York Times and Washington Post later reported details. The new plan is projected to allow 12 times more greenhouse gas to be emitted over the next decade than under the Clean Power Plan, The Washington Post reported.

        New Trump power plant plan would release hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 into the air -  President Trump plans this week to unveil a proposal that would empower states to establish emission standards for coal-fired power plants rather than speeding their retirement — a major overhaul of the Obama administration’s signature climate policy. The plan, which is projected to release at least 12 times the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere compared with the Obama rule over the next decade, comes as scientists have warned that the world will experience increasingly dire climate effects absent a major cut in carbon emissions. Trump plans to announce the measure as soon as Tuesday during a visit to West Virginia, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House was still finalizing details Friday.The Environmental Protection Agency’s own impact analysis, which runs nearly 300 pages, projects that the proposal would make only slight cuts to overall emissions of pollutants — including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides — over the next decade. The Obama rule, by contrast, dwarfs those cuts by a factor of more than 12.The new proposal, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period, could have enormous implications for dozens of aging coal-fired power plants across the country. The EPA estimates that the measure will affect more than 300 U.S. plants, providing companies with an incentive to keep coal plants in operation rather than replacing them with cleaner natural gas or renewable energy projects.  By 2030, according to administration officials, the proposal would cut CO2 emissions from 2005 levels by between 0.7 percent and 1.5 percent, compared with a business-as-usual approach. Those reductions are equivalent to taking between 2.7 million and 5.3 million cars off the road. By comparison, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by about 19 percent during that same time frame. That is equivalent to taking 75 million cars out of circulation and preventing more than 365 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

        EPA says its new coal plan could ‘adversely affect human health’ | TheHill: A recently introduced Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan to ease restrictions on emissions from coal-fired power plants would lead to new carbon-related health issues and as many as 1,400 premature deaths per year, according to an EPA analysis of the proposal. “As compared to the standards of performance that it replaces … implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health,” the EPA said in its analysis. The new regulations would overturn a signature Obama-era climate policy by allowing states, rather than the federal government, to establish emissions standards. The policy could reduce incentives to shift away from coal power to cleaner sources of energy.The EPA's analysis also laid out possible effects on public health. In what the agency says is the most likely case, between 470 and 1,400 people annually are expected to fall ill or die by ozone-related causes and other factors by 2030. The adverse aspects of the proposal were first reported by The New York Times. EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency's plan will provide more clarity when it comes to regulations. “Today’s proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance,” he said in a statement Tuesday. President Trump has vowed to reinvigorate America’s decaying coal-fired power plants and increase reliance on the fuel source.

        EPA Proposal To Gut Obama-Era Coal Plant Rule Could Cause 1,400 Premature Deaths Per Year - The Trump administration proposed its plan Tuesday to gut a controversial Obama-era rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, dealing a death blow to an ambitious regulation designed to be the backbone of the United States’ strategy to stave off climate catastrophe. The new regulation, which Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed Monday, is called the Affordable Clean Energy rule. It gives states leeway to set their own, drastically lower greenhouse gas emissions targets and restrict what states can do to force coal plants to improve efficiency. The rule marks one of the most significant rollbacks yet to Barack Obama’s climate legacy, and ― despite the Trump administration’s oft-repeated calls for “regulatory certainty” ― is expected to ignite a yearslong legal battle. The increased carbon dioxide released under the new rule could lead to up to 1,400 premature deaths each year by 2030, according to the EPA’s own analysis. When asked about the deaths during a 10 a.m. call with reporters, Bill Wehrum, the assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, sputtered through his answer, repeatedly noting that the agency had the “abundant authority” to make the changes it proposed. “Frankly, it’s quite minimal compared to the overall emissions that we’re dealing with here,” he said. “We think it’s enormously important in the first instance to stay within the law and implement the law as Congress requires us to do.” Wehrum called the Clean Power Plan “ephemeral, and a misapplication of the Clean Air Act.” 

        Trump's latest plan could bring dirtier air into New Jersey - Dirtier air could soon be drifting into New Jersey from the Midwest, due to to the Trump administration's latest environmental decision, according to environmentalists.On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its plan to replace Obama-era power plant regulations.The new policy proposal is being called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. It affords individual states more power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants."Today's proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump's goal of energy dominance," EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a press release announcing the new rule.Giving states more flexibility to determine their own emissions standards could have big impact on New Jersey. Even though New Jersey's air quality standards are already stricter than the national standards, according to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna, the state can't stop air pollution blowing in from elsewhere.The New York Times reports that the Trump EPA predicts there could be more than 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased air pollution as a result of the new plan.

        Trump EPA offers weakened CO2 rule replacement -The Trump administration released a plan today to regulate carbon dioxide emissions at power plants, undercutting a much broader effort by former President Obama to slash planet-warming gases.The EPA proposal would give states wide latitude for determining how to cut greenhouse gases from the power sector, a key contributor in the U.S. to climate change. The proposed rule is far narrower than the Obama plan, which sought to cut emissions across the power sector rather than only at individual plants.On the campaign trail in 2016, President Trump promised to repeal Obama's rule, called the Clean Power Plan. His administration stopped short of that today and is instead offering a weakened alternative to avoid a potentially damaging defeat in court.The move could satisfy a number of electric utilities that urged the administration to establish relaxed climate regulations rather than jettison them altogether.Under the Trump plan, EPA aims to make power plants more efficient to meet emissions goals. It would allow the facilities to make upgrades without triggering requirements under New Source Review. That regulatory program requires facilities to undergo additional permitting and add pollution controls when upgrades would create significantly more emissions. Democratic state attorneys general and environmental groups are sure to sue the Trump administration over the proposal, on the grounds that it doesn't adequately address greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal. The legal limbo could stall the regulations from taking effect.

        Trump reshaped U.S. climate policy in one month: August 2018 - August may go down as a historic turning point in U.S. climate efforts. EPA launched a whirlwind of actions that stand to exacerbate people's influence on global temperatures. First came the rollback of clean car rules, an aggressive effort to unravel former President Obama's program to reduce tailpipe pollution. Then came the Clean Power Plan replacement, another muscular move that dismantles Obama's signature initiative for curbing emissions from the power sector. The twin blows could have an outsized impact on carbon-cutting efforts globally, analysts said, potentially slowing the pace of emission reductions internationally and halting momentum to decarbonize the economy. EPA's own analysis suggests that replacing the two Obama-era standards with Trump's proposals would increase carbon emissions by as much as 141 million metric tons in 2030 — the equivalent of running around 35 coal-fired power plants for a year.  The United States, the world's second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has been a leading carbon cutter in recent years. In 2017, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan were among the only large economies to post carbon declines, according to the International Energy Agency. Trump may have labeled climate change a "hoax" and initiated the process for pulling America out of the Paris climate accord, but U.S. carbon emissions fell by 25 million tons, or 0.5 percent, last year (Climatewire, March 23).  EPA's moves threaten to stymie that momentum. Transportation is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, followed by the power sector. Emissions from cars and trucks have slowly climbed in recent years, while power-sector emissions have dropped. In fact, power plants accounted for 80 percent of U.S. carbon reductions between 2005 and 2016, according to federal figures. EPA's moves could slow the rate of emission reductions. That, in turn, could send ripples across the globe. Trump's proposals have the potential to snowball, opening the door for other major economies to reduce or eliminate their emission goals. Australia is engaged in debate over whether it should roll back its climate goals.

        Conservatives warn endangerment finding fight is 'still alive' - Conservatives yesterday hailed the Trump administration's Clean Power Plan replacement as a return to federalism, but some warned the fight to eviscerate the endangerment finding is still a hot topic. EPA's 2009 ruling that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health is the legal basis for climate rules under the Clean Air Act.It's what forced the agency to issue a new proposal — the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule — yesterday rather than repeal its greenhouse gas regulations altogether, and acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said the issue is settled law (Greenwire, Aug. 21)."Just to be clear, this is a regulation of greenhouse gases," EPA air chief Bill Wehrum said of ACE yesterday. "No doubt about it."But while the administration would have to navigate a legal labyrinth to repeal the endangerment finding, "the issue is still alive," Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said yesterday. It'll have to take more time, though, because any repeal of the finding would likely result in "a bunch of lawsuits," Inhofe added. "I think we'll eventually see changes there, but that hasn't happened yet," he said.

        Trump's EPA just handed these states a way to keep burning coal --The Trump administration is giving states a pathway to keep coal power plants running, and many will likely seize the opportunity.The window opened Tuesday when the Environmental Protection Agency revealed its plan to scrap PresidentBarack Obama's greenhouse gas regulations for the nation's power plants. The Trump administration intends to replace the rules with a policy that will make it easier for states to continue burning coal.President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested the rule would help keep the nation's embattled coal plants online, advancing his goal of reviving the coal industry."We're canceling Obama's illegal anti-coal destroying regulations, the so-called Clean Power Plan," he said during a rally in Charleston, West Virginia. "Just today we announced our new Affordable Clean Energy proposal that will help our coal-fired power plants and save consumers — you, me, everybody — billions and billions of dollars."  There are at least 16 states that oppose Trump's move, but many governors will welcome the reversal. More than two dozen U.S. states took part in a lawsuit to overturn Obama's Clean Power Plan. Much of that opposition came from regions where coal plants are fighting to maintain their foothold: Appalachia, the Great Plains, the Midwest, the Southeast and Texas. Coal-fired facilities — one of the biggest contributors to climate change — have accounted for about half of U.S. power plant closures over the last decade. Obama's Clean Power Plan was poised to accelerate those retirements by setting ambitious emissions targets for states. Those goals encouraged states to build more wind and solar farms or convert coal plants to natural gas-fired facilities.

        'Affordable Clean Energy' plan won't save coal — analysts - President Trump's diluted Clean Power Plan is unlikely to save the coal industry, but it represents a setback for U.S. efforts to address climate change, analysts say. In removing a government cap on power plant emissions, Trump leaves American climate policy to the whims of the power market, one of the few areas of the economy to post steep emissions reductions in recent years. The combination of cheap natural gas, stagnating power demand and advancements in wind and solar has prompted a wave of coal plant closures and slashed power-sector emissions. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that U.S. power-sector emissions decreased 24 percent between 2005 and 2016. The question is whether that will continue in the absence of a government-mandated cap on power plant emissions. "The world has shifted dramatically in the last few years to the point where we are going to get pretty close to the targets in the Clean Power Plan even without it, so the effect of weakening it is much smaller," said Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. "But that does not mean it does not matter," he added. "The Clean Power Plan was a starting point. It was a framework within which we could continue to bring down power-sector emissions over time, as required to meet our climate targets. That remains a major loss with this rollback even if market conditions will continue to force coal's decline in the medium term."   "There are pure economic reasons why people aren't building coal plants," Joe Aldina, director of U.S. coal analytics at S&P Global Platts said. "It's cheaper to build a natural gas plant. It's cheaper to run a combined-cycle gas turbine in most parts of the country."

        Report: Cheap Natural Gas and Renewables Could Close Half of US Coal Fleet by 2030 - The U.S. coal power plant fleet has been shrinking for years, with the official tally of coal plants closed exceeding those still open as of late last year. Another 43 gigawatts, or about 18 percent of the remaining 249 gigawatts of capacity, is expected to close by 2030.    Absent “market interventions at a grand scale” — such as the Trump administration’s plan to force utilities to buy uncompetitive coal-fired power under the mandate of national security — the same trends are accelerating beyond current estimates, and could lead to the country’s coal fleet being nearly halved again by 2030. These are some of the conclusions of a note released this week by the research firm Rhodium Group. According to its analysis, while “the Department of Energy contemplates action to prop up ailing coal and nuclear plants, low natural-gas prices and cheap renewables have the potential to drive far more coal off the grid.”Rhodium Group’s new projections, based on data collected for its Taking Stock 2018 report released in June, use a range of scenarios to project both retirements of coal c apacity and reductions in total electricity generated by coal.  Under the most favorable market dynamics for coal, “we project at least 71 [gigawatts] of retirements by 2030, roughly 65% more than currently planned,” the firm wrote. That’s a higher rate of retirement than the 65 gigawatts by 2030 projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s reference case. And it would require natural-gas prices rising to $4 per 1 million British Thermal Units (mmbtu), along with more rapid than expected economic growth.  Under the Rhodium Group’s “central” scenario, coal retirements reach 92 gigawatts by 2030, with generation falling nearly as much as capacity. “The cliff for coal gets much more treacherous if renewable energy costs decline moderately and natural gas prices are in the $3/mmbtu range,” it notes.  And “the cliff gets steeper still if renewable energy costs decline along the most optimistic path and natural-gas prices stay near recent lows at $2.50/mmbtu,” it notes. Under this low-price scenario, coal retirements could top 124 gigawatts by 2030, with total generation falling even further, as most coal-fired power plants are unable to compete against cheaper alternatives.

        Chinese traders ditch cheap U.S. coal for domestic supply as tariffs loom (Reuters) - Some Chinese coal traders handling U.S. imports have begun sourcing future supplies domestically, people with knowledge of the matter said, as they await delivery of the last U.S. cargoes to arrive before hefty tariffs kick in on Thursday in a deepening trade row between the world’s top two economies.   At least six cargoes of U.S. coal were due to arrive this month, Thomson Reuters Eikon shipping data showed, but at least three were still en route or waiting off ports to unload cargo on Wednesday. From Thursday, the United States will impose new tariffs on $16 billion of goods and in retaliation, Beijing has pledged additional tariffs on a similar amount of U.S. imports including metals, fuel - and coal. Shanghai Runhei International, a major domestic coal trading house, cleared its last U.S. metallurgical coal cargo at Qinhuangdao port earlier this week, a senior manager with the trading house said. He declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “We have completely stopped U.S. metallurgical coal (imports), which is popular among steel mills, in late July. There is too much uncertainty in trade,” he said. The cargos due for August arrival were mainly booked in May after Beijing first threatened to hit coal with heavy tariffs and Chinese buyers were able to scoop up volumes at bargain prices, according to the manager. Shanghai Runhei said it will increase purchases of domestic coking coal instead of foreign supplies to meet demand from clients - a policy that is set to gain traction. “Unless U.S. coal producers give us a big bargain, Chinese buyers will not import U.S. coal,” said Huang Zhiqi, a coal trading consultant at Falcon Information. 

         Russian Nuclear-Powered Missile "Lost At Sea" - Recovery Efforts Underway, Says US Intelligence - A bombshell CNBC report says that Russia is seeking to recover an advanced nuclear-powered missile that was "lost at sea" after a failed flight test which occurred in late 2017.  Unnamed US officials made the astounding claim while citing a classified intelligence report detailing the Russian operation. CNBC explains based on its intelligence sources: Crews will attempt to recover a missile that was test launched in November and landed in the Barents Sea, which is located north of Norway and Russia. The operation will include three vessels, one of which is equipped to handle radioactive material from the weapon's nuclear core. There is no timeline for the mission, according to the people with knowledge of the report. The U.S. intelligence report did not mention any potential health or environmental risks posed by possible damage to the missile's nuclear reactor.Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously boasted of the missile's capabilities, claiming during a March 2018 speech, "The low-flying, stealth cruise missile with a nuclear warhead with a practically unlimited range, unpredictable flight path and the ability to bypass interception lines is invulnerable to all existing and future missile defense and air defense systems." He added that, "No one in the world has anything like it."However US officials say the missile has thus far been a failure after multiple tests, which Putin was apparently fully aware of when he boasted of the weapon's capabilities in March. CNBC previously cited unnamed anonymous sources privy to the intelligence that said the missile's nuclear-powered system which would allow for unheard of flight range while carrying a nuclear warhead had failed to initiate. In four tests between November 2017 and February 2018, the intercontinental ballistic missile crashed, according to US sources, which further said the longest test flight lasted just over two minutes at a mere 22 miles in range before it crashed.

         "Thermonuclear Detonations Over The 60 Largest US Cities" - FEMA Heightens Nuclear Response Readiness - The Federal government's national disaster response and planning organization, FEMA, has significantly updated its nuclear disaster plans according to a new bombshell report in Buzzfeed, which describes the new plans as "truly terrifying". The report is based on an exclusive interview with an unnamed US Federal Emergency Management official. Notably, the official indicated the new FEMA plan includes preparedness for a scenario involving "large nuclear detonations over the 60 largest US cities".The plan was discussed on Thursday at a two day National Academies of Sciences  workshop for public health and emergency response officials held on Capitol Hill, and included emergency readiness planning for large scale thermonuclear blasts by state actors, as opposed to a prior emphasis on terror organizations deploying tactical nuclear devices. FEMA’s head of its chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear branch, Luis Garcia, told BuzzFeed News, "We are looking at 100 kiloton to 1,000 kiloton detonations".To put this in perspective the agency's current protocol for disaster relief planners only considers the emergency impact of 1 to 10 kiloton blasts, similar to the power of WWII era atomic bombs.But according to FEMA conference participants things changed when last year North Korea tested a surprisingly powerful thermonuclear bomb that had a reported blast estimate size of 250 kilotons, capable wiping out a whole US city. One conference keynote speaker and expert, Cham Dallas, told the conference, “The North Koreans have really changed the calculus,” and concluded, “We really have to look at thermonuclear now.”

        Six Permits Issued for Ohio Utica Wells – The Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued six new permits for horizontal wells in Ohio’s Utica shale during the week ended Aug. 18, according to the latest data provided by the agency. Ascent Resources LLC, based in Oklahoma City, secured four permits for new wells in Harrison County, while EM Energy Ohio, based in Rockville, Md., received two permits to drill new wells in Monroe County, according to ODNR. The number of rigs operating in the Utica – which generally encompasses the eastern portion of Ohio – stood at 19 for the week, ODNR said. As of Aug. 18, ODNR has issued 2,865 permits for the Utica. Since 2010, energy companies have drilled 2,392 horizontal wells, of which 1,957 are producing. Much of the exploration and production has been concentrated in the southern tier of the oil and gas play and not in the northern portion, which encompasses Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. There were no permits issued for the northern tier last week. Nor were there new permits issued in the neighboring Utica region of Lawrence and Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

        Columbus Council To Place Anti-Fracking Measure On Fall Ballot -   Columbus City Council is expected to vote this coming Monday to place a measure on the fall ballot banning fracking activity within city limits.   Local anti-fracking activists have been trying for years without success to place the so-called "Columbus Community Bill of Rights" before the voters. The Franklin County Board of Elections recently validated enough of the 18 thousand petition signatures gathered by activists to get the measure on the ballot. This past Monday, Council approved legislation stating the city finds the measure legally sufficient. Council president Shannon Hardin: In 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a 2004 state law giving the state sole jurisdiction over oil and gas drilling. But co-organizer Carolyn Harding says backers are ready for a legal fight because it should be up to citizens to decide if they want oil and gas drilling in their communities. She says fracking poses a threat to the Columbus water supply. Voters in other Ohio cities, including Broadview Heights and Mansfield, have approved similar bans.

        Franklin County Board Of Elections Rejects Fracking Ban Proposal – WOSU -- The Franklin County Board of Elections has rejected the "Columbus Community Bill of Rights," a ballot issue that would have banned fracking within city limits.   Supporters of the initiative erupted with chants of “let us vote” and “not another Flint” after county election officials voted Friday to keep their measure off the ballot. The issue was approved by Columbus City Council in July. Board members explained the ballot issue seemingly violates Ohio law, which gives a state agency the right to regulate gas and oil extraction.  Board member Brad Sinnott turned to a statute governing election boards’ responsibility in certifying initiatives which orders them to determine whether an initiative “falls within the scope” of a municipality’s authority.  But attorney Terry Lodge argues that isn't the boardmembers' role. “The parsing of legality and illegality, preserving those portions that might be legal, vetoing things that aren’t legal, is reserved to the courts who have been doing it for a very long time in Ohio,” Lodge says.  And to an extent, Sinnott is sympathetic to that argument—noting he’d vote against the directives as a legislator and he’d rule against them as a judge. “The instruction given to us by the General Assembly is one that a board of elections is ill-equipped to follow," Sinnott says. "It’s an instruction to perform a highly technical and legal analysis relative to, among other things, the home-rule provisions of Ohio’s constitution.”Supporters raised a formal protest motion, but Sinnott and the other board members voted to reaffirm their rejection of the issue for November’s election. This is the third time backers have tried to pass a fracking prohibition at the ballot box.

        Rover Pipeline receives federal approval for full service -- The Rover Pipeline has received the green light from federal authorities to become fully operational. Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners announced in a news release late Wednesday that its supply lines connecting to the pipeline from Burgettstown, Pa., and Majorsville, W.Va., have been approved for service by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The actions allow for the pipeline to begin serving all of its long-haul contractual commitments starting Sept. 1. The main portion of the 713-mile Rover route, consisting of two 42-inch pipelines, crosses the southern portions of Wayne and Stark counties. It transports gas processed from the Marcellus and Utica Shale areas of West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to a hub near Defiance. From there, the pipeline turns northward and ends in southeastern Michigan, where it connects to the Vector Pipeline.

         Caucus members urge DEP to reconsider steep fee increase - A letter signed by several local lawmakers and others in the state House Oil and Gas Caucus asks state Department of Environment Protection Secretary and Environmental Quality Board Chairman Patrick McDonnell to reconsider a proposed increase from $5,000 to $12,500 in the application fee for an unconventional well permit. “Unconventional” wells draw oil or gas through such means as fracking. “Conventional” wells tap traditional sedimentary formations and do not require the volume of fluids used in unconventional drilling. Caucus members contend that the proposed fee, a 150 percent increase, “will be the highest in the nation, yet another distinction that signifies Pennsylvania is not open for business.” The 31 caucus members include chairwoman Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, whose district includes Dayton, Rural Valley and Elderton in Armstrong County; Rep. Cris Dush, R-Brookville; Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City; and House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana. But a department spokesman said the proposed fee increases are needed to ensure that DEP can continue to both issue permits for and oversee the environmental health and safety of the oil and gas industry. “Over the past 10 years, Pennsylvania has gone from producing negligible amounts of natural gas to second in the nation in production and it is critical that the (DEP) Oil and Gas Management Program have sufficient resources to ensure that the industry can continue to grow responsibly,” DEP Press Secretary Neil Shader said Friday. “The current revenue generated by fees is insufficient to cover the program’s costs, and DEP has been running a roughly $400,000-a-month deficit.”

        Fracking is on the rise in Pennsylvania. So are radon levels. Are the two connected? A recent research project from Johns Hopkins University surprised Pennsylvania state experts when it found a correlation between the natural gas fracking boom and an increase in radon levels — but not everyone agrees with its conclusions.  Radon, which cannot be seen or smelled, is the second-biggest cause of lung cancer in the US. It starts out as uranium, found naturally in soil and rocks, but becomes a gas as it decays. When wells are drilled for water, oil or natural gas, the gas can be released and migrate into buildings. Today some of the highest radon levels can be found indoors in Pennsylvania, so it’s no surprise there’s also radon in the Marcellus Shale, the rock formation that sits under much of the state. “The Marcellus is considered to be a fairly radioactive rock,” says Elizabeth Casman, a researcher in environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Casman has seen the numbers: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor radon causes or contributes to 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. So when fracking in the Marcellus took off in Pennsylvania, Casman became concerned. “The more I was reading about the formation and the potential for radon in the natural gas, the more nervous I got,” she says. Casman bought an electric kettle and stopped cooking on her gas stove. Other experts in the state who have been aware of Pennsylvania’s radon levels for many years had a different view. Dave Allard, who is currently director of the Bureau of Radiation Protection at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, says the state has known since the mid-1980s why Pennsylvania has high radon levels.  Some homes have levels 250 times higher than is actionable by the EPA — higher than would be allowed in an occupational setting or a uranium mine. For the DEP, the issue was taken care of: Pennsylvanians are already advised to test for radon in their homes and Marcellus Shale gas wasn’t adding to the problem. But then the state’s radon experts got kind of blindsided by the Johns Hopkins study.

        Fracking, the Water Cycle, and Sacrifice Zones -- naked capitalism by Lambert Strether - I was struck by two recently released studies on fracking and water, and the connections I saw between them:

        First, for those who came in late, I’ll define fracking, and briefly look at the politics and business of fracking. Then I’ll look at the water cycle and compare it to the fracking cycle. After that, I’ll look at fracking and groundwater. Finally, I’ll look at fracking “sacrifice zones,” and conclude. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines fracking as follows (PDF). “Frack” from “fracture”: Hydraulic fracturing involves the pressurized injection of fluids commonly made up of water and chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure exceeds the rock strength and the fluid opens or enlarges fractures in the rock. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing as the pumping pressure is released. The fracturing fluids (water and chemical additives) are then returned back to the surface. Natural gas will flow from pores and fractures in the rock into the well for subsequent extraction. As you can see, water is involved at every stage of the process, which is why they call it “hydraulic fracking”.  Here’s a diagram of the water cycle from the United States Geological Survey (USGS):And here is a diagram of “the fracking cycle” from the EPA:  You’ll notice that the fracking cycle is not a cycle; it is a linear movement from “water acquistion” to “wastewater disposal,” with no involvement of groundwater whatever.  Our first study, “Endocrine-Disrupting Activities and Organic Contaminants Associated with Oil and Gas Operations in Wyoming Groundwater,” provides the answer. The Casper Star Tribune summarizes the study’s conclusion: Groundwater from near a fracked field disrupts human cells in ways that adversely affect the critical endocrine hormone messaging system, and to a more serious degree than polluted groundwater near a conventional oil and gas operation.

        Generators, electric utilities spar over pipeline funding in FERC fuel security docket -  New England power generators filed comments at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Thursday, asking regulators to reject a request from electric utilities to allow them to charge consumers for pipeline development as part of a larger proceeding on regional fuel security.  Early this month, a group of electric utilities filed with FERC, asking that it clarify that the "central issue" in its ongoing proceeding on fuel security is to allow electricity customers to pay for new natural gas pipelines. The utilities proposed that the ISO establish a tariff through which the grid operator "would pay for, and recover in its rates, the costs of adding new natural gas pipeline capacity." The generators said the utilities' request would undermine FERC's market-based approach to pipeline siting and argued their proposal is an attempt to circumvent decisions from New England states to not allow rate recovery for pipeline construction.

        N.J. agency seeks review of FERC orders on PennEast pipeline - A New Jersey agency in charge of protecting state ratepayers asked a federal appeals court to review the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval of PennEast Pipeline's 1.1-Bcf/d natural gas pipeline project. The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel in a Monday letter asked the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit to review a FERC order that issued a Natural Gas Act certificate to the project and another order that turned down a request that the commission reconsider that approval. The state agency said it was "aggrieved" by the FERC rulings. The New Jersey agency has disagreed with the federal commission's conclusion that the project was needed. During the pipeline's federal review, the state agency submitted evidence that it said demonstrated a lack of gas demand from New Jersey gas utilities (US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit docket 18-2853). FERC recently issued a number of orders that shut down challenges to its approvals of major interstate gas pipeline projects. One of these orders rejected a rehearing request by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network related to the FERC approval of PennEast. The environmental group has asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the FERC approval and rehearing orders on PennEast. The PennEast pipeline would run from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to deliver gas from the Marcellus Shale. Shippers for the project, including local distribution companies and electric power generators, have subscribed to about 1 Bcf/d of the project's firm transportation capacity in binding precedent agreements. The project would consists of a 36-inch-diameter pipeline running 120 miles from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to an interconnection with Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line in Mercer County, New Jersey .

        How one West Virginia Supreme Court justice gave natural gas a big victory and shortchanged residents The Republican-led West Virginia House of Delegates received national attention last week for impeaching all four of the state’s sitting Supreme Court justices. Lawmakers cited a swirling scandal over court spending that ranged from using state cars for personal business to extravagant office renovations that included a $32,000 couch.Among the targets was Beth Walker, who was impeached over allegations of irresponsible spending and poorly managing the court’s administrative affairs. But left unmentioned in the impeachment and the debate around it has been a peculiar vote by Walker that benefited the natural gas industry. In one of her earliest votes, Walker made a highly unusual decision to reopen a case and then reverse a Supreme Court ruling that would have forced drillers to pay more in profits to residents. Walker voted to reopen the case around the time her husband owned stock in a variety of energy companies, including those participating in West Virginia’s growing gas boom.The case focused on whether natural gas companies are allowed to deduct a variety of expenses — for the transportation and processing of gas, for example — when they calculate payments for West Virginia residents or companies that lease them drilling rights to their gas. Millions of dollars in gas royalty payments, the riches from the industry’s dramatic growth in West Virginia over the past decade, were at stake.  In November 2016, the court — before Walker joined it — voted in favor of the residents, ruling that producers weren’t allowed to take such deductions. Two months later, just weeks into her term, Walker provided the pivotal vote to have the court reconsider the ruling. The court then overturned it, siding with the industry and against the residents.

        Half of Mountain Valley Pipeline workers released - The Mountain Valley Pipeline project says it has released as much as 50% of its construction workforce. This comes as a response to Wednesday's stop work order.  Here's what the project had to say in its statement in part:   “Despite the construction activities authorized under the modified work order and the FERC-approved stabilization plan, MVP was forced to take immediate measures to address an idled workforce and protect the integrity of the project. MVP is working to mitigate any additional job loss; and we believe we are making progress to receive authorization to resume full construction activities and return the currently released workers back to their jobs. Constructing the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the safest manner possible; minimizing impacts to sensitive species and environmental, cultural, and historic resources; and ensuring the highest levels of environmental protection remain our top priorities. As we continue working closely with the agencies to clarify and resolve the issues related to the stop work order, we appreciate the FERC’s responsible review and consideration of the modified work order and look forward to continuing the safe construction of this important infrastructure project.” You can read the whole statement here:

        Alamance commissioners to vote on Mountain Valley Pipeline — A lot of people will be paying attention to Monday’s vote, even though the Alamance County Board of Commissioners has no legal authority over whether or not the Mountain Valley Pipeline comes through Alamance County. The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate would be a 72-mile, 24-inch diameter line connecting to the existing MVP in Pittsylvania County, Va., and carrying Marcellus Shale gas to the PSNC distribution system south of Graham near Cherry Lane, according to documents submitted to the county. The company claims the pipeline will bring cheaper natural gas to the area, which has a growing population and growing demand for energy, 1,260 jobs, $106 million in local spending and $1.3 million per year in county taxes all with less pollution than coal. Opponents, represented by the Haw River Assembly, say the company significantly exaggerates the tax revenue and the potential demand for natural gas, points out most of those jobs will be temporary, charges many will be taken by out-of-state workers, says the company is unfair to the property owners from whom it buys land, that there are environmental dangers in constructing and maintaining the pipeline and compression stations, and the pipeline deepens the dependence on polluting fossil fuels and fracking. Other property owners making public comments at the commissioners’ Aug. 6 meeting said the pipeline companies were aggressive in trying to get access to their land, and, though a private company, had the right to take land by eminent domain from those who refused to sell. Emily Sutton, the Haw River Keeper, told the board Alamance County municipalities were waiting to see what they did before deciding whether or not to vote on the resolution opposing the pipeline.

