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

Saturday, December 1, 2018

week ending Dec 1

Fed Chairman Powell now sees current interest rate level 'just below' neutral - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday he considers the central bank's benchmark interest rate to be near a neutral level, an important distinction from remarks he made less than two months ago. "Interest rates are still low by historical standards, and they remain just below the broad range of estimates of the level that would be neutral for the economy — that is, neither speeding up nor slowing down growth," Powell told the Economic Club of New York in a speech being closely watched in what has become a volatile financial marketplace. The chairman's observation on rates in early October helped set off a rough period on Wall Street, after he said the Fed was "a long way" from neutral. Major averages dipped briefly into a 10 percent correction and worries grew that more rate hikes might meaningfully slow down the strong economic growth of the past two years. The fed funds rate, which is tied to most forms of consumer debt, currently is in a target range of 2 percent to 2.25 percent. Markets broadly expect another quarter-point hike in December, but there's been a wide disparity between investors and the Fed on where rates should head in 2019. Traders currently have just one increase priced in, whereas Fed officials in their most recent projections point to three. In his prepared remarks Wednesday, Powell went straight at the core issue of where he sees rates. A speech that broadly addressed financial conditions a decade after the financial crisis saw Powell also tackle the neutral question early on. He made further statements to show that the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates, does not have a predetermined idea for where rates should be and will be making policy decisions instead on developing economic and financial conditions. Markets reacted immediately to the speech, with stocks lurching higher and government bond yields nudging lower.

Goldman, JPMorgan still betting on five Fed hikes by end of 2019 - Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are sticking with forecasts for the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates five more times by the end of 2019 even as financial markets shudder. In reports released in the past 24 hours as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index tumbled toward a correction, economists at the Wall Street giants predicted Chairman Jerome Powell and colleagues will raise their benchmark interest rate again in December, ultimately reaching 3.50% by the end of next year. “Central banks will deliver more tightening than markets currently anticipate,” the JPMorgan economists led by Bruce Kasman wrote. A decline in unemployment to 3.3% and an increase in the Fed’s favored measure of inflation to 2.3% will drive the Fed to push up its benchmark from the current level — a range of 2% to 2.25%, they said. At Goldman Sachs, Jan Hatzius’ team said there is a 90% probability of a December hike and that risks around the call for four increases in 2019 are “broadly balanced.” While acknowledging the recent selloff in stocks, the Goldman Sachs economists said a review of market declines since 1994 suggested the Fed only turned accommodative when other measures of financial conditions also deteriorated substantially or economic growth fell below its long-term trend. “While credit spreads have widened somewhat recently, growth remains significantly above potential today,” Goldman Sachs said. Investors are more doubtful of whether the Fed will be so aggressive. Economists at Morgan Stanley are among those who only see two hikes in 2019 after the December increase. Bloomberg Economics sees three increases next year.

FOMC Minutes: "Further gradual increases" -- From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, November 7-8, 2018. A few excerpts: In their discussion of monetary policy, participants agreed that it would be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate at this meeting. Participants generally judged that the economy had been evolving about as they had anticipated, with economic activity rising at a strong rate, labor market conditions continuing to strengthen, and inflation running at or near the Committee's longer-run objective. Almost all participants reaffirmed the view that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate would likely be consistent with sustaining the Committee's objectives of maximum employment and price stability. Consistent with their judgment that a gradual approach to policy normalization remained appropriate, almost all participants expressed the view that another increase in the target range for the federal funds rate was likely to be warranted fairly soon if incoming information on the labor market and inflation was in line with or stronger than their current expectations. However, a few participants, while viewing further gradual increases in the target range of the federal funds rate as likely to be appropriate, expressed uncertainty about the timing of such increases. A couple of participants noted that the federal funds rate might currently be near its neutral level and that further increases in the federal funds rate could unduly slow the expansion of economic activity and put downward pressure on inflation and inflation expectations. Various factors such as the recent tightening in financial conditions, risks in the global outlook, and some signs of slowing in interest-sensitive sectors of the economy on the one hand, and further indicators of tightness in labor markets and possible inflationary pressures, on the other hand, were noted in this context. Participants also commented on how the Committee's communications in its postmeeting statement might need to be revised at coming meetings, particularly the language referring to the Committee's expectations for "further gradual increases" in the target range for the federal funds rate. Many participants indicated that it might be appropriate at some upcoming meetings to begin to transition to statement language that placed greater emphasis on the evaluation of incoming data in assessing the economic and policy outlook; such a change would help to convey the Committee's flexible approach in responding to changing economic circumstances.

Fed's Clarida says interest rates are 'much closer' to neutral - Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Richard Clarida expressed a cautious view Tuesday about how the central bank should proceed in raising interest rates. The Federal Open Market Committee's newest member, in a speech delivered to bankers in New York, emphasized the importance of policymakers being "data dependent" in how they approach future moves. "A monetary policy strategy must find a way to combine incoming data and a model of the economy with a healthy dose of judgment — and humility! — to formulate, and then communicate, a path for the policy rate most consistent with our policy objectives," he said in prepared remarks. Assessing the current state of interest rates, Clarida said the FOMC, which sets Fed monetary policy, is "much closer" to a so-called neutral level that is neither stimulative nor restrictive than it was when the rate-hiking cycle began in December 2015. "How close is a matter of judgment, and there is a range of views on the FOMC," he said. The question of the neutral rate — referred to in Fed circles as "r*" — is critical as officials consider the path ahead. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell rattled markets in early October when he said the current target range for the benchmark funds rate of 2 percent to 2.25 is "a long way" from neutral. Clarida said it's important that Fed officials continually update where they think both the neutral fed funds rate and the natural rate of unemployment, or "u*," should be. "This process of learning about r* and u* as new data arrive supports the case for gradual policy normalization, as it will allow the Fed to accumulate more information from the data about the ultimate destination for the policy rate and the unemployment rate at a time when inflation is close to our 2 percent objective," he said.

Fed wants smallest possible portfolio, says Vice Chair Clarida - (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve ultimately wants to have the smallest balance sheet possible while still being able to control its policy rate, Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida said on Tuesday.  He said excess bank reserves remain “abundant” in money markets, but warned that the central bank’s portfolio of bonds will not shrink from about $4.2 trillion currently to its pre-crisis size of less than $1 trillion.

Is Steve Mnuchin Lobbying The Fed To Halt Rate Hikes- Since President Trump first complained that Fed was "out of control" and "crazy"  for insisting on raising interest rates, more Wall Street luminaries and senior administration officials have begrudgingly admitted that President Trump's attacks on the central bank (in addition to bashing the central bank for hiking rates, saying he's "not even a little bit happy" with Fed Chair Powell, Trump said in an interview published last night that he's displeased with its balance sheet unwind) might be justified in breaking with decades of precedent - or at least they understand that the president was simply trying to avoid becoming the "fall guy" for a decade of QE lunacy.  And with his job increasingly threatened by the unremitting selloff in US stocks, which President Trump regards as the most important barometer of his performance, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has apparently decided to try and do something about it. According to Bloomberg, the former Goldmanite has been informally polling market participants about whether they would rather see the central bank continue raising interest rates, or instead shift the bulk of its tightening to the balance sheet unwind. This suggests that the Treasury Secretary, whom Trump has reportedly blamed for selecting Jerome Powell to lead the central bank (though the president could have easily just kept the notoriously dovish Janet Yellen) is preparing to abandon decorum and embark on his own covert lobbying campaign to dissuade the central bank from hiking rates so aggressively. Here's Bloomberg: In an Oct. 30 meeting with a Treasury advisory committee that makes recommendations to the government quarterly on its debt sales, Mnuchin asked which they favored -- an accelerated balance sheet run-down or further rate hikes -- if they had to choose one or the other, according to the six people, who asked not to be identified because the conversation was private. One of the people said that Mnuchin asked the question out of curiosity of what bond market participants thought of the two alternatives before the Fed. Mnuchin raised the question during a regularly scheduled quarterly meeting with the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, or TBAC, which includes representatives from investment funds and banks. Its members include executives from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Citadel LLC and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

 How A 150bps Rate Shock Would Hit The US Economy - In one of the more whimsical notes published by Goldman in recent months, chief economist Jan Hatzius writes that he has received numerous questions about various "rules of thumb" for analyzing the US economy, and lays out a selection of these rules, covering Fed policy, financial conditions, growth, unemployment, inflation, bond yields, and recession risk.While the note covers everything from monetary policy (in the context of rising rates) and the impact on financial conditions, to the labor market and the relationship between GDP and the unemployment rate, to the link between the unemployment rate and rising wages and overall PCE inflation, eventually closing the loop with the Taylor rule and how a mechanistic take on the economy translates to monetary policy, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the note is Goldman's take on what a 150bp "unexpected increase" in the Fed Funds rate would do to both financial conditions and GDP. To be sure, unlike 2 months ago when discussions about the "overheating" of the US economy were all the rage, and some were even hinting that the Fed may engage in one or more surprise rate hikes, in recent weeks the US economy has shown troubling signs of a slowdown and as a result the conversation has shifted away from unexpected tightening to whether Powell may in fact terminate the Fed's tightening prematurely, the Goldman analysis is still interesting, if more as a thought experiment; it would certainly be relevant once more from a practical standpoint should high frequency economic indicators suddenly surprise to the upside in the coming weeks.In any case, according to Hatzius, who notes that "the funds rate alone is no longer a reliable predictor of financial conditions", Goldman observes that monetary policymakers  now affect GDP by influencing financial conditions. Specifically, according to Goldman calculations "a 150bp hawkish funds rate shock typically tightens the FCI by 100bp. By component, a 150bp hawkish funds rate shock tends to increase the 10-year yield by 45bp, lower equity prices by 9%, and raise the value of the dollar by 4%" as shown in the chart below.

PCE Price Index: October Headline & Core -- The BEA's Personal Income and Outlays report for October was published this morning by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The latest Headline PCE price index was up 0.18% month-over-month (MoM) and is up 1.98% year-over-year (YoY). The latest Core PCE index (less Food and Energy) came in at 0.10% MoM and 1.78% YoY. Core PCE is now below the Fed's 2% target rate. The adjacent thumbnail gives us a close-up of the trend in YoY Core PCE since January 2012. The first string of red data points highlights the 12 consecutive months when Core PCE hovered in a narrow range around its interim low. The second string highlights the lower range from late 2014 through 2015. Core PCE shifted higher in 2016 with a decline in 2017 only to bounce back later in the year. The first chart below shows the monthly year-over-year change in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index since 2000. Also included is an overlay of the Core PCE (less Food and Energy) price index, which is Fed's preferred indicator for gauging inflation. The two percent benchmark is the Fed's conventional target for core inflation. However, the December 2012 FOMC meeting raised the inflation ceiling to 2.5% for the next year or two while their accommodative measures (low FFR and quantitative easing) are in place. More recent FOMC statements now refer only to the two percent target.

Q3 GDP Unrevised at 3.5% Annual Rate - From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Third Quarter 2018 (Second Estimate); Corporate Profits, Third Quarter 2018 (Preliminary Estimate) Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2018, according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 4.2 percent.The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP was also 3.5 percent. With this second estimate for the third quarter, the general picture of economic growth remains the same; upward revisions to nonresidential fixed investment and private inventory investment were offset by downward revisions to personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and state and local government spending. PCE growth was revised down from 4.0% to 3.6%. Residential investment was revised up from -4.0% to -2.6%. This was at the consensus forecast. Here is a Comparison of Second and Advance Estimates.

 Q3 GDP Second Estimate: Real GDP Unchanged at 3.5% - The Second Estimate for Q3 GDP, to one decimal, came in at 3.5% (3.51% to two decimal places), a decrease from 4.2% for the Q2 Third Estimate. Investing.com had a consensus of 3.6%.Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release:Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2018 (table 1), according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 4.2 percent.The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP was also 3.5 percent. With this second estimate for the third quarter, the general picture of economic growth remains the same; upward revisions to nonresidential fixed investment and private inventory investment were offset by downward revisions to personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and state and local government spending (see "Updates to GDP" on page 2).The third-quarter percent change in real GDP was unrevised from the advance estimate, reflecting upward revisions to nonresidential fixed investment and private inventory investment that were offset by downward revisions to PCE and state and local government spending. For more information, see the Technical Note. A detailed "Key Source Data and Assumptions" file is also posted for each release. For information on updates to GDP, see the "Additional Information" section that follows. [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.22% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 1.80%.

Econoday Economic Report: GDP November 28, 2018 - Two wildcard components are slightly more exaggerated in the third quarter's revised GDP data while readings on the consumer and housing are mixed. At the headline level, the second revision to third-quarter GDP is unrevised at a very strong 3.5 percent annualized growth rate but inventories, contributing 2.27 percentage points to the total, added a little more than the first revision while net exports, subtracting 1.91 points, pulled down GDP by a little more. Consumer spending's growth rate of 3.6 percent is 4 tenths below the first estimate and 1 tenth below Econoday's consensus with its contribution nearly 2 tenths lower at 2.45 points. Still this is the third straight contribution in the mid 2 point range. Residential investment pulled down third-quarter GDP but, at minus 0.10, slightly less than the first estimate. Business investment slowed sharply in the third quarter after sharp tax-cut driven gains in the first half of the year but still contributed 0.35 points to the quarter which is up from the first estimate's marginal contribution. Government is the final major component and, at 0.44 points, contributed a little less than the first estimate. Inflation wasn't a risk in the third quarter with the GDP price index unchanged from the first estimate at a 1.7 percent rate. Year-on-year, this reading has been trending higher but did dip 1 tenth in the quarter to 2.3 percent. Though consumer spending was strong in the third quarter, it was an outsized build in inventories that proved to be a decisive plus. Whether the inventory build will extend to the fourth quarter is uncertain as is the nation's trade situation. Initial data on October goods trade, also released this morning and which will be an input into fourth-quarter GDP, shows unwanted deepening. In the end, however, consumer spending will be the fourth quarter's most important input and will reflect the success or failure of the holiday shopping season.

Second Estimate 3Q2018 GDP Growth Unchanged at 3.5 %: The headline second estimate of third quarter 2018 Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) remained unchanged from the advance estimate's +3.5%. Over 2 % of this 3.5% growth number is attributable to inventory growth (materials manufactured but not yet sold). I consider this a very weak report on GDP. I am not a fan of quarter-over-quarter exaggerated method of measuring GDP - but my year-over-year preferred method showed moderate acceleration from last quarter.•Headline GDP is calculated by annualizing one quarter's data against the previous quarters data. A better method would be to look at growth compared to the same quarter one year ago. For 3Q2018, the year-over-year growth is now 3.0 % - up from 2Q2018's 2.9 % year-over-year. So one might say that the rate of GDP growth improved 0.1 % from the previous quarter. The same report also provides Gross Domestic Income which in theory should equal Gross Domestic Product. Some have argued the discrepancy is due to misclassification of capital gains as ordinary income - but whatever the reason, there are differences. Real GDP (blue line) Vs. Real GDI (red line) Expressed As Year-over-Year Change This second estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. (See caveats below.) The table below compares the previous quarter estimate of GDP (Table 1.1.2) with the current estimate this quarter which shows:

  • consumption for goods and services declined adding 2.5 % to GDP.
  • trade balance worsened deducting 1.9 % from GDP
  • inventory change added 2.3 % to GDP (inventory change is part of domestic investment)
  • domestic investment had added 0.3 % to GDP
  • federal spending added 0.4 % to GDP

The following is Table 1.1.2 before the annual revision: [click to enlarge]  What the BEA says about the second estimate of GDP: With this second estimate for the third quarter, the general picture of economic growth remains the same; upward revisions to nonresidential fixed investment and private inventory investment were offset by downward revisions to personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and state and local government spending.