        The Baptists and the yogis join to fight a pipeline -  “Turning points!” the Rev. Paul Wilson shouted. Like the biblical Paul on the road to Damascus, he said. Like his church community was facing now.  Just down the road, across the rolling fields and woodlands where most of his congregation grew up, the most powerful corporation in Virginia plans to build a natural gas compressor station. Dominion Energy’s facility is integral to the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will tunnel under the nearby James River and march across the county. The pipeline has drawn protests along its planned path from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina. But the Union Hill community in Buckingham County, founded after the Civil War by freed slaves and near the geographic center of the state, is the only place in Virginia that faces the additional issue of a compressor station. Federal documents say such stations — which keep the gas flowing — emit toxic chemicals that can harm health. They can be noisy, and they light up at night. Once in a great while, such facilities explode — causing damages and fatalities for a significant distance all around. The easiest path for local residents would be to shrug and accept it. But Wilson, who preaches on alternating Sundays at two Baptist churches in Union Hill, is leading his community down the harder path. “They’ve approached us in the historical manner that big business and government approach communities such as ours,” Wilson said, “and that manner has always been that ‘we’re going to do what we want to do.’ ” The choice to resist has put Wilson and his congregation in step with an unlikely group of allies. As he neared the end of his sermon last Sunday at Union Grove Baptist, Wilson noticed a figure in orange just inside the entrance to the church. “Swami Dayananda!” Wilson exclaimed at a diminutive woman with short gray hair and the robes of a Hindu monk. She had stopped by from the nearby ashram at Yogaville, bearing diet books to help Wilson in his quest to lose weight, and looking to plan their road trip the next day to meet with civil rights leaders and environmentalists at a conference in North Carolina. If nothing else, the looming threat of the pipeline and compressor station has wrought one small miracle in Union Hill: The Baptists and the yogis have come together.

        Despite stop work order, ACP, MVP get permission to continue building - Even after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered a stop to construction of two major pipeline projects, the projects have sought and received permission from the same agency to keep going. The Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline were ordered to halt construction after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal agencies had skirted environmental rules when they approved both projects. In stop orders dated Aug. 3 and 10, respectively, the pipelines were told to stop construction and submit a work stabilization plan. In ACP’s and MVP’s stop-work orders, FERC directed the projects to cease construction, except for any measures deemed necessary by the federal agencies or FERC staff.In response, a lawyer for Mountain Valley Pipeline wrote to FERC requesting that the stop-work order be modified and limited to areas only affected by decisions of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, both of which were remanded by the 4th Circuit Court. Instead, FERC should allow construction to continue for the first 77 miles of the 303-mile-long pipeline in Northern West Virginia, the lawyer, Matthew Eggerding, wrote Aug. 14. The next day, FERC’s director of energy projects, Terry Turpin, wrote back: “After careful consideration, and with the goal of protecting the environment to the maximum extent possible while the relevant agencies determine how best to comply with the orders” of the 4th Circuit, Mountain Valley Pipeline could continue with work on the first 77 miles, with the exception of a 7-mile stretch near the Weston Gauley Bridge Turnpike Trail, plus work on the three compressor stations. After the Atlantic Coast Pipeline received its order to stop work last Friday, the project’s developers asked for permission to continue construction on road bores in Upshur County and Bridgeport, and construction at a Wetzel County compressor station. One day later, FERC granted the permission to continue. The project still has an end-of-2019 goal, a spokeswoman said. It’s not the first time authorities have bent rules to green-light the major pipeline projects. A review last week by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, in collaboration with ProPublica, showed federal and state agencies often cleared roadblocks to expedite construction on the pipelines.

        Atlantic Coast Pipeline foes file their broadest legal challenge yet -  Citizen groups filed another lawsuit against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Thursday, this time taking direct aim at the federal certificate that undergirds all other permits for the complex interstate gas project. Pipeline foes have long contended the project isn’t needed to meet demand in Virginia and North Carolina, and that it will cause unmitigated harm to the region’s forests, endangered animals, and waterways.They’ve filed numerous suits focused on the pipeline’s environmental impacts, winning temporary victories last week that have stalled construction. Thursday’s court challenge with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the first to focus on whether the gas project is necessary, and success in this case would more likely be permanent.“This is really the central permit for the entire project,” said Greg Buppert, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which with Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed the suit on behalf of 13 conservation groups. “This the permit where the need for ratepayers to finance the project is squarely at issue.” The 600-mile pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina is a massive undertaking by any measure. It will bore under or through the Blue Ridge Parkway, two national forests, and hundreds of rivers and streams, including habitat for rare and endangered animals. Its 100-foot wide construction berth will require felling large swaths of forests, crossing the land of thousands of individual property owners. In many cases, the census tracts in the pipeline’s path contain more American Indians and people of color than the surrounding county as a whole.The agency with ultimate authority over the immense project is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The five-member panel determines whether the pipeline is necessary — and if it is, how to balance it against property rights, civil rights, and the need to protect the environment.

        Environmentalists Sue FERC to Stop the ACP - There's a new effort to block construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline -- environmental groups suing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approving the project.  FERC recently ordered Dominion to stop work on the ACP and this new legal action could put a permanent end to the pipeline. To build a pipeline from West Virginia, through Virginia to North Carolina, Dominion must take private property through a legal process called eminent domain – and in order for the government to approve that process, it must first certify that there’s a public need for the project.  At the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Greg Buppert says the federal agency that was supposed to do that made a mistake when it concluded a new pipeline was needed.  “Signals from the market don’t support a new Interstate natural gas pipeline," he said. "Frankly it’s the most costly way to bring gas to Virginia. Ratepayers will be on the hook over the next 25 years for $1.5 to $3 billion in costs.” Dominion disputes that claim, saying new supplies of cheap natural gas will actually mean lower rates for customers, and it points to purchase agreements it has with its own electric company as proof of demand.  Buppert is not convinced. “These are agreements between Dominion affiliates that don’t reflect what’s going on in the market.  FERC refused to look behind those contracts, and we think that’s a problem.”    And in their lawsuit, environmentalists argue there better ways to get fracked gas to market. “The Transco pipeline, which is the major pipeline passing through Virginia and North Carolina, has a pipeline artery with capacity and enough pipeline in the ground to meet demand in the Southeast,” Buppert explained. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already issued a stop work order, canceling permits issued by the federal government to allow drilling under the Blue Ridge Parkway and construction that will   harm endangered species. The SELC will also be at a state hearing of the Water Control Board Tuesday in support of its claim that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cannot be built without harming Virginia’s rivers and streams.

         Construction pause gives momentum to Atlantic Coast Pipeline legal challenges -  Opponents of the $6 billion, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) have filed a broad challenge attacking the underlying need for the additional gas it would bring. The embattled project planned by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Southern Co. is already facing a potential re-routing. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) halted construction following a federal appeals court decision this month to reject construction certificates that had been approved, but declined to reconsider its certificate approval.While federal regulators said the pipeline route may need to be altered, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates (AMA) filed a broad lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which they believe could sink the project. The new lawsuit, filed on behalf of a baker's dozen of conservation groups, targets what SELC and AMA called "Dominion's inflated claims that the pipeline is needed in Virginia and North Carolina." Whether the pipeline is necessary has become a key point of contention, as the battle between developers and opponents has so far been over specific permits and environmental findings. In her October dissent to the order approving the Atlantic Coast project, Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur said both ACP and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which FERC approved the same day, "appear to be receiving gas from the same location, and both deliver gas that can reach some common destination markets." According to SELC, gas-fired power plants in Virginia and North Carolina are already connected to the existing pipeline system and "will have few direct connections to the ACP," undercutting developers' arguments the new supply is necessary for electric generation. And they say the gas delivered by the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which will be produced through hydraulic fracturing, "will be more expensive than the gas that is currently available in Virginia through existing infrastructure." "From the day this dirty, dangerous pipeline was proposed, communities, experts and the builders themselves have known that it had nothing to do with need and everything to do with greed," Joan Walker, senior representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign, said in a statement.  She added that "clean, renewable energy is affordable and abundant" in Virginia and North Carolina.

        Virginia regulators consider revoking permits for two major gas pipelines, but settle for stricter enforcement — Pictures of mud-choked mountain streams pushed Virginia regulators to consider revoking permits for two major natural gas pipelines during a hearing Tuesday, but in the end the State Water Control Board simply pushed for stricter enforcement of state regulations.  About 150 pipeline opponents from across the state were outraged that the board pulled back after coming so close — some in tears, others yelling at board members as they left the hearing room. Capitol Police officers formed a line across the front of the chamber in a state office building to keep the angry crowd away from staff members.  “We hoped that we were close. I thought that we should be closer because of the body of comments and evidence that people submitted,” said David Sligh, a retired state environmental engineer who now works with the Wild Virginia conservation group.Members of the board had approved erosion and sediment control permits for one of the projects, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, in December, but agreed to reexamine the issue in light of reports that construction was causing extensive damage to the rugged mountain terrain. That pipeline is the shorter of the two projects, designed to carry gas 300 miles from West Virginia through Virginia’s southwest. The other project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, will cut a 600-mile path from West Virginia through the center of Virginia and into North Carolina.  State regulators have yet to give final approval to the erosion and sediment control permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and work there is not as far along. Both projects have faced setbacks this summer. Federal judges have ruled that federal agencies granted several permits without full review, and regulators have stopped all work on both pipelines until those issues are resolved. Tuesday’s hearing was aimed at examining whether Virginia erred in accepting blanket federal water quality certification for the two pipelines rather than conducting a separate review of every point at which the projects will cross a stream or river. 

        Va. agency lets water permits stand for two pipelines -- A Virginia regulatory agency has voted to allow work to proceed on the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipelines. The Virginia Water Control Board decision allows the pipelines to proceed with what critics call current inadequate water permits. Other issues must still be resolved before construction can resume on the two under-construction pipelines, Kallanish Energy reports. More than 150 people attended the Tuesday meeting in Richmond, Virginia. The state agency took no action on water permitting, allowing the previous certification from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 blanket permit to stand. Critics said the Nationwide Permit 12 requires fewer protections for Virginia waterways than state water quality standards could under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. Under that law, Virginia has the authority to require compliance with stricter water standards. Virginia said the federal permitting echoes the state system and that’s why it followed the federal permitting. The state agency pledged to provide stricter enforcement on the two pipelines and to share pipeline concerns with federal regulators. Critics called on Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to analyze the pipelines' impacts on every stream crossing individually. 

          Northeast gas pulled south by Florida power plants and Sabal trail  - Florida’s increasing demand for natural gas for power generation isn’t new, but like a young alligator in the Everglades, its appetite is voracious and growing. More and more gas-fired power plants have been coming online, increasing gas demand and spurring the development of new gas pipeline capacity into the state. And, because of big shifts in where gas is being produced and where it’s flowing, the Sunshine State will soon be receiving an increasing share of its gas needs from the Marcellus region. Today, we begin a two-part look at how rising generation-sector demand for gas and a new pipeline are changing gas-flow dynamics in the U.S. Southeast.. Florida has been an occasional topic in the RBN blogosphere, mostly because it is a leading generator of electricity — second only to Texas, in fact — and because gas in recent years has become far-and-away the preferred generation fuel in the state. Florida’s electric utilities have been particularly aggressive in their shift from coal (and nuclear) generation to gas, and that spurred the development of the state’s third major gas pipeline (we’ll get to the other two in a moment): the 1.1-Bcf/d Sabal Trail Pipeline, which runs more than 500 miles from an interconnect with Williams’s Transcontinental Gas Pipeline (Transco; orange line in Figure 1) in west-central Alabama to the Orlando area

        Recent Arrests Under New Anti-Protest Law Spotlight Risks That Off-Duty Cops Pose to Pipeline Opponents - Over the weekend, four opponents of the Bayou Bridge pipeline and an independent journalist covering their activities were arrested and charged under Louisiana House Bill 727, which makes trespassing on “critical infrastructure” facilities — a category that explicitly includes oil pipelines — a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of $1,000, or both. A total of eight people have now been charged under the law since it took effect on August 1.HB 727 is one of numerous anti-protest laws that states have considered or enacted in the wake of the mass mobilization against the Dakota Access pipeline, which drew tens of thousands of people to gather near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in 2016 and 2017. The arrests also expose the blurred line between private security and public law enforcement that has become typical in the policing of anti-pipeline struggles.  On August 9, the first three arrests under the law were carried out by probation and parole officers with Louisiana’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections moonlighting as security guards for Bayou Bridge pipeline parent company Energy Transfer Partners. Ken Pastorick, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, told The Intercept that the department’s director authorized the officers to work on behalf of the Bayou Bridge pipeline as a form of “extra-duty employment.” “They have the ability to enforce the law in Louisiana even when off-duty and working extra-duty security details,” he said. “ETP tells these Pinkerton men of the Bayou what to do, and what they are in fact doing is criminalizing water protectors,” said Cherri Foytlin, a Louisiana resident and member of the Indigenous women’s advisory council for the anti-Bayou Bridge camp known as L’eau Est La Vie (Water Is Life). “They are using the cops as a tool in that process.”

        Agencies play tug of war over pipeline protection -  Natural gas pipeline companies are being pulled in three different directions as federal agencies mull how to handle new security threats to an increasingly vital resource. Should the U.S. government bail out competitors to natural gas to ease the power grid's reliance on the fuel, as called for by a leaked plan from the Department of Energy? Should policymakers preserve the status quo, counting on voluntary cooperation from the sector and a slim staff of specialists to gain a window into pipeline security, as the Department of Homeland Security favors? Or should U.S. lawmakers consider beefing up gas security oversight and moving it out of DHS's hands, an idea raised in the halls of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? Shared among all three agencies — and the energy firms lobbying them — is a sense that cyberthreats to the gas pipeline networks are only set to rise as companies digitize operations and hackers backed by foreign intelligence services grow more intrusive. "We now are dealing with nation states," said Dave McCurdy, CEO of the American Gas Association (AGA), at a July 31 cybersecurity conference in New York City. "The government isn't necessarily organized for this 21st-century paradigm ... you've got some challenges with the federal agencies, if you're in industry." The path chosen will inevitably reverberate in the bulk power grid, which in recent years has grown to rely on natural gas more than any other fuel source for generating electricity. "There's more concern about what is the impact of what would happen if there is an interruption in the gas supply," McCurdy said 

        Sen. Gary Peters demands action on Great Lakes safety -- Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters yesterday told Enbridge Inc., the owner of the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, that it is not doing enough to gain the trust of Michiganders."We know that an oil spill in the Great Lakes would be absolutely catastrophic for our environment and for our economy," Peters said at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee field hearing in Traverse City, Mich. Peters pointed to an April incident in which a ship's anchor gouged the pipeline and electric transmission lines, spilling about 600 gallons of mineral oils into the straits (Greenwire, April 12).Briefly after the incident, strong storms brought more challenges for the 65-year-old pipeline. Michigan and Enbridge have an agreement to shut down the line when waves reach 8 feet tall to avoid problems.Peters asked Skip Elliott, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, whether there was reluctance on Enbridge's part to shut the pipeline down. "It took a discussion to get them to shut down the line until the storm had passed, yes," Elliott said. David Bryson, Enbridge's senior vice president of operations for liquid pipelines, said the company did not push back on shutting Line 5 down. He said the pipeline was shut down before the worst day of storms. "Don't give us words. Give us action," Peters said.

         Trump Keeps Trying to Kill the Agency That Investigates Chemical Plant Disasters - Workers at a Wisconsin oil refinery were conducting a routine shutdown for maintenance. Suddenly, a gasoline cracking unit exploded, and the workers watched in horror as a huge fireball ripped through the plant.  Debris from the explosion ruptured a tank, which spilled more than half a million gallons of hot asphalt that burst into flames and burned for nine hours. Black smoke spread over the port town of Superior. Eleven workers were injured, and about 40,000 people were evacuated from nearby homes and schools. Earlier this month, after a three-month probe, the investigators from the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board concluded that a faulty valve at the plant caused the explosion. The board plans to issue recommendations that aim to prevent such an accident from happening again at a refinery. But despite the wide recognition of its expertise in chemical plant disasters—this small, independent federal agency is teetering on the brink of elimination. The Trump administration has twice in its budgets attempted to shut down the Chemical Safety Board; so far, Congress has rejected the attempts. For the 2019 fiscal year, both the House and Senate have proposed restoring full funding.But the assaults appear to be taking a toll. Hostility from the Trump administration and disarray from its efforts to eliminate the agency follow years of leadership turmoil and high turnover that started during the Obama administration. In 2015, its chairman, who was embroiled in a congressional investigation into poor management, resigned under pressure—yet leadership problems remain.Combined, these problems threaten to cripple the agency’s investigations of chemical plant disasters, according to interviews and reports obtained byReveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. A report from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general says the turmoil “if not addressed, may seriously impede the agency’s ability to achieve its mission efficiently and effectively.”

        Standing Rock Veterans Lead Fight to Shut Down Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline - A group of Standing Rock veterans and their allies have set up camp in Northern Michigan to stop another pipeline: Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline that passes under the Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Huron and Michigan as it carries oil from Western Canada to Ontario, Michigan Radio reported Sunday. The protesters, about 15 in total, are concerned about the possible damage an oil spill from the pipeline could do to the Great Lakes and have vowed not to leave their camps until the pipeline is removed."As long as it takes 'til it's shut," Nancy Shomin, who helped start the camp, told UpNorthLive Monday.The protest camps follow growing concern about the aging pipeline after it was dented by an anchor in April. In July, an independent report found a spill from the pipeline could damage 400 miles of shoreline in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario and cost Michigan around $2 billion, Michigan Radio reported.At a Senate Commerce Committee field hearing Monday, Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) criticized Enbridge for dragging its feet to shut down operations during a storm shortly after the anchor strike."Can you see why that is something that people look at and say, Enbridge is not really focused on going the extra measure of safety, when they had a damaged pipe and severe weather and they pushed back on shutting down to make sure nothing happened?" he said to applause, addressing Enbridge senior vice president of operations for liquid pipelines David Bryson, according to Michigan Radio.The protesters say the only safe move is to shut the pipeline down permanently. "It's one of those things where it's not if, it's when," Clint Cayou, who joined the protest from Mason, Nebraska, told UpNorthLive. "The pipeline is dangerously close to being a real hazard to a lot of people and it needs to be shut down."

        US EIA says US Gulf Coast gasoline stocks build as refining holds above historic norms — Stocks of gasoline on the US Gulf Coast rose in the week ended August 17 amid weaker national demand and strong regional refinery runs, US Energy Information Administration data showed Wednesday. USGC gasoline inventories rose 1.338 million barrels to reach 81.493 million barrels, their highest level since the week ended July 6. Implied US gasoline demand, measured as product supplied, fell last week, supporting the build in stocks. US gasoline supplied fell 59,000 b/d to reach 9.453 million b/d. At the same time, the USGC refining complex, which is home to more than half of US throughput capacity, remained elevated above seasonally typical levels last week. After hitting an all-time high in the week ended August 10, gross inputs into USGC refineries were reported at 9.708 million b/d for the week ended August 17, the second-highest level since the EIA started publishing this figure in January 1990. By this measure, USGC refining activity last week was more than 44% above levels from the year-ago week in 2017. Earlier in the summer, the EIA said the entire US refining complex was likely to break records for output in 2018, in part because of strong USGC production. In the week ended August 17, USGC production of finished motor gasoline was reported at 2.181 million b/d, down 90,000 b/d from the prior week. US production totaled 10.059 million b/d, down 217,000 b/d week on week. In Wednesday's data, the four-week moving average for USGC refinery input was reported at 9.543 million b/d, which is the highest that figure has ever been since the data was first recorded in 1990.

        U.S. gasoline consumption flat, growth switches to diesel: Kemp (Reuters) - Rising fuel costs have dampened gasoline demand from private motorists in the United States, leaving the market relying on continued economic and freight expansion to boost oil use.  U.S. traffic volumes were up by just 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in the three months from April to June compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the Federal Highway Administration.Traffic growth has slowed from an annual rate of between 2 percent and 3 percent through most of 2015 and 2016, when gasoline prices were low and falling (“Traffic Volume Trends,” FHA, August 2018).Traffic growth has been correlated with changes in gasoline prices for the past quarter century and recent fuel price increases have resulted in a predictable slowdown ( gasoline prices are up by more than 55 percent from their cyclical low in February 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.Traffic volumes have levelled out despite continued strong growth in economic output, incomes and employment, indicating that motoring demand has been hit by rising fuel prices.Slower traffic growth has been mirrored in flattening gasoline consumption, with sales to domestic customers at or slightly below prior-year levels for most months so far this year.Between March and May, the most recent three-month period for which data are available, gasoline supplied to the domestic market was marginally down from the same period in 2017. The Energy Information Administration is now forecasting gasoline consumption will be essentially unchanged in 2018, down from predicted growth of around 30,000 barrels per day (bpd) at the start of the year (“Short-Term Energy Outlook”, EIA, August 2018).

        Freight fuel market moves back towards balance: Kemp (Reuters) - The market for freight fuels is moving close to balance, after tightening significantly in 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, contributing to the recent stabilisation in crude oil prices. OECD stocks of middle distillate fuels, including road diesel, marine gasoil and jet fuel, totalled 513 million barrels at the end of June, according to the International Energy Agency (“Oil Market Report”, August 2018).Stocks have fallen compared with the slump years of 2015-2017 (when they ranged from 554 million to 611 million barrels) but are higher than in the pre-slump years of 2012-2014 (496-505 million barrels).Fuel availability appears to have improved since the middle of the second quarter, with U.S. distillate stocks rising to almost 131 million barrels last week, up from just 115 million in mid-May.U.S. stocks are now 18 million barrels below the ten-year seasonal average, compared with a deficit of 23 million in May, and the gap is closing.Confirming that stocks are still tight, but only marginally so, the calendar spread for European gasoil futures is close to level (  The one-year spread has been trading in an average backwardation of roughly $2.50 per tonne (just 32 cents per barrel) over the last 30 days.The spread is currently in the 55th percentile for the distribution since 1994, implying traders see gasoil availability close to average levels. Slower growth in global trade since the start of the year, and especially since the second quarter, is likely to be contributing to improved availability of distillates by moderating the increase in fuel consumption. On the production side, refining margins for making gasoil remain healthy, averaging just over $15 per barrel in the last month, putting them in the 67th percentile since 2008. Soft crude prices coupled with firm gasoil margins are giving refineries a strong incentive to maximise production of distillates.U.S. refiners produced more than 5.4 million barrels per day of distillate fuel last week, a seasonal record, and more than 600,000 bpd above the ten-year average. If refinery runs remain strong throughout the remainder of August and September, which seems likely in the absence of a hurricane strike on the Texas-Louisiana coast, distillate availability should improve significantly.

        One of the biggest changes in oil market history could spark a diesel ‘resurgence,' analysts say - A much-anticipated shipping revolution could spark a dramatic upswing in diesel fuel demand over the coming months, energy analysts have told CNBC.New rules coming into force in less than 18 months time are seen as a source of great concern for some of the world's biggest oil producers. That's because the global shipping industry is widely thought to be ill-prepared for the looming sea change.On January 1, 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will enforce new emissions standards designed to significantly curb pollution produced by the world's ships.Amid a broader push towards cleaner energy markets, the IMO is set to ban shipping vessels using fuel with a sulfur content higher than 0.5 percent, compared to levels of 3.5 percent at present. The most commonly used marine fuel is thought to have a sulfur content of around 2.7 percent."The demise of diesel has been well documented over recent years, as global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions continue to power the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles," Richard Robinson, manager of the Ashburton Global Energy Fund, told CNBC via email."However, far from a diesel death knell, we expect to see a resurgence in the use of the fuel," he added.The forthcoming measures are widely expected to create an oversupply of high-sulfur fuel oil while sparking demand for IMO-compliant products — thus ratcheting up the pressure on the refining industry to produce substantially more of the latter fuels.This is especially important, energy analyst say, because Middle Eastern oil producers — such as OPECkingpin Saudi Arabia — are likely to lose out given their over-reliance on crude with a high sulfur content.

        Integrated majors breathe new life into the Haynesville-Texas gas play. - Natural gas production volumes from the Haynesville Shale have raced up over the past 18 months or so, from about 5.3 Bcf/d in December 2016 to more than 8 Bcf/d now. In fact, volumes are now just 1 Bcf/d or so shy of the all-time peak of 9.5 Bcf/d in January 2012. Despite the gains, there’s been a cloud of skepticism hanging over the play’s longer-term growth prospects — most of the recent gains have come from a relatively small footprint in the play’s western Louisiana sweet spot, and many of the surrounding areas are fraught with geological challenges, such as high water and clay content. But now the Haynesville story is changing once again, with a shift in rigs to the Texas side. How does this shift affect Haynesville’s growth prospects? Today, we provide an update of our view of the Haynesville Shale.

        Analysis: Haynesville, Permian producers revive Texas output— Texas natural gas production has found new momentum in August, breaking above 20 Bcf/d last weekend for the first time since November 2015. Not registered? Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience. Register Now Producers in the Lone Star State are forecast to increase output by another 0.7 Bcf/d by the end of this year, boosting the monthly average to 20.2 Bcf/d by December, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Looking ahead to the winter months, that incremental supply will not only help offset a looming storage deficit in the South, but should allow Texas storage levels to reach a surplus by next summer. Recent gains in Texas production have come largely from the Haynesville and the Permian. From mid to late August, the East Texas Haynesville region has seen sample production receipts rise by 130 MMcf/d or nearly 7%. Over the past year, the sample has grown by roughly 32%. Platts Analytics often references sample data as a barometer for production activity since the daily measure offers the earliest indication of an increase or slowdown in output. In the Haynesville, total production coming from fields spread across portions of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas is now estimated in the high 9 Bcf/d range, but could soon reach 10 Bcf/d, thanks to growing activity in the Texas portion of the play. Texas' Permian Delaware has also shown spectacular growth this summer. In August, sample receipts in the basin have averaged 1.7 Bcf/d and are up by over 30% compared to the second-quarter average. Over the past 12 months, the Platts Analytics sample has grown by roughly 97% as associated gas production in basin continues to soar. Basin wide, the Permian is producing over 7.4 Bcf/d in August, according modeled estimates.

        Water used for fracking increases 767 percent in Permian -- A new report shows that water use in hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction in West Texas' Permian Basin oil field increased nearly nine times  between 2011 and 2016.The report, titled "The Intensification of the Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing," said  all six of the shale oil and gas fields studied saw increases in water use, but the Permian Basin had the largest increase, growing from 4,900 cubic meters of water per well in 2011 up to 42,500 cubic meters of water per well in 2016, an increase of 767 percent. The report was compiled by researchers at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and was published by science journal Science Advances.Water is one of the main ingredients in hydraulic fracturing or fracking used to extract shale deposits that contain oil and gas. Other ingredients that flow with the water include sand to prop open cracks in the rock and chemicals used to make extraction easier. The researchers note controversy around the semiarid nature of many areas that hold oil and gas reserves. A map in the report shows that much of the land involved in U.S. oil and gas plays are in regions that exhibit medium to high levels of water stress.

        The port district of Houston-Galveston became a net exporter of crude oil in April - The U.S. port district of Houston-Galveston in Texas recently began exporting more crude oil than it imported for the first time on record. Crude oil exports from the Houston-Galveston port district have increased since the restrictions on U.S. crude oil exports were lifted at the end of 2015. In April 2018, crude oil exports from Houston-Galveston surpassed crude oil imports by 15,000 barrels per day (b/d). In May 2018, the difference between crude oil exports and imports increased substantially to 470,000 b/d. Total U.S. crude oil exports rose to a record high of 2 million b/d in May. On average since mid-2017, the U.S. port district of Houston-Galveston has accounted for slightly more than half of the crude oil exported from the United States, and the share increased to a record 70% in May. A port district is a geographic region defined by U.S. Customs and encompasses several individual U.S. ports of entry. The Houston-Galveston port district includes the port of Houston as well as several other ports along the Texas Gulf Coast, from Galveston to Corpus Christi.Ongoing efforts to expand crude oil export infrastructure at the ports of Houston and Corpus Christi have allowed for increased export flows. The only other port district that has seen significant crude oil export volumes recently is the U.S. port district of Port Arthur, which includes the Texas ports of Port Arthur, Sabine, Beaumont, and Orange. This district has on average accounted for close to a quarter of all U.S. crude oil exports since mid-2017. Despite infrastructure improvements, however, crude oil export capacity is still limited on the U.S. Gulf Coast, because most ports are unable to load larger crude oil vessels.  Crude oil is imported into many locations in the United States, but most of the oil goes through the U.S. Midwest or the U.S. Gulf Coast. The U.S. port district of Houston-Galveston accounted for 12% of total U.S. crude oil imports as of May, second only to the U.S. port district of Chicago, Illinois, at 19%.

        Texas Oil Companies Want Federal Dollars to Protect Them From Climate Change -  The burning of fossil fuels is the driving force behind climate change, and now the companies responsible want the government to help pay to protect them from the consequences.Texas is seeking at least $12 billion to build a network of seawalls, levees, gates and earthen structures that would protect a stretch of the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the area south of Houston that houses 30 percent of U.S. oil refining capacity, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.The Army Corps of Engineers approved $3.9 billion for smaller projects that would protect oil facilities in Port Arthur and Freeport in July, The Associated Press and The Houston Chronicle reported."The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride," Sierra Club Houston executive committee member Brandt Mannchen told The Associated Press. "You don't hear the industry making a peep about paying for any of this and why should they? There's all this push like, 'Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.'"Texas Republican politicians like Senators John Cormyn and Ted Cruz, who signed a letter urging PresidentDonald Trump to withdraw from the Paris agreement and are generally hostile to public spending, support federal funding for the project. Many see it as a priority after Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston and took out 25 percent of the area's refining capacity for a time."Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge," Gulf Coast-area Republican Judge Matt Sebesta told The Associated Press. The idea for the "Ike Dike," as the 60-mile network of barriers is called, took off after Hurricane Ike battered Texas in 2008 and caused half-a-million gallons of crude oil to be released into Texas waters, Climate Liability News reported.  Most local environmental groups supported the general need to protect the coast from storm surges, and prevent storm-caused oil spills, but were worried a plan would be rushed through after Harvey that would bypass environmental reviews assessing its potential impact on wildlife and the salinity of Galveston Bay. "You may prevent the bay from being ruined by a release of petrochemicals, but you may ruin it by changing the hydrology," Galveston Bay Foundation spokesperson Scott Jones told Climate Liability News.

        Plains, Magellan sell 50 percent stake in Permian pipeline for $1.4B  --Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline and Oklahoma-based Magellan Midstream Partners are selling half of BridgeTex Pipeline Company LLC for nearly $1.44 billion, according to an Aug. 21 press release.The buyer is certain subsidiaries of both the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, known as OMERS, and OMERS Infrastructure Management Inc., the infrastructure investment manager of OMERS, per the release.Plains will sell a 30 percent stake, and Magellan will sell 20 percent. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2018, leaving Plains with a 20 percent interest in BridgeTex and Magellan with 30 percent. BridgeTex is a 400,000 barrel-per-day crude oil pipeline system connecting the Permian Basin to the Texas Gulf Coast. It runs from Colorado City in West Texas to Magellan’s East Houston terminal and its Houston crude oil distribution system. In January 2017, Plains and Magellan announced the pipeline's capacity would expand from 300,000 barrels per day to about 400,000 barrels per day. Currently, plans are underway to expand it to 440,000 barrels per day by early 2019, per the Aug. 21 release.Michael Ryder, senior managing director of the Americas for OMERS Infrastructure, noted in the release that the deal marks the firm's re-entry into the U.S. midstream sector. Several pipelines from the Permian to the Gulf Coast have been announced in recent years as takeaway capacity from the basin is filling up, limiting the room producers have to grow. The CEOs of major Houston-based oil field services companies discussed pipeline constraints on Permian activity in their recent second-quarter conference calls, the Houston Business Journal reported late last month.

        Electricity use soars in booming Permian -- A report from Texas' grid operator shows that power use in the booming Permian Basin oil field of West Texas is growing exponentially faster than the rest of the state.As oil and gas activity has expanded in the region its power use grew by 8 percent a year between 2012 and 2017, compared to 1 percent for the overall system overseen by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. The increased use led ERCOT to endorse nearly $600 million of transmission projects in 2016 and 2017 to serve the area and reduce congestion in the existing power lines, which can cause stress to the grid. At the beginning of 2012 there were 477 oil and gas rigs operating in the Permian Basin, growing to a peak of 566 by the end of Nov. 2014, right before the industry suffered the worst downturn in 30 years. The rig count fell drastically through May 2016 to 134 drilling rigs but by the end of 2017 it had recovered to 398 rigs. There are  486 drilling rigs active in the Permian Basin, according to the Houston oil services company Baker Hughes. ERCOT said in a report released in July that power use in West Texas increased by nearly 250 megawatts over the previous year due to increased oil and gas activity. The grid operator, which covers 90 percent of Texas' load and 25 million customers, said that on May 10 power use in West Texas broke 3,400 megawatts for the first time ever. A megawatt can power 200 homes during peak demand.

        Panama, US To Sign Pact To Expand Regional Access to LNG   (Reuters) - Panama on Friday will sign an agreement with the U.S. Treasury and Energy departments aimed at paving the way for more private investment to expand the importation and distribution of U.S. liquefied natural gas in Latin America. David Malpass, Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, said he hopes the "framework agreement" is the first of several with countries in the region to encourage investment to increase access to cheaper, cleaner energy. The agreement is part of a Treasury-led initiative called America Crece, incorporating the Spanish word for growth, aimed at boosting U.S. LNG exports, developing Latin American energy resources and downstream demand. Malpass is in Panama for the signing and the inauguration of a major new LNG terminal and 381-megawatt gas-fired power plant in Colon, Panama, run by U.S. power company AES Corp. He said in an interview that new investments encouraged by the agreement will help turn the AES Colon project into an LNG distribution hub, with cargoes imported from the United States sent to other countries in the region, including Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua. These countries and many Caribbean islands now rely largely on oil to generate electricity, with Venezuela a major supplier. In 2017, French utility Engie and AES established a joint venture to market and sell LNG to third parties in Central America using the Panama terminal as a distribution hub. The $1.15 billion AES facility on Panama's Caribbean coast, which is expected to begin commercial generating operations on Sept 1, and LNG tank distribution operations in 2019, took in its first U.S. LNG cargo in June. The Panama agreement allows for the U.S. agencies to help address regulatory and other barriers to investment, Malpass said, which can create opportunities for downstream demand and distribution.

        U.S. natural gas pipeline exports increase with commissioning of new pipelines in Mexico -- U.S. natural gas pipeline exports to Mexico have been increasing following expansions of cross-border pipeline capacity. These exports averaged 4.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2017 and 4.4 Bcf/d through the first five months of 2018. Based on data compiled by Genscape, natural gas exports to Mexico by pipeline exceeded 5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) for the first time in July 2018, after the commissioning of several key pipelines in Mexico. By the end of 2018, an additional four of six major pipelines identified as strategic in Mexico’s five-year natural gas infrastructure expansion plan are scheduled to begin commercial operations.  These newly commissioned pipelines will transport U.S. natural gas farther into Mexico’s central and southern regions and provide an additional outlet for constrained Permian production in western Texas. Natural gas exports from the United States will help meet growing demand from Mexico’s natural gas-fired power generation and industrial sectors, offsetting declines in Mexico’s domestic production.  Currently, about three-quarters of U.S. natural gas pipeline exports to Mexico flow from southern Texas. Exports from southern Texas averaged 3.2 Bcf/d in 2017 and 3.3 Bcf/d through the first five months of 2018. This natural gas is sourced primarily from the Eagle Ford Basin in Texas and transported on an existing pipeline network to serve industrial and power sector customers in northeastern Mexico.  Exports from western Texas, however, have been limited, despite a significant increase in cross-border pipeline capacity from 2015 to 2017. Exports from western Texas averaged only 0.4 Bcf/d in 2017 and 0.5 Bcf/d in January–May 2018. Significant delays in construction of the connecting pipelines on the Mexican side of the border have led to relatively low utilization of cross-border pipeline capacity from western Texas. Some pipelines in Mexico have been delayed by more than a year from their original expected in-service dates, in part because of disputes contesting pipeline routes.  Several key pipelines in Mexico were placed in service earlier in 2018. La Laguna-Aguascalientes (1.2 Bcf/d) and Villa de Reyes-Aguascalientes-Guadalajara (0.9 Bcf/d) are scheduled to begin commercial operations in November 2018 after the interconnect at El Encino-La Laguna is completed in October. These pipelines will transport natural gas from western Texas into central and western Mexico through the Ojinaga-El Encino and Tarahumara pipelines.

        Mexico gasoline, diesel imports set new records for July: SENER data — Mexico's gasoline imports reached 653,000 b/d, a new record for July, Energy Secretariat data showed. Not registered? Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience. Register Now July imports were 110,420 b/d above year-ago levels, but 21,200 b/d under the all-time high that was recorded in December, according to the data set shows. Diesel imports also set a new record for July, bringing in 316,100 b/d, 71,300 b/d higher than a year ago, but 15,000 b/d below the all-time high set in November. Gonzalo Monroy, director of energy consulting firm GMEC, told S&P Global Platts Tuesday that the sudden increase in imports also is related to the entrance of new private terminals.

        Midcoast Energy proposes new natural gas pipeline to serve US Gulf Coast — Private equity backed Midcoast Energy began soliciting shippers Monday for a new natural gas pipeline that will boost its ability to move supplies to the Houston Ship Channel and US Gulf Coast markets. The midstream operator, which was sold by Canada's Enbridge to ArcLight Capital Partners in May, said it has been seeing substantial volume growth with increased gas production from drillers in East Texas and Louisiana's Haynesville shale. Midcoast operates a large network of gathering, processing and pipeline assets that comprise its East Texas system. The new CJ Express pipeline, which is expected to start up in mid-2020, will consist of up to 150 miles of 36-inch or larger diameter pipeline, commencing near Carthage in Panola County, Texas and extending south to Midcoast's Clarity Pipeline in Hardin County, Texas. It will interconnect with several existing pipelines operated by Kinder Morgan, Williams and other companies. The shipper solicitiation and a statement from Midcoast did not specify CJ Express' total expected capacity. The non-binding open season that began Monday lasts until September 14. Under Enbridge's fold, Midcoast conducted the company's US natural gas and natural gas liquids gathering, processing, transportation and marketing operations, serving established basins in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.In its solicitation for the new pipeline, Midcoast said its network's connectivity in the region will help serve a demand pull being driven by growing downstream and end-user markets on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, as well as in Mexico, which is heavily reliant on US supplies of gas. 

        August 23 Natural Gas Storage Report: Weather Is Bullish, But This Is Not News To Anyone -- This Thursday, we expect EIA to report 2,440 bcf of working gas in storage for the week ending August 17.  We anticipate to see an injection of 53 bcf, which is 8 bcf larger than a year ago and 1 bcf larger vs. 5-year average. Weather forecast first turned bullish in the afternoon on August 16, but more recent changes have been relatively neutral. Last week, the number of total degree-days (TDDs) dropped by 12% w-o-w, as cooling demand weakened – particularly, in the Northeast and Western parts of the country. However, we estimate that total energy demand was no less than 14% above last year’s level. Please note that during this time of the year, heating degree-days (HDDs) have almost no effect on natural gas consumption. Cooling degree-days (CDDs) continue to have a disproportionately stronger effect on consumption, and traders should be paying attention to changes in CDDs. Seasonal trend, however, calls for high, but declining number of CDDs and for a rising but low number of HDDs. This week, the weather conditions continued to cool down. We estimate that the number of CDDs will drop by 13.0% w-o-w in the week ending August 24. Indeed, we estimate that cooling demand would be about 1% lower than over the same week last year. Next week, however, the heat is going to return. The number of CDDs is currently projected to rise by a whopping 20% w-o-w in the week ending August 31 (see the chart below). The latest numerical weather prediction models are returning some bullish results (in absolute terms):

        • ECMWF extended-range model (issued on August 20) projected above-normal CDDs in all five forecast weeks (August 31 – September 28); The model also showed more CDDs compared to the previous update issued on August 16.
        • The latest CFSv2 long-range model is projecting above normal CDDs in August and just normal CDDs in September.
        • The latest ECMWF 00z Ensemble and GFS 00z Ensemble mid-range models are both projecting above-normal CDDs over the next 15 days (August 21 – September 5).

        Analysis: Winter gas prices hit 2-month high as storage deficit grows— Winter-season gas prices at the Henry Hub climbed to their highest since mid-June this week as a growing storage deficit now appears to be capturing the attention of forwards traders. On Wednesday, winter-strip pricing for the December, January and February calendar-month contracts climbed to an average $3.13/MMBtu after trading below $3/MMBtu through much of July. Rising prices accompany an increasingly bullish outlook for winter inventory levels. On Thursday, the US Energy Information Administration is expected to announce a 52 Bcf to 55 Bcf injection, boosting underground storage stocks to roughly 2.44 Tcf. The average build would keep US inventories at nearly a 600 Bcf deficit to the five-year average. For the two remaining weeks of August, S&P Global Platts Analytics is forecasting 62 Bcf and 55 Bcf injections, which would actually underperform the five-year average by a total of 7 Bcf. Even assuming average builds in September and October, US gas inventories are on target to end the injection season at 3.249 Tcf, or their lowest in 15 years, according to data from the EIA. During the approaching winter, low inventory could contribute to an increase in price volatility. Last winter, unusually cold temperatures saw NYMEX month-ahead futures prices climb as high as $3.63/MMBtu, even with comfortably high inventory, which neared 3.8 Tcf last November. Spot-market prices in the Northeast saw the biggest impact from last winter's cold weather, with New York's Transco Zone 6 and Boston's Algonquin city-gates surging to single-day record-high settlements at $140/MMBtu and $79/MMBtu, respectively. If record-cold temperatures return this year and the region's sizeable storage deficit remains intact, spot-market prices could push higher and potentially endure for a more extended period.

        EIA Reports On-Target 48 Bcf Injection; September Natural Gas Holds Steady - The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a 48 Bcf build into storage inventories for the week ending Aug. 17, right on target with some market participant surveys, although several estimates clustered in the 50 Bcf range as well.Nymex September natural gas futures had a muted reaction to the EIA report, with the prompt month nudging one-tenth of a cent higher as the EIA print hit the screen. From there, the September contract continued to gain modest ground but then retreated again, trading less than a penny lower at $2.952 at 11 a.m. ET.The net of the last two weeks yielded a difference of only 2 Bcf from expectations, indicating a strong reading of balance, according to Bespoke Weather Services, which had projected a 52 Bcf build. Today’s print, however, may ease some of the bearish fundamental pressure that the weather forecaster expected to see on prices into the weekend.“The print was not quite as loose as expected with a solid draw across the South still, even with less impressive heat. However, we see in-week loosening that is likely to make next week’s print looser and keep resistance fairly firm,” Bespoke chief meteorologist Jacob Meisel said.Genscape Inc., which had estimated a 49 Bcf build, said its daily supply and demand (S&D) model had last week’s total supply posting a notable increase from the prior week, with production having averaged 81.1 Bcf/d, up 0.7 Bcf/d from the prior week. Some of the supply-side gains from production were very slightly diminished by a 0.1 Bcf/d week/week decline in imports from Canada, “paced by sizeable reductions in weekly imports to the Pacific Northwest and New York,” Genscape senior natural gas analyst Rick Margolin said. On the demand side, power burns retreated from the previous week and were estimated to have averaged 36.8 Bcf/d, but some of that decline was made up for by a 0.3 Bcf/d week/week increase in liquefied natural gas sendout and a 0.2 Bcf/d increase in exports to Mexico, he said.

         Halliburton Envisions Robo-Fracking - Bots already are used to vacuum floors, build cars and do heart surgery. Now, Halliburton Co. wants to add fracking to the to-do list.The world's biggest provider of the technique that unlocks oil and natural gas from shale rock has a vision of push-button fracking that's still years in the making. But for now, the Houston-based contractor unveiled a new service that will help move in that direction.  Tested in fields globally including the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, Halliburton's Prodigi AB service uses data and computer coding to automatically crank up the pumps to the necessary level in order to blast water, sand and chemicals underground to released trapped hydrocarbons. "This is new territory for the industry," Scott Gale, who oversees the new fracking service at Halliburton, said in an interview on the sidelines of Halliburton's annual technology conference in Houston. "We recognize that digital technologies are descending on our industry, so expectations are high." Typically, workers have to rev up the pumps manually, which can lead to inefficiency and delays, Gale said. Before wells are fracked, automated rigs are already being used to drill them.

        How Energy Companies and Allies Are Turning the Law Against Protesters - The activists were ready for a fight. An oil pipeline was slated to cross tribal lands in eastern Oklahoma, and Native American leaders would resist. The Sierra Club and Black Lives Matter pledged support.The groups announced their plans at a press conference in January 2017 at the State Capitol. Ashley McCray, a member of a local Shawnee tribe, stood in front of a blue "Water is Life" banner, her hair tied back with an ornate clip, and told reporters that organizers were forming a coalition to protect native lands.They would establish a rural encampment, like the one that had drawn thousands of people to Standing Rock in North Dakota the previous year to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline.The following week, an Oklahoma state lawmaker introduced a bill to stiffen penalties for interfering with pipelines and other "critical infrastructure." It would impose punishments of up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 in fines—and up to $1 million in penalties for any organization "found to be a conspirator" in violating the new law. Republican Rep. Scott Biggs, the bill's sponsor, said he was responding to those same Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The activists established the camp in March, and within weeks the federal Department of Homeland Security and state law enforcement wrote a field analysis identifying "environmental rights extremists" as the top domestic terrorist threat to the Diamond Pipeline, planned to run from Oklahoma to Tennessee. The analysis said protesters could spark "criminal trespassing events resulting in violence." It told authorities to watch for people dressed in black.An FBI team arrived to train local police on how to handle the protest camp.  McCray recalls a surveillance plane and helicopters whirring above the Oka Lawa camp. Demonstrators were pulled over and questioned on their way in or out, though the local sheriff said people were only pulled over for violating traffic laws.In May the governor signed the bill to protect critical infrastructure. Merely stepping onto a pipeline easement suddenly risked as much as a year in prison. "That was really pretty successful in thwarting a lot of our efforts to continue any activism after that," McCray said.

        Can earthquakes from injected wastewater be predicted? - To gain an understanding of how brine injection causes earthquakes, Arizona State University scientist Manoochehr Shirzaei has received a $1 million grant (over three years) from the U.S. Department of Energy to model the injection process and its subsequent effects."Our goal is to find a physics-driven mathematical relationship between the amount of brine injected, its depth, and any effects at the surface," said Shirzaei, an assistant professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration."These effects can include earthquakes and also deformation — uplift — of the ground surface," he said. Initially the study will focus on Oklahoma, a state that has been a center for brine injection activities and which has logged a detailed record of seismic events. These include a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in September 2016."We will also consider expanding the research to include brine injection sites in Texas, California, Ohio, Kansas, and Colorado," Shirzaei said. Seismic records are readily accessible for the study from the U.S. Geological Survey, and quantities of injected brines are, by law, made publically available by the companies involved.  A third element in the modeling is to include any deformation of the ground level. This is usually hard to measure because the effects are small and spread over a wide area. However, the use of interferometric synthetic-aperture radar (InSAR) data from orbit allows precise measurement of millimeter-scale uplifts over areas that are miles across."We are looking to correlate injected wastewater quantities, measured deformation, and previous seismic activity to develop a model that can predict the likely effects of brine injection activity in a given area."

        The US has turned into a major oil power again - The US has gone from a big-time net importer of oil to a small-time one. The latest base-case forecast from the EIA is that it will be a “modest net exporter” from 2029 through 2045. Neither the EIA nor anyone else (that I know of, at least) foresaw a huge increase in US oil production over the past decade, though, so let’s leave the forecasts aside. What has already happened is momentous enough. Here, for example, is the long view (going back to 1870) on US crude oil exports:  Oil’s role in the US economy has changed so much and so fast thanks to hydraulic fracturing and other new methods of getting oil out of shale that it’s worth pausing from time to time to consider what this entails. I’ve written before about the oil and gas boom’s role in keeping the trade deficit from exploding, and in making it harder for this country “to take the leading role in shaping the post-fossil-fuel energy landscape.” Now let us consider the domestic oil boom’s impact on the business cycle.  The standard story about oil and the US economy, as University of California at San Diego economist James D. Hamilton laid out in a 1983 paper, a 1996 follow-up and a paywall-free 2005 summing-up, is that sharp oil-price increases have a habit of causing recessions. “The key mechanism whereby oil shocks affect the economy,” Hamilton wrote in 2005, “is through a disruption in spending by consumers and firms on other goods.” Because the US produced far less oil than it used, past oil-price increases not only took money out of Americans’ pockets, but also shipped much of it overseas. Booming US oil production and a shrinking trade deficit in oil ought to change that equation, at least a little. Since early 2016, oil prices have recovered somewhat, but not rapidly enough to put a big crimp in consumer or business spending. Real investment in the US oil and gas sector, meanwhile, bottomed out in the fourth quarter of 2016 and, while it’s still not back to the levels of 2012 through 2014, appears to have been a major driver in the pick-up in economic growth last year and so far this year. CNBC’s Steve Liesman talked to several economists in May who had concluded that rising oil prices were now a “wash” for the US economy; I wouldn’t be surprised if, as long as the increase is gradual enough, they’re actually a net positive. After all, the energy intensity of the US economy — “the amount of energy consumed per dollar of real gross domestic product” — has been declining steadily since the early 1970s. On aggregate, at least, we can afford somewhat higher energy prices.

        US Offers 11 Million Barrels Of Oil For Sale From Strategic Reserve (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is offering 11 million barrels of oil for sale from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) ahead of sanctions on Iran that are expected to reduce global supplies of crude. The delivery period for the proposed sale of sour crudes will be from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30, according to Monday's notice. The U.S. government has introduced financial sanctions against Iran which, beginning in November, also target the petroleum sector of OPEC's third-largest producer. The sale appears to be designed to show the Trump administration is taking measures to restrain energy price increases ahead of the sanctions, one crude trader told Reuters. U.S. crude was up by 45 cents at $66.36 a barrel in afternoon trading on Monday. As a shale boom helped domestic oil production hit an all-time record this year, U.S. lawmakers increasingly have viewed oil-reserve sales as a way to reduce deficits and fund government operations. U.S. President Donald Trump complained this year that oil prices are "artificially very high" and a potential release from the SPR, ahead of the U.S. midterm elections in November, was widely seen as a way to bring relief to motorists who have seen gasoline prices jump in the past year. However, American drivers are unlikely to see prices at the pump fall by crude releases from the SPR because U.S. oil production already is sky high, analysts have said. Still, prices could temporarily dip thanks to seasonal factors. "The well-timed release may, optically help Trump achieve his goal of lowering domestic gasoline prices ahead of midterm elections given that the fall shoulder season is typically when retail prices fall and refiners head into turnarounds," 

        Ryan Zinke Would ‘Sell His Grandkids For Big Oil,’ Says Washington Governor -  Washington Gov. Jay Inslee slammed Ryan Zinke’s record on the environment Thursday, saying the interior secretary would “sell his grandchildren for big oil,” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. The Democratic governor’s office told HuffPost that he hasn’t yet received any response to his comments from Zinke — or from the White House. A frustrated Inslee criticized Zinke during a visit to a Seattle elementary school, where he talked about protecting Washington’s environment, climate change, and the air pollution being triggered by ongoing wildfires, the Seattle newspaper reported. He upbraided Zinke for downplaying the role of climate change and blaming “extreme environmentalists” for the ever-worsening fire seasons in the West. “With climate change, you have a hotter, drier climate, Mr. Zinke. You have fires,” Inslee said. “What is there about this that you cannot comprehend?” He added: “This man works for us. We do not pay him to give us false information. We get enough of that from the president.” Inslee, surrounded by schoolchildren, scoffed that Zinke would “flunk any science test that these kids take,” the news outlet reported. Inslee expanded on his comments about Zinke and his grandchildren to HuffPost on Friday. “Given the damage being done to our grandchildren’s future and his refusal to act against climate change, I call for Secretary Zinke to resign,” the governor said in a statement. 

        US says conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative -   Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the U.S., the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other conservation programs. The position was outlined in a memo released last month in support of the administration’s proposal to relax fuel mileage standards. The government released the memo online this month without fanfare. Growth of natural gas and other alternatives to petroleum has reduced the need for imported oil, which “in turn affects the need of the nation to conserve energy,” the Energy Department said. It also cites the now decade-old hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, revolution that has unlocked U.S. shale oil reserves, giving “the United States more flexibility than in the past to use our oil resources with less concern.” With the memo, the administration is formally challenging old justifications for conservation — even congressionally prescribed ones, as with the mileage standards. The memo made no mention of climate change. Transportation is the single largest source of climate-changing emissions. President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of climate change, embraced the notion of “energy dominance” as a national goal, and called for easing what he calls burdensome regulation of oil, gas and coal, including repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan. Despite the increased oil supplies, the administration continues to believe in the need to “use energy wisely,” the Energy Department said, without elaboration. Department spokesmen did not respond Friday to questions about that statement. Reaction was quick. “It’s like saying, ‘I’m a big old fat guy, and food prices have dropped — it’s time to start eating again,’ ” said Tom Kloza, longtime oil analyst with the Maryland-based Oil Price Information Service. “If you look at it from the other end, if you do believe that fossil fuels do some sort of damage to the atmosphere … you come up with a different viewpoint,” Kloza said. “There’s a downside to living large.”

        Gas guzzling is okay again, says Trump administration – Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the U.S., the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other conservation programs.The position was outlined in a memo released last month in support of the administration’s proposal to relax fuel mileage standards. The government released the memo online this month without fanfare.Growth of natural gas and other alternatives to petroleum has reduced the need for imported oil, which “in turn affects the need of the nation to conserve energy,” the Energy Department said. It also cites the now decade-old fracking revolution that has unlocked U.S. shale oil reserves, giving “the United States more flexibility than in the past to use our oil resources with less concern.”With the memo, the administration is formally challenging old justifications for conservation – even congressionally prescribed ones, as with the mileage standards. The memo made no mention of climate change. Transportation is the single largest source of climate-changing emissions.  President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of climate change, embraced the notion of “energy dominance” as a national goal, and called for easing what he calls burdensome regulation of oil, gas and coal, including repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan. Despite the increased oil supplies, the administration continues to believe in the need to “use energy wisely,” the Energy Department said, without elaboration. Department spokesmen did not respond to questions about that statement.

        Trump team phasing out oil field enforcement initiative - Trump administration officials at EPA are phasing out the agency's enforcement focus on animal waste pollution and the oil and gas industry. Enforcement chief Susan Bodine said she wants to shift the focus away from oil and gas as a sector deserving of extra scrutiny and toward prioritizing broad environmental problems, such as air pollution. "This initiative historically focused on one industrial sector, implying that the EPA considers all problems in this sector — large or small — to be a priority," Bodine wrote in a letter this week to regional administrators. On animal agriculture, the reasoning is the same. An agency statement forwarded by a spokesperson said the agency wants to focus on pollution problems, rather than an industry. "Under this approach, an animal feeding operation that contributes to water quality impairment or an oil and gas facility that contributes to non-attainment with air quality standards or that creates exposures to air toxics would be a priority because of those impacts, not because of the industry sector," the agency email said. But the agency plans to continue initiatives on "industrial and chemical facilities," along with "hazardous waste facilities." Farmers and rural voters were a key constituency for Trump in his 2016 election bid. Oil companies have become key backers since he took office and began promoting an "energy dominance" agenda. Both groups complained bitterly about regulatory overreach by the Obama administration. 

        Highlands Natural Resources kicks off fracking work at East Denver play  - Highlands Natural Resources said fracking operations had commenced on six new wells at its East Denver project in Colorado. Fracking was expected to be completed by November, by which time the total number of producing wells at East Denver would increase to eight. 'This, together with the construction of a gas pipeline, which is expected to commence in September, will substantially increase our revenues from this scalable project which is being entirely funded by our partners,' chief executive Robert price said. The company had also increased its acreage position at the West Denver project to 3,617 acres and has entered into a surface access agreement. 'We have already identified the potential to drill at least 48 horizontal wells,' Price said. 'As previously highlighted, discussions are underway with potential joint venture partners to finance this project.'

         Lawmakers Are Rallying To Protect Fracking From Environmentalists In Colorado - A group of bipartisan lawmakers denounced an initiative brought by environmentalists in Colorado that could effectively ban oil and gas production in the state. Colorado Rising, backed by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Frack Free Colorado among others, is leading a grassroots effort to introduce a statewide ballot measure that would ban oil and gas development within 2,500 feet of “vulnerable areas.” The group collected 171,000 signatures in support of putting the proposal, called Initiative 97, on a ballot, the oil-and-gas industry backed media group Western Wire reports. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association invited a panel of a dozen bipartisan lawmakers — four Democrats and eight Republicans — to speak at its annual energy conference. All but one lawmaker publicly rejected the measure, and the one that did not reject it is far from supportive of it. “I’m in the unique position in that I’m a Democrat who represents Broomfield, who has not endorsed Initiative 97, and whose Republican opponent has,” state Democratic Rep. Matt Gray, the one lawmaker that did not outright reject the measure, told Western Wire. “I didn’t [reject the measure], I have not endorsed 97. Both of those statements are true at the same time,” Gray said. “My biggest concern about 97 is that it doesn’t treat rural operations and voluntary operations — people who want the drilling to occur — differently than people that don’t want it to occur.” Gray went on to call the measure “inflexible.” Initiative 97 would outright ban oil and gas development near “vulnerable areas” broadly defined as “playgrounds, permanent sports fields, amphitheaters, public parks, public open space, public and community drinking water sources, irrigation canals, reservoirs, lakes, rivers, perennial or intermittent streams, and creeks, and any additional vulnerable areas designated by the state or a local government,” according to the ballot measure. If passed, the law could lock away $180 billion worth of fuels underground and cost mineral rights owners roughly $26 billion. Between 85 percent and 99.6 percent of the surface area in Colorado’s top five most productive oil and gas counties would be rendered inaccessible for future oil and gas development.

        Agency pushes FERC on tribal consultation, cultural sites - Government officials in charge of protecting the nation's cultural resources are calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to improve its review process for natural gas pipelines near those sites.The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation sent a laundry list of recommendations last month for how FERC can approach its obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act — a law that requires federal agencies to consult with American Indian tribes, state officials and others on projects' potential effects on historical areas.Among the suggestions: Start consultation early; give pipeline companies guidance on coordinating with state and tribal officials; invite local governments along pipeline routes to formally consult on impacts; and, critically, remember that consulting parties are more than everyday commenters."They are more than stakeholders or members of the public and participate actively in consultation with the federal agency and its applicant to address how an undertaking may affect historic properties," ACHP Executive Director John Fowler said in a July letter to FERC. The council's comments align with a longtime campaign by preservationists and tribal advocates to make FERC's process more collaborative. The ACHP submitted the letter in response to an effort by FERC to review its natural gas pipeline program.

        Betting Utah sands will be the next great oil source  — Utah is a yawn amid the drilling frenzy that has upended the energy picture in recent years. It accounts for just one of every 100 barrels of oil produced nationwide.But a couple of executives who have spent decades hunting for oil across the Middle East, South America and Canada are betting that the next energy patch will be near here, in a remote stretch of craggy desert known as Asphalt Ridge.They are trying something that has repeatedly failed in Utah: mining the state’s enormous deposits of oil sands, an arduous process of extracting oil from hard rock.The two oversee Petroteq Energy, a Canadian company that aims to have the first commercially viable oil sands production in the United States underway here by early September. Petroteq’s claims challenge the notion that oil sands mining is in eclipse. The heavy oil produced from oil sands is among the most carbon-intensive fuels, a drawback as concerns about climate change grow. Even in Canada, where oil sands production dominates the energy industry, some major oil companies have written off or withdrawn their investments. The Keystone XL pipeline designed to carry the fuel to American refineries has been stalled by environmentalists with protests and lawsuits. They typically call oil sands “a carbon bomb.”David Sealock, Petroteq’s chief executive, is undeterred. He likens his tiny operation — with its modular mixing vessels, rock crushers and conveyor belt — to a humble Lego set. But when he picks up a canister of newly processed oil, he smiles at the acrid odor. “That’s the smell of money,” he said. “We have a very disruptive technology,” said Mr. Sealock, who has worked for Chevron in several countries and managed two oil sands companies in Canada. “There was a treasure chest here that didn’t have a key, and this technology is the key.”