 US third-quarter GDP growth unrevised at 3.5% - The U.S. economy slowed in the third quarter as previously reported, but the pace was likely strong enough to keep growth on track to hit the Trump administration's 3 percent target this year. Gross domestic product increased at a 3.5 percent annualized rate, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday in its second estimate of third-quarter GDP growth. That was unchanged from its estimate in October and well above the economy's growth potential, which economists estimate to be about 2 percent. The economy grew at a 4.2 percent pace in the second quarter. While businesses accumulated inventory at a faster pace and spent more on equipment than initially thought in the third quarter, that was offset by downward revisions to consumer spending and exports. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast third-quarter GDP growth unrevised at 3.5 percent. Growth is being driven by the White House's $1.5 trillion tax cut package, which has given consumer spending a jolt and bolstered business investment. The fiscal stimulus is part of measures adopted by President Donald Trump's administration to boost annual growth to 3 percent on a sustainable basis. The government also reported on Wednesday that after-tax corporate profits increased at a 3.3 percent rate last quarter after rising at a 2.1 percent pace in the second quarter. An alternative measure of economic growth, gross domestic income (GDI), increased at a rate of 4.0 percent in the third quarter, quickening from the second quarter's 0.9 percent pace. The average of GDP and GDI, also referred to as gross domestic output and considered a better measure of economic activity, increased at a 3.8 percent rate in the July-September period, up from a 2.5 percent growth pace in the second quarter. But dark clouds are gathering over the economic expansion that is now in its ninth year and the second longest on record. Business spending on equipment appears to have weakened early in the fourth quarter and higher interest rates are slowing demand for housing. With oil prices rapidly falling, business spending on equipment is likely to moderate significantly. Lower oil prices tend to hurt investment in the energy sector because of reduced profits. Brent crude oil prices have slumped by more than 30 percent from a four-year high above $86 in early October, pressured by concerns of oversupply amid slowing global economic growth. General Motors announced on Monday that it would cut thousands from its North American workforce, slash production and eliminate some slow-selling car models, which could have ripple effects on the domestic economy. Solid third-quarter growth is expected to keep the Federal Reserve on course to raise interest rates in December for the fourth time this year, despite an escalation of criticism from Trump that tighter monetary policy is starting to slow down the economy. Consumer spending revised lower Growth estimates for the fourth-quarter are currently around a 2.5 percent pace. Economists expect GDP growth to slow further in 2019 as the fiscal stimulus fades and the effects of a bitter trade war with China as well as trade disputes with other trade partners take their toll.

 Q3 GDP Stuck At 3.5% As Revisions See Spending Shrink, Inventories Soar -- With the US economy firing on all four cylinders heading into the 3rd quarter, largely thanks to the latent effects from Trump's fiscal stimulus, the BEA released its second estimate of Q3 GDP which confirmed what we learned one month ago, namely that the US economy grew at an annualized rate of 3.5%, in line with both expectations and the first estimate released a month ago. Combined with the 4.2% GDP growth in the second quarter,, the results capped the best back-to-back quarters since 2014. At the same time, growth is projected to moderate this quarter. Furthermore, just like last month, a quick look at the internals reveals some ugly details below the surface. While household spending remained strong, rising 3.6% after 3.8% in Q2, the largest increase since Q4 2014, it shrank from the first estimate of 4.0%, and missed expectations of 3.9%, contributing 2.45% of the bottom line 3.500% GDP print (below the 2.69% in the first estimate), the main reason why the US economy grew as fast as it did in the third quarter was a build up in inventories, which contributed even more than was previously estimate, or some 2.27%, or 65% of the bottom line number. This was the biggest quarterly inventory stocking since the last quarter of 2011.The biggest change from the prior report on GDP came from stronger business investment offsetting the decline in personal spending, while most other categories were in line with earlier readings.Other revisions included an improvement in equipment spending which was revised up to a 3.5% rise from a 0.4% gain, while investment in structures showed a 1.7% drop compared with a previously reported decline of 7.9%.Net exports subtracted 1.91 percentage point from growth, while inventories added provided a 2.27 point boost.All other components of GDP were ugly, with nonresidential fixed investment, or spending on equipment, structures and intellectual property shrinking to 2.5% in 3Q after rising a blistering 8.7% in the prior quarter. Government spending increased at a 2.6 percent rate, revised from 3.3 percent. That added 0.44 point to growth.Housing posted a third consecutive drag on GDP growth and reaffirmed that the industry has entered a broad slowdown. Residential investment fell 2.6% compared with an initially reported contraction of 4% .Here is a breakdown of the less than stellar components:

  • Fixed Investment added 0.25% from the bottom line number
  • Exports subtracted -0.55% from the bottom line number
  • Imports subtracted -1.36% from the bottom line number

In other words, between CapEx and Net Trade, the US economy actually contracted by 1.7%.

Chicago Fed "Index Points to a Slight Increase in Economic Growth in October" -- From the Chicago Fed: Index Points to a Slight Increase in Economic Growth in OctoberLed by improvements in employment-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) increased to +0.24 in October from +0.14 in September. Only one of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index increased from September, but three of the four categories made positive contributions to the index in October. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, ticked up to +0.31 in October from +0.30 in September. This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.

Capital-Spending Slowdown Flashes Warning for US Growth -- Juiced by President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, business investment helped deliver a robust U.S. economy in the first half of 2018, but signs have multiplied that the growth driver is faltering. Companies face tariff-related uncertainty, cooling global demand and rising borrowing costs, while plunging oil prices are menacing the energy sector. Meanwhile, the U.S. and China are settling in for a protracted trade war, the boost from lower taxes is projected to fade next year and a politically divided Congress will probably shirk from additional stimulus. These challenges will test corporate America’s appetite to invest in the kind of faster-growth, higher-productivity future the Trump administration has promised. While such spending picked up in early 2018 after plodding along for years, a string of weak reports raises questions about the outlook. With firms using tax savings for buybacks and dividends rather than investment, the best gains may already be over. Cummins Inc., Whirlpool Corp., Caterpillar Inc. and Stanley Black & Decker Inc. recently cited higher costs from the trade war. The strength of capital expenditures -- or capex -- may be the key to determining whether U.S. growth can continue outpacing peers, how much higher the Federal Reserve can raise interest rates, and whether the dollar’s value will keep rising. “Capex is the No. 1 story,” said David Woo, head of global rates and foreign exchange strategy at Bank of America Corp. “There are hundreds of data points coming out every month but that’s the one that I watch,” The trade war and likely political gridlock after the midterm elections pose “the biggest uncertainty for capex and therefore U.S. rates and the U.S. dollar,” said Woo, who’s analyzed the economy and markets for almost a quarter century. 

Q4 GDP Forecasts; Mid-2s --From Merrill Lynch:  We look for 3Q GDP growth to be revised slightly lower to 3.4% qoq saar in the second release next week. We continue to track 2.7% for 4Q. [Nov 21 estimate]. From Goldman Sachs: [W]e lowered our Q4 GDP tracking estimate by one tenth to +2.4% (qoq ar) [Nov 21 estimate] And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow   The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in thefourth quarter of 2018 is 2.5 percent on November 21 [Nov 21 estimate]From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report The New York Fed Staff Nowcast for 2018:Q4 stands at 2.5%. [Nov 23 estimate]  CR Note: These early estimates suggest GDP in the mid-2s for Q4.   Based on these estimates for Q4, 2018 annual GDP would be around 2.9%, and Q4 over Q4 around 3.1%.   In line with most forecasts at the beginning of the year.

Q4 GDP Forecasts -- From Merrill Lynch:We continue to track 3Q GDP at 3.5% qoq saar while 4Q GDP is tracking higher at 2.7% [Nov 30 estimate]. And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in thefourth quarter of 2018 is 2.6 percent on November 29, up from 2.5 percent on November 21. [Nov 29 estimate]From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast for 2018:Q4 stands at 2.5%. [Nov 30 estimate] CR Note: These early estimates suggest GDP in the mid-to-high 2s for Q4.

Trump demands action to reduce deficit, pushes new deficit spending -- President Trump is demanding top advisers craft a plan to reduce the country’s ballooning budget deficits, but the president has flummoxed his own aides by repeatedly seeking new spending while ruling out measures needed to address the country’s unbalanced budget. Trump’s deficit-reduction directive came last month, after the White House reported a large increase in the deficit for the previous 12 months. The announcement unnerved Republicans and investors, helping fuel a big sell-off in the stock market. Two days after the deficit report, Trump floated a surprise demand to his Cabinet secretaries, asking them to identify steep cuts in their agencies. This account of Trump’s deficit stance is based on conversations with 10 current and former officials in the White House and Congress. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations or private conversations. The White House has not responded to repeated requests for comment. Administration officials have, for now, crafted a sparse plan that would recycle past proposals and call on Congress to trim federal spending on a variety of programs, two White House officials said. But even as he has demanded deficit reduction, Trump has handcuffed his advisers with limits on what measures could be taken. And almost immediately after demanding the cuts from his Cabinet secretaries, Trump suggested that some areas — particularly the military — would be largely spared. The president has said no changes can be made to Medicare and Social Security, two of the government’s most expensive entitlements, as he has promised that the popular programs will remain untouched. /p>

President Trump’s full Washington Post interview transcript, annotated -- President Trump sat for an interview Tuesday with The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey. Below is the full transcript, with key segments highlighted for fact-checking and analysis. Explanations appear under the paragraphs with highlighted text.

 Trump Threatens Another Shutdown If Congress Won't Approve $5B For Border Wall - President Trump and Congressional Republicans have already abandoned two previous attempts to secure funding for the president's promised border wall after forcing two brief partial government shutdowns. But with Democrats preparing to take control of the House in January, the president is ready to give it one last shot. At least that's what he told Politico during an interview published Wednesday morning. The president said he would veto any funding bill that doesn't include $5 billion in appropriations to start building his wall on the border. To avert a shutdown, Congress must pass - and the president must sign - seven appropriations bills that have already been negotiated before midnight on Friday Dec. 7.  President Trump apparently still believes that Republicans wouldn't suffer any political fallout from a shutdown (particularly if it's done in the name of border security); instead, Democrats would shoulder most of the blame. And given the increasingly violent confrontations between border patrol agents and members of a caravan of migrants from Central America, Trump believes the political winds right now are particularly favorable for approving the wall. Sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, with a stack of papers, magazines and a soda at the ready, Trump said he now believes that a pitched battle over the border is a "total winner" politically for his party, and a loser for Democrats."I don't do anything...just for political gain," Trump said. "But I will tell you, politically speaking, that issue is a total winner. People look at the border, they look at the rush to the police, they look at the rock throwers and really hurting three people, three very brave border patrol folks - I think that it's a tremendous issue, but much more importantly, is really needed. So we have to have border security." His insistence on $5 billion for the wall — "I am firm," he said — does suggest a real risk of a partial government shutdown. Congress must pass seven appropriations bills by next Friday, or risk a lapse of funding that would interrupt operations at the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, State Department and other federal agencies. Democrats will take control over a slice of Washington in 37 days, the first time they've controlled any lever of power in Trump's Washington.

Border Fence Quietly Slated to Expand as Congress Debates “the Wall” - Legislators are moving toward a final showdown over one of President Trump’s central campaign promises: a southern border wall. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations funding will make up part of a year-end spending deal that is expected to dominate the remainder of the congressional session.The negotiations could spark a partial federal government shutdown in coming weeks, as newly emboldened Democrats seek to push back against the president’s agenda.Meanwhile, even as debate continues over wall funding, the existing fence at the US-Mexico border is poised to expand. A new section of border fence is slated to come up in South Texas in February, and activists there are already pushing back.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that a partial government shutdown could help Trump “get what he’s looking for” on the wall.However, there are signals that both sides may have reasons to concede: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has previously indicated a willingness to negotiate a deal, and dozens of retiring or outgoing House GOP lawmakers are serving their final days. Both chambers have already moved toward allocating some funding for Trump’s wall in fiscal year 2019. House Republicans have already approved $5 billion. In the Senate, where Democratic support is needed to overcome a filibuster, a bipartisan bill has appropriated $1.6 billion. Upping the ante, incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy introduced legislation in October to fully fund the wall at $23.4 billion, which is certain to face stiff opposition in the Senate.

Congressionally Mandated New Report Urges Massive US Military Increases - The Commission on National Defense Strategy for the US has just released to Congress its report "Providing for the Common Defense”, and it opens:  “In the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, Congress charged this Commission with providing an independent, nonpartisan review of the 2018 National Defense Strategy and issues of US defense strategy and policy more broadly.” The report’s co-chairs, Eric S. Edelman and Gary Roughead, say in their accompanying letter to Congress, that “the United States will soon face a national security emergency.”It doesn’t describe that “emergency,” but uses it to argue that ‘defense’ spending needs to soar and all other spending by the Government — especially for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other “entitlements” — needs to shrink, and/or recipient beneficiaries of those programs need to pay more, and taxes need to increase, so that this “emergency” can be dealt with. They say that the weapons-manufacturers and soldiers need more money, and that this military requirement is an “emergency” but other federal spending is not. The Executive Summary says:Rivals and adversaries are challenging the United States on many fronts and in many domains. America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt. If the nation does not act promptly to remedy these circumstances, the consequences will be grave and lasting.The document strongly urges expansion of the US regime’s policing of the world, in the interests of America’s international corporations. 

Exclusive- The Pentagon’s Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed - On November 15, Ernst & Young and other private firms that were hired to audit the Pentagon announced that they could not complete the job. Congress had ordered an independent audit of the Department of Defense, the government’s largest discretionary cost center—the Pentagon receives 54 cents out of every dollar in federal appropriations—after the Pentagon failed for decades to audit itself. The firms concluded, however, that the DoD’s financial records were riddled with so many bookkeeping deficiencies, irregularities, and errors that a reliable audit was simply impossible.  Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan tried to put the best face on things, telling reporters, “We failed the audit, but we never expected to pass it.”  As Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, a frequent critic of the DoD’s financial practices, said on the Senate floor in September 2017, the Pentagon’s long-standing failure to conduct a proper audit reflects “twenty-six years of hard-core foot-dragging” on the part of the DoD, where “internal resistance to auditing the books runs deep.”    Now, a Nation investigation has uncovered an explanation for the Pentagon’s foot-dragging: For decades, the DoD’s leaders and accountants have been perpetrating a gigantic, unconstitutional accounting fraud, deliberately cooking the books to mislead the Congress and drive the DoD’s budgets ever higher, regardless of military necessity. DoD has literally been making up numbers in its annual financial reports to Congress—representing trillions of dollars’ worth of seemingly nonexistent transactions—knowing that Congress would rely on those misleading reports when deciding how much money to give the DoD the following year, according to government records and interviews with current and former DoD officials, congressional sources, and independent experts. The fraud works like this. When the DoD submits its annual budget requests to Congress, it sends along the prior year’s financial reports, which contain fabricated numbers. The fabricated numbers disguise the fact that the DoD does not always spend all of the money Congress allocates in a given year. However, instead of returning such unspent funds to the US Treasury, as the law requires, the Pentagon sometimes launders and shifts such moneys to other parts of the DoD’s budget.

Rand Paul Confirms Blocking $38 Billion in US Military Aid to Israel — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has confirmed recent reports that he is the one who placed a hold on a major bill providing $38 billion in US military aid to Israel. Sen. Paul says he intends to introduce an amendment to the bill.Sen. Paul said the move is a reaction to pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC’s resistance to his effort to hold debates on foreign aid, including aid that has nothing to do with Israel. He says this reflects a fear to allow any debate on the idea of the US borrowing money to send to foreign countries.AIPAC confirmed as much, saying they generally support US foreign aid as a way to increase US influence, and by extension Israel’s international standing. They added the Israel aid needs to happen critically because of Iran. Sen. Paul’s goal is to both cut aid to certain countries he views as enemies immediately, and to put time limits on aid to other countries like Israel, to try to make them self-sufficient instead of just permanently getting US aid.