        Salting the earth: North Dakota farmers struggle with a toxic byproduct of the oil boom  --For the past two decades, Daryl Peterson and his wife Christine have been dealing with the spillage of saltwater — a byproduct of oil production — on their land, which grows peas, soybeans and various types of grain. A  In 1997, two spills covered dozens of acres with more than 50,000 gallons of saltwater. A decade later, another 21,000 gallons of saltwater spilled. And since then, the Petersons say they have seen another 10 spills. They claim these spills were never properly cleaned up.  Over the past decade, the biggest in a series of oil booms has transformed North Dakota, reinvigorating an economy that was largely known for its agricultural output. With an influx of new workers and jobs, North Dakota has consistently had one of the lowest unemployment and highest labor force participation rates in the country. But this prosperity has not come without consequence. Oil production has brought with it an ecological problem that threatens farms that have been in the same families for generations. A thousand miles from the nearest ocean, the fertile black earth of North Dakota is being destroyed by saltwater, which is brought from beneath the surface by oil and gas drilling. Landowners, like the Petersons, have to deal with the mess.North Dakota landowners who spoke with NBC raised concerns about the reporting and cleanup of saltwater or "brine" spills. They cited late reporting or nonexistent reporting of spills, a failure to return their land to the original condition, as the state requires, and a lack of compensation for lost farming revenue.

        Property along Big Hole, Beaverhead rivers eyed for oil drilling, fracking– The Bureau of Land Management is considering opening thousands of acres of land for potential leasing for gas and oil drilling and hydraulic fracking along the Big Hole and Beaverhead watersheds. The BLM has opened up more than 12,000 acres of property along the Big Hole and Beaverhead rivers. Some of it in Madison County and much of it in Beaverhead County. It’s an issue of much concern since the Big Hole River is considered a blue ribbon trout river. One owner of a flyshop along the Big Hole River said this is a complicated issue that runs a delicate balance between jobs and protecting the environment. “Everybody’s trying to live here together and there’s a lot of different industries competing for the same natural resources and I think the only thing we can do is study it and have some regulations and be careful,” said Craig Jones, owner of Great Divide Outfitters.Some of the land being considered for leasing is an area south of Glen along the Big Hole River.“Obviously I’d been concerned if it affects the quality of the river and my livelihood, of course just looking at it from my viewpoint. But I can also understand the other side of the argument which is more energy for the country and potential revenues for the community,” said Great Waters Inn owner Mark Lane. However, if anyone seriously considers oil and gas exploration along this river, some people say they hope they make the environmental impact a priority.

        Big Hole, Beaverhead no place for oil and gas development - This July the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) posted an obscure notice on its website that it will lease more than 12,000 acres of public land in the Beaverhead and Big Hole watersheds for oil and gas development. Many of the parcels up for potential eBay-style auction are located on public lands near important headwaters, such as areas outside the small community of Glen, or the parcels upstream from the city of Dillon directly off Rattlesnake Creek. These public lands would be auctioned off this December. Let’s be clear what proposed oil and gas leases on public lands mean for the Big Hole and Beaverhead watersheds:The BLM, under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s leadership, wants to allow fracking and oil derricks, wastewater ponds and who knows what other type of industrial machinery and operations nearly adjacent to the treasured Big Hole River and its world-class blue-ribbon fishery, alongside Rattlesnake Creek and the City of Dillon’s drinking water supply, and even in prime deer and elk habitat on the backside of the Ruby Mountain Range.Oil and gas leasing, allowed under antiquated mineral laws nearly a hundred years old, means that while federal authority over public lands is not transferred to industrial interests, the power of public oversight — that which puts the “public” in public lands — is. Limiting public participation on public lands decisions is one of several key leadership failures of Secretary Zinke. Through a series of smarmy moves by this administration, public comment on oil and gas leases has been slashed to only 10 days, while efforts to offset potential degradation and impacts through mitigation have been reduced from mandatory, to voluntary, letting fat cat industry off the hook by being allowed to choose whether or not to clean up their wastes.

        Rally: Pipeline not wanted here -  Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline and export facility rallied in Medford Thursday to urge the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to deny state permits for the project. Canadian energy company Pembina wants to build a 229-mile, 3-foot-diameter underground pipeline that would cut through several southwest Oregon counties on its way to a proposed export facility near Coos Bay. The Pacific Connector pipeline project and the accompanying Jordan Cove export facility are under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state agencies, including DEQ. FERC previously denied the project, saying potential benefits didn’t outweigh potential harms. But backers refiled their application after the election of President Donald Trump, who is seen as more friendly to traditional energy companies than his predecessor, Barack Obama. At the DEQ office in Medford, project opponents turned in boxes that symbolically represented the more than 25,000 comments already submitted to the state agency about the natural gas project. The boxes contained hundreds of additional comments for DEQ, which is accepting public input through Monday. Maya Jarrad of the No LNG Exports Campaign said the thousands of comments already received set a new record for the number of comments received by DEQ for a project of this type. She said officials have told opponents the vast majority of comments are against the pipeline and export facility. “It shows the massive opposition to this project,” she said. 

        California moving to block federal off-shore oil leases at the pipeline -- The California Legislature is considering a bill that would bar new pipelines for new federal off-shore oil leases. (Los Angeles Times)The Trump administration’s decision to open nearly all federal waters for oil and gas drilling left California and other states scrambling to find ways to stop expanded drilling off their coasts. One tool, California officials noted at the time, is that the California controls the first three miles of ocean, and regulates the pipelines that bring the oil to shore.In fact, the State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission sent letters to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management warning that neither body would approve new pipelines to service new wells, and would “not allow use of existing pipelines to transport oil from new leases onshore.”Now there’s a move in the Legislature to make that refusal law. AB 1775 would bar the state from authorizing new oil and gas infrastructure within state waters and tidal areas for leases issued after the start of this year. The law would not affect efforts to “repair or maintain any pipeline or other infrastructure used to convey oil or natural gas or any other activity necessary to ensure the safe operation of infrastructure used in the exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas.”

        Enbridge to buy Spectra Energy Partners in a $3.3 billion stock deal - Enbridge Inc. said Friday it will buy the pipeline master limited partnership Spectra Energy Partners in a stock deal valued at $3.3 billion. Under terms of the deal, Enbridge will exchange 1.111 of its common shares for each Spectra share. Based on Thursday's stock closing prices, that values Spectra shares at $40.00 each, or a 5.6% premium. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2018. "Significant weakening of the US Master Limited Partnership (MLP) capital markets has adversely affected the growth opportunities for MLPs, including [Spectra]," the companies said in a statement. "If [Spectra] were to continue as a stand-alone entity in such an environment, it would be required to transition to a self-funding model using internally generated cash flow." Spectra shares were still inactive in premarket trade, while Enbridge's stock slipped 0.7%. Year to date, Spectra shares have lost 4.3% and Enbridge's stock has dropped 8.0%

        This Super Basin Is About To Make An Epic Comeback --Alaska’s North Slope is a “Super Basin” awaiting a “resurgence” in oil production, according to a new report. Over the next eight years, oil production could rise by 40 percent.  The North Slope has been a significant source of oil and gas production for decades, even though output has been in decline for a long time. Aging fields, such as the Prudhoe Bay field run by BP since the late 1970s, were once prolific sources of production, but have been gradually losing output year after year. Prudhoe Bay can claim to be the most productive oil field in U.S. history, having produced 12.5 billion barrels of oil as of last year. But it also peaked in the 1980s and has been losing output ever since.  But the decline is not because Alaska is running out of oil. Output fell for a variety of reasons, including high costs of production, lack of infrastructure, federal regulations keeping reserves off limits, boom and bust price cycles, among other factors. More recently, the downturn in prices combined with skyrocketing shale production made risky plays like Alaska not worth the effort. However, Alaska’s North Slope may still have a lot of life left in it. A new report from IHS Markit concludes that the North Slope is “poised to re-emerge as a major source of U.S. energy production, with crude oil output potentially increasing as much as 40 percent during the next eight years.” Based on recent discoveries, IHS estimates that the North Slope Basin holds 38 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) in remaining recoverable resources. That figure includes 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 28 billion barrels of oil. IHS says that the estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) of the North Slope is 54.8 billion boe – the 38 billion boe yet to be produced, combined with the 16.8 billion boe that has already been extracted. Those numbers are worth emphasizing: IHS is saying that there is twice as much oil yet to be produced than all of the oil produced from the North Slope to date.

        Petroleum Resources Act in Quebec coming into force --- Questerre Energy Corporation ("Questerre" or the "Company") (TSX,OSE:QEC) reported today that the Government of Quebec announced its plans to officially implement or put into practice the Petroleum Resources Act (the "Act"). The Act will govern the development of hydrocarbons in the province of Quebec. The Act was passed as law in December 2016 by the Liberal government as a result of the adoption of Bill 106, "An Act to Implement the 2030 Energy Policy and to Amend Various Legislative Provisions in December 2016." The industry recognized in 2009 when the Quebec Utica discovery was confirmed that a modern hydrocarbon law was a critical prerequisite to successful development. "Years ago, we said that a new hydrocarbon law was a key pre-condition for development. After over 100 independent studies and dozens of public consultations we now have a fundamental achievement that was made with bipartisan support in Quebec. I can't exaggerate how important this step is for our project."The Quebec Government also announced that it will proceed with the enactment of regulations that include last minute restrictions on oil and gas activities and hydraulic fracturing. As detailed in the brief Questerre filed with the Government and available online, these specific restrictions in the regulations are ultra vires, or beyond the legal power and authority of the government, contrary to the independent scientific studies, and moreover they do not meet the consultation requirements detailed in the Quebec government's green book for social acceptability.

        Canadian oil exports by rail nearly double from last year - Canadian crude oil exports by rail surged 87% in June from a year ago to more than 204.5K bbl/day, according to the National Energy Board; June was the last full month for which the NEB has relevant data.Constraints on Canadian takeaway capacity has suppressed the price for the Canadian crude oil benchmark by as much as $30/bbl relative to the U.S. WTI benchmark, says Kevin Birn, director for regional energy projects at consultant group IHS Markit."With western Canadian pipelines full, greater volumes crude by rail volumes will continue to grow into the fall," Birn says, expecting movement to average between 200K-300K bbl/day for the full year. TransCanada is trying to expand that network to southern U.S. export terminals through the Keystone XL pipeline, although environmental challenges have delayed the project, and Kinder Morgan has tried to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain network to British Columbia ports amid intense regional opposition.

        These Giant Portraits Will Stand in the Path of Trans Mountain Pipeline - To put forth a "hopeful vision for the future" that includes bold climate action, a new installation project is to be erected along the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route to harnesses art's ability to be a force for social change and highlight the fossil fuel project's increased threats to indigenous rights and a safe climate.Called "People on the Path" and launched Sunday, the project organized by Climate Justice Edmonton features larger-than-life portraits of numerous Albertans from varying walks of life, with their bodies displaying messages such as "No justice on stolen land" and "For my daughter 100% renewable energy."Part of the goal, organizers explained at the launch at Whitemud Park in Edmonton, is also to "dismantle the myth that everyone in this province is pro-oil."The Edmonton Journal reported that the full series, which will include 25 portraits, will go up this fall. CBC added that it "will be exhibited around the city and then placed along the route of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion—through Edmonton, under the river, and west to Jasper."

        Top Canadian court quashes city's challenge of Trans Mountain pipeline (Reuters) - Canada’s Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed an application by the City of Burnaby, British Columbia to appeal a regulatory decision that allowed expansion work on the Trans Mountain oil pipeline to skirt some bylaws. Burnaby sought to overturn a December ruling by Canada’s National Energy Board that allowed pipeline owner Kinder Morgan Canada to sidestep some municipal permits while building the project. The board found that Burnaby’s bylaw review process caused unreasonable delay. Burnaby is the end point of the Trans Mountain pipeline system on the Pacific Coast. The city had claimed that Trans Mountain’s applications were incomplete. The Supreme Court decision removes some legal uncertainty about whether the Trans Mountain expansion can be built. The project still faces other legal challenges - particularly a federal court case on whether there was adequate public consultation. The project has faced formidable environmental and political opposition, including concerns raised by British Columbia’s left-leaning government, and in May Kinder Morgan announced a sale of the existing pipeline and expansion to the Canadian government. Canadian Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi told reporters outside a Cabinet meeting in British Columbia that the ruling underlines that municipalities cannot unduly withhold permits on such projects. On Wednesday, he said that construction was delayed, but did not give a new timeline. 

        Canada's Pipeline Crisis Is A Boon For Russia -- The controversy of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion projects has so far focused more on the implications of the project’s delay for Albertan crude oil producers. Yet, the developments around the pipeline also have reverberations for the U.S. refining industry and more specifically that part of it, which operates in the Pacific Northwest, a region without the luxury of many and different sources of crude to turn into fuel and other products for the local industries and households. Canadian crude and crude from Alaska have been the traditional feedstock for Pacific Northwest refineries. Now that production is growing and so are refining rates, local operators are buying oil from Russia, which, in the political context between the U.S. and Canada, and Russia, makes for an interesting ironic twist. Yet these are the realities of life, as Stewart Muir, executive director of Canadian think tank Resource Works, writes in a recent story. If you can’t get a commodity you need from one place, you’ll have to get it from another. Last month, Muir writes, a tanker under a Portuguese flag delivered between 600,000 bpd and 650,000 bpd of Russian crude to a refinery in Washington State, one of the two that produce fuel and oil products for Washington and Oregon. This might become a more frequent occurrence as crude oil production in Alaska steadily declines and Albertan oil sands miners cannot get their growing output to refineries because of pipeline constraints. An alternative—railway deliveries of Bakken crude—was rejected by the Washington governor who, unlike most Trans Mountain protesters, has obviously familiarized himself with the safety statistics of various crude oil delivery methods. When market logic trumps politics, this is what happens. Refineries need feedstock. They do not deal with politics. They deal with demand and supply. And because of this, the United States has been importing Russian oil for years, as strange as this may seem in the current political situation. Here are the facts: The U.S. began importing Russian crude in 1995. Since then, monthly deliveries have peaked at 25.083 million barrels in May 2009, with the latest monthly figure, for May this year, coming in at 15.216 million barrels, according to EIA data. This means that a little over half a million barrels daily of Russia oil were coming into U.S. refineries in May. Meanwhile, a round of sanctions that is being discussed in Congress could suspend all Russian oil and oil product exports to the United States, which may aggravate the situation of the two Washington refineries, one operated by Shell and the other by Andeavor. If Russian imports into the Pacific Northwest are indeed essential, the next round of sanctions will certainly aggravate this situation.

        UK fracking push could fuel global plastics crisis, say campaigners - The push for a large-scale fracking operation in England will fuel the global plastic crisis and undermines the government’s claims that it is tackling the issue, according to a leading charity.The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says fracking will not only destroy large areas of the countryside, it will exacerbate the global plastic binge which is already causing widespread damage to oceans, habitats and the human food chain.Daniel Carey-Dawes, campaigner at the CPRE, said the government “risks shooting itself in the foot in its fight against plastic” with its continued support for fracking. “Not only will fracking industrialise our countryside, cause enormous amounts of landscape damage, air and water pollution, and pose grave risks to human health, it will also contribute to the production of new plastics,” he said. “By opening the floodgates to fracking, the government will be fuelling the plastic plague that is already putting our countryside, cities and oceans at risk of irreversible harm.”Campaigners warn that plans outlined by the business secretary, Greg Clark, earlier this year will mean that many of the democratic planning controls that are preventing the drilling of shale wells in England would be removed.Carey-Dawes said that such removals would have dire consequences for the fight against plastic pollution: “The government must drop its proposals to simplify fracking exploration immediately if it intends its environmental ‘promises’ to be taken seriously.” A spokesperson for the government reiterated its determination to reduce plastic pollution and added there was “no correlation between shale gas exploration and increased plastics production”. However, last year the Guardian revealed that a huge boom in the US shale gas industry has resulted in a £180bn investment in plastic production facilities by fossil fuel giants such as ExxonMobil Chemical and Shell Chemical – contributing to a 40% rise in global plastic production over the next decade.

        Analysts Say No End In Sight for Europe's Natural Gas Rally -- Europe’s natural gas prices have risen to their strongest level for this time of year, lifting the cost of electricity for factories and utilities. Shaking off gloom depressing broader commodity markets, the U.K. benchmark for gas is nearing levels last seen in December when a key supply line exploded, and seven traders and analysts expect further gains. The move bucks the normal seasonal pattern of weaker prices in the summer when heating demand dwindles and contrasts with slumps in everything from oil to gold, sugar and zinc. China’s energy demand is drawing in cargoes of liquefied natural gas that might otherwise have stayed in Europe, firming the gas market at a time when power generators are demanding the fuel to meet rules from governments to lower pollution from coal. Those trends along with carbon emission prices at a 10-year high is increasing the cost of electricity in Britain to Germany and France. “You have a perfect storm,” said Wayne Bryan, a senior European energy and commodity analyst at Alfa Energy Ltd. “I don’t see any significant downside in the very near future.” There’s no real end in sight for the rally, with a Bloomberg News survey of traders and analysts indicating that the U.K. front-month contract could reach levels last seen in December, when an explosion at an Austrian gas hub and outages at North Sea facilities crippled supplies and caused the biggest one-day price jump for the contract in eight years. The market has picked up pace since the summer season started in April. The coldest winter since 2012 lifted demand for heating and drained storage tanks. Then, a heatwave across much of the northern hemisphere along with maintenance on pipelines and facilities feeding northwest Europe further tightened the market. Very little LNG was imported for consumption in the region, with most leaving for higher-demand markets in Asia and South America. Gas held in European storage tanks fell below 20 percent full for the first time by the end of the winter, and even if levels have since increased, they are still near the lowest ever for the time of year with just five weeks to go before the official heating season starts in October.

        ConocoPhillips and Venezuela's PDVSA reach $2 billion settlement (Reuters) - U.S. producer ConocoPhillips and Venezuela’s PDVSA have reached a payment agreement over a $2 billion arbitration, the companies said on Monday, suspending a dispute that blocked the state-run company from exporting oil from most of its key Caribbean facilities. The case relates to the nationalization of Conoco assets dating back over a decade in Venezuela. An international court ruled in favor of Conoco in April and ordered PDVSA to pay. But no payment has been forthcoming, leading Conoco to seize most of PDVSA’s Caribbean assets as it sought to enforce its claim. The settlement means that Conoco will suspend the legal enforcement, as long as PDVSA makes regular payments, spokesman Daren Beaudo said. He declined to say if payments would be made in cash or crude oil, adding that details of the agreement were confidential. PDVSA confirmed the agreement in a statement, adding that the deal “once again shows PDVSA’s firm will to reach commercial solutions with its creditors.” The state oil company has also made progress on similar payment agreements with Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and NuStar Energy LP (NS.N), the two confirmed. Venezuela’s crude production, a major source of revenue, has fallen to a six-decade low this year as lack of investment, recession and hyperinflation have pushed the OPEC-member country’s economy to near collapse. The settlement could restore a portion of lost exports by resuming shipping from the Caribbean. 

        ConocoPhillips, Venezuela's PDVSA reach $2 billion settlement over seized oil projects in the Caribbean — More than a decade ago, Venezuela seized several oil projects from the American oil company ConocoPhillips without compensation. Now, under pressure after ConocoPhillips carried out its own seizures, the Venezuelans are going to make amends.ConocoPhillips announced on Monday that the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, had agreed to a $2 billion judgment handed down by an International Chamber of Commerce tribunal that arbitrated the dispute. Pdvsa will be allowed to pay over nearly five years, but as it is nearly bankrupt, even those terms may be hard to meet.After winning the arbitration ruling in April, ConocoPhillips seized Pdvsa oil inventories, cargoes and terminals on several Dutch Caribbean islands. The move seriously hampered Venezuela's efforts to export oil to the United States and Asia, and emboldened other creditors to seek financial retribution.  "What they did was choke the exports and made it clear to Pdvsa that the cost of not coming to an agreement would be higher than actually settling on a payment schedule," said Francisco J. Monaldi, a Venezuelan oil expert at Rice University.As its oil production has plummeted to the lowest levels in decades, Venezuela has fallen behind on more than $6 billion in bond payments. Pdvsa has already defaulted on more than $2 billion in bonds after failing to make interest payments over the last year, and owes billions of dollars more to service companies.Adding to Venezuela's woes, the Trump administration has imposed sanctions that prohibit the purchase and sale of Venezuelan government debt, including bonds issued by the state oil company. Mr. Monaldi said Pdvsa would be forced to pay ConocoPhillips with money it would have paid other creditors and would probably delay some oil shipments to China it owes in separate loan agreements. He added that "there is not a negligible probability" that at some point it will discontinue payments for lack of money.

        Exclusive: Trump takes aim at Venezuela lifeline, which could raise prices at the pump - The White House is once again considering sanctions that could choke Venezuela’s oil production as the Trump administration weighs its next “strong and swift” action to take against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, two senior administration officials told McClatchy..While a full embargo on purchasing Venezuelan oil — the so-called “nuclear option” —is being actively discussed, the administration is zeroing in on more surgical sanctions that block the sale of oil and oil processing products by U.S. companies to Venezuela and hinder Caracas’s oil industry without directly impacting the Venezuelan people.“It’s very real,” a senior administration official told McClatchy. “It’s a matter of considering when doing the next sanction or the next round of sanctions will maximize the pressure.”Specifically,the government is looking at prohibiting the sale by U.S. companies of about 3.5 million barrels of oil and other refined oil products to Venezuela, such as the diluent naphtha, which is used to thin the tar-like heavy oil so that it can flow through more than 60 miles of pipelines from the Orinoco oil belt to the nation’s coast, where it can be either upgraded or exported.. It’s been months since the United States imposed its last significant set of sanctions against the Caracas government leading to concerns among Venezuelans in Miami and elsewhere in the United States that the Trump administration has eased up on the Maduro government. But administration officials say the Maduro government continues to find excuses to abuse and consolidate its power, such as the arrests of opposition leaders without real evidence for a foiled drone attack against the president.

        India to step up use of biofuels to cut oil import bill (Reuters) - India aims to increase the use of biofuels to cut its oil import bill by 120 billion rupees ($1.7 billion) by 2022 and reduce carbon emissions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday. India is the world's third-biggest oil importer and consumer and ships in about 80 percent of its crude needs, but is gradually building capacity to increase its output of biofuels. The South Asian nation plans to build 12 bio-refineries costing 100 billion rupees to produce fuel from items including crop stubble, plant waste and municipal solid waste, Modi said. "Biofuels can help reduce import dependency on crude oil. They can contribute to a cleaner environment, generate additional income for farmers and rural employment," he said at an event in New Delhi to celebrate World Biofuel Day. Modi, who faces elections next year, said building the bio-fuel refineries would create 150,000 new jobs, but did not give a timeframe for when they would all be up and running. India, a signatory to the Paris Climate deal, plans to reduce its carbon footprint by increasing ethanol content, a sugar byproduct, in its gasoline to 10 percent by 2022 and to 20 percent by 2030, Modi said. Supplies of ethanol to fuel retailers have jumped to about 1.41 billion litres in the current sugar year, which ends in September, from about 380 million litres in 2013/14, helping the nation cut energy imports by 40 billion rupees, he said. India aims to ramp up ethanol production to 4.5 billion litres in the next four years, a move that could cut the country's gasoline consumption. Use of gasoline in India has been growing rapidly as millions more households buy motor cars and motor cycles due to rising income levels and cheaper credit. ($1 = 68.9575 Indian rupees) 

        Thailand's EGAT seeks up to 1.5 mil mt/year LNG for 4-8 years - Thailand's EGAT seeks up to 1.5 mil mt/year LNG for 4-8 years — State-owned power utility Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, or EGAT, has issued a Request for Expression of Interest for importing 800,000-1.5 million mt/year of LNG for four to eight years starting March 2019, according to documents reviewed by S&P Global Platts. The REOI will be followed by a tender in end-September to early October, making it the power producer's first LNG purchase tender that signals the opening up of the country's gas markets, which have been controlled by state-run oil and gas company PTT. Thailand has been working to liberalize its natural gas markets and allow third parties to supply gas to end-users through PTT's import infrastructure. This was driven by the need to boost competition and energy security, as domestic gas production has been unable to keep up with demand growth. EGAT, Thailand's largest power producer, will import the gas at PTT's Map Ta Phut LNG receiving terminal where the utility has acquired access to 1.5 million mt/year of regasification capacity from PTT LNG for a 38-year period from 2019-2056. EGAT expects to sign the terminal user agreement for third-party access of the 10 million mt/year Map Ta Phut LNG terminal by December 2018, finalize a sale and purchase agreement by February 2019 and receive its first cargo by March 2019. The power producer, which has an installed generation capacity of over 15 GW as of March 2018, will use the imported gas to feed its gas-fired power plants including 1,220 MW of capacity at South Bangkok, 710 MW at Bang Pakong and 750 MW at Wang Noi. EGAT expects a significant portion of its gas demand to be met through direct LNG imports instead of having to rely on PTT. However, PTT will have rights to participate in any LNG import tenders issued by EGAT.

        South Korea data: Iranian crude imports drop 46% on year in Jul, Kazakhstan crude intake soars - South Korea's crude oil imports from Iran dropped 45.8% year on year in July in the wake of the re-imposition of US sanctions, while intakes from Kazakhstan, the US and Mexico jumped as alternative sources. The Northeast Asian country imported 6.2 million barrels of crude from Iran last month, compared with 11.44 million barrels a year ago, data released late Thursday by the Korea National Oil Corp. showed. This marks the ninth consecutive decline since November last year when imports from Iran fell 26.8% year on year to 10.37 million barrels. The July imports, however, were up 12.8% from 5.49 million barrels in June. For the first seven months of this year, Iranian imports fell 36% year on year to 56.2 million barrels, compared with 87.81 million barrels in the year-ago period.In 2017, Iranian crude oil imports increased 32.1% to 147.87 million barrels. The country's monthly imports of Iranian crude had increased since January 2016 when the US and EU lifted sanctions on Iran. The sharp decline in crude imports from Iran was largely attributable to fewer condensate purchases following the startup of new condensate splitters in the Persian Gulf nation. The decline is also due to South Korea trying to pare back crude shipments from Iran in a bid to secure an exemption from the US' decision to re-impose sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program, according to a KNOC official.  South Korea has called for a US sanctions waiver to keep buying Iranian condensate saying it is hard to find alternative sources of condensate due to limited suppliers. About 70% of Iranian crude brought into South Korea is condensate, and more than half of the condensate which South Korea imports are from Iran. In order to fill the loss of Iranian barrels, South Korean importers have increased intakes from Kazakhstan, the US, Mexico and other non-OPEC suppliers. The country's imports of Kazakhstan's light CPC Blend soared more than seven times to 7.68 million barrels in July, from 1.07 million barrels a year ago. This made Kazakhstan the fourth-biggest crude supplier to South Korea in July, overtaking traditional Middle East suppliers such as the UAE, Iran and Qatar. Over January-July, intakes from Kazakhstan jumped nearly four times to 31.15 million barrels, from 7.32 million barrels a year ago. South Korea imported 5.37 million barrels of crude from the US, compared with no purchases a year ago. For the first seven months, South Korea's intakes of US crude jumped more than six times to 19.7 million barrels, from 3.08 million barrels a year earlier. South Korea's imports of Mexican crude also doubled to 3.98 million barrels in July, from 1.95 million barrels a year earlier. The country's imports of Mexican crude are expected to further increase as Hyundai Oilbank said it would purchase more Mexican Maya, and other sour and heavy grades thanks to its expanded refining capacity and improved heavy oil upgraders.

        Oil giant Total has pulled out of Iran and giant gas project, reports say -- French oil giant Total has officially left Iran and abandoned its deal to develop a giant natural gas field in the country, Iran's oil minister reportedly told state television Monday, leaving the isolated republic to look for a replacement.  "Total Iran has officially left the contract to develop the South Pars Gas project's phase 11... the process to replace with another company is underway," Bijan Namdar Zanganeh was quoted as saying, Reuters reported. Total had already signaled that it could pull out of the Islamic republic, and its intention to develop part of the world's largest gas field at South Pars, after the U.S. said it would reimpose sanctions on the country after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May.The first series of sanctions were reinstated in early August and target the country's automotive sector, issuance of debt and metals trade. But more are to come in November; these will hit Iran's crucial oil sector, shipping industry and financial institutions. Foreign companies like Total that have business dealings with Iran were told they could face secondary sanctions for doing business in the country, prompting a number to pull out. Maersk, Peugeot, GE, Boeing and Siemens have all cut ties with Iran in a bid to avoid U.S. sanctions, while Russian oil company Lukoil has also said it would put plans to pursue joint ventures with Iran on hold. The collapse of the deal with Total to develop the South Pars gas project is a blow for major OPEC oil producer Iran. Total had signaled in May that it could pull out once it had assessed the ramifications of President Donald Trump's decision to reimpose sanctions and if it was not granted a sanctions waiver.Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne told CNBC in June that U.S. sanctions mean that "there's not a single international company like Total who can work in any country with secondary sanctions. I don't have the right. It's just the reality of the world." Iranian officials had earlier suggested that China's state-owned CNPC, which also has a stake in the South Pars project, could take over Total's stake, lifting its interest to from 30 percent to more than 80 percent, Reuters reported Monday.

        Iran Oil Exports Fall By More Than 500,000 Bpd -- Iran’s oil customers may have started to drastically wind down purchases of Iranian crude ahead of the U.S. sanctions, with Platts preliminary tanker tracking data showing that in the first half of August, Iran’s exports plunged by 600,000 bpd compared to July loadings, due to plummeting flows to India, Tehran’s second-largest oil customer.Between August 1 and 16, Iranian oil exports averaged 1.68 million bpd, Platts tracking data showed. This compares to average exports of 2.32 million bpd in the whole month of July, and to 2.10 million bpd in the first 16 days in July, according to S&P Global Platts estimates.In the first half of August, Iran’s biggest customer, China, scaled back loadings to 615,688 bpd from 722,100 bpd in July. But the second-biggest importer of Iranian oil in the world, India, saw crude flows from Iran plummet to 203,938 bpd in the period August 1-16, compared to 706,452 bpd in July, according to Platts trade flow data.Demand from Japan remained steady, but South Korea is not importing Iranian condensate for a second consecutive month in August. Demand in Europe was up strongly, especially from Italy, during August 1-16, according to Platts data. Iran’s oil exports in July were already lower, having dropped by 7 percent to 2.32 million bpd—their lowest level in four months. Analysts expect Iranian exports to drop even more noticeably next month, the rate of decline expected to accelerate as the United States looks to have Iran’s current customers reduce oil imports to ‘zero’.