More Details Emerge Behind Washington's Decision To Leave INF Treaty - The US announced its withdrawal from the INF Treaty without having an intermediate ground-based missile to deploy. It made arms control pundits wonder what triggered this decision. Even if the China threat were not exaggerated and Russia’s alleged “treaty violations” were true, there would be no explanation for National Security Adviser John Bolton’s statement that the US was leaving the landmark agreement with no land-based intermediate range weapon of its own nearing operational status.   Picking up useful bits of information here and there is the best way to find answers to hard questions. It takes time but the effort pays off.According to the US Naval institute (USNI), the Navy has set up a program office within its Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) to address the conventional prompt global strike mission handed by the Defense Department to the sea service. According to SSP Director Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, who spoke this month at the annual Naval Submarine League symposium, each service will field some sort of hypersonic capability to contribute to conventional prompt global strike.“We have a program, we are funded, and we’re moving forward with that capability, which is going to be tremendous to allow our Navy to continue to have the access they need, whether it be from submarines or from surface ships,” the admiral noted.The sea service is to spearhead the effort by developing the hypersonic glide body that all the services will use. The platforms are yet to be determined as the Navy is intentionally keeping its options open.The idea is to have a booster going up to the upper atmosphere or outer space and a hypersonic glide vehicle able to maneuver while descending to defy air defenses and strike moving targets. With the Avangard operational, Russia is the only country to have such a weapon today.

NASA turning over moon landing efforts to companies in the private sector -America’s next moon landing will be made by private companies – not NASA. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday that nine U.S. companies will compete to deliver experiments to the lunar surface. The space agency will buy the service and let private industry work out the details on getting there, he said. The goal is to get small science and technology experiments to the surface of the moon as soon as possible. The first flight could be next year; 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing.  . NASA officials said the research will help get astronauts back to the moon more quickly and keep them safer once they’re there. The initial deliveries likely will include radiation monitors, as well as laser reflectors for gravity and other types of measurements, Zurbuchen said. Bridenstine said it will be up to the companies to arrange their own rocket rides. NASA will be one of multiple customers using these lunar services.

Turkey Must Chose U.S. or Russia in Weapons Dispute, Senator Says -  Turkey’s government must choose between purchasing Russia’s advanced air defense system or staying a partner in the U.S.’s costliest weapons program, the F-35 jet, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said. “For Turkey to remain in the F-35 program, it can’t move ahead with procurement” of the Russian system known as the S-400, Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said in a statement to Bloomberg News. Inhofe, who has succeeded the late John McCain as head of the Senate panel, commented in response to a Pentagon report, mandated by Congress, that warned “the administration will reassess Turkey’s continued participation as one of the eight partner nations should they continue their purchase of the S-400.” Read more: F-35 Role for Turkey Is at Risk on Russia Arms Deal, U.S. Warns Turkey has been a partner in building and buying Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 since 2002. The NATO ally has committed $1.25 billion and planned to buy as many as 100 of the fighters. “That’s the right call,” Inhofe said of the Pentagon’s stance. “Turkey is an important NATO ally, but they need to act like it as well,” he said. He said Turkey has genuine air-defense requirements “but the bottom line is: Turkey must make a decision between Russia and the West. If it moves ahead with buying the S-400 from Russia, there will be consequences.”

Trump May Cancel Putin Meeting at G20 Over Ukraine Incident  — Addressing the Sunday maritime incident between Russia and Ukraine, President Trump has said he may cancel his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of this weekend’s G20 summit.“Maybe I won’t even have the meeting … I don’t like that aggression,” Trump said. He did, however, say that he is waiting for a full report on the matter to decide on the meting. The Trump-Putin meeting was intended to address security issues and arms control.On Sunday, Russia seized three Ukrainian naval boats in the Sea of Azov. Russia says the boats entered closed Russian waters, while Ukraine insists they did nothing wrong. The US State Department is backing Ukraine, and urging European nations to “do more” to help Ukraine militarily. With the US backing Ukraine over the dispute, the cancellation of the G20 talks might make sense. On the other hand, Trump and Putin meet so rarely as it is because of constant diplomatic tensions, that even minor sideline meetings such as this are a serious loss to diplomatic efforts.

Trump confronts new Russia test with Ukraine crisis -- Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships has served up a new test for President Trump.The issue is looming over the Group of 20 (G-20) summit this weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Trump will be under pressure to deliver a firm response to Moscow.Trump on Thursday canceled a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin because “ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia.”The incident off the coast of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula further complicates Trump’s effort to repair relations with Moscow at a time of near peak tensions, following Russia’s effort to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.Ukraine accused Russia on Sunday of ramming one of its boats and opening fire on and capturing three vessels and 24 crewmembers off the coast of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 to international condemnation. Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, said the boats were operating unlawfully in its territorial waters and Moscow has since jailed the sailors. Ukraine has also accused Moscow of a de facto blockade on two of its major ports in the Azov Sea.U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both decried Russia’s actions as a violation of international law. Trump himself has remained relatively quiet on the issue, telling The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday that he didn’t like “that aggression” and suggesting he could cancel the Putin meeting before pivoting to a discussion about insufficient spending by NATO partners. Trump’s decision to cancel the meeting is welcome news to those who argued it would send the wrong message given Moscow’s latest behavior. Still, some are demanding that Trump take further steps.

Trump cancels G20 meeting with Putin amid rising tensions  - As world leaders head to the G20 Summit, the United States is poised to intensify its conflicts with Russia, China and Europe.Commenting on the fast-approaching event, the German weekly Der Spiegel called American President Donald Trump the “terror” of the assembled world leaders. No one, perhaps least of all Trump, knows the outcome of the summit in advance, or which part of the world will be the main target of US threats. The explosive and unpredictable character of the summit was demonstrated by Trump’s hairpin turn Thursday on a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I probably will be meeting with President Putin,” Trump told reporters as he was leaving the White House for Buenos Aires. “I think it’s a very good time to have the meeting.” Just an hour later, Trump took to Twitter to declare that he would not meet Putin, allegedly in protest over the Russian coast guard’s seizure of three Ukrainian Navy ships after they entered and refused to leave Russian-claimed waters for 12 hours. In the hour between the statements, Trump spoke with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, who were on the plane, and by telephone with National Security Adviser John Bolton. Over that hour, another event had transpired. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer pled guilty to lying to Congress and declared that Trump had, in the words of the New York Times, “negotiated to build a tower in Moscow much later during the 2016 presidential election than previously acknowledged.” Figures both inside and outside the White House made clear the connection between Trump’s trip and the latest stage in the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said it “is hardly coincidental” that Mueller “once again” filed charges against Cohen “just as the president is leaving for a meeting with world leaders” at the annual summit. “The special counsel did the very same thing as the president was leaving for a world summit in Helsinki,” Giuliani noted.

With Reaffirmed US Support, Saudis Continue Assault on Yemen, Killing Civilians — Washington has chosen to diverge from its European allies and continue support for the Saudi led-coalition against Yemen. Following a White House statement that reaffirms US commitment, the Saudi coalition has continued with its assault on Hodeidah port and civilians in Yemen.

  • Germany, the United Kingdom, and other European nations have recently put forth effort to stop the war against Yemen.
  • The White House has issued a statement doubling down on its seemingly unconditional support for Saudi Arabia — particularly its assault on Yemen.
  • Saudi Arabia has since continued its attacks on Yemen’s Hodeidah port and civilian areas.
  • Yemenis hold out hope for the European effort and UN envoy’s recent visit to Hodediah port.

On November 20th, the White House issued (yet another) statement blaming Iran for the ongoing bloodshed in Yemen. It’s worth noting that Iran has no troops in Yemen. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and the UN inspect all aid shipments entering Yemen for weapons and missile parts. There is absolutely no concrete evidence of Iran providing support to Ansarullah (aka. Houthis) in Yemen. Nevertheless, Washington issued this statement to double down on its support for the Saudi coalition against Yemen. As always, Iran remains a scapegoat for the United States to continue its imperialist war against the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula. The statement also makes it clear that this is not a moral decision, but rather a financial one. U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges that “the crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone” however, Trump also points out that the American economy relies heavily on Saudi Arabia for stability. “After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States,” the statement reads.

US Complicity in Saudi Arabia’s Genocide in Yemen Spans Both Obama and Trump - — A Saudi-led coalition of states has been aggressively bombing Yemen and imposing an air and naval blockade of its ports for more than three years, leading U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to describe Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Guterres put the crisis in stark perspective, emphasizing the near complete lack of security for the Yemeni people. More than 22 million people out of a total population of 28 million are in need of humanitarian aid and protection. Eighteen million people lack reliable access to food; 8.4 million people “do not know how they will obtain their next meal.”As a scholar of genocide and human rights, I believe the destruction brought about by these attacks combined with the blockade amounts to genocide.Based on my research, to be published in an upcoming issue of Third World Quarterly, I believe the coalition would not be capable of committing this crime without the material and logistical support of both the Obama and Trump administrations. Yemen has been gripped by a civil war since 2015, pitting the Shia Houthi movement – which has fought for centuries for control of parts of Yemen – against a government backed by Sunni Saudi Arabia. Because of these religious differences, it would be easy to recast what is largely a political conflict in Yemen as a sectarian one. That characterization fits Saudi and U.S. assertions that the Houthis are controlled by Shiite Iran, a claim that has not gone uncontested. Both the Saudis and the U.S. are hostile to Iran, so U.S. support of Saudia Arabia in Yemen represents what U.S. administrations have said are strategic interests in the region. Besides Saudi Arabia, the coalition attacking Yemen includes the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait and Bahrain. Qatar was part of the coalition but is no longer. During the first three years of “Operation Decisive Storm,” later renamed “Operation Renewal of Hope,” 16,749 coalition air attacks in Yemen were documented by the Yemen Data Project (YDP), which describes itself as an “independent data collection project aimed at collecting and disseminating data on the conduct of the war in Yemen.”

 Nothing In Any Conspiracy Theory Is As Bad As What's Being Done Out In The Open Authored -  Caitlin Johnstone --Yesterday President Trump posted a statement on the White House website saying his administration will be standing with the House of Saud despite the CIA’s assertion that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman personally ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was living and working in the United States.  The statement reads like a long form version of one of Trump’s tweets, replete with gratuitous exclamation points and slogans like “America First!” and the lie that Iran is “the world’s leading sponsor of terror”, which will never be trueno matter how many times this administration deliberately repeats it. The world’s leading sponsor of terrorism is of course Saudi Arabia, along with Israel and the United States.  Trump’s alleged opposition has responded with melodramatic outrage, as though a US president continuing to stand by Saudi Arabia in the face of horrific acts of violence is somehow new and unprecedented and not standard operating procedure for decades.   Dismembering a journalist while he’s still alive would be a fairly typical Tuesday afternoon for the Saudi government and would not rank anywhere near the top ten most evil things this government has done, but because it involves America and a conspiracy it’s a sexy story that everyone laps up. Add in the fact that Trump is more blunt and forthcoming about American depravity and you’ve got yourself a yarn.   This has remained a hot story through to today, invigorated by a tweet by America’s WWE president in which he crowed about low gas prices and added “Thank you to Saudi Arabia” like a good little muppet. And amid all the fist-shaking and rending of garments about the killing of one man by the Saudi government, a far less magnetic story has been published saying that about 84,701 Yemeni children under the age of five were starved to death between April 2015 and October 2018. And I say “were starved to death” instead of “have starved to death” because their starvation is the direct result of a blockade and relentless violence by Saudi Arabia.The lack of any sense of proportion in response to the Khashoggi case compared to the destruction of civilian lives in Yemen has been roundly criticized by anyone with a public platform and open eyes, and rightly so; obviously a government murdering a journalist in cold blood would be a terrible thing, but to hold that as more worthy of attention than the anguished deaths of untold tens of thousands is obscene. This dynamic is also not unique to Saudi human rights violations.

 Rep. Tulsi Gabbard eviscerates Trump as 'Saudi Arabia's bitch' - Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Wednesday slammed President Donald Trump as "Saudi Arabia's bitch" in the latest scathing criticism of the commander-in-chief's extraordinary statement this week tostand by the country's rulers despite the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Hawaii Democratic congresswoman made the remarks in a brief and blistering tweet Wednesday afternoon."Hey @realdonaldtrump: being Saudi Arabia's bitch is not 'America First,'" wrote Gabbard, a 37-year-old Iraq War veteran who at various points has been considered a rising star in her party.The tweet was in apparent reference to Trump's exclamation point-filled formal presidential statement Tuesday that his administration would take no actions against Saudi Arabia's rulers regarding the Khashoggi killing — despite NBC News and other reports last week that the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing. "It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" Trump said in the statement, which featured a subheading that read "America First!" In the statement, he also outlined how the U.S. needed Saudi support to help fight terrorism internationally and to help keep oil prices low.

White House denies Haspel prevented from briefing Senate on Khashoggi murder - The White House has denied preventing the CIA director, Gina Haspel, from briefing the Senate on the murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the defence secretary, James Mattis, are due to give a briefing on US relations with Saudi Arabia to the entire Senate behind closed doors on Wednesday, ahead of a vote that could cut off US support for Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen. On a national security issue of such importance, it would be customary for a senior intelligence official to take part, Senate staffers said. On this occasion, the absence of the intelligence community is all the more glaring, as Haspel travelled to Istanbul to hear audio tapes of Khashoggi’s murder provided by Turkish intelligence, and then briefed Donald Trump.  Senior senators – including the chairman of the foreign relations committee, Bob Corker – have called for Haspel to appear, but there was no sign on Tuesday evening that she will take part. Officials said that the decision for Haspel not to appear in front of the committee came from the White House, but the national security adviser, John Bolton, denied it. “Certainly not,” he told reporters, but left it unclear why there would be no intelligence presence. According to multiple reports, the tapes and other intelligence material point clearly to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as having ordered Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. The US president has asserted, however, that the CIA report is inconclusive. He told the Washington Post on Tuesday: “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But he denies it. And people around him deny it … I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively.” Trump’s faith in the crown prince is treated with profound scepticism by many senators who expected to hear first-hand from Haspel on Wednesday on a brutal killing that appears to have help sway several senators against continuing military support to Riyadh for the war in Yemen.That conflict is thought to have killed more than 50,000 people, with many of the casualties coming from the Saudi-led coalition’s aerial bombing campaign. The coalition’s use of economic blockades has meanwhile help bring the country to the brink of famine. Save the Children estimates that up to 85,000 children have died of hunger.