        Europe must ‘pay price’ to save nuclear deal: Iran FM (AFP) - Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday that Europe had not yet shown it was willing to "pay the price" of defying Washington in order to save the nuclear deal. Zarif said European governments had put forward proposals to maintain oil and banking ties with Iran after the second phase of US sanctions return in November. But he told Iran's Young Journalist Club website that these measures were more "a statement of their position than practical measures". "Although they have moved forward, we believe that Europe is not yet ready to pay the price (of truly defying the US)," Zarif said. US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May, and began reimposing sanctions earlier this month that block other countries from trading with Iran. A second phase of sanctions targeting Iran's crucial oil industry and banking relations will return on November 5. Europe has vowed to keep providing Iran with the economic benefits it received from the nuclear deal, but many of its bigger companies have already pulled out of the country for fear of US penalties. "Iran can respond to Europe's political will when it is accompanied by practical measures," said Zarif. "Europeans say the JCPOA (nuclear deal) is a security achievement for them. Naturally each country must invest and pay the price for its security. We must see them paying this price in the coming months." 

        China defies U.S. pressure as EU parts ways with Iranian oil (Reuters) - China, seeking to skirt U.S. sanctions, will use oil tankers from Iran for its purchases of that country’s crude, throwing Tehran a lifeline while European companies such as France’s Total are walking away due to fear of reprisals from Washington. The United States is trying to halt Iranian oil exports in an effort to force Tehran to negotiate a new nuclear agreement and to curb its influence in the Middle East. China, which has cut imports of U.S. crude amid a trade war with Washington, has said it opposes unilateral sanctions and defended its commercial ties with Iran. On Monday, sources told Reuters Chinese buyers of Iranian oil were beginning to shift their cargoes to vessels owned by National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) for nearly all their imports. The shift demonstrates that China, Iran’s biggest oil customer, wants to keep buying Iranian crude despite the sanctions, which were reimposed after the United States withdrew in May from a 2015 agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program. “The shift started very recently, and it was almost a simultaneous call from both sides,” said one source, a senior Beijing-based oil executive, who asked not to be identified as he is not allowed to speak publicly about commercial deals. Tehran used a similar system between 2012 and 2016 to circumvent Western-led sanctions, which had curtailed exports by making it virtually impossible to obtain shipping insurance for business with Iran. Iran, OPEC’s third-largest oil producer, relies on sales of crude to China, Japan, South Korea, India and the EU to generate the lion’s share of budget revenues and keep its economy afloat. The United States has asked buyers of Iranian oil to cut imports to zero starting in November. Japan, South Korea, India and most European countries have already slashed operations. 

        Chinese Oil Imports From Iran Surge As Beijing Shifts To Iran Tankers To Bypass Sanctions -  One month ago, when discussing the shift in Iran's oil customer base as a result of Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 Nuclear treaty and the potential blowback from China, we noted that in a harbinger of what's to come, an executive from China's Dongming Petrochemical Group, an independent refiner from Shandong province, said his refinery had already cancelled U.S. crude orders. "We expect the Chinese government to impose tariffs on (U.S.) crude," the unnamed executive said. "We will switch to either Middle East or West African supplies," he said. We also said that China may even replace most if not all American oil with crude from Iran: "Chinese importers are not going to be intimidated, or swayed by U.S. sanctions."And sure enough, today Reuters reported that Chinese buyers of Iranian oil are starting to shift their cargoes to vessels owned by National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) for nearly all of their imports to keep supply flowing amid the re-imposition of economic sanctions by the United States.To safeguard their supplies, state oil trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp and Sinopec Group, Asia’s biggest refiner, have activated a clause in its long-term supply agreements with National Iranian Oil Corp (NIOC) that allows them to use NITC-operated tankers, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the matter. The expected shift demonstrates that China - Iran’s biggest oil customer with India and the EU in 2nd and 3rd spot -  will keep buying Iranian crude despite the US sanctions .

        Exclusive: China's Unipec to resume U.S. oil purchases after tariff policy change – sources (Reuters) - China’s Unipec will resume purchases of U.S. crude oil in October after a two-month halt due to the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.  The decision to start buying crude oil again from the United States comes after Beijing earlier in August excluded it from its import tariff list. A source with knowledge of the matter said Unipec will “buy some U.S. crude, loading in October, following the change in Beijing’s policy.” “Unipec’s imports shrunk when China retaliated by putting crude oil on the tariff list but now it is coming back to normal business with import volumes recovering,” a second source said. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss commercial deals with media. Unipec did not respond to a request for comment. For a graphic on U.S. crude oil exports to China, click

        Bullish oil bets fall to 11-month low: Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge funds have cut their bullish position in crude oil and refined fuels to the lowest level for almost a year, as fund managers continued to close out former long positions.Hedge funds and other money managers cut their net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by 69 million barrels in the week to Aug. 14.Net length has been cut in 12 out of the last 17 weeks with a total reduction of almost 460 million barrels since April 17.Portfolio managers now hold a net position of just 952 million barrels, down from a peak of 1.484 billion in January, and the lowest since September 2017.Fund managers are becoming less bullish on the outlook for prices but few have dared to bet on substantial price falls ( long positions across the six major contracts have fallen by 464 million barrels since late April, while short positions have also fallen by 10 million barrels over the same period.Last week, as in most previous weeks, the reduction in net length was led by crude, with Brent down by 17 million and WTI by 41 million.By contrast, U.S. gasoline positions were down by 14 million barrels, but U.S. heating oil was unchanged and European gasoil rose by 4 million. And as in previous weeks, the reduction in net length was driven by the liquidation of former long positions (-67 million barrels) rather than the creation of new short ones (+2 million).

        What Caused Oil's Longest Losing Streak In Years? -- Oil prices seemed to have leveled off after seven consecutive weeks of weekly declines, the longest streak in years. But the next steps are unclear. In the battle over the market narrative, concerns about the health of the global economy are up against the potential for serious supply outages in Iran. A lot could change by the end of this year, but as the summer draws to a close, it isn’t clear which narrative will win out. The fears about the global economy have moved to the front burner in recent weeks. The trade war between the U.S. and China still threatens to drag down global growth, although the news that the U.S. and China will resume talks this week for the first time since June seemed to buoy the markets. But the talks will be conducted at a lower level – the U.S. point person is an undersecretary at the Department of Treasury, not Secretary Steven Mnuchin, which raises questions about the authority to ink a deal.More importantly, Treasury isn’t even the agency that leads on trade. That adds up to U.S. and China essentially keeping their lines of communication open, but not actively seeking a resolution in any big way, at least not from this venue.But the talks at least increase the odds, however slightly, that the proposed $200 billion in U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods do not go forward. The U.S. Trade Representative is holding a six-day process beginning this week to look at those tariffs. Meanwhile, the meltdown in Turkey’s currency, the lira, has set off a different source of trouble. The turmoil spread to other emerging markets, dragging down a whole host of currencies. Weaker emerging market currencies threaten to seriously slow down demand – not just for oil, but for a range of commodities. The Bloomberg Commodities Index has declined by 3 percent this month and by more than 9 percent in the last three months. Oil prices are down by more than 10 percent since May.

        Oil faces pressure on concerns of slowing economic growth  --Oil prices dipped on Monday as concerns over slowing economic growth weighed on markets.International Brent crude oil futures were at $71.78 per barrel at 0019 GMT, down 5 cents from their last close.U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 4 cents, at $65.87 per barrel."Disappointing industrial data out of China along with concerns over emerging market economies centered on Turkey weighed on commodities," Edward Bell of Emirates NBD bank said in a note on Sunday.In the United States, U.S. energy companies last week kept the oil rig count unchanged at 869, according to Baker Hughes energy services firm on Friday."The recent softening in benchmark prices should temper the pace of growth in U.S. exploration and production activity and lead to slower overall output growth," Bell said.Outside the United States, traders said U.S. sanctions against Iran could soon impact prices.The U.S. government has introduced financial sanctions against Iran which, from November, will also target the country's petroleum sector. Iran produced around 3.65 million barrels per day of crude in July, according to a Reuters survey, making it the third biggest producer within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), behind Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

        Oil's uptrend remains intact - A little over a month ago I wrote about NYMEX oil and suggested that the pullback was a buying opportunity. Investors watch for the opportunity to add to long positions as the price rebounds from any of the three support features on the oil price chart.To date, the price has not rebounded. Does that analysis still hold as oil falls towards $65?The short answer is "yes," but with the repeated caveat that traders need to wait for evidence of a rebound before taking a long position. The analysis holds because the technical structure of the NYMEX oil market remains the same.The fall below the long-term uptrend line is potentially bearish, but other features suggest the bear is not in command of the market. The future importance of the uptrend line is the way this will now act as a resistance level for future rallies. Extending the line into the future suggests that it may be early 2019 before there is a serious challenge to the $76 price level. The extended line acts as a resistance level. That time frame changes if oil is able to move above the trend line and again use it as a support level.

        Oil prices rise on easing trade war concerns, sanctions on Iran - (Reuters) - Oil futures rose on Monday after weeks of declines, as investors grew more concerned about an expected fall in supply from Iran due to U.S. sanctions and worried less that a trade war between the United States and China would hurt economic growth. Brent crude futures rose 38 cents to settle at $72.21 a barrel, a 0.5 percent gain. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 52 cents, or 0.8 percent, to end at $66.43 a barrel. Last week, Brent declined for a third consecutive week, while WTI fell for a seventh week due to concerns that economic growth would slow because of U.S.-Chinese trade tensions and weakness in emerging economies. China and the United States will hold trade talks this month, the two governments said last week, hoping to resolve an escalating tariff war between the world’s two largest economies. Still, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Beijing should not underestimate President Donald Trump’s resolve. “Part of the weakness we’ve seen in crude oil has largely been due to trade as people are concerned that increasing tariffs and tensions on trade are going to increase the level of uncertainty and potentially reduce global GDP demand,” s “Anything that reduces those tensions, you can see oil generally move back the other way.” Traders said U.S. sanctions against Iran were supporting prices. The U.S. government has introduced financial sanctions against Iran which, from November, will also target the petroleum sector of OPEC’s third largest producer. On Monday, Iran asked the European Union to speed up efforts to save a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers, which Trump abandoned in May. Most EU companies have pulled out of Iran for fear of U.S. sanctions and Tehran said France’s Total had officially exited Iran’s South Pars gas project. “The Iranian sanctions will likely remain as a latent bullish force for another month or so until more definition is provided with regard to the impact on the country’s oil exports,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. China signaled it wanted to continue buying large volumes of Iranian oil despite U.S. pressure and was now switching to Iranian tankers to skirt U.S. sanctions on ship insurers.

        Oil Edges Higher On Iran Fears -- Oil prices edged up Monday and at the start of trading on Tuesday. “Prices are being supported by the prospect of lower oil supply from Iran,” Commerzbank said in a note. Also, the sharp fall over the past few weeks may have run its course, taking some steam out of the market, which reduces some of the downside risk. Still, concerns about the health of the global economy, and the recent rout in emerging market currencies, raises the threat of lower-than-expected demand.   In order to get around U.S. sanctions, China is reportedly seeking to use oil tankers from Iran for its purchases. “Chinese buyers of Iranian oil were beginning to shift their cargoes to vessels owned by National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) for nearly all their imports,” Reuters reported. The move could keep Iran’s oil exports from falling more than they otherwise would.   According to Bloomberg and JPMorgan Chase, Saudi Arabia is set to see $65 billion in capital flee the country this year, or about 8.4 percent of GDP. The figure is down from the $80 billion that was withdrawn last year, but is still significant. Analysts attribute the political risk of the whims of the Saudi monarchy, and the “dimming of optimism surrounding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic plan,” Bloomberg writes.

        Oil nods up on U.S. sanctions against Iran, but America's trade dispute with China weighs -- Oil prices were mixed on Tuesday, with U.S. fuel markets seen to be tightening while the Sino-U.S. trade dispute dragged on international crude contracts.U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for September delivery were up 27 cents, or 0.4 percent, at 0306 GMT, at $66.70 per barrel. The contract expires on Tuesday.The more active October futures were up 7 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $65.49 a barrel.Traders said U.S. markets were lifted by a tightening outlook for fuel markets in the coming months.Inventories in the United States for refined products such as diesel and heating oil for this time of year are at their lowest in four years.This is occurring just ahead of the peak demand period for these fuels, with diesel needed for tractors to harvest crops and the arrival of colder weather during the Northern Hemisphere autumn raising consumption of heating oil.Outside the United States, Brent crude oil futures were somewhat weaker, trading at $72.18 per barrel, down 3 cents from their last close.This followed the United States offering on Monday 11 million barrels of crude from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) for delivery from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.The released oil could offset expected supply shortfalls from U.S. sanctions against Iran, which will target its oil industry from November.Because of the sanctions, French bank BNP Paribas said it expected oil production from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Iran is a member, to fall from an average of 32.1 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018 to 31.7 million bpd in 2019.Still, traders said overall market sentiment was cautious because of concerns over the demand outlook amid the trade dispute between the United States and China. A Chinese trade delegation is due in Washington this week to resolve the dispute, but U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview on Monday he does not expect much progress, and that resolving the trade dispute with China will "take time."

        Oil Prices Mixed On News Of Strategic Reserve Release: Oil prices were mixed on Tuesday after the U.S. Department of Energy said it would offer 11 million barrels of crude for sale from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve ahead of financial sanctions against Iran, beginning in November. The delivery period for the proposed sale of sour crudes will be from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30 as renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran take full effect in early November. Traders also remained concerned about the demand outlook amid ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China. Ahead of crucial talks in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said in an interview that he doesn't expect much progress in the talks for ending the dispute with China. Benchmark Brent oil was up 7 cents at $72.28 per barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for October delivery were down 3 cents at $65.39 a barrel.

        Early SPR Release Could 'At Least Optically' Help Trump Achieve Goal -- The U.S. sale of 11 million barrels of oil from its emergency stockpile will likely do little to offset the impact of sanctions on Iran. That timing of the sale -- with the barrels set to hit the market in October and November -- may reflect the White House's concern over tight supplies amid the renewal of U.S. sanctions, according to analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC. The Trump administration has asked allies to halt all imports of Iranian oil by Nov. 4, stoking global supply fears. Yet an 11-million-barrel sale over two months likely won't do much to offset the impact of sanctions, which the administration estimates will remove 700,000 to 1 million barrels a day of Iranian crude from the global market by early November. Analysts have also speculated about whether President Donald Trump will announce an emergency release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower U.S. pump prices in the run-up to November's mid-term elections. The release will "at least optically" help Trump appear to achieve his goal of lowering gasoline costs, according to Michael Tran, commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets LLC. "The truth is that retail gasoline prices always trend lower during the fall shoulder season, which also coincides with when domestic refiners head into seasonal maintenance," he wrote in a note. The October sale of sour, high-sulfur crude, which was announced on Monday, is part of a regular draw-down schedule to raise money for government programs. The Energy Department will draw crude from three sites that are part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve: Bryan Mound and Big Hill in Texas, and West Hackberry in Louisiana. Any further action by the president, who can release as much as 30 million barrels in an emergency, is unlikely before the Nov. 4 deadline, ClearView said. Trump has proposed the sale of half of the stockpile -- which currently totals 660 million barrels -- to cut the budget deficit. Congress has so far authorized the sale of around 240 million barrels between 2017 and 2027. 

        Oil prices increase amid decline in US crude inventories - Brent crude oil hit a two-week high above $74 a barrel on Wednesday after an industry report showed a drop in U.S. crude inventories ahead of official government data. The American Petroleum Institute reported U.S. crude stocks fell last week by 5.2 million barrels, more than three times the drop analysts expected. The government's official figures are due at 10:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT)."The API inventory data published after the close of trading yesterday are lending buoyancy to prices," Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch said."Thus the official inventory data this afternoon are also likely to show a more marked inventory reduction."Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose $1.22, or 1.7 percent, to $73.85 a barrel by 8:19 a.m. ET (1219 GMT). U.S. crude gained $1.14, or 1.7 percent, to $66.98.Oil also found support from a weak dollar, which has slipped this week in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's comment that he was "not thrilled" by the Federal Reserve's interest rate increases.A weaker dollar makes oil less expensive for buyers using other currencies.The prospect of a drop in oil exports from Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, in response to new U.S. sanctions is also supporting the market.European oil companies have started to cut back on Iranian purchases, although Chinese buyers are shifting their cargoes to Iranian-owned vessels to keep supplies flowing."The Iran issue continues to occupy traders' minds," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader. OPEC has started to boost supplies following a deal with Russia and other allies in June, although producers have been cautious so far. Saudi Arabia told OPEC it cut supply in July, rather than increasing output as expected. Signs of tighter supply countered concern about slowing oil demand stemming partly from the trade dispute between the United States and China, the world's two largest economies. U.S. and Chinese officials were set to resume talks on Wednesday, but Trump has predicted there will be no real progress.

        WTI Dips'n'Rips As Algos Panic Over Inventory Report - WTI has soared since last night's API-reported surprisingly-large crude draw (Oct above $67), but is falling back after DOE reported bigger than expected inventory builds at Cushing and in Gasoline and Distillates (despite a crude draw). Bloomberg Intelligence Energy Analyst Fernando Valle notes that peak summer driving season may be shrinking in the rear-view mirror, but U.S. refineries are running like it's the Fourth of July as the availability of cheap crude and wide margins encourages them to keep pumping out petroleum products. Export markets will have to absorb that output to keep margins wide. Gasoline looks particularly vulnerable, with the upcoming switch to winter grades likely to force a sell-off.“The API inventory data published after close of trading yesterday are lending buoyancy to prices this morning,” said Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “Thus the official inventory data this afternoon are also likely to show a more marked inventory reduction.” DOE:

        • Crude -5.84mm (-2mm exp)
        • Cushing +772k (+900k exp), Genscape +519k
        • Gasoline +1.20mm (-1.05mm exp)
        • Distillates +1.849mm (+1.5mm exp)
        Having flip-flopped between draws and builds for the last six weeks, crude inventories were expected to draw this week and did moire than expected and more than AP reported. However, Cushing stocks increased for the second week in a row and distillates and gasoline saw bigger than expected inventory builds.

        Crude Oil Prices Settle at 2-Week Highs on Falling U.S. Crude Supplies - WTI crude oil prices settled sharply higher Wednesday as traders cheered a government inventory report showing U.S. crude supplies fell by more-than-expected last week. On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for October delivery rose 3.1% to settle at $67.86 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent rose 2.85% to trade at $74.70 barrel. Inventories of U.S. crude fell by 5.836 million barrels for the week ended Aug. 17, well above expectations for a draw of 1.497 million barrels, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The large draw in crude supplies emerged as imports fell by about 1.059 million barrels a day (bpd), while exports fell by 2.58 million bpd, data from EIA showed. Gasoline inventories rose by 1.200 million barrels, confounding expectations for a draw of 0.488 million barrels, while supplies of distillate -- the class of fuels that includes diesel and heating oil -- rose by 1.849 million barrels, against expectations for a build of 1.463 million barrels. The build in products came as refinery activity was unchanged at 98.1% of their capacity last week compared with the prior week, with inputs averaging about 17.89 million barrels per day during, down 89,000 barrels from the prior week, the EIA said. U.S. oil production rose for the second-straight week to match record highs of 11.0 million bpd. Rising U.S. output did little to dent oil prices as investors continued to expect that global supplies will come under pressure when sanctions on Iran, targeting the country's energy exports, go into effect in early November. Some have said that the loss of Iranian crude from global market could be as much as 1 million barrels a day. 

        US oil continues move upward as domestic inventories fall -- Oil prices steadied on Thursday as an escalating trade dispute between the United States and China offset news of a decline in U.S. commercial crude inventories. Benchmark Brent crude oil was down 4 cents a barrel at $74.74 by 8:22 a.m. ET (1222 GMT). U.S. light crude was 6 cents higher at $67.92. Both contracts rose by more than $2 a barrel in the previous session after the government reported a bigger-than-anticipated drop in crude stockpiles. "The bullish afterglow of yesterday's drop in U.S. oil stocks is fading as concerns over the U.S.-China trade spat return to the fore,"  . "Fears are rife that economic headwinds stemming from an escalation in their trade war will ultimately hurt global oil demand." The trade dispute between the United States and China deepened on Thursday with the imposition of 25 percent tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other's goods. The world's two largest economies have now imposed tariffs on a combined $100 billion of products since early July, with more in the pipeline, adding to risks to global economic growth. Washington is holding hearings this week on a proposed list of another $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to face duties, to which China is almost certain to respond. "These (overall) measures are expected to shave up to 0.3-0.5 percentage points from China's real GDP growth in 2019," said rating agency Moody's Investor Service. "For the U.S. ... trade restrictions will trim off about one quarter of a percentage point from real GDP growth to 2.3 percent in 2019." Oil demand is closely linked to economic activity and the trade dispute has already led analysts to trim their forecasts for future energy consumption. But while the outlook for oil demand growth may be moderating, some markets are tight. U.S. commercial crude oil inventories fell by 5.8 million barrels in the week to Aug. 17 to 408.36 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in its weekly report. That was nearly four times the drop forecast by analysts in a Reuters survey.

        WTI Clears $68 on Iran Sanctions Outlook  | Rigzone -- The WTI crude oil futures contract for September surged to $68.10 a barrel Thursday amid ongoing expectations that the United States will impose economic sanctions on Iran.“Today’s upward movement in crude is based on the continued belief – some would say hope – that Iran sanctions will take some oil off the market, even with the (U.S.) Strategic Petroleum Reserve release announced yesterday,” said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute with Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business. “That’s been the predominant theme in the rally since late last week.”Despite crossing the $68 mark, the WTI ended the day at $67.35 – still a 92-cent gain from Monday. The October Brent benchmark rose 42 cents to settle at $72.63 a barrel.Also ending the day higher was the September Henry Hub natural gas price, which gained nearly four cents to settle at $2.98. Tuesday’s trading may have set in motion a transition for natural gas, observed Bullock.“We saw a nice bump in natural gas prices today but whether or not it continues is debatable,” Bullock explained. “At some point, the natural gas market will change its focus from summer usage and demand to winter storage and we should see a rally as storage numbers are low compared to the last few years. Time will tell if that started today or if it will start later in the summer.”The price of a gallon of reformulated gasoline settled at just under $2.02

        Crude Oil Prices Settle Marginally Lower on Trade Worries - WTI crude oil prices settled marginally lower Thursday as traders weighed falling U.S. crude supplies against an escalating U.S.-China trade war that some fear could stifle global growth and reduce oil demand. On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for October delivery fell 3 cents to settle at $67.83 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent fell 0.07% to trade at $74.73 barrel. The United States imposed 25% tariffs on an additional $16 billion of Chinese goods just after midnight ET Thursday, prompting China to respond with in-kind measures against U.S. goods. That renewed fears of a full-blown U.S. and China trade war, which could not only dent global growth but likely lead to a slowdown in oil demand. The IEA recently warned "trade tensions might escalate and lead to slower economic growth, and in turn lower oil demand." This could dent oil prices, the IEA said, as it would alleviate the pressure on already low spare oil capacity amid expectations that U.S. sanctions on Iran will pressure global oil supplies. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement in May, allowing sanctions against Iran to snap back into place.   Analysts have estimated that as much as one million barrels of crude a day could be wiped out from the global market. Crude oil prices are on track to snap a three-week losing streak after rising 3% Wednesday on the back a government data showing a larger-than-expected fall in U.S. crude supplies last week. Inventories of U.S. crude fell by 5.836 million barrels for the week ended Aug. 17, well above expectations for a draw of 1.497 million barrels, according to data from the EIA. The large draw in crude supplies emerged as imports fell by about 1.059 million barrels a day (bpd), while exports fell by 2.58 million bpd, data from EIA showed.

         Oil prices rise on Iran sanctions; trade row mutes activity -- Oil prices rose on Friday, putting futures on pace to snap several weeks of declines, supported by signs that U.S. sanctions on Iran are already reducing global crude supply. Benchmark Brent crude oil was up $1.25, or 1.7 percent, at $75.98 a barrel by 9:41 a.m. ET (1341 GMT). Brent was on track for a gain of nearly 6 percent this week, following three consecutive weekly losses. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude rose $1.18, or 1.7 percent, to $69.01, heading for a gain of more than 4.5 percent this week. WTI has fallen for seven straight weeks."Both crude markers are on track to end a steady run of weekly declines. This is largely due to a tightening fundamental outlook on the back of looming Iranian supply shortages," said Stephen Brennock analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil Associates.The U.S. government re-imposed sanctions on Iran this month after withdrawing from a 2015 international nuclear deal, which Washington saw as inadequate for curbing Tehran's activities in the Middle East and denying it the means to make an atomic bomb. Tehran says it has no ambitions to make such a bomb.Iran is the third-biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, supplying around 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude and condensate to markets this year, equivalent to around 2.5 percent of global consumption."Third-party reports indicate that Iranian tanker loadings are already down by around 700,000 bpd in the first half of August relative to July, which if it holds will exceed most expectations," U.S. investment bank Jefferies said on Friday. "We expect that by Q4 the market will be dealing with either undersupply, dwindling spare capacity - or both," it added.

        Bullishness Is Back In The Oil Market - Oil prices are on track to close out the week with strong gains, after several weeks of declines. The EIA data showing a steep decline in crude stocks helped push prices up on Wednesday and return a sense of bullishness to the market. “Both crude markers are on track to end a steady run of weekly declines. This is largely due to a tightening fundamental outlook on the back of looming Iranian supply shortages,” U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil take effect in November, but already countries around the world have been slashing purchases, which are affecting Iran’s exports. “Third-party reports indicate that Iranian tanker loadings are already down by around 700,000 bpd in the first half of August relative to July, which if it holds will exceed most expectations,” investment bank Jefferies said on Friday. “We expect that by Q4 the market will be dealing with either undersupply, dwindling spare capacity - or both.” Lower level trade talks between the U.S. and China ended on Thursday with no major breakthrough. Meanwhile, the $16 billion in tariffs, from both sides, went into effect this week. China’s slate of tariffs targeted U.S. energy products, including butane, propane, naptha, jet fuel and coal, among other items. But because China has declined to include crude oil on the list of tariffs, for now at least, state-owned Unipec may resume buying U.S. crude in October, according to Reuters The cost of handling and disposing of “produced” water that comes out of an oil well is rising in the Permian, just another in a long line of stretched services. Companies typically truck the water away for disposal, but more recently have been building pipelines, according to the Wall Street Journal. In some parts of the Permian wells produce ten times as much water as they do oil and gas, according to WoodMac. Costs are rising, and water management can add as much as $6 per barrel to the cost of producing a barrel of oil. As a result, water costs alone could shave off 400,000 bpd of supply from the Permian by 2025.

        Oil Prices Rise As Rig Count Slips  -- Baker Hughes reported a 13-rig decrease to the number of active oil and gas rigs in the United States on Friday. Oil and gas rigs fell to 1,044, according to the report, with the number of active oil rigs falling by 9 ad the number of gas rigs falling by 4.The oil and gas rig count is now 104 up from this time last year.At 09:58 a.m. EDT on Friday, WTI Crude was up 1.74 percent at $69.01, while Brent Crude traded up 1.73 percent at $76.39, on signs that Iran’s oil exports have started to drop off, although overall market sentiment was cautious as the U.S.-China trade dispute drags on. Both benchmarks were up significantly from this time last week.Earlier on Friday, an International Business Times/Newsweek poll suggested oil prices would rise on anticipated supply disruptions from Iran, although respondents felt that the slowing oil demand growth, combined with a weaker dollar, would curtail price increases.  Canada’s oil and gas rigs for the week rose by 17, bringing its total oil and gas rig count to 229, which is 12 more than this time last year, with a 12-rig gain for oil and a 5-rig gain for gas for the week. The price of Western Canada Select (WCS) was trading down on Friday, trading at $36.58 as of 11:50 am, just a hair higher than this time last week. EIA estimates for US production were up 100,000 barrels per day for the week ending August 17, averaging 11 million bpd. again, after dipping down to 10.8 million bpd as of August 03.  By 1:18pm EDT, WTI and Brent were trading up. WTI was trading up 1.72% (+$1.17) at $69.00. Brent crude was trading up 1.69% (+$1.27) at $76.36 per barrel.

        Crude Oil Prices Settle Higher to Snap 7-Week Losing Streak  -  WTI crude oil prices settled higher Friday, as signs of falling Iranian output and tightening domestic output lifted sentiment.On the New York Mercantile Exchange crude futures for October delivery gained 1.3% to settle at $68.72 a barrel, while on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent rose 1.34% to trade at $75.74 a barrel.Oilfield services firm Baker Hughes reported on Friday that the number of U.S. oil drilling rigs in operation fell by 9 to 860.The drop in rig counts, pointing to signs of tighter output, comes against data, released earlier this week, showing U.S. output rose for second-straight week to 11.0 million barrels a day."The data is likely seen to be as slightly positive for WTI oil prices as the oil rig count trend was down considerably after being flat the week before, which may signal that activity levels are finally slowing into the fourth quarter of the year," National Alliance said.The upbeat day for oil prices comes even as a meeting between the U.S.-China failed to deliver any material progress. China's economy has been pressured by tariffs, stoking fears that the world's biggest oil consumer appetite for oil may start to wane, which would stifle oil prices.Also helping sentiment on oil were signs of falling Iranian crude output ahead of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic's crude exports, expected to take effect in November.Jefferies, citing third-party reports, said Iranian tanker loadings are already down by around 700,000 barrels a day in the first half of August from the prior month.Analysts have said the loss of Iranian crude from the market could rise to as much as 1 million barrels per day.The first weekly rise in for U.S. oil prices in eight weeks was also supported by a 3% gain on Wednesday after domestic supplies fell more than expected. Inventories of U.S. crude fell by 5.836 million barrels for the week ended Aug. 17, confounding expectations for a draw of 1.497 million barrels, according to data, released Wednesday, from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

        Saudi Arabia reportedly calls off Aramco IPO and disbands advisers ---Saudi Arabia has scrapped its plans to list shares of state-owned energy giant Aramco on stock exchanges, Reuters reports.However, the kingdom's powerful crown prince still wants to take Aramco public at some point in the future, sources familiar with the process told CNBC's David Faber. The IPO is now less urgent because oil prices have rebounded above $70 a barrel, relieving pressure on Saudi finances, the sources said.The initial public offering was poised to be the largest ever and was at the center of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious plan to overhaul the Saudi economy. The Saudis had hoped to attract a $2 trillion valuation for Aramco, the world's largest oil company, though some outside analysts have pegged its value at half that amount.Doubt has been swirling around the IPO for months as the kingdom deferred making decisions on key parts of the stock market debut, including where to list shares overseas. Skepticism only grew deeper earlier this year when sources familiar with the process said Aramco would first list on its domestic exchange, the Tadawul, and put off an international listing. Now, the kingdom will no longer seek to publicly list shares at home or abroad and Saudi Aramco has dismissed advisers working on the deal, several sources told Reuters. One source said the decision to cancel the IPO had been made "some time ago."