US administration signals unconditional backing for Saudi regime as Senate votes on Yemen war --The US Senate voted 63–37 Wednesday to advance a resolution calling for an end to US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The vote came within hours of closed-door testimony to the Senate from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who strongly opposed the measure and voiced unconditional support for Saudi Arabia’s monarchical dictatorship.The procedural vote, which moved the bill out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will not shift US policy toward the near-genocidal war that has been waged for nearly four years against the people of Yemen, creating the worst humanitarian catastrophe on the face of the planet. A second vote is needed to even initiate a Senate floor debate on the measure, and it has no chance of passing the full Congress during the current session. The White House issued a statement Wednesday afternoon indicating that President Donald Trump would veto the bill if it were approved by Congress.However symbolic, the shift in the Senate—which last March tabled the same measure by a vote of 55 to 44—is bound up with the naked exposure of the criminality of the Saudi regime—Washington’s principal ally in the Arab world—by the savage assassination of journalist and former regime insider Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The Senate vote reflects the views of sections of the American ruling establishment that are opposed to the Trump administration’s unconditional support for the Saudi regime—based on calculations of its role in the US-led anti-Iranian axis in the Middle East and the profit interests of US arms manufacturers and other banks and corporations dependent upon Saudi oil money. In their testimony on Wednesday, both Pompeo and Mattis insisted that there existed no conclusive evidence or “smoking gun” establishing that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi in Istanbul.These claims fly in the face of the conclusions of the CIA, which has declared its “high confidence” that bin Salman orchestrated the assassination, whose perpetrators included his close security aides. Absent from the hearing was CIA Director Gina Haspel, who traveled to Turkey to review evidence, including an audiotape recording the brutal murder. Her failure to testify was the result of an order from the White House, given that she would be compelled to either lie under oath or contradict the narrative advanced by Pompeo and Mattis.

Senate Defies Trump on U.S. Involvement in Yemen War - The Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to advance a resolution that would cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, thefirst time a resolution targeting the war has been approved and a sign of how fast the debate in Washington over the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia has shifted. The resolution would invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which prevents the president from introducing U.S. troops into an armed conflict without congressional authorization. U.S.  support for the campaign, which has included intelligence cooperation, target assistance, and midair refueling, began in 2015 under the Obama administration. Under mounting criticism of the war—which may have directly killed as many as 50,000 Yemenis, not counting deaths from the famine and disease outbreaks caused by the conflict—the Trump administration announced earlier this month it would halt providing midair refueling, but the airstrikes have continued.  A similar resolution, sponsored by Sens. Chris Murphy, Bernie Sanders, and Mike Lee, was tabled in March by a vote of 55–44, with 10 Democrats including Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez and Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed siding with the Republican majority.

Senate Votes in Favor of Resolution to End US Support for Saudi-Led War in Yemen  — Despite pressure from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to maintain Washington’s steadfast support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, the US Senate has voted in favour of advancing a resolution that would end US involvement in the devastating conflict.US Senators voted 63-37 on Wednesday afternoon to move forward with a resolution to end Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition.While procedural, the successful vote discharges the resolution from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and clears the way for a Senate-wide debate on its contents, which is expected to take place next week.US Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the resolution’s co-sponsors, said US lawmakers should send a message to the Saudi government “that [they] will not continue to support a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime that has a dangerous, destructive and irresponsible military policy”.“No more. Enough death, enough killing, enough destruction,” Sanders said in the Senate ahead of the vote.The result of the vote signals a deepening rift between US lawmakers and US President Donald Trump, who has pledged his administration’s unwavering support for Riyadh despite the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.Fourteen Senators from the president’s political party voted in favour of the resolution. Among those includes Lindsey Graham, who has repeatedly voiced his outrage over Khashoggi’s murder. Every member in the Democratic Party voted to advanced the resolution.In prepared comments before the vote, the US secretary of state said the war in Yemen would only worsen without the US’s support for Saudi Arabia, however.   “Abandoning Yemen would do immense damage to US national security interests and those of our Middle Eastern allies and partners,” he said, describing the Senate vote as “poorly timed”.

Rebuking Trump, senators back effort to suspend U.S. support for Saudi-led war in Yemen -- The Senate on Wednesday delivered a historic rebuke of Saudi Arabia and President Trump’s handling of the fallout over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing last month, as a decisive majority voted to advance a measure to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The 63-to-37 vote is only an initial procedural step, but it nonetheless represents an unprecedented challenge to the security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The vote was prompted by lawmakers’ growing frustration with Trump for defending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s denials of culpability in Khashoggi’s death, despite the CIA’s finding that he had almost certainly ordered the killing. Their frustration peaked shortly before Wednesday’s vote, when senators met behind closed doors to discuss Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi and Yemen with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — but not CIA Director Gina Haspel, who did not attend the briefing. Her absence so incensed lawmakers that one of the president’s closest congressional allies threatened not only to vote for the Yemen resolution but also to withhold his support from “any key vote” — including a government funding bill — until Haspel was sent to Capitol Hill for a briefing. “I am not going to blow past this,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “Anything that you need me for to get out of town — I ain’t doing it until we hear from the CIA.” In a statement, CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett said “the notion that anyone told Director Haspel not to attend today’s briefing is false.” He added that Haspel, who traveled to Turkey to listen to a recording of Khashoggi’s killing and review evidence in the case, had fully briefed congressional leaders and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.   But only one of the 14 Republicans who voted to move ahead with the Yemen resolution has been briefed. Trump, Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton all have pointedly said they have not listened to the tape, and see no reason to do so.

Republicans Senators Who Tried to Kill Yemen War Resolution Were Paid by Saudi Lobbyists -- Wednesday, senators delivered a historic blow to the country’s relationship with ally Saudi Arabia, a country whose leadership has committed notable human rights violations, by voting to move forward a resolution that would end all U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.  But at least five of the Republican Senators who voted against the bill have received funding from lobbyists working for Saudi Arabia, a fact that illustrates how the kingdom uses its vast wealth to influence U.S. foreign policy.Republican Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Tim Scott of South Carolina received financial contributions from lobbying firms that worked for Saudi Arabia, according to a report by the Center for International Policy released last month. The report names Blunt as one of the top 10 recipients of campaign contributions from firms representing Saudi Arabia in 2017, along with Democratic lawmakers like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Blunt’s campaign allegedly received $19,250 in campaign contributions from Saudi-linked firms last year.Senators Boozman and Crapo received $1,000 contributions from Squire Patton Boggs PAC, which was working for Saudi Arabia at the time, according to the report. And Boozman, Crapo, Burr and Scott all allegedly received donations of around $2,000 on days when they were contacted by Saudi lobbyists. None of the senators immediately responded to requests for comment.

If The Saudi’s Oil No Longer Matters Why Is Trump Still Supporting Them? -- Why are U.S. troops in the Middle East? In an interview with the Washington Post U.S. President Donald Trump gives an answer:Trump also floated the idea of removing U.S. troops from the Middle East, citing the lower price of oil as a reason to withdraw. “Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel,” Trump said. “Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.” It is only Israel, it is no longer the oil, says Trump.  But the nuclear armed Israel does not need U.S. troops for its protection. And if it is no longer the oil, why is the U.S. defending the Saudis? Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disagrees with his boss. In a Wall Street journal op-ed today he claims that The U.S.-Saudi Partnership Is Vital because it includes much more then oil: The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is working to secure Iraq’s fragile democracy and keep Baghdad tethered to the West’s interests, not Tehran’s. Riyadh is helping manage the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war by working with host countries, cooperating closely with Egypt, and establishing stronger ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has also contributed millions of dollars to the U.S.-led effort to fight Islamic State and other terrorist organizations.  Where and when please has Saudi Arabia "managed the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war". Was that when it emptied its jails of violent criminals and sent them to wage jihad against the Syrian people? That indeed 'managed' to push millions to flee from their homes. Saudi Arabia might be many things but "a powerful force for stability" it is not. Just ask 18 million Yemenis who, after years of Saudi bombardment, are near to death for lack of food.  Pompeo wrote: The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse. What could be worse than a famine that threatens two third of the population? If the U.S. and Britain would not support the Saudis and Emirates the war would end within a day or two. The Saudi and UAE planes are maintained by U.S. and British specialists. The Saudis still seek 102 more U.S. military personal to take care of their planes. It would be easy for the U.S. to stop such recruiting of its veterans.

Trump: US Troops Will Stay in Middle East to Protect Israel — US President Donald Trump has admitted that the US only keeps its troops in the Middle East to protect Israel. The US also regularly raises money to support the Israeli army. In the past two months the Friends of the Israel Defence Force (FIDF) held two galas to raise money for the army, raising a total of $92 million across the two evenings. The first event – held in October in New York – raised $32 million and was attended by over 1,000 US business people and philanthropists, as well as key figures from the Israeli establishment. In November, a second FIDF gala held in Beverly Hills, California raised $60 million and was attended by a host of celebrities, including Ashton Kutcher, Pharrell Williams, Gerard Butler and Katharine McPhee.

Kushner pushed Trump administration officials to inflate value of Saudi arms deal: report - President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, directed administration officials to inflate numbers for a supposed $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, ABC News reported on Monday.Two U.S. officials and three former White House officials told the network that Kushner pressed the State and Defense departments to pump up the number to $110 billion by including aspirational arms sales.Saudi Arabia so far has only signed “Letters of Offer and Acceptance” (LOAs) for $14.5 billion in sales of helicopters, tanks, ships, weapons and training, according to the Pentagon.That figure was reportedly inflated, however, to attempt to solidify the new alliance between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia and paint a clear victory for the president’s first foreign trip last year.Defense Secretary James Mattis also supported touting the overblown amount — first announced in May 2017 when the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) with the Saudis to jointly pursue the foreign military sales over the next 10 years, according to ABC. Mattis himself endorsed the memorandum, a former National Security Council (NSC) official familiar with the matter told the network.“We need to sell them as much as possible,” Kushner reportedly told colleagues at an NSC meeting weeks ahead of the trip.Officials initially told Kushner that the Pentagon realistically had roughly $15 billion worth of deals in the pipeline, ABC reported. There was then a back-and-forth between Kushner and Defense and State department officials on how to get to a larger number, another U.S. official told the network. The MOI reportedly does not include details about the quantity and types of defense weapons to be purchased, with some carrying a “to be determined” label for delivery dates and quantities.  The five-page list of possible arms sales also notes that the document "does not create any authority to perform any work, award any contract, ‘issue articles from stock’, transfer funds, or otherwise obligate or create a binding commitment in any way either for the United States or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” A State Department official told ABC the list was made up of armaments that Saudi officials had expressed interest in, as well as equipment that U.S. defense analysts had flagged as among Riyadh’s needs. Since the memo has been signed, little movement has been made on further sales.

What’s Behind the US-Saudi Nuclear Mega-Deal? - Last week, the NY Times ran a front-page story on Saudi Arabia’s efforts to purchase nuclear fuel enrichment capabilities and as many as 16 nuclear power generating plants from the US. The principal concern expressed here was the Saudi’s insistence on ownership of nuclear fuel-enrichment technologies.  Typically, when the US has exported its reactor technology, it is accompanied by a fuel purchase agreement. We sell the fuel more or less as finished product. In the past, reluctance to export fuel-processing technology stemmed from concerns regarding proliferation of nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia does have domestic sources of uranium they could mine but they have also expressed the need to respond to a potential nuclear arms rivalry with Iran.  But this article omitted the most important point. The key question is what are the Saudi’s motives regarding construction of a vast number of nuclear power plants for supposedly civilian purposes? The answer is obvious. There is no earthly commercial or economic reason for them to produce those quantities of electricity in the proposed nuclear fashion.  We should also point out that the seemingly large number cited for these nuclear power plants, $80 billion, is understated by a factor of almost five. Sixteen Westinghouse-designed nuclear stations with two reactors apiece would cost roughly $30 billion apiece! And 16 such plants would cost $480 billion – not $80 billion.  This sounds to us more like a bribe. Sell us nuclear fuel-processing technology (which it appears they really want), and we promise to purchase a large number of extremely expensive power plants from the US (the need for which is presently unclear). Major nuclear construction projects currently underway in the West all have two things in common: They are all vastly over-budget as well as years behind schedule.

A country that can’t be trusted with a bone saw shouldn’t be trusted with nuclear weapons — Before Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was implicated by the C.I.A. in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, American intelligence agencies were trying to solve a separate mystery: Was the prince laying the groundwork for building an atomic bomb?The 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne had been overseeing a negotiation with the Energy Department and the State Department to get the United States to sell designs for nuclear power plants to the kingdom. The deal was worth upward of $80 billion, depending on how many plants Saudi Arabia decided to build.But there is a hitch: Saudi Arabia insists on producing its own nuclear fuel, even though it could buy it more cheaply abroad, according to American and Saudi officials familiar with the negotiations. That raised concerns in Washington that the Saudis could divert their fuel into a covert weapons project — exactly what the United States and its allies feared Iran was doing before it reached the 2015 nuclear accord, which President Trump has since abandoned. Prince Mohammed set off alarms when he declared earlier this year, in the midst of the negotiation, that if Iran, Saudi Arabia’s fiercest rival, “developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” His negotiators stirred more worries by telling the Trump administration that Saudi Arabia would refuse to sign an agreement that would allow United Nations inspectors to look anywhere in the country for signs that the Saudis might be working on a bomb, American officials said. Asked in Congress last March about his secret negotiations with the Saudis, Energy Secretary Rick Perry dodged a question about whether the Trump administration would insist that the kingdom be banned from producing nuclear fuel. Eight months later, the administration will not say where the negotiations stand. Now lurking behind the transaction is the question of whether a Saudi government that assassinated Mr. Khashoggi and repeatedly changed its story about the murder can be trusted with nuclear fuel and technology. Such fuel can be used for benign or military purposes: If uranium is enriched to 4 percent purity, it can fuel a power plant; at 90 percent it can be used for a bomb. Privately, administration officials argue that if the United States does not sell the nuclear equipment to Saudi Arabia someone else will — maybe Russia, China or South Korea. They stress that assuring that the Saudis use a reactor designed by Westinghouse, the only American competitor for the deal, fits with Mr. Trump’s insistence that jobs, oil and the strategic relationship between Riyadh and Washington are all far more important than the death of a Saudi dissident who was living, and writing newspaper columns, in the United States.

Trump suggests US could slap 10% tariffs on iPhones and laptops imported from China - President Donald Trump suggested he could place a 10% tariff on iPhones and laptops imported from China, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Monday. He also said it's "highly unlikely" that he would delay an increase in tariffs just four days before a summit with Chinese President Xi.  Apple stock was down nearly 2 percent in after-hours trading.  Trump said he expects he will increase tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25%.

Kudlow- Trade Talks With China Haven't Yielded Any Progress - Equity traders have apparently given up on tracking the conflicting signals emanating from the White House ahead of President Trump's long-anticipated meeting with Xi Jinping later this week, instead clinging to the best case scenario - that the talks will hopefully forge a "pathway" to an eventual deal. Few analysts expect any meaningful progress to be made in Buenos Aires.And while the administration has insisted that it remains "open" to a deal with China, Trump stepped up the rhetoric last night when he said he plans to move ahead with a planned tariff increase in January regardless of what happens in BA - and that, if talks go badly, he wouldn't hesitate to slap tariffs on the remaining $267 billion in Chinese goods flowing into the US economy. Reports circulated earlier claimed that Trump's comments angered some of the most senior officials in his administration. But on Tuesday afternoon, his chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow parroted the president's line during a talk with reporters - reaffirming that, if things don't work out during the summit meeting, Trump will move ahead. So far, things aren't looking good. As Kudlow pointed out, negotiations in the run up to the talks haven't yielded any progress, and unless something changes, the administration will move ahead with the next phase of tariffs.

 Trump says he will proceed with Chinese tariff escalation - President Donald Trump said he expects to move forward with plans to escalate tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports as of Jan. 1, even as he readies to meet with the nation’s leader at the end of the week.In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said it was “highly unlikely” that he would accept a request by China to stand down from his plans to ratchet up tariffs on the $200 billion list from 10 percent to 25 percent. The tariff increase is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1. The White House has already put a 25 percent tariff on a separate list of Chinese imports valued at more than $50 billion. Trump said that if his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the upcoming G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires later this week doesn’t result in a deal, then he will slaps tariffs of 10 percent to 25 percent on all remaining imported goods from China. The U.S. bought more than $522 billion worth of goods from China in 2017, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Trump has targeted China over allegations of intellectual property theft and accusations that Beijing forces companies to hand over technology to do business. The administration released a report last March outlining how China has engaged in unfair trading practices aimed at boosting its high-tech sectors. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer published an updated report last week describing how Beijing has failed to resolve the issues that have justified U.S. tariffs.

China ‘won’t get away with vague promises this time’ in trade talks with US - China will have to go further than making “vague promises” at this week’s summit with the United States after President Donald Trump turned up the heat in the trade war with more tariff threats, observers say. Just days before he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 gathering in Argentina, Trump has again escalated the conflict, saying he would not step back from a plan to raise tariffs on goods from China. He told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Monday it was “highly unlikely” his administration would delay or suspend a plan to increase duties on US$200 billion of Chinese products from 10 per cent to 25 per cent. Trump also threatened to apply tariffs of 10 per cent or 25 per cent on the remaining US$267 billion of Chinese imports if the two sides failed to reach a deal during their meeting in Buenos Aires. He added that the only acceptable deal would involve China opening up to competition from the US. Responding to Trump’s comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Tuesday said Beijing hoped to find a solution with Washington at the G20 summit, but maintained that China would defend its interests. “The Chinese side is willing to resolve the trade issues [with the US] through serious dialogue that is based on the principles of equality and integrity,” Geng said. “But we will also resolutely defend our interests [during the talks].” Separately, Chinese ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he hoped the Xi-Trump meeting could “give us clear strategic guidance on where the relationship is going” and make progress in resolving the trade row. Cui also questioned if the US could weather another financial crisis that may emerge if the trade war is prolonged. Chinese observers see Trump’s latest threat as part of his negotiation tactics ahead of the high-stakes summit, but they believe the pressure is real for China to respond to US demands. “China will not be able to get away with general and vague promises this time. It has become clear that the Trump administration does not want more promises, it wants action,” said Shi Yinhong, an expert on Sino-US relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing. 

Trump Advisors Not Happy With President's Aggressive Trade Threats- - Since the US-China trade war broke out this spring, Larry Kudlow and Steven Mnuchin have repeatedly tried to arrange senior-level trade talks with their Chinese counterparts, only to be frustrated or sabotaged by President Trump. So when the two officials tasked with managing the detente read the transcript of a WSJ interview with Trump where their boss once again resorted to making provocative threats just four days before the beginning of the G-20 summit, where Trump is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jingping, we could imagine them being (understandably) miffed. With equity futures on track to open lower as investors worry that Trump's bellicose trade talk might anger Xi, several senior Trump administration officials reportedly told Politico that they're "not happy with the nature of Trump's comments." Speaking "anonymously," the officials - we have a few guesses as to their identities - told Politico that they are worried Trump's comments might make reaching a deal with Xi - or at least a "pathway" to future talks - difficult, if not impossible. MM hears that some of Trump's top advisers were not at all happy with the bellicose nature of the president's comments to the Wall Street Journal on China tariffs, fearing they could make the high-stakes meetings with Xi even more difficult.  During the interview, Trump said he had no plans to cancel the next stage of tariffs on Chinese imports (tariffs on roughly $200 billion of Chinese goods are set to rise to 25% from 10% early next year), and added that he wouldn't hesitate to slap tariffs on the other $267 billion in imports that haven't already been targeted. Even Apple products and other consumer electronics would not be spared, Trump said. If Apple wants to avoid the tariffs, it can build factories in the US. Since May, the US has slapped tariffs on some $250 billion on Chinese goods, while China has retaliated with tariffs on $60 billion of American products, including foodstuffs like soybeans, which have hammered US farmers.

Trump keeps up tough talk on China tariffs - Trump said he expects to move forward with plans to ratchet up tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, even as he prepares to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of this week. Trump’s meeting with Xi this weekend has been widely seen as the first major opportunity since the trade war began for the two sides to tone down their rhetoric. But Trump already indicated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Monday that it was “highly unlikely” that he’d accept a request by China to hold off on plans to escalate tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on Jan. 1. Trump also said that if his meeting with Xi in Buenos Aires doesn’t result in a deal, then he will slap tariffs between 10 percent and 25 percent on all remaining imported goods from Beijing. That would mean tariffs on all of the more than $520 billion worth of goods that the U.S. imports from China.   Trump said China should “make a fair deal” that would “open up their country to competition from the United States.”“Otherwise, I don’t see a deal being made. And if it’s not made, we will be taking in billions and billions of dollars,” he said. Adam Behsudi has more on Trump’s tough talk here. Full transcript of the WSJ interview here.  The world’s two largest economies are not expected to reach a breakthrough when officials sit down for dinner on Saturday. But the meeting still could result in enough progress to help defuse the trade tensions and establish a framework for a path forward.  Megan Cassella has a full timeline on how the U.S. and China got to this point here.

Signs point to long haul on Trump’s China tariffs -- Ahead of this week's G20 summit in Argentina, it's clear from an interview President Trump gave The Wall Street Journal — and from Axios' own reporting — that his faith in tariffs is as strong as ever. Trump believes to his core that tariffs work, both to create negotiating leverage and as instruments to improve the U.S. economy, though it's hard to locate many economists who agree with Trump on the latter point. A former top trade official on Capitol Hill said after reading the interview: "My main takeaway is that maybe Wall Street needs to stop being so optimistic that Trump is going to negotiate away this China thing in the relatively near future. We are in for a long haul."The interview's key exchange:

  • WSJ's Bob Davis: "[T]he Chinese No. 1 goal in this G-20 is to get you to delay or suspend that [increase in the tariff rate on some Chinese imports from 10 percent to] 25 percent on January 1. ... [A]re you willing to do that?"
  • Trump, who’ll meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit: "I think it would be highly unlikely."

This suggests that, as Trump has been telling people he talks to regularly, he doesn't expect a breakthrough.A breakthrough would mean any kind of deal — even a temporary one — to stop Trump from ratcheting up China tariffs in January, as he’s scheduled to do.

Trump’s aluminum tariffs push metal’s price down in Asia - The aluminum sector has undergone significant change as the U.S.-triggered trade war shakes global markets, easing Asia's supply-demand balance and sending prices for the metal lower in the region. U.S. imports of the metal decreased 10% in the January-August period from a year earlier due to sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump, driving U.S. aluminum prices up. With global production topping 60 million tons per year, aluminum is now the leading nonferrous metal of commerce. Demand for aluminum has been growing in recent years due in part to increased use by automakers competing to produce lighter cars. The U.S. -- the world's second-largest consumer of the metal after China -- imposed a 10% tariff on aluminum imports from Canada and other suppliers from March till June on the grounds of national security. Moreover, the Trump administration in April slapped sanctions on Russia's aluminum giant Rusal, which accounts for about 10% of global aluminum production. Although the sanctions were lifted, an official at a Japanese trading house said, "We do business based on the assumption that there is no Russian [aluminum]." U.S. aluminum imports have continued to slump. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, imports of aluminum materials in the first eight months of 2018 -- excluding scrap -- totaled 3.85 million tons, a year-on-year decrease of 440,000 tons. Aluminum prices have shot up in the U.S., while other countries have seen ingot prices dip.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey, imports of aluminum materials in the first eight months of 2018 -- excluding scrap -- totaled 3.85 million tons, a year-on-year decrease of 440,000 tons. Reflecting the shortage, prices in the U.S. have risen considerably. In late October, spot prices for aluminum ingots on an ex-works basis stood at around $2,400 per ton, up roughly 3% from a year earlier. Aluminum producers are reaping the benefits. Leading U.S. aluminum producer Alcoa logged a 14% year-on-year revenue gain in the July-September quarter. But heavy users of aluminum, such as Coca-Cola, have had to raise prices to cover the increased cost of the metal. America's sources of aluminum have also changed. Procurement from Canada, the U.S.'s biggest supplier, decreased 13% to 1.66 million tons, while purchases from the second- and third-largest suppliers -- the United Arab Emirates and Russia -- declined 15% and 40% to 410,000 and 280,000 tons, respectively. The shortage has forced the U.S. to look for other suppliers.

Trump says he is 'close to doing something' with China on trade - President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday he was "close" to doing something on trade with China. He made the remarks as he prepared to depart for the G-20 summit meeting of world leaders in Argentina. Reuters reported Trump saying though he was close, "he doesn't know if he wants to do it." Trump is supposed to meet with China's President Xi Jinping while the two attend the summit. Trade and tariffs have been topics of increasing tension between the two countries since Trump started ratcheting up the heat earlier this year in a series of escalating tariffs on Chinese imports. China has retaliated with tariffs of its own on U.S. imports.

Trump’s G-20 dance card -- President Donald Trump will arrive in Buenos Aires to a busy schedule of meetings with at least eight world leaders, and trade could be a topic of discussion with most. European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström is worried that a quick U.S.-China deal could put the EU at a disadvantage. U.S. industry groups’ comments on a trade deal with Japan preview a tough time for Tokyo when the talks focus on agriculture and automobiles. Start here:  All eyes might be on Trump’s dinner meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but the U.S. leader has other high-profile meetings that could have trade consequences. Trump is also scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said Trump’s meeting with Abe would also include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.The meetings with Abe and Merkel could prove critical as Trump looks toward negotiations with Japan and the European Union. The two economies are living under the threat of U.S. tariffs on imports of automobiles and auto parts.  White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Tuesday that Trump sees a “good possibility” that a deal with China can be reached. But issues with intellectual property, forced technology transfers, ownership issues and significant tariff and non-tariff barriers “must be solved,” he said, adding that Trump is “perfectly happy to stand on his tariff policies.”While Kudlow was hopeful for a deal in one breath, in the other he downplayed the impact of more tariffs if the meeting ended with no breakthrough. “It’s really just a fraction of our economy,” he said.“I’m not suggesting there aren’t winner and losers in that game,” he said. “It’s a complicated game but on the other hand, I think we are in far better shape to weather this than the Chinese are.” Doug Palmer and Andrew Restuccia have more here.

Brexit plan- Donald Trump cast doubts over future UK-US trade deals- US President Donald Trump has added himself to the chorus of skeptics doubting British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan, saying it isn't clear if the agreement will allow a US-UK trading partnership. "I think we have to take a look at seriously whether or not the UK is allowed to trade. Because you know, right now, if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us," Trump said on the White House's South Lawn. All 27 remaining European Union leaders approved Britain's Brexit agreement on Sunday but May is yet to convince UK Parliament to sign off on the deal. Trump said Monday the prospect that the plan could limit the UK's ability to trade with the US after it exits the EU on March 29, 2019 "wouldn't be a good thing." "I don't think they meant that. I don't think that the Prime Minister meant that. And hopefully, she'll be able to do something about that," Trump said. A UK Government spokeswoman pushed back on the claim, saying that Britain's ability to make independent trade deals with countries around the world once it leaves the EU is "very clear." "We have already been laying the groundwork for an ambitious agreement with the US through our joint working groups," Downing Street said in a statement, adding that the groups have met on five occasions.

US Manufacturers Warn Trump Tariffs Will Bring Higher Prices, Not More Jobs- Survey - IHS Markit, a London-based economics research firm, conducted a survey of just over 800 manufacturing companies between October 12-26 and discovered that President Trump's deepening trade war would raise prices for US consumers (tariffs are a hidden tax), but here is the shocker: it will not bring back many overseas manufacturing jobs.As the administration's tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in July, President Trump, White House officials, and conservative media unleashed a wave of propaganda emphasizing that higher duties would encourage the revival of America's manufacturing sector. By Sept., Trump announced another round of new duties of 10% on $200 billion in Chinese imports, which will increase to an eventual rate of 25% by Jan. 01.To make matters worse, China immediately implemented retaliatory tariff, calling it the "biggest trade war in economic history."Months later, the administration's promise of a manufacturing revival through taxing Chinese imports had backfired. More than 4 in 10 companies surveyed said they are raising prices to offset the higher cost of production (again, a tax on American consumers as real wages remain to stagnate). About 1 in 10 said they expect to reduce the share of total output manufactured outside the US. Approximately the same number said the tariffs would encourage them to move more jobs back home. Trump has touted on social media that "JOBS are coming back to America" as proof that his strategy is working. On Wednesday, he tweeted a steelmaker's plan to create "600 good-paying U.S. JOBS." However, those gains were wiped out by a headline earlier in the week that General Motors would layoff some 14,000 workers in North America and close five manufacturing plants. GM CEO Mary Barra said the company faced many challenges but did not explicitly link Trump administration tariffs, the automaker has been under severe pain by the rapid rise in steel prices from US duties on imported steel and retaliatory auto tariffs by China

Deal with Mexico paves way for asylum overhaul at U.S. border - WaPo — The Trump administration has won the support of Mexico’s incoming government for a plan to remake U.S. border policy by requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims move through U.S. courts, according to Mexican officials and senior members of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s transition team. President Trump briefly described the arrangement in a pair of tweets Saturday evening. “Migrants at the Southern Border will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court,” Trump wrote. “No ‘Releasing’ into the U.S....All will stay in Mexico.” The president then issued a threat. “If for any reason it becomes necessary, we will CLOSE our Southern Border. There is no way that the United States will, after decades of abuse, put up with this costly and dangerous situation anymore!” Trump wrote. Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement that “President Trump has developed a strong relationship with the incoming Lopez Obrador Administration, and we look forward to working with them on a wide range of issues.” The agreement would break with long-standing asylum rules and place a formidable barrier in the path of Central American migrants attempting to reach the United States and escape poverty and violence. By reaching the accord, the Trump administration has also overcome Mexico’s historic reticence to deepen cooperation with the United States on an issue widely seen here as America’s problem. According to outlines of the plan, known as Remain in Mexico, asylum applicants at the border will have to stay in Mexico while their cases are processed, potentially ending the system, which Trump decries as “catch and release,” that has generally allowed those seeking refuge to wait on safer U.S. soil. “For now, we have agreed to this policy of Remain in Mexico,” said Olga Sánchez Cordero, Mexico’s incoming interior minister; she called it a “short-term solution.”

Trump says asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, incoming government denies (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border would stay in Mexico until their asylum claims were individually approved in U.S. courts, but Mexico’s incoming government denied they had struck any deal. Mexico’s incoming interior minister said there was “no agreement of any type between the future government of Mexico and the United States.” Olga Sanchez Cordero, also the top domestic policy official for president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who takes office on Dec. 1, told Reuters that the incoming government was in talks with the United States but emphasized that they could not make any agreement since they were not yet in government. Sanchez ruled out that Mexico would be declared a “safe third country” for asylum claimants, following a Washington Post report of a deal with the Trump administration known as “Remain in Mexico,” which quoted her calling it a “short-term solution.” The plan, according to the newspaper, foresees migrants staying in Mexico while their asylum claims in the United States are being processed, potentially ending a system Trump decries as “catch and release” that has until now often allowed those seeking refuge to wait on safer U.S. soil. “Migrants at the Southern Border will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court. We only will allow those who come into our Country legally. Other than that our very strong policy is Catch and Detain. No “Releasing” into the U.S.,” Trump said in a tweet late Saturday. “All will stay in Mexico,” Trump added in second tweet, that also threatened to close the U.S. southern border if necessary. Jenna Gilbert, managing attorney for the Los Angeles office of Human Rights First, a legal rights organisation, said Trump’s plan is “outright illegal, and I’m sure the administration will once more see itself in court.”