         Saudi Arabia insists it is 'committed' to Aramco float despite reports - Saudi Arabia has denied reports that it cancelled its plans to sell shares in state oil giant Aramco. Reuters earlier reported that a group of financial advisers had abandoned a plan to sell 5% of the firm. The news agency quoted a source suggesting the decision was taken some time ago but was not being announced. Saudi Arabia's energy minister said the government would proceed with the flotation - which has been billed as the largest ever. "The government remains committed to the IPO [initial public offering] of Saudi Aramco at a time of its own choosing when conditions are optimum," Khalid al-Falih said in a statement. Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, first proposed the share sale early in 2016 as part of his economic reform agenda, to bring Western regulation and scrutiny to the company, as well as raising cash to reduce the country's large budget deficit. At the time he predicted the sale would value Aramco at around $2 trillion (£1.55 tn). The plan would see shares float on both the local stock market in Riyadh and one of the world's leading international financial centres.  Reuters earlier said it had spoken to four senior industry sources about the plans being scrapped. "The decision to call off the IPO was taken some time ago, but no-one can disclose this, so statements are gradually going that way - first delay then calling off," Reuters quoted one as saying. The wire service said financial advisers who had been working on the listing were now focusing on the proposed acquisition of a "strategic stake" in local petrochemicals maker Saudi Basic Industries, according to two of its sources.

        Saudi Arabia’s Problem Isn’t the Canada Fight, It’s Capital Flight - As Saudi Arabia raises the stakes in its dispute with Canada, the economic fallout could worsen an already serious issue for the kingdom: capital flight. Trade between the two countries is small, valued at roughly $4 billion, but the diplomatic dust-up has heightened the sense of risk in the Saudi investment climate, and is certain to scare even more capital away. According to research by JPMorgan, capital outflows of residents in Saudi Arabia are projected at $65 billion in 2018, or 8.4 percent of GDP. This is less than the $80 billion lost in 2017, but a sign of a continued bleed. Significantly, the projection was made before the contretemps with Canada. According to research by Standard Chartered, the first quarter of 2018 saw $14.4 billion in outward portfolio investment into foreign equities, the largest surge since 2008. There are concerns that the government is leaning on banks and asset managers to discourage outflows, a kind of informal capital-control regime.  This flight signals the dimming of the optimism surrounding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic plan. Many of the institutional reforms outlined in the plan — designed to diversify the Saudi economy, attract foreign investment and create jobs — are needed to liberalize the state-led, resource-dependent economy. Investors had hoped Riyadh would follow through on economic reforms, but have been disheartened by such high-profile actions as the arrest of prominent businessmen last year, and a recent campaign to silence critics, especiallywomen activists. These measures — add to them now the spat with Canada — indicate that the state favors regime stability and consolidation over the rule of law, and the creation of institutions and regulations that can check the state. Whatever the political compulsions behind these actions, they have done little to address the fundamental problem of the Saudi economy — that it is captive to, and reliant on, the state. For private-sector growth to take place, capital needs to feel safe, and investors need legal guarantees to protect them. But this has not happened. Instead, the business cycle continues to be fueled by government project-spending tied to oil revenues: Government deposits appear in local banks, then loans go out to favored private-sector contractors. It is striking that the capital flight is taking place despite a recent recovery in global oil prices. The Saudi current account will be supported by $224 billion in hydrocarbon exports in 2018, a massive jump from $170 billion last year. But this is apparently insufficient to reassure investors, who have noted the absence of a corresponding jump in foreign reserve assets. Nor has it escaped their attention that the new revenue stream is not cushioning the expansionary fiscal policy, which continues to run a deficit.

        Rights groups warn Saudi female activist may face beheading -- Rights groups are warning that a female Shiite activist detained in Saudi Arabia since December 2015 may be beheaded along with other activists. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups have said that Israa al-Ghomgham and at least four other activists face execution for participating in 2011 Arab Spring protests in eastern Saudi Arabia's Shiite heartland. Human Rights Watch says al-Ghomgham is the "first female activist to possibly face the death penalty for her human rights-related work, which sets a dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars." The U.S. State Department said Wednesday it was aware of al-Ghomgham's case and remains "deeply concerned by the detention of activists in Saudi Arabia."   Saudi officials didn't respond to a request for comment on Thursday amid the Eid al-Adha holiday.

        Yemen war: More than eight million on verge of starvation - Aljazeera video-- The United Nations has described the conflict in Yemen as one of "the worst humanitarian disasters in modern times". The civil war has left millions struggling to afford basic goods.It is estimated that 8.4 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation, with many more eating just one small meal a day. Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reports from neighbouring Djibouti.

        Houthis: Saudi-UAE air raids kill dozens, including 22 children -- Yemen's Houthi rebels say air raids by the Saudi-UAE military alliance have killed dozens of civilians, most of them children, in a reported incident two weeks after a coalition air attack on a school bus killed 40 boys.According to the Houthi movement's Al Massira TV, 22 children and four women died on Thursday as fighter jets targeted a camp for internally displaced people in Ad Durayhimi, which lies about 20km from the Red Sea city of Hodeidah.Backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have carried out attacks in Yemen since March 2015 as part of a military campaign to reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. In 2014, Hadi and his forces were overrun by the Houthi rebels who currently control much of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa. Yemeni government forces - backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE - launched a major operation to retake Hodeidah and its strategic seaport from Houthi rebels in June.Hussein al-Bukhaiti, a Yemeni journalist in Sanaa, said the death toll in Thursday's air raids stood at 31, citing a medical source."The Saudi strikes at first targeted a village in the Ad Durayhimi area south of Hodeidah, killing five people and injuring another two," he told Al Jazeera.Al-Bukhaiti said that 26 women and children had come under attack before boarding a bus in an attempt to flee, but a "second Saudi-UAE strike targeted that bus, killing everyone".

        UN condemnation after 22 children killed in Yemen strike - BBC A senior UN official has condemned another deadly Saudi-led coalition air strike in Yemen, which has killed at least 22 children and four women.The victims were fleeing fighting in the al-Durayhimi district, south of the port city of Hudaydah, when their vehicle was hit on Thursday.A separate air strike the same day killed four children, according to the UN's humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock.It comes just weeks after a strike on a bus killed over 40 children.The Saudi-led coalition, which is backing Yemen's government in a war with the Houthi rebels, has yet to comment on the latest deaths. However, it responded to the news of the deadly bus attack in the northern province of Saada earlier this month by saying that its actions were "legitimate".It insists it never deliberately targets civilians, but human rights groups have accused it of bombing markets, schools, hospitals and residential areas. The first reports of the strike emerged in Houthi rebel media, which broadcast graphic footage of what it said were victims and aftermath of the strike late on Thursday.Mr Lowcock's statement on Friday confirmed that the victims had been fleeing violence around the rebel-held port city Hudaydah. He renewed calls for an impartial and independent investigation into air strikes. A report by Human Rights Watch the same day accused the Saudi-led coalition of failing to hold "credible" investigations into such incidents. The reported attack was condemned by Unicef, Save the Children and other international organisations.

        Iran says no OPEC member should be able to take over its share of oil exports  --Iran told OPEC on Sunday that no member country should be allowed to take over another member's share of oil exports, expressing Tehran's concern about Saudi Arabia's offer to pump more oil amid US sanctions on Iranian oil sales. In a meeting with OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo, a senior Iranian diplomat urged him to keep the group out of politics, Reuters reported. "No country is allowed to take over the share of other members for production and exports of oil under any circumstance, and the OPEC Ministerial Conference has not issued any licence for such actions," Iran's oil ministry news agency SHANA quoted Kazem Gharibabadi, permanent envoy to Vienna-based international organisations, as saying. In May, US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, OPEC’s third-biggest producer, and announced the sanctions. Washington is pushing allies to cut imports of Iranian oil to zero and will impose a new round of sanctions on Iranian oil sales in November. According to OPEC’s latest monthly report on 13 August, oil production in Iran was about 3.737 million barrels per day (bpd) in July, declining 56,300 bpd from 3.793 million bpd in June, based on secondary sources, Albawaba Business reported. Still, Bloomberg reported that OPEC’s output increased in July, averaging 32.32 million bpd, up by 41,000 bpd from June, in spite of sliding output in Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia.Trump has called on OPEC to pump more oil to bring down prices. Energy ministers of Saudi Arabia, a US ally, and Russia said in May they were prepared to ease output cuts to calm consumer worries about supply. "Iran believes that OPEC should strongly support its members at this stage and stop the plots of countries trying to politicise this organisation," Gharibabadi said.

        A Saudi-Iran Oil War Could Break Up OPEC - When OPEC and Russia shook on increasing crude oil production by a million barrels daily to stop the oil price climb that had begun getting uncomfortable for consumers from Asia to the United States, there was no sign of what was to come just two months later: slowing demand in Asia, ample supply, and a brewing price war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch-rival in the Middle East, has been a passionate supporter of President Trump’s intention to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions. This support is not simply on ideological or religious grounds, it also has a purely economic motive: the less Iran crude there is for sale, the more consumers will buy from Saudi Arabia.Iran, however, is not giving up so easily. It has more to lose, after all, with the harshest sanctions yet coming into effect in the coming months. The first shots in this war were already fired: Saudi Arabia cut its selling price for oil shipped to all its clients except the United States, S&P Global Platts reports in a recent analysis of OPEC. Iran did the same and has indicated that it is prepared to do a lot more if any other producer threatens its market share. In fact, statements from senior government and military officials suggest that Iran is ready to go all the way to closing off the Strait of Hormuz. While analysts argue whether Iran’s threats have any teeth, oil demand news from Asia is giving OPEC another cause for worry. Slowing economic growth is dampening oil demand growth and both the Chinese yuan and the Indian rupee are falling against the dollar as a result of the economic developments in both Asia and the United States, whose economy is growing so fast that some are beginning to worry that it will soon run out of steam.  So, OPEC’s internal fractures are deepening and likely to deepen further because Saudi Arabia and Iran are highly unlikely to put down their arms, even if it means cutting prices to uncomfortably low levels. Saudi Arabia could boost its production. According to Platts, it has the biggest portion of OPEC’s combined spare capacity. Iran is not really in a position to do so, what with exports already falling and expected to fall further as the November 4 start of the sanctions approaches. Yet Iran has made clear that it will not stop exporting oil and China, for one, has made clear it will not stop buying it.

         Iran Again Threatens Strike On US, Israel After Bolton Warns "Maximum Pressure" Coming - In what now seems like a weekly occurrence, Iran on Wednesday warned its military wouldn't hesitate to strike American and Israeli targets should it be attacked by the United States after previous words from the US national security advisor warning that "maximum pressure" will be brought to bear against Tehran. The words were issued during a public speech in Tehran by a senior cleric who works closely with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei named Ahmad Khatami. He told a congregation during Eid praryers in Tehran, "The price of a war with Iran is very high for America."  Khatami said, "They know if they harm this country and this state in the slightest way the United States and its main ally in the region, the Zionist regime (Israel), would be targeted.”  The fiery speech was in response to statements given earlier by US National Security Advisor John Bolton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Wednesday while speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem where he was meeting with Israeli officials, Bolton said, "Every time that Iran has brought missiles or other threatening weapons into Syria in recent months Israel has struck those targets," and added, "I think that's a legitimate act of self-defense on the part of Israel." Bolton seemed to boast about Israeli's capability to act against Iran and its allies in Syria during a speech wherein he also warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that if he "uses chemical weapons we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time." Bolton was referencing the impending major Syrian and Russian military offensive against al-Qaeda held Idlib province in the country's northwest.  And during a joint press conference Monday wherein Bolton and Netanyahu stood side by side, the two blasted the Iran nuclear deal and those international signatories still clinging to it even after the US pulled out last May. "It's a question of the highest importance for the U.S. that Iran never get a deliverable nuclear weapons capability," Bolton said during Monday's remarks, adding: "It's why we've worked with our friends in Europe to convince them of the need to take stronger steps against the Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs." Monday's statements slamming the Iran nuclear deal and calling for continued "maximum pressure" on Tehran...

        Basra water contamination sends hundreds to the hospital --Health authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have closed down at least 100 unlicensed water desalination stations after an outbreak of diarrhea and other symptoms among local residents. Zaki Abdulsadda, head of the department of inspections at Basra health told reporters in a press conference that the province had experienced a serious case of water contamination in recent days leading to diarrhea and severe stomachache among people. "The province of Basra has suffered a number of cases of diarrhea due to water contamination and our inspections department has launched a campaign to combat this," Abdulasadda said. At least 500 people have been hospitalized as a result of the water contamination. "As a result a number of desalination stations have been shut down that weren't suitable to operate," he added. "Apart from bad quality work they did not have any license to work either," he maintained. Meanwhile, health officials advised local residents to strictly follow health instructions and boil their water before consumption. This news comes just weeks after people in Basra and other southern cities took to the streets to protest lack of clean drinking water and other public services.

        Israel Urges U.S. to Recognize Claim to Golan Heights- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoped on Thursday that the United States will recognition Israel’s claim to the Syrian Golan Heights, which it has been occupying for decades. Netanyahu made his remarks after US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the issue is not currently under consideration by Washington. Israel captured much of the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed it, in a move not endorsed internationally. In May, a senior Israeli official said that US recognition could be forthcoming within months. But in a Reuters interview during a visit to Israel this week, Bolton said “there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the US government”. Netanyahu was asked whether Israel, in light of Bolton’s remarks, had dropped expectations of US recognition of Israel’s Golan claim. He replied: “Would I give up on such a thing? No way.”

        Israel closes north Gaza border crossing --The Defense Ministry confirmed Sunday morning that the Erez Crossing on the Gaza Strip’s northern border was closed in response to Friday’s violent border clashes. The decision was made by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman after an assessment of the situation on Saturday evening. There was no mention of how long the closure would last.  The move was first reported by Palestinian media sources in Gaza and the West Bank, who said that Israel told the Hamas terror group controlling the Gaza Strip that it would close the border crossing on Sunday morning. The border crossing, which acts as the only pedestrian crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel, will still be open for medical emergencies requiring the transfer of Gazans to Israeli hospitals, according to Palestinian media reports.The majority of pedestrians who pass through the crossing are seeking medical treatment. On Friday thousands of Gazans demonstrated along the Israeli border near the Erez Crossing in weekly Hamas-backed “March of Return” demonstrations. Hamas leaders had urged the public to participate in Friday’s protests.

         Palestinians sort tons of mail withheld by Israel for 8 years - — Palestinian postal workers in the West Bank are sifting through eight years’ worth of undelivered mail held by Israel. In recent days the Palestinian postal staff in Jericho has been sorting through tons of undelivered mail in a room packed with letters, boxes and even a wheelchair. The Palestinians say Israel has withheld delivery of post shipments to the Palestinian territories through its national postal service since 2010. According to Palestinian postage official Ramadan Ghazawi, Israel did not honor a 2008 agreement with the Palestinians to send and receive mail directly through Jordan. Mail was indeed delivered through Jordan but was denied entry by Israel, causing a years-long backlog. “It was blocked because each time (Israel) used to give us a reason and an excuse. Once they said the terminal, the building that the post was supposed to arrive to is not ready and once (they said) to wait, they’re expecting a larger checking machine (security scanner),” he said. Israel says the sides came to an understanding about a year ago on postage delivery but that it has not yet resulted in a “direct transfer,” according to Cogat, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs in the West Bank.

        How Many Settlers Need to Be Evacuated to Make Way for a Palestinian State --A look at the map suggests the two-state solution could be achieved with a minimal evacuation of Jews from the West Bank.  The conventional view is that this land is full of settlers, that the right is taking advantage of its long stretch in power to deepen its hold, and that the two-state solution is dying. But is all of that really so?  To address this issue, Haaretz analyzed the settlers’ population dispersal in the West Bank and compared the number of settlers in strategic centers on the eve of Netanyahu’s ascent to power and their number now. The examination revolved around two questions: 1) How many settlers were added to the isolated settlements over the past decade? 2) What is the minimum number of settlers who must evacuated in order to divide the land and draw a border between Israel and Palestine? The conventional wisdom on the right is that half a million settlers have created an irreversible situation and that the partition of historical Palestine and the establishment of a Palestinian state are no longer achievable. So often has that mantra been sounded that many groups on the left have started to adopt it.    A.B. Yehoshua wrote in Haaretz, “But above all, the two-state solution is fading because of the constantly expanding settlements in Judea and Samaria. Indeed, according to many experts who are familiar with the demographic and geographic reality, it is no longer possible to divide the Land of Israel into two separate sovereign states.”   Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy is awed by the number of settlers, regardless of where they’re concentrated. But Yehoshua and Levy are both wrong. Let’s look at the map. Most of the Israeli suggestions for resolving the conflict have included the territorial arms that extend deep into the Palestinian parts of the West Bank, which would necessitate the annexation to Israel of the settlement blocs. Two such arms exist in the center of the country, one to Ariel and the other to Kedumim, via Karnei Shomron. From Jerusalem an arm was extended eastward to Ma’aleh Adumim, southward to Gush Etzion and northward to Beit El.  The settlements that would need to be evacuated to make way for a Palestinian state.

        Merkel and Putin talk Syria, Ukraine and Nord Stream 2 – but meeting ends with no agreementsGerman chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian president Vladimir Putin discussed the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine as well as the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline during talks on Saturday. But the meeting, held just outside Berlin, ended with no agreements being signed off and no obvious progress made. Ties between the two countries have been strained since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014 – and the summit had only been intended to “check the watches”, a Kremlin spokesperson said.High on the agenda had been Syria after Mr Putin had, hours before the pair met, urged Europe to help rebuild the war-torn country. “We need to strengthen the humanitarian effort,” he said. “By that, I mean above all, humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and help the regions where refugees living abroad can return to.” Standing together ahead of the talks at the 18th-century Meseberg Palace, Ms Merkel said she and Mr Putin had already discussed the issue of constitutional reforms and possible elections when they last met in the Russian resort of Sochi in May. “Germany, but especially Russia, as a member of the UN security council, has a responsibility to find solutions,” she told reporters. The two leaders both said the Nord Stream 2 pipeline – which will supply Germany with vast amounts of Russian gas – would not be derailed by American ire over the project. US president Donald Trump has repeatedly said the deal makes Germany too reliant on Russian resources, and has appeared to insist Berlin should buy American instead. “That’s why it is necessary to take measures against possible non-competitive and illegal attacks from third countries in order to complete this project,” said Mr Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, although without explaining what such measures might entail. Speaking on the same subject, Ms Merkel also underlined her expectation that the pipeline would not be used to squeeze the Ukrainian economy or lever political concessions. Nord Stream 2 will bypass the central European country by going directly under the Baltic sea, meaning Ukraine – which is the historical transit route for such gas – would lose out on millions of pounds worth of transit rents.

        This Vital Oil And Gas Choke Point Could Be At Risk - Beijing is taking to task a Pentagon report, ”Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018” released last Thursday on China’s military activities. The annual report issued by the Pentagon and presented to Congress, highlights growing Chinese naval capability, all the while underscoring the narrowing gap between China’s maritime forces and he U.S. Navy as well as China’s increased naval activity in the Western Pacific Ocean. The report states that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has global ambitions far beyond the traditional perimeters of its land-based defense systems, a claim that Beijing has always cleverly downplayed. “The PLAN continues to develop into a global force, gradually extending its operational reach beyond East Asia and the Indo-Pacific into a sustained ability to operate at increasingly longer ranges,” the Pentagon report said, “The PLAN’s latest naval platforms enable combat operations beyond the reach of China’s land-based defenses.” “China’s aircraft carrier and planned follow-on carriers, once operational, will extend air defense coverage beyond the range of coastal and shipboard missile systems, and enable task group operations at increasingly longer ranges,” the report states. It adds that Chinese bombers are also likely training for “strikes" on U.S. targets. Experts agree, claiming that decades of increased investment in new technology by China’s military means it will soon have the capabilities to strike U.S. military installations in the Pacific by air.

        Satellite Shows Sprawling 'Re-education Camps' For Chinese Muslims In Xinjiang Region -  More proof has emerged confirming that China has erected expansive 're-education centers' for up to a million or more ethnic Uighurs in what a recent United Nations statement said resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”. The minority Turkic speaking ethno-religious group concentrated in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang has found itself under increased persecution and oversight by Chinese authorities of late as their mostly Sunni Islamic identity and separatist politics have resulted in historic tensions with the Communist government.A U.N. panel examining human rights inside China wrapped up last week and included a Chinese delegation of about 50 officials which formally denied that prisons have been set up for the Uighur population. However, a senior Chinese official, Hu Lianhe of the United Front Work Department, for the first time acknowledged the existence of Uighur-focused facilities in response to the U.N. panel, claiming according to the WSJ that they were actually "vocational training centers" and that no "arbitrary detention" was taking place. But the WSJ has gathered satellite imagery showing guard towers and other security measures, as well as testimony that contradicts the claim of mere "vocational" programs evidence which goes so far as to demonstrate that China was constructing camps even as the U.N. rights panel was preparing to convene.   The Wall Street Journal presents the images as follows: Satellite images reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and a specialist in photo analysis show that camps have been growing. Construction work has been carried out on some within the past two weeks, including at one near the western city of Kashgar that has doubled in size since Journal reporters visited in November. The full extent of the internment program was long obscured because many Uighurs feared speaking out. Now more are recounting experiences, including six former inmates interviewed by the Journal who described how they or other detainees had been bound to chairs and deprived of adequate food.

        Russia Offers 2.5 Million Acres Of Farmland To China, Amid Worsening Trade War -- China and Russia recently announced a new age of diplomacy between the two countries, at a time when President Trump is targeting both with precision-guided economic warfare. China finds itself reeling under trade disputes with the US, as the next round of tariffs on $16 billion worth of Chinese goods is expected to start on August 23. Earlier this week, Russia offered to bail out China from the trade war with Washington. Moscow offered 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of arable land available to Chinese farmers to meet its large-scale demand for soybeans — and of course, prevent a massive soybean shortage that would lead to political/social upheavals across the country. Maybe, the US trade war on China should be interpreted as a piece in a much larger chessboard: A war on Eurasia integration,or the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.  Nevertheless, some analyst and experts are skeptical about the quality of the plots available. As reported by South China Morning Post, several Chinese investment firms have shown a keen interest in solidifying an agreement with Moscow.Valery Dubrovskiy, director of investment for the Far East Investment and Export Agency, a non-profit organization, said on Tuesday that Chinese, Russian, and other surrounding countries have already expressed tremendous interest in the farmland. “We expect most of the investment to come from China,” he said. “We expect 50 percent from China, 25 percent from Russia and 25 percent from other countries, like Japan and Korea.”Dubrovskiy said that all of the 3 million hectares of farmland in Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District is now available to farmers, adding that the region could become a hotspot for dairy farming or the growing of crops, such as soybeans, wheat, and potatoes. Inadvertently, Trump’s trade war with China could be a game-changer for Moscow, as it expects foreign investment to flood the region.

        Beijing orders banks to boost lending to exporters -- China’s banking regulator has ordered banks to boost lending to infrastructure projects and exporters as the government seeks to bolster economic confidence on the eve of a new round of trade negotiations with the US. Chinese trade negotiators led by Wang Shouwen, vice commerce minister, are due in Washington for two days of talks starting on Wednesday, the first such discussions since the US imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese exports last month for alleged intellectual property theft. Since the tariffs were announced on July 6, China’s currency and stock markets have suffered falls, reflecting investor nervousness about slowing economic growth and the longer-term impact of the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.  The benchmark CSI 300, which tracks the biggest companies listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges, has fallen more than 15 per cent. Pressure has also been building on the renminbi, which over the same period fell almost 7 per cent against the dollar to a low of Rmb6.93 on August 15. The currency has since rebounded slightly as the People’s Bank of China introduced measures to curtail investors’ ability to short the currency.  The Chinese government has recently taken steps to boost flagging investment, but stopped short of introducing extraordinary stimulus measures as it continued a campaign to contain financial sector risk.

        Will Demographic Headwinds Hobble China’s Economy? - China’s population is only growing at a 0.5 percent annual rate, its working-age cohort (ages 15 to 64) is shrinking, and the share of the population that is 65 and over is rising rapidly. Together, these trends will act as a significant restraint on the country’s economic growth. Nonetheless, there are reasons to conclude that growth will remain relatively strong going forward, most notably because the ongoing shift from rural to urban jobs will continue to boost labor productivity for some time to come. Demographics have played a major role in China’s economic dynamism of recent decades, with the country’s GDP growth averaging 10 percent per year from 1979 to 2010. Before this transformational boom period, China population was growing rapidly and the government, over the course of the 1970s, adopted various family planning policies that culminated in the “one child policy” in 1979. These policies contributed to a subsequent decline in the fertility rate, which fell from a bit over six children per woman in 1969 to just under two by 1990. The resultant population dynamics led to a large swing in the ratio of the working-age population to the dependent population (those under 15 and above 64). As illustrated in the chart below, that ratio surged from 1.2 in 1966, when China’s population skewed very young, to a peak of 2.8 in 2010, among the highest ever recorded, as the youth population’s share of China’s overall population shrank and the aged cohort remained stable.China’s economy earned a “demographic dividend” from having a large decrease in its child-dependent population relative to its working age population, as did the other highly successful economies of East Asia. Research suggests that these economies’ strong growth experiences derived to a significant degree from having unusually large working age populations, in proportional terms. China’s dependency ratio, though, is now set for a steady decline; a United Nations projection traces a slide from 2.5 in 2017 to 2.1 in 2030 and 1.5 in 2050. Specifically, the working-age population is shrinking while the share of the population aged 65 and over is surging. Such a decline in a developing country’s working-age cohort is unusual, as reflected in the chart below. It compares the U.N. projection for China’s working-age cohort with those for India and Indonesia, the second and third most populous developing countries, respectively. Both of those countries are expected to see their working-age populations grow at 1 percent per year over the next ten years.

        Desperate China Unveils Plan To Tax Childless Couples To Avoid "Demographic Time Bomb" -- China, like Japan, faces a demographic crisis, and like Japan, the central planners have decided to do something about it. Japan has tried a few things - from imposing "handsome taxes" to make it easier for uglier men to get laid, to changing women's attitudes towards sex as "bothersome,"  but so far it is not working as young Japanese men appear to prefer the company of their AI girlfriends.  But, while Japan went with the 'carrot' incentive for encourage more fornication; China, having relinquished its one-child policy three years ago, prefers the 'stick' to change Chinese people's attitudes towards baby-making. As The South China Morning Post reports, a proposal to tax all working adults aged under 40 – with the money going to a “reproduction fund” to reward families who have more than one child – has caused uproar in China.The proposal comes amid a nationwide campaign to encourage people to have more children – a drastic turnaround after a one-child policy that lasted nearly four decades and only ended three years ago – as Beijing worries about a rapidly ageing society, shrinking workforce and falling birth rate creating a demographic time bomb. Couples can now have two children but the birth rate is falling despite the new policy. But, as SCMP notes, the proposal was roundly criticised, with some saying it was reminiscent of the way the Chinese government controlled its population for so many years. To tackle the problem, the academics proposed ways to encourage people to have more children, including taxing women and men under 40 for a “reproduction fund” that families with more than one child could claim subsidies from. Those who were not eligible would receive their contributions back when they reached retirement age. They said a certain proportion of people’s wages would be taxed and the government could top up the fund as necessary, without giving further details. The reactions have been almost universally negative, as SCMP reports: “The choice of whether or not you have a baby is a family’s decision to make. We can encourage people to have babies with incentives but not by forcing taxes on everyone. This would be a violation of human rights, just like it was when we used to limit the population,” Huang said. “They have the freedom to make suggestions, but I was really surprised that such well-educated professors could come up with such a wacky proposal,” he said. State broadcaster CCTV called the proposal “absurd” in an editorial on its website on Friday. And state tabloid The Beijing News asked, “What has other people having more babies got to do with me?”

        China's Xi Demands "Clean & Righteous" Internet, Will Censor "Vulgar" Content - During a meeting with senior propaganda officials, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a “clean and righteous” internet and the rejection of “vulgar” content. “Uphold a clean and righteous internet space,” state media reported Xi saying at the meeting occurring on Tuesday and Wednesday. “Reject the vulgar, the base and the kitsch. Put forward more healthy, high-quality internet works of culture and art.”  Xinhua reports that Xi insisted that propaganda leaders promote “unity of thinking and gathering strength” and, especially “traditional Chinese culture.” “In order to do a better publicity and ideological work under the new circumstances, Xi underlined holding high the banner of Marxism and socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Xinhua reported Wednesday. “He also stressed adhering to the path of socialist culture with Chinese characteristics and developing a great socialist culture in China.” As Breitbart’s Frances Martel notes, Xi’s words reflect a years-old policy of censoring political criticism, Western culture, and anything that could lead to Chinese people questioning the wisdom of their leadership. Xi has struggled to contain online criticism, which has grown on social media since he announced an end to presidential term limits in February. Criticism has risen to unprecedented levels on social media following the revelation that a Chinese biotech corporation deliberately sold faulty vaccines, resulting in hundreds of thousands of children being essentially unvaccinated.Xi has also used his power in an attempt to contain the growing popularity of Western culture, particularly rap music and hip-hop culture, which China essentially banned from television in January unless it promotes the Communist Party. The Chinese President’s statements also come at a time when the communist government is engaging in a broader clamp-down targeting online content from live streams and blogs to mobile gaming in an effort to maintain a grip over a large and diverse cultural scene popular with China’s youth online.

        How US tariffs are expected to weigh on China’s growth -- The tariffs that the US and China are threatening each other with will cause China’s economy to slow more sharply next year if they are enacted, underscoring the high stakes nature of negotiations set to resume this week. The ongoing trade conflict will reduce China’s economic growth by 0.2 percentage points this year and 0.3 percentage points in 2019, according to the median estimate of 16 analysts in a Bloomberg survey this month. The estimates depend on the US following through on its threat to impose additional tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese goods and China retaliating with levies on US$60 billion of imports from America. China’s US$12 trillion-plus economy will expand by 6.3 per cent next year, compared with the 6.6 per cent expected this year, according to a separate poll of economists, not all of whom have taken the proposed tariffs into account.While that is still much faster than other major economies, slower growth will imperil the nation’s aim of doubling the size of the economy in the 10 years to 2020. “Trade war damage is not only through exports, it would also disrupt global supply chains,” said Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING Bank NV in Hong Kong, adding that Chinese factories would be reluctant to invest and expand further amid the uncertainties. “If the tariffs on US$200 billion of goods kick in, the government will step up the fiscal stimulus and the monetary easing, providing some cushion.” The government has already announced a range of measures to support growth, including more infrastructure projects and tax cuts. 