U.S. agents use tear gas as some migrants try to breach U.S.-Mexico border - — U.S. border agents fired tear gas on hundreds of migrants protesting near the border with Mexico on Sunday after some of them attempted to get through the fencing and wire separating the two countries, and American authorities temporarily shut down border crossings from the city where thousands are waiting to apply for asylum. BBC News correspondent Will Grant reported on CBSN that some protesters crossed a footbridge over a canal in Tijuana and ran toward the border. More than 5,000 migrants have been camped in and around a sports complex in the city after making their way through Mexico in recent weeks via caravan. After a few migrants tried to breach the fence separating the two countries, they were enveloped with tear gas. U.S. agents shot the gas, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene. Migrants sought to squeeze through gaps in the wire, climb over fences and peel back metal sheeting to enter. Border Patrol agents closed the pedestrian and vehicle crossing at San Diego earlier Sunday, but reopened it hours later, according to multiple tweets. The Mexican government described Sunday's events as "acts of provocation" that were "far from helpful" for the migrants' objectives. Children screamed and coughed in the mayhem of the tear gas. Fumes were carried by the wind toward people who were hundreds of feet away, not attempting to enter the U.S. Yards away on the U.S. side, shoppers streamed in and out of an outlet mall, which eventually closed.

US Fires Tear Gas at Migrant Children as Mayhem Breaks Out on Mexico Border - At the same moment Christmas trees, lights, and other holiday decor cheerfully went up in homes across the United States, mayhem broke out along the country’s southern border with Mexico in Tijuana. Approximately 500 Central American migrants and asylum seekers reached the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday in an attempt to seek asylum at San Ysidro’s port of entry and to protest the slow pace of the asylum process. Under both international and U.S. law, people from other countries have a right to seek asylum in another country. The United States has a legal obligation toward asylum-seekers thanks to the 1951 Refugee Convention and asylum-seekers may legally seek asylum at any port of entry. Nevertheless, the migrants, including parents with children, were met with tear gas reportedly fired by U.S. Border Patrol agents while shoppers in the U.S. “streamed in and out of an outlet mall,” according to the Associated Press, where many items for sale are likely manufactured by workers struggling to survive in Central America.US Border Patrol has just launched tear gas into Mexico. Breeze carrying it hundreds of yards. Parents running away with choking toddlers. #migrantcaravan— Chris Sherman (@chrisshermanAP) November 25, 2018   It was rumored on Sunday that a young girl was hit and killed by a tear gas canister during the U.S. Border Patrol’s assault on asylum-seekers. While the exact condition of the girl has yet to be confirmed, Movimiento Cosecha has reported that the girl is currently in critical condition. CONFIRMED TEAR GAS has hit asylum seekers, on the ground reports say a young girl was directly hit and is in critical condition or worse. Families are seeking safety. #Migrant Exoduspic.twitter.com/1YPtfO5Ky8

Children ‘Screaming and Coughing’ as Border Patrol Fires Tear Gas Into Mexico — After Central American migrants approached the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday to call attention to awful shelter conditions and request asylum, U.S. Border Patrol agents reportedly fired tear gas into Mexico, forcing parents with toddlers to flee. “Children were screaming and coughing in the mayhem,” the Associated Press reported. “On the U.S. side of the fence, shoppers streamed in and out of an outlet mall.”US Border Patrol has just launched tear gas into Mexico. Breeze carrying it hundreds of yards. Parents running away with choking toddlers. #migrantcaravan  — Chris Sherman (@chrisshermanAP) November 25, 2018  Ana Zuniga, 23, from Honduras cradled 3-year old daughter with red burning eyes. “We ran but when you run the smoke smothers you more.” Said US agents began launching gas when migrants opened small hole in concertina wire at bottom of Tijuana River. She didn’t see anyone get thru Earlier on Sunday, U.S. authorities closed off both directions of the San Ysidro port of entry, which is one of the largest border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico.“Imagine having tear gas launched at you after escaping gang violence/poverty while carrying your child,” Juan Escalante, a columnist at the Huffington Post, wrote on Twitter.Important context for those who haven't been following: -a group of caravan members held a march to the port today, protesting the conditions in shelters and demanding asylum in US/to speak with a rep of US gov't. -CBP shut down the port; no one can cross on either side. https://t.co/Wqk2glLKRi

Border melee ups ante on shutdown - Clashes between migrants and law enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana have created a new challenge for lawmakers hoping to placate President Trump’s demands for a border wall and prevent a government shutdown. Before border authorities turned to tear gas on Sunday to turn away migrants rushing the border, many lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill thought Trump would likely sign funding legislation to prevent a shutdown, even if it represented a watered-down border security package. The ugliness on Sunday, Republicans say, is only likely to convince Trump to dig his heels in harder on more funding for the wall. In a tweet on Monday, the president threatened to “close the Border permanently if need be” and demanded that lawmakers “fund the wall!” Later, he defended the use of tear gas at the border and said members of the migrant caravan would not be allowed to enter the United States. “They had to use [tear gas] because they were being rushed by some very tough people and they used tear gas,” Trump said. “And here’s the bottom line: nobody’s coming into our country unless they come in legally.” Parts of the government will shut down on Dec. 8 if the president does not sign a new funding bill into law. Fresh off their retaking of the House majority, Democrats feel they have the leverage to block Trump’s demands.

 Mexico To Deport Hundreds Of Migrants Who Violently Rushed US Border - Migrant caravan drama returned to the headlines over the weekend after several violent clashes broke out at the US-Mexico border, prompting US troops to fire tear gas at migrants who tried to rush the border, while one migrant who attacked border agents with stones after crossing into Arizona was taken into custody. After the incoming Mexican government denied reports that it had agreed to hold asylum applicants from Central American while they awaited their asylum hearings, Mexico said it would deport some 500 migrants who tried to rush the US border on Sunday. Given all that is happening, it's hardly surprising that President Trump, who just returned from a holiday weekend at Mar-a-Lago, escalated his threats to close the US-Mexico border after a series of angry tweets about a 60 Minutes story about his administration's controversial "child separation" policy where he (correctly) pointed out that the Trump administration's policy was merely a continuation of policies from the Bush and Obama administrations. Trump said that he tried to keep families together, but that "when you do that, vast numbers of additional people storm the border."  @60Minutes did a phony story about child separation when they know we had the exact same policy as the Obama Administration. In fact a picture of children in jails was used by other Fake Media to show how bad (cruel) we are, but it was in 2014 during O years. Obama separated......children from parents, as did Bush etc., because that is the policy and law. I tried to keep them together but the problem is, when you do that, vast numbers of additional people storm the Border. So with Obama seperation is fine, but with Trump it’s not. Fake 60 Minutes! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2018 Trump closed his rant by demanding that Mexico move "stone-cold criminal" migrants back to their home countries "do it by plane, do it by bus, do it any way you want but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A!" Failing this, Trump added "we will close the border permanently if need be" before demanding that Congress "fund the WALL." Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries. Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2018

 1 In 3 'Caravan' Migrants Are Sick, Some With Deadly Diseases - Tijuana health officials have said that of those migrants in the caravan at the United States’ border with Mexico, about one third is being treated for health concerns. Migrants who came with the caravan are suffering from respiratory infections, tuberculosis, chickenpox, and some other serious health issues, Tijuana’s Health Department warned on Thursday morning. A spokesman for the Tijuana Health Department told Fox News that out of 6,000 migrants currently residing in the city, over a third of them (2,267) are being treated for health-related issues. There are several migrants who have contracted serious diseases that are life-threatening. So far, there have been three confirmed cases of tuberculosis and four cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)/AIDS (advanced immunodeficiency syndrome). Lesser illnesses that pose little threat to life include four separate cases of chickenpox, the spokesman said. And at least 101 migrants have lice and multiple instances of skin infections, the department’s data shows, according to a Fox News report.There’s also a looming threat of a Hepatitis outbreak due to unsanitary conditions in and around the shelter caused by the migrants, the spokesman said.  The location also has only 35 portable bathrooms and a sign reading “No Spitting” had to be put up because coughing and spitting by migrants are rampant in the shelter.There are thousands of migrants being sheltered at the Benito Juarez Sports Complex near the San Ysidro U.S.-Mexico Port of Entry, despite the place being capable of providing for 1,000 people. Tijuana’s Mayor, Juan Manuel Gastelum, said Tuesday that the city only has enough money to assist the migrants only for a few more days, with the city saying it’s spending around $30,000 a day. Despite the disturbingly disgusting conditions most of the migrants find themselves in today, most are still committed to entering the U.S. A few have “self-deported” and others have been deported by Mexico, but there are thousands remaining determined to cross the border at all costs.

US immigrants go hungry for fear using food stamps will lead to deportation - The inhumanity of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies has been exposed even more nakedly with new reports on the effects of its changes to the “public charge” rule, introduced last month. It connects the qualifications for visas or permanent resident status to the applicants’ usage of various government programs including housing, subsidized health care or food stamps covered by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Anti-hunger advocates and Food Bank workers report that many immigrant families are choosing to go hungry rather than use food stamps or register at various food banks for fear of being deported or denied permanent residency or citizenship.These reports are based not merely on anecdotal evidence. In the most comprehensive study done on the issue, new research presented this month at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting reveals that SNAP usage by immigrant families has fallen dramatically in the past year, after having steadily increased for a decade.The study, led by Boston Medical Center Deputy Director of Policy Strategy, Allison Bovell-Ammon, surveyed 35,000 mothers with young children in five US cities—Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Little Rock—from 2007 through the first half of 2018. The study found that SNAP participation amongst eligible immigrant families rose steadily in the decade between 2007-2017, regardless of whether the parent had been in the United States for five years or less.The trend, however, changed dramatically in the first half of 2018. Preliminary survey results showed that only 34.8 percent of families in the US for less than five years participated in SNAP, representing a nearly 10 percent drop. Among families with mothers who lived in the US for more than five years, SNAP participation declined to 42.7 percent, a 2 percent drop. In addition, the study also found that household food insecurity increased from 9.9 percent in 2007 to 17.8 percent among immigrant families in the US for less than five years, and rose from 10.8 to 17.5 among families residing in the US for more than five years over the same period. The survey was conducted prior to the announcement of the changes to the public charge rule, meaning that the growth of food insecurity is undoubtedly far more dire today.

Transgender asylum seeker beaten in US custody before her death, according to autopsy - Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a 33-year-old transgender woman seeking asylum in the United States from Honduras, died in August after becoming sick while being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). An independent autopsy released last week found evidence of “physical assault and abuse while in custody.”The autopsy was part of a notice of wrongful death claim filed by the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Hernandez and her family in anticipation of lawsuits to be filed against federal agencies, including ICE and Customs and Border Protection.Hernandez, who was HIV positive, died weeks after turning herself into the San Ysidro port of entry in California on May 9. While imprisoned in the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, she developed diarrhea and began vomiting, and was eventually transferred to another hospital where she died on May 25.The autopsy stated that Hernandez was found with deep bruising on her rib cage and deep contusions on her back, which were “indicative of blows, and/or kicks, and possible strikes with a blunt object.” Her wrists also showed injuries usually associated with the use of handcuffs. The report stated that, “according to observation of other detainees who were with Ms. Hernandez Rodriguez, the diarrhea and vomiting episodes persisted over multiple days with no medical evaluation or treatment, until she was gravely ill.”

Federal judge rules against Trump’s crackdown on ‘sanctuary cities’ A federal judge has ruled against the Trump administration’s crackdown on “sanctuary cities” declaring that federal authorities acted unconstitutionally by withholding government grant money to local jurisdictions that offer protections to undocumented people. District judge Edgardo Ramos said Trump’s justice department had a “lack of authority” to deny the grants used by local law enforcement. His ruling cited the tenth amendment to the US constitution, which enshrines the state’s powers outside of federal government. “The separation of powers acts as a check on tyranny and the concentration of power,” Judge Ramos said in his ruling. The order blocks the federal government from withholding any further grant money and instructs the justice department to reissue the funds from last year. The lawsuit was brought by seven states and the city of New York and follows a similar ruling upheld by the ninth circuit of appeals earlier in the year that blocked the administration from denying federal funds to the city of Chicago, another sanctuary jurisdiction. “Today’s decision is a major win for New Yorkers’ public safety,” said New York attorney general Barbara Underwood. The Trump administration simply does not have the right to require state and local police to act as federal immigration agents. The Trump administration’s attempt to withhold these vital funds was nothing more than a political attack at the expense of our public safety.”

Trump Admin Takes First Steps To Overhaul H-1B Visa That Tech Companies Use To Hire Internationally - President Donald Trump's immigration authorities are moving to enact broad changes to a visa that allows American companies to bring international workers to the country. From a report: On Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Homeland Security released a proposed rule that takes the first steps toward overhauling the H-1B visa. The new rule would prioritize applications for workers with advanced degrees from American universities. The policy would also change the application process companies go through when they want to secure H-1B visas for foreign talent. Instead of completing a petition for the new employee, companies would register for free online to enter what's been described as the "H-1B lottery." Immigration law caps the number of regular H-1B visas that can be awarded each year at 65,000. An additional 20,000 may be awarded to workers with master's degrees and PhDs. Under the new system, USCIS would review all applications, including those for workers with advanced degrees, during a registration period before the actual petitions are filed.

 Trump’s Insults Will Have Consequences - Representative Mia Love, Republican from Utah, finally conceded defeat in her re-election bid — but not without taking a shot at President Donald Trump, who had insulted her the day after the vote:“The president’s behavior towards me made me wonder: What did he have to gain by saying such a thing about a fellow Republican?” Love said. She said Trump’s comments “gave me a clear vision of his world as it is: no real relationships, just convenient transactions. That is an insufficient way to implement sincere service and policy.” What has to be a little scary for the president is that there are an awful lot of Mia Loves around all of a sudden. More than 75 Republican representatives from the 115th Congress won’t be there in the 116th, along with a handful of senators. Trump has lost quite a few White House staffers, cabinet members and other executive-branch officials. It’s a safe bet that very few of these people have warm feelings for the president. Virtually all of those who personally interacted with him will have stories that put him in a bad light, whether it’s his ignorance of public policy, his inclination to do hugely unacceptable things, or his tendency to insult his supporters behind closed doors. We know this because a lot of these folks (and others who are still there) have already proved willing to disclose damaging information about the president, in some cases on the record.    Of course, some of these Formers will keep their mouths shut and quite a few won’t speak openly, whether it’s out of loyalty to the party or concern about their future careers. But one of the striking things about the Trump administration from the beginning has been the willingness of insiders to tell devastating stories about the president despite strong incentives not to do so. All of this turnover creates a growing group with much weaker incentives to keep quiet.

Retired general blasts Trump for ‘announcing’ US Navy secrets during rambling Thanksgiving call - CNN military analyst and retired Lt. General Mark Hertling slammed President Donald Trump’s Thanksgiving conference call to troops deployed over Thanksgiving, saying that discussing political issues with military commanders in front of their soldiers and the world was “flat-out wrong.”Hertling went out of his way to praise the professional response from both troops and commanders to the president’s impromptu comments, saying they were displaying true leadership despite the “very bad” position he was putting them in. “The president bringing up political issues with those commanders in front of their soldiers is a horrible position to put them in,” Herlting said. “And you notice that not a single one of them commented on really what were some obvious distortions of issues, like judges.”Hertling laid out his objections one by one, but he was most incensed about Trump’s public comments about weapons systems with the commander of the USS Ronald Reagan.“He was put in a position on commenting about Navy readiness and the type of equipment that (is) on aircraft carriers, announcing it to the whole world, how what is happening with different types of experimental launch systems,” Hertling said. “All of those things are just flat-out wrong.” Watch the video below.