        China to keep hitting back at U.S. over trade, to boost government spending - finance minister (Reuters) - China will keep hitting back at Washington as more U.S. trade tariffs are imposed, but its counter-strikes will remain as targeted as possible to avoid harming businesses in China - whether Chinese or foreign, Finance Minister Liu Kun said. For now the impact of the China-U.S. “trade frictions” on the Chinese economy has been small, but he is concerned about potential job losses and lost livelihoods, Liu, 61, told Reuters on Thursday in an interview at the finance ministry, his first with the media since taking up the position in March. He said that the Chinese government will increase its spending to support workers and the unemployed who are hurt by the trade conflict, and also predicted bond issuance by local governments to support infrastructure investment this year will pickup and blow past 1 trillion yuan ($145.48 billion) by the end of the current quarter. The trade conflict further escalated on Thursday as the United States and China heaped more tariffs on each other’s goods. Since early July, the world’s two largest economies have slapped each other with tariffs on a combined $100 billion of goods. “China doesn’t wish to engage in a trade war, but we will resolutely respond to the unreasonable measures taken by the United States,” Liu said. “If the United States persists with these measures, we will correspondingly take action to protect our interests.” So far, China has either imposed or proposed tariffs on $110 billion of U.S. goods, representing most of its imports of American products. Crude oil and large aircraft are key U.S. goods that are still not targeted for penalties. Trade talks between mid-level U.S. and Chinese officials ended on Thursday without any sign of major progress. When asked if China would consider increasing tariffs on U.S. goods that are already facing higher taxes, Liu said China will respond with precision. “We’re responding in a precise way. Of course, the value of U.S. imports of Chinese goods isn’t the same as the value of Chinese imports of U.S. goods. We’ll take tariff measures in accordance to this situation,” he said, without elaborating. 

        The US cannot halt China’s march to global tech supremacy - Xi Jinping stood on top of the Three Gorges hydropower dam in Yichang, a proud symbol of engineering prowess, and proclaimed that China would blaze its own trail to become a technology superpower. The Chinese president’s immediate audience in April was a group of smiling workers in blue overalls. But his remarks were directed at the White House, from which rumblings of a trade war on China were emanating.  But, as a visual metaphor, the Three Gorges dam is more revealing than Mr Xi was prepared to acknowledge. Although the dam walls were built by Chinese companies, the turbines that generate its electric power were supplied — at least initially — by foreign companies. The contradiction encapsulates China’s dilemma as it ramps up a techno-nationalist agenda. Its official “ Made in China 2025” programme calls for global leadership in various technological sectors by 2025, but its progress up the value added ladder has — to a significant degree — relied upon foreign technologies and intellectual property. Thus, China’s response to the trade war is set to be carefully calibrated. Chinese companies are being told by Beijing to cut reliance on US technology and intellectual property in their supply chains, replacing them where possible with alternatives from Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. “The US is fundamentally an unreliable economic partner,” said one senior official at the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, the Chinese state-holding company with combined revenues last year of Rmb26.4tn ($3.8tn). “It is just too risky to rely on them.” Can China really live without America? The answer supplied by financial markets appears to be “no”, as reflected in the slide in the renminbi’s value against the dollar and a concurrent fall in Shanghai stock prices. But over the longer term, China looks likely to prevail in two important ways. It may be able to de-risk its supply chain by reducing reliance on US imports, notwithstanding difficulties in key areas such as semiconductors. It may also attain its goal of global excellence in tech sectors including artificial intelligence, 5G telecoms, the internet of things, self-driving cars and battery technology by 2025.

        How China 'weaponises' tourism: economic influence in Pacific - IT’S just a tiny cluster of islands in the western Pacific. But Palau has become the epicentre of a growing international storm between China and Taiwan. It could be a sign of things to come. In recent years, Beijing has lavished the tropical island paradise with financial aid, investment and state-backed tourism campaigns. That’s all ended. Palau, despite its tiny size, has stood up to the Chinese behemoth. It refused to bow to pressure to end its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. For decades Beijing has been spearheading all its international activities behind its ‘One China’ demand. Taiwan is China, Beijing insists — so other nations should not recognise their independence. The most recent consequence of much of the West’s acceptance of this policy was the capitulation by many of the world’s airlines to Beijing’s demand that they stop referring to Taiwan as Taiwan on their flight and destination schedules. It’s China. Even though it’s not. Unlike Qantas and Australia, Palau stood firm. Taiwan is an independent democratic state, it says. And Palau’s proud to share those ideals. Now Beijing is making Palau pay the price. Beijing has branded Palau an ‘illegal destination’. The number of Chinese tourists flying in has collapsed. Chinese investment projects sit idle. It’s not the first time China has ‘weaponised’ tourism. It also banned its citizens from visiting South Korea last year after the US stationed an anti-ballistic missile defence system there in the face of North Korea’s growing aggression.

        With a wary eye on China’s maritime expansion, the US is switching up a gear in the Indo-Pacific - South China Morning Post - In its annual report to Congress on China’s military strength, released last Thursday, the US Department of Defence emphasised the increasing Chinese capability to project power in forward areas. On top of concerns that Chinese bombers might attack American and allied installations in the Pacific, the Pentagon highlighted the growing ability of the Chinese navy to operate on the high seas.According to the report, the Chinese continued to conduct naval operations in western and southern Pacific waters and in the Indian Ocean in 2017, underlining their interest in safeguarding sea lines of communication beyond the South China Sea and the first island chain. But while the American military presence and its network of allies and partners are strong and consolidated on the western rim of the Pacific Ocean, the American defence apparatus in the Indian Ocean and southern Pacific regions has weaknesses that the Chinese could exploit. The Pentagon took note of the Chinese navy’s “continued” deployment of submarines in South Asian waters, as well as its intelligence collection operation in the Coral Sea during a joint American-Australian naval exercise last year.In the National Defence Authorisation Act for the financial year 2019, which US President Donald Trump signed into law on August 13, authorising military spending of US$717 billion, Congress stressed that “long-term strategic competition with China is a principal priority for the United States”. American lawmakers see a connection between China’s overseas infrastructure and development projects, such as the Belt and Road Initiative for Eurasian connectivity, and its defence and strategy objectives.  Criticism of Beijing’s maritime expansion has become the new geopolitical mantra in Washington, with the Trump administration and Congress taking aim at China’s use of investments and concessional loans to align recipient nations in the Indo-Pacific region with Chinese interests. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka now have to walk a fine line if they are to benefit from Beijing and Washington’s simultaneous courtships The new US defence act called for a “redesignation, expansion, and extension” of Washington’s Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative. It means South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will also be entitled to US military assistance and training under the scheme – in South Asia, the US already has a logistics agreement with India that allows their respective armed forces to use each other’s military facilities, including naval bases.

        More Small Manufacturers Move Overseas  - Smaller Korean manufacturers are packing up and heading overseas in growing numbers because they are unable or unwilling to pay wages and other mounting expenses here. According to the Export-Import Bank of Korea, overseas investment by Korean companies and individuals reached US$43.7 billion last year, the highest since the government began tallying statistics in 1980. The overseas investments of major businesses rose 38 percent over the last five years, from $25.6 billion in 2012 to $35.3 billion last year. But for small and mid-sized businesses it nearly tripled over the same period, and the proportion of them building factories abroad surged 60.3 percent to 1,884. Smaller manufacturers blame surging wages and red tape. Back home, therefore, facility investment is declining sharply. According to the Korea Development Bank, domestic investment by major businesses rose from W147.4 trillion in 2015 to W168.5 trillion last year, but once the booming semiconductor and display industries are excluded it actually fell from W123 trillion to W110.6 trillion (US$1=W1,130).  The trend is even more pronounced among small and mid-sized companies, where facility investment fell from W33.4 trillion in 2015 to W21.3 trillion last year. Since they account for 87 percent of employment in Korea, that has led to a sharp decline in available jobs.

        North Korea to let U.N. aviation agency officials conduct on-site missile safety inspection -  – North Korea has agreed to allow International Civil Aviation Organization staff to conduct an on-site inspection to ensure the safety of international flights from the country’s missile launches, according to officials with the Montreal-based U.N. agency. An official with North Korea’s General Administration of Civil Aviation gave the assurance when high-ranking ICAO representatives visited the country in May, ICAO officials said. The 192-member ICAO is now planning to send its personnel next year in order to verify what measures North Korea, which is a member of the group, has taken to keep unannounced missile launches in check as it pledged, they said. After last May’s trip, the ICAO said North Korea had promised to suspend activities that represented a danger to civil aviation, including the test-firings of long-range missiles without prior notice. Pyongyang conducted numerous unannounced missile tests last year, posing an enormous threat to airplanes flying in the region. This danger was highlighted in July last year, when an Air France airliner flying from Tokyo to Paris flew past an area where a ballistic missile splashed into the Sea of Japan off Hokkaido just several minutes later. North Korea’s nod to an on-site inspection is seen as an effort by the isolated country to win credibility for its pledge to halt such launches as it works to improve ties with the international community.

        Taliban Chief: US Offers to End Afghan War 'Neither Rational Nor Practical' - The fugitive Taliban leader renewed his call Saturday for direct talks with the United States, dismissing as impractical and unacceptable "propositions" he asserted Washington has offered to promote a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan. Malawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, in a message to his followers ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid, has for the first time offered some details of a recent “preliminary” meeting between Taliban and American officials. Senior diplomat for the region, Alice Wells, led the U.S. delegation in the July 23 talks in Qatar, where the Taliban operates its so-called “Political Office." But neither side shared any detail until now. The Taliban confirmed and described the discussions as “useful,” saying they were aimed at paving ground for future contacts between the two sides. But the insurgents shared no other details until now. Afghan government officials did not participate in the talks reportedly due to opposition from the Taliban. Akhundzada explained the demand for direct peace talks with the U.S., saying the “ongoing war is the birth-child of American occupation” and only Washington can determine a deadline for the withdrawal of all American and NATO forces from Afghanistan. “But in order to avoid responsibility for this war, the Americans propose options other than constructive negotiations that are neither rational nor practical; rather it is these same propositions that prolong this war for America, make it costlier and nudge it towards failure.” Akhundzad did not elaborate on exactly what options U.S. officials put on the table. But Washington maintains it is ready to support and facilitate an intra-Afghan peace process under the leadership of the government in Kabul, cautioning that no solutions imposed from outside could help end the conflict. The Taliban dismisses Afghan rulers as “stooges of America” and refuses to engage in any intra-Afghan talks until all foreign forces leave the country.

        Afghanistan will not attend peace talks with Taliban in Moscow -- Kabul will not be sending a delegation to Russia-led peace talks with the Taliban in September, the Foreign Ministry told DW. The Afghan government said only it can initiate a peace process. "A peace process can only be initiated and brought forward by the Afghan government," ministry spokesman Sebghatullah Ahmadi told DW's Dari and Pashto service in a telephone interview. "The government will not participate in any further meetings that are not led by the Afghan government."Ahmadi emphasized that the Afghan government maintained good relations with Russia and would continue to do so in the future. However, Kabul could only support peace talks "if Afghanistan's interests are at the forefront," he said.On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Moscow expects the Taliban to take part in the planned September 4 talks. The Russian government has invited 12 countries to take part in the Afghan peace conference. The United States has already said it would not attend the conference, which will discuss the future of Afghanistan.

        Sixth Australian prime minister ousted in 11 years - Amid unprecedented scenes of chaos and conflict, Malcolm Turnbull was today ousted as prime minister of Australia after a political campaign against him organised by the most right-wing faction of the ruling Liberal Party. The extraordinary events of the past week point to the mounting instability and fragility wracking the parliamentary order.After a narrow 45 to 40 party room vote to oust Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison ultimately prevailed over Turnbull’s extreme right-wing challenger, ex-Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, by a similar margin. Turnbull’s deputy leader, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, had been eliminated in the first round of voting.Australia, often falsely depicted as an exceptional and stable country, has become one of the most graphic examples of how longstanding political parties and institutions are breaking down under the pressure of mounting geo-strategic and class tensions internationally.Since John Howard lost his own seat in the landslide defeat of the Liberal-National Coalition in 2007, every prime minister, whether Coalition or Labor, has been ousted. Counting Morrison, Australia has now had seven prime ministers in the past 11 years, four of whom were removed by backroom coups within their own parties.The tearing down of Turnbull has surpassed the previous leadership coups in the bitterness and ferocity with which both factions fought for control of the government.A political and ideological schism has opened up in the Liberal Party in response to the disintegration of the post-war global order and the bellicose efforts of US imperialism to maintain its waning world dominance. The Australian capitalist class has come under immense pressure from Washington to line up unconditionally behind its plans for a military confrontation with China, on whose markets significant sections of the Australian ruling elite depend heavily. This has been taken to a new height by the Trump administration’s naked “America First” program of trade war and militarism. At the same time, the Australian ruling class faces the prospect of an eruption of working-class resistance to decades of falling real wages, declining social conditions and attacks on fundamental democratic rights. The Australian economy is deeply vulnerable to another global financial crisis, or trade retaliation by China over Canberra’s backing of Washington.

        State of confusion: How policy uncertainty harms international trade and investment. -- Australia and the United States have experienced above average levels of economic policy uncertainty in the years since the global financial crisis. Increased economic policy uncertainty has been shown to have negative effects on economic activity, employment, trade and investment, while partisan political conflict in the United States has been shown to have negative effects on economy-wide and firm-level investment spending. Australian economic policy uncertainty is more strongly correlated with policy uncertainty in the United States than in China or the rest of the world. The strong correlation between the Australian, US and global measures of policy uncertainty suggests that uncertainty in the United States has significant international spillover. Australian policy uncertainty is more volatile (has a larger standard deviation) than for the United States and globally. This is consistent with Australia’s status as a small, open economy more exposed to foreign shocks than a large and relatively closed economy like the United States. Global industrial output declines around 0.5 per cent after six months in response to a one standard deviation increase in global economic policy uncertainty. Global trade volumes decline around 0.8 per cent over the same six months. Increased policy uncertainty accounts for some of the slowdown in global trade since the 2008 financial crisis. 

        Musician Bobi Wine Arrested and Tortured by USA’s Man in Africa - Black Agenda Report --Bobi Wine, Ugandan pop singer, parliamentarian, and opponent of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, was arrested on August 13. His lawyers report that he has been beaten so badly by Ugandan police that they weren’t sure he understood the charges read when he was brought into court. After seeing him in the Makindye Military Barracks, his wife Barbara reported:“His forehead is bruised and his eyes are red. He has many wounds including one on his ear. He seems to have been punched many times on the face. He cannot walk. He was carried into the room where we saw him. He cannot sit straight. He speaks with difficulty and has a lot of pain breathing.I have seen many victims of torture--never have I seen anyone in the state which Bobi is in! When he narrates these stories, you see the kind of trauma he is going through. When you set your eyes on him, you cannot help but wonder what kind of human beings can do such things to a fellow human being.” Bobi Wine’s driver was shot dead in the driver’s seat of his car before he and more than thirty of his allies, many of whom are also Members of parliament, were arrested. They were campaigning for parliamentary candidate Kassiano Wadriin Arua, a rural district of Uganda, when they were arrested.President Yoweri Museveni, who has held a tight grip on power for 32 years, was there campaigning for Wadri’s opponent. Wadri won the election from prison, but he’s since been charged with treason and obviously won’t be taking his seat if convicted. The treason charges allege that someone threw a rock at the bulletproof back window of President Museveni’s vehicle while he was campaigning in Arua and that the politicians campaigning for Wadri had engineered the rock throwing.

        ‘Panicking’ white farmers putting land up for sale in South Africa – report - South Africa’s white farmers have been desperately trying to sell their lands at record pace ahead of planned government land seizures, according to a local farmer’s union. However, there are no buyers. Omri van Zyl, head of the Agri SA union, which represents mainly white farmers, said: “The mood among our members is very solemn. They are confused about the lack of any apparent strategy from the government and many are panicking. So many farms are up for sale, more than we’ve ever had, but no one is buying.” Investors in South Africa are worried that the economy would contract the way it did in Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe, who also seized land from whites. The country’s economy hasn’t recovered since then, with inflation reaching 89.7 sextillion percent during the peak of the crisis, according to some estimates.“Markets are sensitive to anything perceived to be ‘Zimbabwe-fication’ on the land-reform front,” Henrik Gullberg, executive director of emerging-market strategy at Nomura, told Bloomberg.Last week, South Africa’s governing party ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe fueled the farmers’ panic by announcing upcoming seizures. “You shouldn’t own more than 12,000 hectares of land and therefore if you own more, it should be taken without compensation,” Mantashe told News24. Minority rights group AfriForum has warned the move would be “catastrophic.”The South African government says it wants to settle the land issue, a major point of contention in the predominantly black country, where 72 percent of private land is owned by the minority white population. It wants to redistribute the land to the black population of the country after taking it away from several thousand white commercial farmers.

        Is Britain Backing South Africa's Land Confiscations From White Farmers? - In a truly stunning report, Theresa May’s government appears to be backing the Soviet-style policy of “land expropriation without compensation” aimed at dispossessing South Africa’s white farmers. Breitbart London has seen a letter written by Harriet Baldwin MP, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to Sir Paul Beresford MP, who enquired what the government’s stance on the policy was on behalf of a concerned constituent.“The British government understands the need for land reform in South Africa”, Baldwin asserted, adding that they “welcomed” promises from President Cyril Ramaphosa that “the process of land [re]distribution would be orderly within South African laws” and be carried out “without negatively affecting economic growth, agricultural production and food security”.In a follow-up email to the constituent from the Africa Department (Central and Southern) of the FCO, also seen by Breitbart London and confirmed as “reflect[ing] Government policy on this issue” by the FCO newsdesk, the department confirms: Theresa May is satisfied with having been told that “[the] process would be taken forward on a multi-party basis, through Parliament, and… within the bounds of the Constitution and carefully designed so as to avoid damaging food security or deterring investment”. It appears the fact that one white farmer is being murdered every five days, and the fact that South Africa just changed its constitution to enable the compensation-less confiscation, and the fact that when these exact same actions of forced redistribution or more simply put - confiscation - were undertaken in Zimbabwe, the nation's economy collapsed and social unrest exploded; are irrelevant to the British government, who instead, if this report is true, merely take the words of a clearly corrupt leader as sacrosanct ('socialist activist' Cyril Ramaphosa is one of South Africa's richest men and has an estimated net worth of $550 million). This report comes as it is becoming more and more clear that South Africa is going full Zimbabwe... and we know that did not end well.

        Brazilian Real Plunges As Jailed Lula's Presidential Poll Lead Increases - The political confusion and chaos around the globe grows with each passing day, and one day after Australia suffered a leadership crisis which could result in the premature exit of prime minister Turnbull, attention turns again to Brazil, where former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - who remains in prison on a corruption conviction, and is potentially barred from standing in October's presidential election - is enjoying a growing advantage against his opponents in the polls ahead of October's presidential election.According to the latest poll by Datafolha released on on Wednesday, the former president's share of the vote has risen to 39% from 30% last month, as the local working class demand a return to a past when life seemed better (a frequent lament these days).Lula's lead means he now has more than double the number of his nearest challenger, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who is up to 19% from 17% last month with none of the other 11 registered candidates polling in the double figures in the sample of almost 8,433 people asked who they intended to vote for in the October 7 election.Environmentalist Marina Silva took 8%. Business favorite center-right candidate Geraldo Alckmin remained stuck in single digits with 9%, up from 7% in June. The latest figures are in line with other polling organizations that gave Lula a 37% share earlier this week.If Lula’s name is excluded, Bolsonaro leads with 22% and Marina Silva jumps to 16%.The 72-year-old leader of the Workers' Party (PT) is aiming for a third term in the top job having led Brazil from 2003 to 2010. However, as discussed previously, Lula could be barred from running as he serves a 12-year sentence for corruption.

        Venezuela In Chaos After Maduro Announces Massive 95% Devaluation, New FX Rate Tied To Cryptocurrency - Chaos and confusion erupted across Venezuela, and most stores were shuttered on Saturday, after president Nicolas Maduro announced that the government would enact a massive currency devaluation, implement a new minimum wage, hike taxes, and also raise gasoline prices for most citizens even as the country struggles with the greatest hyperinflation on record, surpassing even that of the Weimar Republic. As a result of the enacted actions, the new version of the bolivar will be pegged to the value of the state cryptocurrency, the etro, which according to Bloomberg amounts to a 95% devaluation of the official rate, and will trade in line with where the black market was; the government will also raise the minimum wage more than 3,000 percent,  which works out to about $30 a month.   Maduro said the new currency, set to enter circulation on Monday, will be called the "sovereign bolivar" and will be based on the petro, which is valued at $60 or 3,600 sovereign bolivars, after the redenomination planned for August 20 slashes five zeroes off the national currency. The minimum wage will be set at half that, 1,800 sovereign bolivars.  The government would cover the minimum wage increase at small and medium-size companies for 90 days, Maduro added. It was not clear what happens after."They've dollarized our prices. I am petrolizing salaries and petrolizing prices," Maduro explained in a Friday televised address. "We are going to convert the petro into the reference that pegs the entire economy's movements."In other words, for the first time ever, an oil-linked cryptocurrency effectively replaces the sovereign currency. As a result the petro, which will fluctuate dramatically, will be used to set prices for goods. The package of measures combine the necessary with the baffling, Luis Vicente Leon, president of the Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis, said in a Twitter post on Friday. “The government has recognized the need to anchor the economy to an external variable outside of its control, such as the international price of oil. A wise decision, but it does so by hiding it in a vehicle that suffers from lack of confidence and viability, such as the Petro,” Leon said.

        Venezuela Undergoes “One Of The Greatest Currency Devaluations Ever” -- As previewed yesterday, on Monday Venezuela officially slashed five zeros from prices and its currency as part of what has been dubbed one of the greatest currency devaluations in history which slashed the value of the official bolivar by 95 percent, an overhaul that President Nicolas Maduro said would tame hyperinflation, and which everyone else called the latest desperate failed socialist policy that will push the chaotic country deeper into crisis and unleash even higher hyperinflation (impossible as that may sound: as a reminder the collapse of Venezuela's currency recently surpassed the Weimar republic).Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered a 96% currency devaluation, pegged the bolivar currency to the government’s petro cryptocurrency and boosted taxes as part of a plan aimed at pulling the OPEC member out of its economic tailspin— TRT World (@trtworld) August 20, 2018Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro ordered a 96 percent currency devaluation, pegged the bolivar currency to the government’s petro cryptocurrency and boosted taxes as part of a plan aimed at pulling the OPEC member out of its economic tailspinAs part of the devaluation, the official rate for the currency will go from about 285,000 per dollar to 6 million and together with salaries and prices, will be pegged to the Petro cryptocurrency which is reportedly backed by crude oil and is valued by the government at $60, or 3,600 sovereign bolivars. The Petro will fluctuate and be used to set prices for goods. Government officials tried to partly mask the shock by raising the minimum wage 3,500 percent so instead of the new minimum wage being 1.8 million strong bolivars, it will be 1,800 sovereign bolivars: the equivalent of $30 a month. Banks were closed and busy trying to adopt ATMs and online platforms to the new currency rules; they will likely fail.

        Residents of Brazilian border town attack Venezuelan immigrants -- Residents of the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima attacked Venezuelan immigrants on Saturday after a local storeowner was robbed, stabbed and beaten in an assault blamed on four migrants, authorities said. Pacaraima, in the northern jungle state of Roraima, is a major border crossing with Venezuela, where economic and political turmoil has driven tens of thousands to cross into Brazil over the past few years. After a rally held to protest the attack against the storeowner, groups of residents roamed the town hurling rocks at the immigrants and setting fire to their belongings. Police said the storeowner, who was beaten and robbed on Friday night, has been hospitalized and is in stable condition. The Roraima state government estimates that more than 50,000 Venezuelan refugees have crossed the border occupying already existing shelters or sleeping in tents. The influx was nearly equal to 10 percent of the state's population of 520,000 inhabitants.Police said that to escape the violence, hundreds of immigrants crossed the border back into Venezuela. On a video posted by the G1 news portal a man's voice is heard shouting "Get out. Get out. Go back to Venezuela." Wandenberg Ribeiro Costa, one of the organizers of Saturday's rally, told the G1 news portal "we have expelled the Venezuelans." 

        Erdogan's Boycott Fails To Hurt iPhone Sales In Turkey: Report -- After a week in which Turks were encouraged to engage in PR stunts like smashing, burning, and shooting their iPhones, and as the lira took a nose dive of 16% against the dollar after President Trump authorized doubling tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Turkey, it doesn't appear these efforts have done much to significantly dent iPhone sales in Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan encouraged Turks to boycott Apple and other US electronic products this week: "If they have iPhone, there is Samsung on the other side. And we have our Venus and Vestel. We are going to produce enough for ourselves. We have to serve better quality goods than we are importing from them," he urged in a Tuesday speech.  But despite Turkish media giving the boycott extensive coverage and a spate of YouTube videos showing citizens burning dollar bills and destroying Apple's iPhones, it appears Turks are still buying the US product. Or at least we could say there's nothing substantive to prove the boycott is having the desired impact.  Pricing for the iPhone X starts at 7,499 Turkish lira, which at the current exchange rate is now over $1,245. At such a price which had been high even before the lira's dive there likely weren't a flood of Turks lining up to get it in the first place.

        Could Turkey Trigger the Next Global Financial Crisis? -- All eyes are on the Turkish lira, the currency of Turkey. Its decline has been precipitous—it has already lost over 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar this year. For Turkey, which has relied upon the inflow of foreign credit, this poses terrible risks. Enormous debt coupled with a vicious attack for political reasons on the Turkish economy by the U.S. government has set Turkey toward the precipice. Will Turkey’s descent take Europe with it and then, certainly, other middle-income countries? Is this the harbinger of a new global financial crisis that would be far more dangerous than the one in 2007-08?  The credit crisis of 2007-08 has not really ended. The problems posed by the collapse of the U.S. housing market and the subsequent debt problems in world banking have not been fixed. Sober recommendations from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervisionas well as from the International Organization of Securities Commissions and the International Association of Insurance Supervisors have been substantially set aside. Instead of genuine reform to the financial sector, the United States government held its interest rate near zero and flushed the financial system with U.S. dollars. The solution to a housing bubble in the United States has been to create a massive debt burden in the middle-income countries. In countries such as Turkey, recently private companies started to take out more dollar-denominated loans from international financial institutions to finance their operations and even speculative investments. A flood of dollars crashed into these countries. Foreign speculators used this money to invest in their local currencies (including in lira-denominated public sector securities in Turkey). The Institute of International Finance  showed that this wave continued to crest as recently as the past few years. At the end of 2011, the thirty largest emerging markets were indebted to the tune of 163 percent of their gross domestic product; in the first quarter of this year, the percentage increased to 211 percent of GDP, an increase of $40 trillion in debt of these countries. The exit from the 2007-08 financial crisis was by debt-financed economic growth, with a massive balloon of various kinds of debt inflated over the past decade.  The trigger that might explode this bubble fully comes in the months ahead as countries such as Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey will confront the maturation of their $1 trillion of dollar-denominated debt. Will they be able to replace these existing loans with fresh loans? Who will be in line to lend money to countries that seem to be at the end of their rope?

        NATO Launches Largest War Games In Decades To Be Staged In Latvia - NATO has launched the largest war games to ever take place in Latvia since the country became independent in 1918. The military games, which have been in preparation for four years, are scheduled to include military and police addressing “spontaneous” unrest in Russian-populated towns, reports RT. The two-week drills began on Monday, and are scheduled to end on September 2. “After four years of intensive preparations, this will be the largest military training exercise since the restoration of Latvia’s independence in which we will test the armed forces’ readiness to defend Latvia from any threats,” said Latvian Chief of Defense, Lieutenant General Leonids Kalnins. “This exercise is the opportunity to train not only the National Armed Forces but also Latvia’s overall defense capabilities as our partners are involved in the drills as well,” he continued. Apart from the Latvian Armed Forces, National Guard, law enforcement and volunteers, the drills would also involve troops from more than a dozen of other NATO states, including the US, Canada, Spain, Italy and Poland as well as other Baltic States. The total number of troops participating in the drills amounts to 10,000, local media reported. The Latvian army released a promo video for the drills on Monday. 

        Russia plans largest war games since end of Soviet Union – Russia will stage the its largest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union next month, the country's Defense Ministry said Monday.Thousands of troops from China and Mongolia are expected to join in the exercises in Siberia, dubbed Vostok 2018, according to statements from the Russian and Chinese defense ministries.The games will have an "unprecedented scale both in territory and number of troops involved," supreme commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces, General Sergi Shoigu, said in a statement.Shoigu said it would be the "largest event since the Zapad-81 maneuvers," which involved as many as 150,000 troops, according to CIA documents. Those exercises saw the Soviet Union test new weapons, including intermediate range ballistic missiles. Videos from the Zapad-81 games show huge formations of tanks and artillery as well as jet aircraft making mock attacks. If Vostok 2018 is of the scope Shoigu suggested, it would be bigger than the Kremlin's Vostok 2014 exercises. Those involved 155,000 troops, 8,000 pieces of equipment, more than 600 aircraft and 80 naval vessels.

        Italian Government Warned 6 Months Ago Over Deadly Genoa Bridge As New Footage Shows Moment Of Collapse - The public shock and fury surrounding one of the biggest infrastructure tragedies in Italian history is about to get worse. Days after a 200 meter section of the Morandi bridge in Genoa collapsed, killing 43 people, it emerged that Italian transport ministry officials were warned of weaknesses in the viaduct and corrosion in the bridge's cables some six months ago.According to a study by Autostrade per l’Italia, the country’s biggest motorway toll company, some of the columns supporting the bridge were estimated to have lost 20% of their resistance capacity and needed repair the FT reported. On Monday, the transport ministry, Autostrada and the architect tasked with investigating the collapse confirmed that the findings had been discussed by civil servants in February. The revelation that the government was aware of the structural weaknesses in the bridge will undermine attempts by the populist coalition to pin blame for the disaster squarely on Autostrade and its parent company Atlantia whose shares have been crushed in recent days amid concerns the government would nationalize the company's contract in retaliation. It will also hinder efforts to blame EU austerity for preventing Italy from keeping its infrastructure up to date.  In a confusing back and forth, the government which came to power in May (and sent Italian bonds into a tailspin) told Autostrada that it intended to revoke its license to operate about half of Italy’s toll motorways, and refused an initial offer by the company of €500m for repairs and compensation. The price of shares in Atlantia fell as much as 9% on Monday before rebounding into the close, after tumbling the most on record last week. Furthermore, the objectivity of the official investigation by the transport ministry into the collapse has also been questioned after it emerged that the ministry appointed the same official who assessed the Autostrade proposals to head the ministry’s investigation into the accident.