Roberts’ Rare Rebuke of Trump is Disingenuous -- In a rare rebuke, Chief Justice John Roberts hotly disputed President Donald Trump’s claims that federal judges decide cases based on the presidents who appointed them.Trump was complaining that Jon S. Tigar, the United States District Judge for the Northern District of California had invalidated a Department of Homeland Security rule to end asylum claims by migrants who had illegally crossed the southern border because he was “an Obama judge.” Trump added:“Everybody that wants to sue the United States, they file their case in the Ninth Circuit. And it means an automatic loss no matter what you do, no matter how good your case is.”  The chief justice, on the other hand, insisted in a statement that federal judges are fungible—like baseball umpires. He maintained: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, or Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” Both the president and chief justice are half-right and half-wrong. In most cases, federal judges are interchangeable because the clarity of the law leaves little or no room for interpretive discretion. The United States Supreme Court, for instance, is unanimous each term in approximately one-half of its decisions. A small fraction is decided by 5-4 votes. But these hard cases are commonly controversial and more important than others. The law is frequently indeterminate leaving much room for judges to smuggle in political of personal views.That explains so-called “forum shopping,” i.e., the practice of all lawyers, whether government or private, to file suit in a federal forum featuring judges believed to be philosophically friendly to their claims. And a judge’s philosophy ordinarily aligns with the appointing president’s politics. Judicial appointments are thus a regular theme of presidential campaigns. Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, for example, promised to undo the marked liberal jurisprudence of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Trump assailed the Ninth Circuit forum shopping by plaintiffs challenging several of his signature immigration initiatives because of its liberal bent. But the criticism is like the pot calling the kettle black. The government regularly does the same in steering national security criminal prosecutions to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. It is home to the Pentagon, the CIA (in the Alexandria Division), and the world’s largest naval base (in the Norfolk Division). National security trials there have all the suspense of a marriage ceremony. Not guilty verdicts are as rare as unicorns.

Justice Announces He Suffered ‘Mini-Stroke’ Over Citizens United - Of all the anecdotes that Justice John Paul Stevens dropped in his New York Times interview with Adam Liptak promoting his upcoming book “The Making of a Justice: My First 94 Years,” perhaps the most interesting is the story about how one bonkers opinion ultimately drove him from the Court.  So in addition to decades of existing jurisprudence and a functional democracy, we can add the career of Justice Stevens to Citizens United‘s list of casualties:  Justice Stevens decided to step down on the day he delivered his dissent from the bench in the Citizens United case. He had stumbled over and mispronounced several words. “Unbeknownst to me,” he wrote, “I apparently had suffered a mini-stroke.”So did anyone trying to make sense of that majority opinion. In all seriousness though, his missteps that day led him to seek medical advice and after learning of the stroke, he made the decision to quit. Justice Stevens made the responsible move under the circumstances, because if Citizens United tested his health — and he tells Liptak that he views that opinion along with Heller and the whack-a-doodle reasoning of Bush v. Gore as the three worst mistakes for the Supreme Court in his tenure — one can imagine how he’d have reacted to some of the doozies to come out of the Court since 2010. Yet looming over the whole interview is the question: should American jurisprudence be held hostage to an aging jurist’s sense of their own health?

Trump’s Labor Secretary Gave a Billionaire Pedophile the Deal of a Lifetime — President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is rumored to be on the short list of possible attorney general nominees, but he is now facing demands to resign immediately after an “incredibly disturbing” bombshell investigation by the Miami Herald on Wednesday revealed that—in his previous role as Miami’s top prosecutor—Acosta “bent over backwards” to give a sweetheart plea deal to billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who has been accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls. “Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life,” the Herald noted. But, thanks to Acosta, “an extraordinary deal” was struck that “conceal[ed] the full extent of Epstein’s crimes” and allowed the billionaire hedge manager to skate by with just 13 months in county jail and a non-prosecution agreement. “Court records reveal details of the negotiations and the role that Acosta would play in arranging the deal, which scuttled the federal probe into a possible international sex trafficking operation,” the Herald found. “Among other things, Acosta allowed Epstein’s lawyers unusual freedoms in dictating the terms of the non-prosecution agreement.”

Judge Delays Decision Whether to Unseal Assange Criminal Complaint - A decision whether to unseal U.S. government charges against Julian Assange was delayed for a week by Judge Leonie Brinkema in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday.In her comments to the court, Judge Brinkema appeared to be siding with the government’s argument that there is no legal precedent for a judge to order the release of a criminal complaint or indictment in a case before an arrest is made. However, Katie Townsend, a lawyer for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which filed an application to “unseal criminal prosecution of Julian Assange,” told the court that the government’s inadvertent revelation of charges against the WikiLeaks publisher should prompt the court to release the complaint. The government says it mistakenly included a passage referring to Assange in a totally unrelated case. The passage was reported this month in the press and was read in full by Judge Brinkema in court. It says the government considered alternatives to sealing, but that any procedure “short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”   The paragraph goes on to say that the “complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

White House makes last-ditch push on criminal justice reform bill The Trump administration and a bloc of Republican senators are making a last-ditch attempt to pass a criminal justice reform bill in the lame duck session. In a closed-door party lunch on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence made a strong endorsement of the bill to Senate Republicans, senators said, emphasizing that the GOP could take a clear win in the lame duck with passage. And supporters said they picked up votes during the discussion; one supportive GOP senator said they’ve accrued more than 20 hard “yes” votes and that another dozen or so GOP senators are gettable, which would likely be enough to easily pass the bill — if leadership will bring it up. ..Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) maintained his poker face at the meeting, other than to reiterate the Senate’s short calendar. Asked to assess the prospect that McConnell will put the sentencing and prison reform bill on the floor, one attendee said: “Less than 50/50.” Top White House aide and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner also attended the lunch, though he said nothing at all, senators said. “A lot of people like me are still trying to understand what it does,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who characterized Tuesday’s critical meeting as a “higher level discussion of whether we should attempt to do it.”

Top US House tax writer floats a tax bill on retirement plans and the IRS - A Republican who will soon step down as chairman of the U.S.House of Representatives tax committee late on Monday released a sweeping, nearly 300-page tax bill that he said would affect Americans' retirement savings, numerous business tax breaks and redesign the Internal Revenue Service.Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee only until early January, shepherded through the House and onto President Donald Trump's desk in 2017 a large tax bill that slashed the U.S. corporate tax rate. Of his latest legislation, Brady said in a statement, "The policy proposals in this package have support of Republicans and Democrats in both chambers. I look forward to swift action in the House to send these measures to the Senate."American voters ended Republican control of the House in the Nov. 6 elections and handed majority power to the Democrats. Brady is expected to be replaced as committee chairman in January by Democratic Representative Richard Neal.In the interim, Congress is holding a "lame duck" session in which Republicans such as Brady will still be in charge of the House agenda. No summary of Brady's bill was immediately available, said a spokesman for the lawmaker.The legislation's outlook was not immediately clear, with Congress likely to be busy in the "lame duck" session with a must-pass spending measure and Trump's renewed demands for money to build a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.The 297-page text of the bill covers tax breaks for fuel cell cars, energy efficient homes, race horses, mine safety equipment, auto race tracks and many other items, as well as retirement savings plans such as 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). The bill also "includes some time-sensitive technical corrections" to the 2017 bill that Trump signed into law, Brady said in the statement.

Post Office Privatization Thrust Awaits (Stalled) Publication of Trump Task Force Report - Why Is USPS Privatization Stalled? ] I can think of a few reasons:

  • (1) The rural vote. As is well-known, rural voters break heavily for Trump. Trump may not wish to alienate them by killing off one of their few community centers remaining after deindustrialization, which Post Office reforms focused on “fixed costs” often try to do. At least not until after 2020.
  • (2) Trump’s beef with Amazon. Reuters: A Senate hearing about reforming the U.S. Postal Service that could have scrutinized what Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and others pay for package delivery has been delayed, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, moving back President Donald Trump’s effort to hike the world’s largest online retailer’s rates.  Trump has repeatedly attacked Amazon on Twitter for treating the Postal Service as its “delivery boy” by paying less than it should for deliveries and contributing to the service’s $65 billion loss since the global financial crisis of 2007-2009, without presenting evidence [Vox: “Maybe Trump is somewhat right]. Trump’s attacks on Amazon have gone hand-in-hand with attacks on its founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, who privately owns the Washington Post, which has published several articles critical of Trump’s campaign and presidency.
  • (3) The spoils have not yet been divided. Nobody talks about Post Office real estate, which seems odd to me, since they have rather a lot of it. HuffPo:But it also owns 8,621 properties (totaling about 318 million square feet of interior space), and about 500 acres of vacant land.Most of that owned real estate is prime, downtown real estate in every town and city in America — the main Post Office and the neighborhood branches in cities, suburban branches, and big operations centers. The land is scattered all over the country, but pretty much none of it is in wilderness areas. How much is it worth? Nobody really knows. The USPS, like every government entity, doesn’t regularly appraise its properties. But there is an estimate nosed about by the Right; the [Scaife-funded Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation (IRET)] reported in a 2003 paper that the USPS carried its properties on its books at $15 billion, and that in 1999, it reported that properties it sold went for about seven times book value.

 Lawmakers Reach Farm Bill Deal by Dumping GOP Food-Stamp Rules -Democrats and Republicans said they reached a tentative deal on farm legislation after jettisoning controversial work requirements for food stamp recipients demanded by President Donald Trump and conservatives in the House.Lawmakers said Thursday they expect both chambers to take up the legislation as soon as next week after House-Senate negotiators resolved differences between their versions of the agriculture measures. The bill would renew farm subsidies, federal crop insurance and food aid for low-income families for five years.The biggest stumbling block in the debate over the farm bill, H.R. 2., has been over expanding work requirements for many people who receive food stamps. House Republicans had proposed making older food stamp recipients and those with older children comply with work requirements, while Senate negotiators opposed those changes. The House provisions were left out of the final bill, according to Roberts. He said the bill strengthens existing work requirements without adding new ones and without shifting food stamp funding into job training.

Democrats Taking Key Leadership Jobs Have Pocketed Millions From Pharma --  Three of the lawmakers who will lead the House next year as Congress focuses on skyrocketing drug costs are among the biggest recipients of campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, a new KHN analysis shows. On Wednesday, House Democrats selected Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland to serve as the next majority leader and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina as majority whip, making them the No. 2 and No. 3 most powerful Democrats as their party regains control of the House in January. Both lawmakers have received more than $1 million from pharmaceutical company political action committees in the past decade. Just four members of Congress hold that distinction, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, whom Republicans chose as the next House minority leader earlier this month.Adding Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat expected to be the next speaker, the three-person House Democratic leadership team has collected more than $2.3 million total in campaign contributions from drugmakers since the 2007-08 election cycle, according to KHN’s database.

Bernie Sanders Puts Forward a Program That Could Split the Democratic Party - BlackAgendaReport - Bernie Sanders last week unveiled a 10-point legislative agenda that he believes will galvanize the Democratic base in much the way that Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract With America” propelled the GOP to its biggest electoral sweep since 1946. The Vermont senator’s wish list is genuinely impressive in sweep, a full-blown progressive domestic platform for his expected second run for the presidency in 2020. But the immediate obstacle to Sanders’ proposals for Medicare-For-All, tuition-free public higher education, expanded Social Security, a $15 an hour minimum wage, “bold action” on climate change, fixing the criminal justice system, comprehensive immigration reform, progressive tax reform, a $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul and cheaper prescription drugs, is not Donald Trump’s GOP troglodytes -- it’s Nancy Pelosi and her corporate Democrats, who answer to a much higher power: big capital..” Writing in the Washington Post, Sanders said it’s “not good enough for Democrats to just be the anti-Trump party.” If Democrats “want to keep and expand their majority in the House, take back the Senate and win the White House, Democrats must show the American people that they will aggressively stand up and fight for the working families of this country — black, white, Latino, Asian American or Native American, men and women, gay or straight.”  True enough. Democrats win when their base turns out, but they must have something to turn out for. Sanders’ signature legislation, Medicare-for-All, is a blockbuster issue backed by 85 percent of Democrats and half of Republicans-- a genuine consensus bread and butter “cause” that is ultimately unbeatable in the court of public opinion. It would be unbeatable in Congress, too, if even one of the duopoly parties were solidly behind it. But the corporate Democrats know that their job is to render harmless those measures that threaten the Lords of Capital, their masters. Nancy “We’re Capitalist” Pelosi’s real job is bag woman for corporate contributors.

Full Bernie Sanders Speech on Economic Justice, Healthcare, Opposing Trump & Ending the War in Yemen Democracy Now! (video & transcript) Hundreds of international progressive leaders have traveled to Burlington, Vermont for a gathering hosted by the Sanders Institute. Last night, former presidential candidate and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders kicked the event off with a keynote speech on healthcare, raising the minimum wage and his bipartisan resolution to end military support for the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing of Yemen. He was introduced by Harvard professor Cornel West.

Trump to Let States Divert Obamacare Funds to Other Health Plans - The Trump administration plans to allow states to direct billions of dollars of Obamacare subsidies to health plans that don’t meet the law’s requirements. The change is intended to make insurance more affordable and expand consumer choice. Premiums for Affordable Care Act health plans have increased in recent years, straining the budgets of many middle-class people who don’t qualify for the law’s subsidies. But critics say the new policy could undermine the ACA by driving costs up for people who want more comprehensive coverage. President Donald Trump has been a vociferous opponent of President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. “For far too long, states have looked to Washington with a ‘Mother, may I?’ approach,” said Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Today we are saying the states have the power to make the individual markets work through innovative policies that best meet the needs of your citizens.” She unveiled the plan at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that promotes conservative policies at the state level. The policy would allow states to restructure how the premium subsidies in the ACA market are targeted and decide what type of plans can receive them. Under the law, premium subsidies can be used only to purchase health plans that meet the law’s standards, known as qualified health plans. The Trump administration has expanded access to other types of insurance with weaker consumer protections, such as short-term health plans. State attempts to steer Obamacare subsidies to noncompliant plans would likely face legal challenges.

 Trump proposes a government-run TV news network to counter CNN - President Donald Trump yesterday proposed creating a government-run TV network that would broadcast globally to show the world how great America is. Trump pitched the state-run network as an alternative to CNN. "Throughout the world, CNN has a powerful voice portraying the United States in an unfair and false way," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!" Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2018Law professor Richard Painter, who was the chief White House ethics counsel in the Bush administration from 2005 to 2007, tweeted that Trump's proposed network sounds "Just like Pravda, the Reich Propaganda Ministry and other fine examples of state-run media."Trump continued to rail against the press today, complaining about news coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential links between the Russian government and Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign.  "The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite," Trump wrote, claiming that Mueller "is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System."