        Standoff in Italian port as Salvini refuses to let refugees disembark --An Italian coastguard ship with 177 people on board remains docked in Catania, with Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, refusing authorisation for the refugees and migrants to disembark. The passengers, who have been stuck on the Ubaldo Diciotti for five days and arrived at the Sicilian port on Monday evening would not be allowed on land until “Europe steps in to help”, Salvini said on Tuesday. The ship picked up 190 people last Wednesday from an overcrowded boat about 17 sea miles from the island of Lampedusa. Thirteen of them were evacuated for emergency medical treatment. Rome insisted that Malta should take the group because their boat first passed through its search-and-rescue area, but Valletta refused, claiming the people wanted to reach Italy. Questioned by the Italian authorities, the 13 people evacuated claimed the Maltese had escorted them outside its search-and-rescue zone, Rome said. On Monday afternoon, after three days of negotiations, Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, tweeted: “The Diciotti ship will dock in Catania.” But shortly afterwards, sources close to Salvini suggesting the boat was granted permission to dock but the migrants will have to remain on board. The interior minister was treating it as a “technical stop”, not as a potential disembarkation, the sources said. Salvini said on Italian TV: “The ship may land in Italy, as long as the 177 migrants are distributed, in a spirit of solidarity by the EU.” He has previously threatened to return the migrants to Libya if other European countries did not participate in a solution. Fulvio Vassallo, an expert on asylum law from the University of Palermo, said Italy was facing the possibility of violating article 5 of the European convention on human rights. “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person,” he said. “This is an illegal detention and asylum seekers detained for more than 48 hours should be immediately release and should be given the opportunity to apply for refugee status.”

         Italy Threatens To Stop EU Funding Unless Other States Accept Refugees - Europe's refugee mess is back with a bang.On Thursday, out of the blue, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio threatened to stop financial contributions to the European Union next year unless other states agreed to take in migrants being held on a coastguard ship in Sicily. The Italian's ultimatum comes less two months after Europe triumphantly announced a "vaguely worded" deal  on how to resolve the continent's migrant influx.“If tomorrow at the meeting of the European Commission nothing is decided on the redistribution of migrants and the Diciotti ship, I and the entire Five Star Movement are not willing to give 20 billion to the European Union,” Di Maio said in a video posted on his Facebook page.He echoed statements by Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who has refused to allow 177 migrants to leave the Italian coastguard ship Ubaldo Diciotti, which is docked in the Sicilian port of Catania. While Italian prosecutors opened an investigation into the detention of the migrants and 29 children were allowed to disembark, Salvini still won’t allow the rest of the people to come ashore and has attacked the EU for its “cowardly silence.”Salvini d escribed those aboard as "illegal immigrants," and said they won't be allowed to step foot on Italian soil. Instead, he insisted fellow European Union nations take in some of the asylum-seekers."Italy's no longer Europe's refugee camp," he tweeted. "Upon my authorization, no one is disembarking from the Diciotti."Salvini, who is also interior minister, was defiant in the face of a criminal probe into possible kidnapping charges for forcing the migrants to remain on the vessel. The chief prosecutor from the Agrigento court, Luigi Patronaggio, on Wednesday boarded the Diciotti and said afterwards he had opened a probe against “unknown” persons for holding the migrants against their will.

        As Greece exits bailout, EU demands further austerity - At midnight Monday, Greece formally exited eight years of European Union/International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity programmes.Since 2010, four Greek governments have overseen three savage austerity programmes in return for receiving loans ostensibly to pay off Greece’s national debt, which stood at €330.57 billion in 2010. Not a single cent of the €289 billion spent in bank bailouts has gone towards reducing Greece’s debt, however. Nearly a decade later, Greece’s debt has increased to almost €350 billion—over 180 percent of Greece’s GDP. The loans went to pay off Greece’s creditors, particularly banks in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.Predictably, European Union (EU) officials tried to present the occasion as a promise of better days to come thanks to the generosity of the EU. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “You did it! Congratulations Greece and its people on ending the programme of financial assistance. With huge efforts and European solidarity you seized the day.”Pierre Moscovici, EU commissioner for economic and financial affairs, said, “Greece can finally turn the page in a crisis that has lasted too long. The worst is over.”The plain truth is that the banks are calculating that Greece will still be paying off these hundreds of billions of euros in debts 42 years from now, in 2060. The exit from the bailout programme only signifies that the EU expects that the Greek government will be able to borrow money from private lenders to finance its debts, as opposed to relying on the EU. In effect, it is a vote of confidence from the financial markets that the Syriza (“Coalition of the Radical Left”) government can be relied on to loot Greek workers to pay off the banks. Any improvement in the conditions of workers in Greece will depend, now as before the bailout, on mobilizing the working class against the EU and the reactionary pseudo-left Syriza government.

        Yanis Varoufakis: Greece Was Never Bailed Out and Remains in Debtor’s Prison – Bild Zeitung Interview  -  naked capitalism - Yves here. The European press and most of the rest of the world averts its eyes from the continued punitive, economically counterproductive austerity being inflicted on Greece.Be sure to read this interview in connection with Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s story on the report by the IMF’s internal auditor. It lambasted the Fund for its conduct with European programs, most importantly, the one in Greece. The overview:The International Monetary Fund’s top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments in Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.This is the lacerating verdict of the IMF’s top watchdog on the fund’s tangled political role in the eurozone debt crisis, the most damaging episode in the history of the Bretton Woods institutions.It describes a “culture of complacency”, prone to “superficial and mechanistic” analysis, and traces a shocking breakdown in the governance of the IMF, leaving it unclear who is ultimately in charge of this extremely powerful organisation.The report by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) goes above the head of the managing director, Christine Lagarde. It answers solely to the board of executive directors, and those from Asia and Latin America are clearly incensed at the way European Union insiders used the fund to rescue their own rich currency union and banking system. By Yanis Varoufakis. Originally published at his website

        The Greece Bailout’s Legacy of Immiseration - James Galbraith -- 2010 to 2018 will go down in Greek history as an epic period of colonization; of asset stripping and privatization; of unfunded health and education; of bankruptcies, foreclosures, homelessness, and impoverishment; of unemployment, emigration, and suicide. These were the years of the three memoranda, or “financial-assistance programs” accompanied by “structural reforms,” enacted supposedly to promote Greek “recovery” from the slump and credit crunch of 2010. They were, in fact, a fraud perpetrated on Greece and Europe, a jumble of bad policies based on crude morality tales that catered to right-wing politics to cover up unpayable debts. This was a bailout? The word reeks of indulgence and implied disapproval. As it was often said, “The Greeks had their party and now they must pay.” Yes, there was a party—for oligarchs with ships and London homes and Swiss bank accounts, for the military, for engineering and construction and armaments companies from Germany and France and the United States. And yes, there was a bailout. It came from Europe’s taxpayers, and went to the troubled banks of France and Germany. Greece was merely the pass-through, and the Greeks who paid dearly with their livelihoods were just the patsies in the deal.The third “memorandum of understanding” expires today. With Greece’scompletion of a three-year, 61.9-billion-euro eurozone emergency-loan package, it can once again borrow at market rates. The expiration of the memorandum also ends, for now, the direct control by Europe’s “troika”—the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank—over the Greek government. But its conditions, constraints, and consequences will endure.Back in 2010, Greece, along with Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Italy, was definitely in trouble. The Great Financial Crisis crashed into all of Europe, but it hit the weaker countries hardest—and Greece was the weakest of them all. Its economy shrunk by a quarter, and youth unemployment rose to roughly 50 percent. The memorandum was, for all concerned, the easy way out. It started a game of “extend and pretend” on the Greek debt, based on optimistic forecasts and on policies of reform that had no basis in the reality of Greek economic conditions. The policies came from the IMF—its standard repertory of austerity and “reform.” But its staff and directors knew from the beginning that these measures would not suffice. IMF executive directors from Australia, Switzerland, Brazil, and China voiced objections. Channels were therefore bypassed, objections ignored. The Fund was nearly out of work and money because of the failures of its programs—and the relative success of countries that ignored them—all over the world. And its managing director at the time wished to be the next president of France. So Greece, which is to say its creditors—especially French and German banks—received the largest loan in IMF history (relative to its ownership share). And that 289-billion-euro loan came largely from U.S. taxpayers.

        The Genocide Of The Greek Nation -  Paul Craig Roberts - The political and media coverup of the genocide of the Greek Nation began yesterday (August 20) with European Union and other political statements announcing that the Greek Crisis is over. What they mean is that Greece is over, dead, and done with. It has been exploited to the limit, and the carcas has been thrown to the dogs.  350,000 Greeks, mainly the young and professionals, have fled dead Greece. The birth rate is far below the rate necessary to sustain the remaining population. The austerity imposed on the Greek people by the EU, the IMF, and the Greek government has resulted in the contraction of the Greek economy by 25%. The decline is the equivalent of America’s Great Depression, but in Greece the effects were worst. President Franklin D. Roosevelt softened the impact of massive unemployment with the Social Security Act other elements of a social safety net such as deposit insurance, and public works programs, whereas the Greek government following the orders from the IMF and EU worsened the impact of massive unemployment by stripping away the social safety net. Traditionally, when a sovereign country, whether by corruption, mismanagement, bad luck, or unexpected events, found itself unable to repay its debts, the country’s creditors wrote down the debts to the level that the indebted country could service. With Greece there was a game change. The European Central Bank, led by Jean-Claude Trichet, and the International Monetary Fund ruled that Greece had to pay the full amount of interest and principal on its government bonds held by German, Dutch, French, and Italian banks. At the beginning of the “crisis,” which would have easily been resolved by writing down part of the debt, the Greek debt was 129% of Greek Gross Domestic Product. Today Greek debt is 180% of GDP.Why?Greece was lent more money to pay interest to Greece’s creditors, so that they would not have to lose one cent. The additonal lending, called a “bailout” by the presstitute financial media, was not a bailout of Greece. It was a bailout of Greece’s creditors. The Obama regime encouraged this bailout, because the American banks, expecting a bailout, had sold credit default swaps on Greek debt. Without a bailout the US banks would have lost their bet and paid default insurance on Greek Bonds.Additionally, Greece was required to sell its public assets to foreigners and to decimate the Greek social safety net, reducing pensions, for example, to below subsistance incomes and so radically reducing medical care that people die before they can get treatment.

        Making plans for a new world order - Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas - If the current account balance of Europe and the US includes more than just trade in goods, then it is not the US that has a deficit, it’s Europe. One reason is the billions in profits that European subsidiaries of Internet giants such as Apple, Facebook and Google transfer to the US every year. So when we talk about fair rules, we must also talk about the fair taxation of profits like that.It is also important to correct fake news because it can quickly result in the wrong policies. As Europeans, we have made it clear to the Americans that we consider the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran to be a mistake. Meanwhile, the first US sanctions have come back into force.In this situation, it is of strategic importance that we make it clear to Washington that we want to work together. But also: That we will not allow you to go over our heads, and at our expense. That is why it was right to protect European companies legally from sanctions. It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels independent of the US, a European monetary fund and an independent SWIFT [payments] system. The devil is in thousands of details. But every day that the Iran agreement lasts, is better than the potentially explosive crisis that threatens the Middle East otherwise.A balanced partnership also means that, as Europeans, we bring more weight to bear when the US withdraws. We are concerned about Washington’s withdrawal of affection, in financial and other terms, from the UN — and not only because we will soon be on the Security Council. Of course we can’ t fill all the gaps. But together with others, we can cushion the most damaging consequences of the thinking that says success is measured in dollars saved. That is why we have increased funding for relief organizations working with Palestinian refugees and sought support from Arab states.We are striving for a multilateral alliance, a network of partners who, l ike us, are committed to sticking to the rules and to fair competition. I have made my first appointments with Japan, Canada and South Korea; more are to follow. This alliance is not a rigid, exclusive club for those with good intentions. What I have in mind is an association of states convinced of the benefits of multilateralism, who believe in international cooperation and the rule of the law. It is not directed against anyone, but sees itself as an alliance that supports and enhances a global, multilateral order. The door is wide open — above all to the US. The aim is to tackle the problems that none of us can tackle on our own, together — from climate change to fair trade.

        Brexit: no change - Most of us have been round long enough not to be impressed by the results of any one opinion poll. Nonetheless, for what it is worth, the new survey in The Sun might provide some insight into the current state of popular sentiment on Brexit. It tells us that an overwhelming 62 percent say they have not changed their minds and those who have are mostly remainers who would now vote leave.  The money quote, however, comes from the Telegraph, which very occasionally does something useful. It has Robbie Gibb, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, saying: "1.9 million Leave voters say they would now vote to Remain. But 2.4 million Remain voters would now vote to Leave. The country hasn't changed its mind".  In terms of detail, 47 percent want to leave on 29 March as planned, only 28 percent do not want to leave and eight percent "don't know". There is also a split over whether leaving the EU will prove a historic mistake. Forty-four per cent think it will, 30 percent believe it will not.   The overall result comes despite the histrionics from continuity remain, the Independent's final say campaign and the build-up of noise in a legacy media which feeds off controversy and discord. But, reflecting the media coverage of the issue, the poll finds that one statement united 59 percent of voters: "I'm really bored by Brexit".  No doubt Julian Dunkerton can make something of this once his £1 million donation is fed into the polling machine to work some kind of magic on behalf of the People's Vote campaign. Others might acknowledge that the co-founder of Superdry could cause problems for continuity remain, his firm having been fingered for exploiting third world workers.  For the media though, the real figure to note is the 59 percent "bored by Brexit". Given the huge range of issues covered by this subject and their vital importance to the political and economic wellbeing of this country, Brexit is anything but boring. That the effect of over two years of wall-to-wall coverage has engendered such high levels of tedium really does say something about the inadequacies of contemporary journalists.

        A New Leak Reveals The Government’s “No Deal” Brexit Papers Will Cover 84 Areas Of British Life - A series of government papers on a “no deal” Brexit, expected to be published from next week, will cover more than 80 specific subjects ranging from blood safety to fertilisers to driving licenses, according to a provisional list leaked to BuzzFeed News.The list – drawn together from departments across Whitehall – underlines the scope of the potential disruption to British life if the UK crashes out of the European Union in March without a withdrawal agreement. And it starkly illustrates the extent of the challenge facing officials who have been ordered to prepare for such an outcome.Some of the reports, judging by the subject headings, will be sweeping in scope – such as those covering financial services and climate – while others will be highly specific. One report, for example, is expected to be dedicated to how a no-deal Brexit would affect the ability of UK citizens to travel with their pets.Under current plans, the reports will be published in batches, starting as early as next week and running through September, although the timetable could slip, people familiar with the documents said.Last month, Theresa May told a parliamentary committee there would be around 70 “technical notifications” published to advise individuals and businesses on how to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. But the number of reports to be published appears to have increased, according to the list seen by BuzzFeed News. The subjects they will cover are: [list]

        Autumn surprises: possible scenarios for the next phase of Brexit-  Institute for Government Brexit negotiations are entering the end game. Over the next few months, the Government must conclude a withdrawal agreement with the European Union (EU) before seeking approval from Parliament in the form of a motion – the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ – on the deal. Only if both these challenges are met, legislation is passed to give effect to the agreement and both the UK and European Parliaments ratify the withdrawal treaty, will the UK leave the EU on 29 March 2019 in an orderly manner and with a transition in place. None of this is certain at the moment. There are multiple scenarios in play. This paper looks at those scenarios and what stands between the Prime Minister and her preferred Brexit in March 2019.  Download our Brexit scenarios infographic (PDF)

        EU migrants will be given right to stay in event of no-deal Brexit amid fears of labour shortages, Cabinet papers reveal -- Britain will give EU migrants a unilateral right to stay in the UK in the event of a no deal Brexit amid concerns that failing to do so would lead to labour shortages, leaked Cabinet papers reveal.The papers, seen by The Telegraph, state that Britain will take a "moral high ground" by agreeing to enable EU migrants to live in the UK and continue to access the NHS and claim benefits.However the papers also highlight the fact that much of the UK's no deal planning will rely heavily "on the availability of existing labour" in the event that talks break down. Ministers across Government have warned that Brexit must not lead to shortages in sectors such as health, social care, construction and tourism.The Government will guarantee the rights of EU migrants regardless of whether Brussels agrees to do the same for Britons living in Spain and other European nations.Details of the offer for EU citizens in the event of a no deal Brexit will be set out in one of 83 technical papers on no deal, the first of which will be published next week. The Government has stressed that they will be "serious and sober" and that they will not be a re-run of "Project Fear" after a backlash by Eurosceptic Tory MPs who accused the Prime Minister of taking a "kamikaze" approach to no-deal planning. The Cabinet paper, which was given to ministers last month, describes the rights of EU citizens as "one of the most important aspects" of no-deal planning.

         Brexit as a Tightly Coupled Process -  Yves Smith - More and more commentators are coming around to the point of view that a crash out Brexit is likely. As we’ll discuss below, it appears to be very probable. Even though most people tend to think of politics as a realm where positions can and do change and parties regularly makes strained compromises, as we’ll explain, there are boundary conditions that at this juncture make it very difficult not to have a hard Brexit. One reason that the high odds of a no-deal Brexit are not being more widely recognized is that the consequences, not just for the UK but also for the EU, are sufficiently dire that many observers, particularly those that have not gotten into the weeds, assume that Sense Will Prevail and the Brexit train will therefore not be allowed to plunge off a cliff. Another reason is the Ultras are telling baldface lies of the “This is all Project Fear intended to deny you the benefits of a glorious Brexit!” sort. Sadly, they are getting far more press than they deserve and not enough effective pushback. In the runup to the crisis, Richard Bookstaber published A Demon of Our Own Design, in which he described how “tight coupling” produced financial crises. “Tight coupling” occurs when a systems are too tightly integrated and processes can move too quickly to be halted, resulting in the system spinning out of control. His examples included how portfolio insurance led to automated selling in a large market drop, producing the 1987 crash, and Three Mile Island. One of his observations was that in a tightly coupled system, emergency measures to reduce risk generally wind up making matters worse.Another Bookstaber case study was the start of World War I. He took the Barbara Tuchman Guns of August view, that treaty obligations and demands of loyalty and honor forced key countries to declare war when the state of communications of the day prevented them from speaking to each other and finding other responses.1  Even if Bookstaber’s World War I illustration is arguably strained, he is still getting at a larger truth: political events can develop a momentum that in combination with deadlines look an awful lot like tight coupling. There isn’t enough time to create the needed room to maneuver to stop or divert a rush to action. Readers may beg to differ, but here is why a crash out Brexit looks awfully close to inevitable.

        Banking is surprise item on list of Brexit ‘no-deal’ impact papers - A Brexit “no-deal” impact paper for financial services has been listed among the first batch of official assessments due to be published on Thursday, at a time when banks and insurers have been warning about the risks of a disorderly exit from the EU. The paper was unexpectedly slated as one of about 20 “no-deal” papers to be published, covering subjects as diverse as nuclear research, farm payments and state aid. The government wants to spell out what action it will have to take should the UK crash out of the EU. Downing Street had been hoping that the first batch of documents would generate relatively little controversy, which is why the presence of the banking paper on the publication list has surprised Whitehall sources. UK Finance, the trade body for the finance sector, warned that a no-deal scenario needed to be addressed urgently “to avoid the risk of a serious breakdown in cross-border financial services in March 2019”. It is particularly concerned about continuity in contracts and the flow of data across the UK-EU border given a hard Brexit. Ministers could yet pull the financial services paper from the documents published on Thursday, and Downing Street has so far refused to confirm which of the 84 no-deal assessments will be released in the first batch. The remainder will be released in September. A health paper may also be released in the first wave, coming after NHS Providers, an NHS organisation, warned that hospitals could run short of drugs or even out of them in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, is due to give a speech setting out the context for the release of the papers on Thursday morning, having returned from Brussels where he was meeting Michel Barnier in the latest round of divorce negotiations. Other papers expected to be released in the first batch include one entitled Future participation in Erasmus+, referring to the European Union’s education, training and sport schemes.  The idea is to set out what actions government would have to take in each sector in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and to help clarify for businesses and organisations how they might need to respond. 

        UK hospitals yet to start planning for no-deal Brexit - Politico — The majority of U.K. hospitals have yet to make plans for a no-deal Brexit, according to data provided under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act. A survey of NHS trusts carried out by POLITICO suggests that almost no formal contingency planning for a no-deal scenario has begun at the local level. Of 38 trusts in England that responded to a Freedom of Information request to disclose documents relating to preparations and impact assessments on different Brexit scenarios, 35 said they hold no such documents.Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons health committee Sarah Wollaston said NHS organizations urgently need to be told their responsibilities and what action is being taken by national bodies to avoid medicines and equipment shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit.The former family doctor said an absence of planning for a cliff-edge departure from the EU in March next year could be “completely paralyzing” for the NHS.“If you’re talking about stockpiling, actually building a refrigerated warehouse doesn’t happen in two weeks. [We need to know] the sheer scale of this, what products it actually affects, and who is actually doing it,” she said, adding that the government needs to provide granular detail — down to plans for the supply of ­individual medicines — in its technical notes on no-deal preparations, which are due to be published in batches. “There are some medicines, devices … that we can’t make in this country” — Sarah Wollaston MP Health and pharmaceuticals are two of the topics that will be covered by the first wave of technical notes, due Thursday, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed. NHS trusts are expected to receive information directly following the publication of the documents. The technical notes are expected to outline how the government has consulted with nearly 100 suppliers, including pharmaceutical companies and storage firms, with all human medicines subjected to a review of their supply chain this year. The department tested the contingency plans during a series of meetings with industry bodies.

        Brexit: EU Takes Hard-Nosed Stance on Financial Services “Equivalence” Deals -- Early on in the Brexit to-ing and fro-ing, the EU took the position that UK financial services players would have to conduct their European business through operations in the EU supervised by EU regulators. It was a major concession by the EU to relent and say it was willing to allow for “equivalence.” That would mean that UK firms could offer financial services in the EU without being directly supervised by EU authorities if the EU had determined that the UK rules and oversight mechanisms were sufficiently close to those of the EU to be acceptable. It turns out that despite the EU seeming to change its position, it isn’t clear at all that the EU has actually budged. From a Financial Times article in February 2017: The City of London’s hopes of maximising access to the EU are set to be dealt a blow by European Commission plans to take a tough stance on rules that could provide a post-Brexit lifeline for the UK financial sector….. the commission’s “staff working document” emphasises Brussels’ determination to carry out “continuous follow-up monitoring” to make sure countries deemed equivalent still meet the criteria.  The document argues that the EU should set “sufficiently robust prerequisites”, or conditions, before it grants equivalence, including the “on-site” inspections of overseas firms operating in Europe and “effective access to data”  Maybe I am missing something but the update in today’s pink paper does not sound all that different. Key sections: The EU’s financial services chief has warned that Brussels will be strict in policing the Britain’s rights of access to the bloc’s market after Brexit.  Valdis Dombrovskis said market access could never be taken for granted, with Brussels determined to toughen its assessments of whether countries meet the conditions…. He also said Brussels was pressing ahead with measures to reinforce oversight of equivalence access, with stronger requirements for countries’ financial supervisors to share information with the EU and more monitoring of whether jurisdictions continued to meet the criteria… Many EU officials privately assume that the UK — barring a sea change in its regulatory and supervisory approach — would have little difficulty in securing equivalence rights after Brexit, given that it already applies EU rules. But Mr Dombrovskis’ remarks are a sign of Brussels’ determination to prevent regulatory undercutting that could hand City firms an advantage over EU competitors. I may be unduly skeptical, but the Financial Times has too often given optimistic readings about the EU cutting the UK breaks on points under discussion, only to be proven wrong.

         UK calls for extra six weeks of Brexit drug stockpiles (Reuters) - The British government called on Thursday for drugmakers to build an additional six weeks of medicines stockpiles to cope with potential supply disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit - a target the industry said would be challenging. In a letter to pharmaceutical companies, the government asked manufacturers “to ensure they have a minimum of six weeks additional supply in the UK, over and above their business as usual operational buffer stocks, by 29th March 2019”. The highly regulated drugs sector is one of the most vulnerable to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union because of uncertainty as to how medicines oversight will function in the event of an abrupt exit next March. That has sparked fears of drug shortages, and some companies - including AstraZeneca (AZN.L), Sanofi (SASY.PA) and Novartis (NOVN.S) - have already said they plan to increase stockpiles in Britain in case of a no-deal Brexit. Steve Bates, chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, said delivering the additional six weeks supply across the industry in less than 200 days would be “a massive challenge”. Currently, medicines regulation is governed at a pan-European level but Britain is set to leave that EU regulatory system after Brexit, prompting many drugmakers to prepare duplicate product testing and licensing arrangements. In a bid to limit future difficulties, the UK government also said on Thursday it would take a pragmatic approach to future drug monitoring by recognizing and using products that have been licensed and tested in the EU. Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, welcomed this move and called for similar flexibility from the European Commission to ensure minimal disruption of cross-border trade. “The UK government has taken an important step to protect patients. We urge the EU Commission to do the same,” he said.

        Britons living in EU could lose access to UK bank accounts in no-deal Brexit (Reuters) - Britons living in the European Union could lose access to their UK bank accounts and businesses on the continent could be cut off from investment banks in London if there is a no-deal Brexit, the British government said on Thursday. Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Dominic Raab gestures during his speech outlining the government's plans for a no-deal Brexit in London, Britain. Aug 23, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls In a document detailing contingency planning if Britain leaves the EU in March with no transition deal, the government said unilateral action on several fronts could only minimize disruption up to a point. Over a million Britons living abroad may not be able to access their UK bank accounts to receive pensions and salaries, the document said. All Britons will face higher costs to make card payments in the EU when traveling abroad or shopping online. The EU this year agreed to cap the fees retailers pay to process debit and credit card transactions. Without a deal between London and Brussels, British customers will no longer be covered by a ban on cross-border surcharges, which prevents business from imposing excessive charges on consumers. The government had previously said those charges cost Britons about 166 million pounds ($212 million) in 2015. “Leaving the EU without a deal would cause major inconvenience to millions of pensioners, travelers and drivers,” said Hugh Savill, director of regulation at the Association of British Insurers. Currently banks, insurers and fund managers in Britain have unfettered access to the EU, their biggest export market, worth 26 billion pounds last year, under the bloc’s “passporting” rules. Without a deal, banks, insurers and pension providers would have to establish operations in the EU or be legally barred from serving clients or sending out payments.

        Red tape, border delays if no Brexit deal, Britain warns (Reuters) - British companies trading with the European Union will face a tangle of red tape and possible delays at the border if the government fails to negotiate an exit deal before Britain leaves the bloc, official papers showed on Thursday.  Britain’s Brexit minister Dominic Raab said he remained confident the two sides would reach a deal, but set out in a series of notes what could change without one, including more paperwork for trade and more costly credit card payments when ordering EU products. With little more than seven months to go until it leaves the EU on March 29, Britain has yet to reach an agreement with the bloc on the terms of its departure. Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for a “business-friendly” deal has failed to impress negotiators in Brussels and has been heavily criticised at home.  “We have a duty, as a responsible government, to plan for every eventuality,” Raab said. “To do this, we need to have a sensible, responsible and realistic conversation about what a no deal situation really means in practise.”  The government’s guidelines make it clear that companies trading with Europe would face new customs and excise rules and require paperwork covering customs and safety declarations in the event of no deal.  If Britain left the EU in March 2019 without a deal “the free circulation of goods between the UK and EU would cease,” the guidance said.  As a result, the government is working with industry to stockpile medicines for six weeks above normal operational supplies. This is one of the most vulnerable areas of trade due to the uncertainty about how drug oversight will function if Britain leaves the pan-European medicines regulatory system abruptly.  “These papers show that those who claim crashing out of the EU on World Trade Organisation rules is acceptable live in a world of fantasy, where facts are not allowed to challenge ideology,” business lobby group the CBI said.  Although import Value Added Tax on goods will not have to be paid upfront under a new “postponed accounting” rule, UK recipients of expensive parcels from EU businesses will have to pay tax in line with current rules for non-EU countries.  More than a million Britons living abroad may not be able to access their UK bank accounts to receive pensions and salaries, the document said.

         Britain Ramps Up Preparations for No-Deal Brexit -  WSJ - The U.K. government on Thursday published advice for British businesses on how to prepare for an abrupt and messy break with the European Union, a move aimed at underscoring to Brussels that it is serious about walking away from talks if it doesn’t get a satisfactory deal. But the documents—25 in all, covering subjects as diverse as how to handle nuclear materials to organic-food labeling—also highlight the risks, costs and complexity of suddenly bringing down the curtain on more than 40 years of economic integration without a deal in place, an outcome neither side says it wants. The first batch of a planned 80 “technical notices” comes at a time of heightened concern that Britain could leave the EU in March next year without a formal agreement on what happens next—an outcome economists and policy makers say would likely cause severe economic disruption. According to a batch of papers published by the U.K. government, here are some examples of what might change if a deal isn’t struck with the EU: The government said Thursday that it will ensure “the U.K. will be ready from day one in all scenarios,” but policy analysts and industry experts say Britain won’t have the necessary infrastructure or staff to be ready to cope with a host of new requirements such as border controls, customs inspections or regulatory approval processes. Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, this month warned that the risk of a no-deal Brexit was “uncomfortably high,” reflecting patchy progress in negotiations ahead of the U.K.’s planned departure in March 2019. London’s aim in publishing the notices is twofold: to show Brussels and hard-line Brexit supporters in the ruling Conservative Party that it is prepared to walk away if it can’t agree favorable withdrawal terms similar to those set out in July by Prime Minister Theresa May. But ministers are also hoping that outlining the consequences of exiting the bloc without any agreement will help persuade British lawmakers skeptical of Mrs. May’s Brexit vision to get behind her plan or risk something worse.

        Deadline for Britain and EU to agree Brexit deal delayed by four weeks to new November ‘hard deadline’ - The deadline for Britain and the European Union to agree the terms of Brexit has been pushed back by four weeks amid fears that Conservative MPs could scupper Theresa May’s Chequers deal. Negotiators for the EU and UK have agreed a new “hard deadline” of mid-November, according to sources in Whitehall, to sign off the deal at a special meeting of EU heads of Government. Any vote of MPs could come after that. The news comes as fears mount that a hardline group of Conservative Eurosceptic Tory MPs could sink Mrs May’s deal by not voting for it in the House of Commons. Downing Street is to preparing step its campaign in September and October to win round Conservative MPs by making clear that the Prime Minster will not attempt to water down the Chequers deal.There are concerns that Conservative MPs like David Davis and Boris Johnson – who both quit over the deal which keeps Britain closely tied to the EU after Brexit – could lead a rebellion against the deal.Number 10 is concerned if the deal is voted down then MPs in Parliament could amend the legislation to approve the Chequers deal to keep Britain in the EU. The Government had been hoping to agree the deal which will set out the terms of Britain's exit at the regular meeting of EU leaders on October 18. However the extra four weeks has been agreed so both sides have more time to agree the exit.

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