'Corporate Greed at Its Worst': After Reaping $514 Million From GOP Tax Scam and Billions in Public Subsidies, GM to Fire Nearly 15,000 Workers - Tax justice and labor advocates were among those who expressed outrage Monday at the news that General Motors—one of the corporate giants that benefited immensely from the Republican tax plan last year—would cut 15 percent of its workforce, shuttering production facilities in three states as well as Canada to trim costs.The auto maker is closing five plants in Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, and Ontario, with plans to cut thousands of office jobs in January—slashing a total of 14,700 jobs.The move comes less than a year after the Republican Party pushed through its tax plan, which offered $514 million tax break to the company. According to the advocacy group Not One Penny, $100 million of those savings went to enriching GM's shareholders, contrary to the GOP's claims that corporate benefits of the tax cuts would trickle down to workers in the form of raises and bonuses."General Motors' decision to gut its workforce epitomizes the bad corporate behavior Republicans in Congress have incentivized for generations. Instead of using its massive tax savings to increase employee wages or invest in its workforce, GM is shuttering plants and cutting jobs to increase profits and further enrich shareholders," said Ryan Thomas, a spokesperson for Not One Penny. "The American people will not forget that Republicans in Congress permitted these morally reprehensible and irresponsible actions."Meanwhile, GM has already spent much of the last year cutting its workforce, offering buyouts to 18,000 workers.Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called GM's decision "corporate greed at its worst.""The workers at Lordstown are the best at what they do, and it's clear once again that GM doesn't respect them," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote on Twitter, referring to the plant that would be closing in his home state. "Ohio taxpayers rescued GM, and it's shameful that the company is now abandoning the Mahoning Valley and laying off workers right before the holidays."Even worse, the company reaped a massive tax break from last year’s GOP tax bill and failed to invest that money in American jobs, choosing to build its Blazer in Mexico. https://t.co/jh6qSsvRPQ — Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) November 26, 2018

'Corporate greed at its worst': Ohio officials slam GM's move out of an area Trump pledged to revive - One of the plants where General Motors plans to slash production and lay off workers next year sits in an area that President Donald Trump promised to revive, within a swing state that will help to decide his bid for a second term in the White House. The Detroit-based automaker announced restructuring plans Monday that could result in the closure of five North American plants in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland and Canada. GM plans to lay off about 14,000 factory and white-collar workers. The company said it will cut about 15 percent of its salaried staff. The factories, most of which build vehicle models that will not be sold in the U.S. after next year, may not close entirely, depending on United Auto Workers union negotiations. They could end up with different models to build. Still, the move is a gut punch to one area in Ohio that Trump pledged to boost last year. GM plans to cut as many as 1,600 factory jobs at a Lordstown, Ohio plant when it winds down production there in March. Last year, Trump — speaking about 20 miles away in Youngstown — said he saw too many empty factories in the area and promised to revive manufacturing there. "I said, those jobs have left Ohio. They're all coming back. They're all coming back. Don't move, don't sell your house," he said at a rally in July 2017, according to The Columbus Dispatch.Democratic officials in the state saw a betrayal Monday from both GM and the president, who won Ohio in part on his pledges to renegotiate trade deals and push American companies to make products domestically. The president's opponents will likely seize on the job losses ahead of a pivotal 2020 election, when Trump may need Ohio's 18 electoral votes to win re-election. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat whose district includes Lordstown, excoriated GM and Trump on Monday. In a statement, he called the move a "bad combination of greedy corporations and policy makers with no understanding of economic development." He asked Trump to "keep his word" from when he came to Ohio's Mahoning Valley last year promising jobs would return. "He promised us that his massive corporate tax cut would lead to dramatic reinvestments in our communities. That clearly is not happening," Ryan added. "The Valley has been yearning for the Trump Administration to come here, roll up their sleeves and help us fight for this recovery. What we've gotten instead are broken promises and petty tweets."

Trump threatens GM over Ohio plans: 'They better damn well open a new plant there' - President Donald Trump on Monday tore into General Motors for its newly announced plan to halt production at multiple plants in the U.S. and Canada, telling reporters that he warned GM CEO Mary Barra that her company was "playing around with the wrong person."  GM's plan to cease operations at plants in Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and Ontario by next year — and to cut back production at two other plants, as well — will cost up to $3.8 billion and shrink the Detroit-based carmaker by more than 14,000 jobs, or about 15 percent of its salaried staff. Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Monday that he spoke with Barra on Sunday night to discuss the downsizing plan. He told her that GM should stop making cars in China and open a new plant in Ohio to replace the ones being closed."They better damn well open a new plant there very quickly," Trump told the Journal. "I love Ohio," Trump said. "I told them, 'you're playing around with the wrong person,'" he added, according to the newspaper.Trump continued: "I said, 'I heard you're closing your plant,'" he recalled from his conversation with Barra. "'It's not going to be closed for long, I hope, Mary, because if it is you have a problem.'"

Angry Trump Says Looking At Cutting All GM Subsidies , Stock Slides - Mere moments after Larry Kudlow made it very clear just how disappointed and betrayed Trump felt by Mary Barra's layoff and plant shuttering announcement on Monday, the president tweeted that he is "very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO, Mary Barra, for closing plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland" even as nothing was being closed in Mexico & China. As a result, he is "now looking at cutting all GM subsidies, including for electric cars." The reason for Trump's anger? "U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get!"....for electric cars. General Motors made a big China bet years ago when they built plants there (and in Mexico) - don’t think that bet is going to pay off. I am here to protect America’s Workers!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2018 GM stock is sliding after Trump's tweet...

Trump says he’ll cut GM’s subsidies. He can’t do it without Congress. Vox President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to retaliate against General Motors for its decision to shutter plants and slash jobs by cutting the automaker’s federal subsidies, including for electric cars. But he can’t act unilaterally to do it.The president has become increasingly incensed publicly since GM said on Monday that it would make overhauls that would lead to $6 billion in cost reductions by 2020, including shuttering up to five plants in the US and Canada and slashing 15 percent of its salaried workforce, a total of some 14,700 jobs. “We don’t like it,” Trump told reporters on Monday. He said that he told CEO Mary Barra, who met with National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow regarding the decision, “You better get back in there soon.” “The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get!” he wrote, before going on to say he was considering cutting GM’s electric car subsidies. At a press briefing on Tuesday, Kudlow also said the administration would be “looking at certain subsidies for electric cars.”  Trump appears to have been referring to a $7,500 federal tax credit for consumers who buy fully electric cars. The credit currently phases out after an automaker sells 200,000 such cars. It originated in the 2009 stimulus bill and was extended in the 2017 Republican tax bill Trump signed last year. Tesla already hit the 200,000-car mark in July. GM is expected to reach it by the end of the year, and actually, Tesla, GM, and Ford have been lobbying lawmakers to lift the cap or get rid of it altogether. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Dean Heller (R-NV) have also proposedraising the cap or extending the credit.Trump now appears to want to do the opposite, but he can’t do it by himself.“Trump would need Congress to pass legislation amending the IRS tax credits for electric vehicles that were in the tax reform passed last year,” Garrett Nelson, a senior equity analyst at research investment firm CFRA Research, told me. “They could conceivably do that.”If Congress were to revise the electric vehicle tax credit, it would also likely have to change i

 Trump Calls For GM To Pay Back Federal Bailout - President Trump made his frustration with GM abundantly clear on Tuesday when he threatened to cut all EV subsidies to the Detroit carmaker. But on Wednesday both the president, this time joined by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, took the administration's attacks on GM to their next logical endpoint: Demanding that the federal bailout recipient return the $11.2 billion loss eaten by taxpayers from the federal bailout that the company received during the depths of the financial crisis. "If GM doesn't want to keep their jobs in the United States, they should pay back the $11.2 billion bailout that was funded by the American taxpayer," read a tweet from a Trump fan account that the president and Mnuchin retweeted. Trump also retweeted two tweets about illegal immigration. If GM doesn't want to keep their jobs in the United States, they should pay back the $11.2 billion bailout that was funded by the American taxpayer. — The Trump Train (@The_Trump_Train) November 28, 2018 GM shares slid after Trump's tweets Tuesday afternoon, but GM stock futures showed little immediate reaction to Trump's threat. GM received billions in bailout money to shore up its troubled financial arm GMAC in 2008. After spinning off the subsidiary (which now trades as Ally Financial), GM saddled the Treasury with a more than $11 billion loss.

Trump charity that gave away millions before 2016 election did not donate last year -President Trump’s charitable foundation made no donations last year, a sharp break from the 2016 election year when it gave away millions of dollars and drew a lawsuit alleging the charity was acting as a quasi-political group.The Donald J. Trump Foundation took in no new money from outside groups last year and donated nothing, according to a 2017 tax return posted online Monday. Trump had promised before taking office to dissolve the foundation to avoid conflicts of interest with his duties as president.  The foundation gave away $3.1 million in 2016, more than it did in the prior three years combined. Much of the money donated that election year went to veterans’ groups. Trump and other directors of his foundation are being sued by New York Atty. Gen. Barbara Underwood, who alleges they used its money to settle business disputes, help with his presidential campaign and pay for personal items. The suit argues that the foundation should be dissolved only under court supervision.The suit seeks $2.8 million in restitution plus penalties, the foundation’s disbandment and a 10-year ban on Trump running any charities. Trump’s lawyer has said the suit is politically motivated and should be dismissed. But a New York judge ruled Friday that it should go forward because there is no basis for finding “animus and bias were the sole motivating factors” for the litigation.

Fox News contributor: ‘Unforgivable’ for Ivanka Trump to use private email after witnessing 2016 campaign  - Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen said Monday that it was “unforgivable” for the president's daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, to use a private email address to conduct government business after witnessing the 2016 campaign.Thiessen, a columnist for The Washington Post, appeared on a Fox News panel to discuss the paper's report that Trump sent emails to government officials from her personal account in 2017.“Was she not around for the 2016 campaign?” Thiessen asked. Thiessen said the issue differed from Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she worked as secretary of State under former President Obama. Still, he said Trump had watched her father, then a Republican presidential candidate, and his base attack Clinton about her use of a private email server throughout the 2016 presidential election.“Was she not there when the Trump rally people were saying 'lock her up?' ” Thiessen asked.  President Trump used the controversy surrounding Clinton's use of a private email server to attack her during the 2016 presidential race, leading chants of “lock her up” at campaign rallies that have continued to break out in his more recent rallies.

 Mueller: Manafort has lied to FBI, special counsel's office since plea deal - Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office "on a variety of subject matters" since his plea deal earlier this year, thereby violating the agreement, Mueller said in a court filing submitted Monday night, while adding that Manafort claims he's been truthful. Manafort, 69, was convicted on multiple counts of financial fraud over the summer in connection to work he completed in Ukraine as a political consultant. Approaching a separate trial on similar charges in September he entered into an arrangement with the government in which he was expected to answer questions on a wide variety of matters. Manafort remains jailed and is expected to face at least 10 years in prison. Mueller’s joint status report noted that both sides called for a sentencing date to be set without delay. “After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement," Mueller’s office said. Manafort, however, according to the report, contested the claims of the special counsel. "Manafort met with the government on numerous occasions and answered the government’s questions," the report said, citing the former chairman. "Manafort has provided information to the government in an effort to live up to his cooperation obligations. He believes he has provided truthful information and does not agree with the government’s characterization or that he has breached the agreement." Still, Mueller’s office argued it would "file a detailed sentencing submission to the Probation Department and the Court in advance of sentencing that sets forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies, including those after signing the plea agreement herein." Manafort was convicted on 8 counts in the Eastern District of Virginia and sentencing in that case is scheduled for early February. 

Trump lashes out at Mueller: A ‘conflicted prosecutor gone rogue’   President Trump on Tuesday took aim at special counsel Robert Mueller, one day after Mueller said in a new filing that Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had violated a plea agreement by lying to federal prosecutors. In a series of tweets, Trump lashed out at Mueller, accusing him of causing "tremendous" damage to the nation's criminal justice system and calling the special counsel a "conflicted prosecutor" who is “only looking at one side” in his investigation. "The Phony Witch Hunt continues, but Mueller and his gang of Angry Dems are only looking at one side, not the other. Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie. Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue," Trump wrote early Tuesday morning. "The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite,” Trump continued in a subsequent tweet. “He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other. Heroes will come of this, and it won’t be Mueller and his.” The president went on to reference the FBI's shuttered investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which chastised the former Democratic presidential nominee as "extremely careless" for her use of a private email server to do official business at the State Department. "The now $30,000,000 Witch Hunt continues and they’ve got nothing but ruined lives. Where is the Server? Let these terrible people go back to the Clinton Foundation and 'Justice' Department!" he wrote.

Trump claims ‘heroes’ will emerge from Mueller’s Russia probe - President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to rail against Robert Mueller, attempting to sow doubt about the special counsel and his team, and suggesting that “heroes” will emerge from the investigation into Russian election meddling. In a string of tweets, Trump accused Mueller of being a “conflicted prosecutor gone rogue,” while providing no evidence to support his claim, and said Mueller and his investigators were leaving “ruined lives” in the wake of their investigation. “The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite. He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other,” Trump wrote. He continued: “Heroes will come of this, and it won’t be Mueller and his terrible Gang of Angry Democrats. Look at their past, and look where they come from. The now $30,000,000 Witch Hunt continues and they’ve got nothing but ruined lives.” Trump’s comments come a day after a number of new developments in the investigation, including a former Trump campaign aide beginning a two week prison sentence and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort being accused by Mueller’s team of breaching his plea deal by lying to investigators. Also on Monday, an associate of Trump confidante Roger Stone said that he would not take a plea deal from the special counsel for allegedly committing perjury. Trump did not cite where his estimate for the investigation’s cost came from, though Trump and his allies have made Mueller’s budget one of their recurring points of criticism, and the issue is likely to come up in the next 10 days as a partial government shutdown looms. Mueller so far has reported spending more than $17 million since his probe launched in May 2017. His next spending report — covering the bulk of 2018 — is likely to be released next month, and a spokesperson for Mueller declined to comment on Trump’s latest tweet about the budget.

 Did Someone Plant a Story Tying Paul Manafort to Julian Assange? - A bombshell report in the Guardian on Tuesday claims Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, met directly with Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, several times in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. If true, the ramifications are immense. It means the guy running Trump’s campaign met directly with the head of the organization that served as a tool of Russia’s intelligence services, distributing stolen Democratic emails in an effort to influence the U.S. presidential election. It could be the proverbial smoking gun that shows Trump’s campaign knew it was receiving help from Russian intelligence services and perhaps even aided the operation.  Luke Harding and Dan Collyns, the reporters behind the Guardian story, do not name their sources, although they claim to have multiple, and they write that they have seen an internal document from Ecuador’s intelligence service listing “Paul Manaford [sic]” as a visitor to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Manafort, for his part, has called the Guardian’s report “totally false and deliberately libelous.” And White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Certainly I remain confident in the White House’s assertion that the president was involved in no wrongdoing, was not involved in any collusion.”  While the immediate reaction to the story was a collective “Wow!”, it is fair to take a step back and remain wary. Rather than being the bombshell smoking gun that directly connects the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks, perhaps the report is something else entirely: a disinformation campaign. Is it possible someone planted this story as a means to discredit the journalists? A number of parties in the Trump-Russia circus have an interest in discrediting the media. Harding is likely a major target for anyone wrapped up in Russia’s intelligence operation against the West’s democratic institutions. He has written a book about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia—literally titled Collusion, as well as numerous articles related to the case, including about the Steele Dossier, Russia’s plans to help rescue Assange from London and spirit him away to Moscow, Russia’s novichok poisoning operation against Sergei Skripal, and a slew of other “Russia-is-up-to-no-good” stories. If this latest story about Manafort and Assange is false, the most logical explanation is that it is an attempt to make Harding look bad.

Manafort allegations throw new uncertainty into Russia probe — The breakdown of a plea deal with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an explosive British news report about alleged contacts he may have had with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threw a new element of uncertainty into the Trump-Russia investigation Tuesday.A day after prosecutors accused Manafort of repeatedly lying to them, trashing his agreement to tell all in return for a lighter sentence, he adamantly denied a report in the Guardian that he had met secretly with Assange around March 2016. That’s the same month Manafort joined the Trump campaign and Russian hackers began an effort to penetrate the email accounts of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.The developments thrust Manafort back into the investigation spotlight, raising new questions about what he knows and what prosecutors say he might be attempting to conceal as they probe Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates in the campaign that sent the celebrity businessman to the White House. All the while, Manafort’s lawyers have been briefing Trump’s attorneys on what their client has told investigators, an unusual arrangement that could give Trump ammunition in his feud against special counsel Robert Mueller.“They share with me the things that pertain to our part of the case,” Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told The Associated Press.Giuliani also said Trump, who has recently stepped up his attacks on Mueller, has been enraged by the treatment of Manafort.Other figures entangled in the investigation, including Trump himself, have been scrambling to escalate attacks and allegations against prosecutors who have been working quietly behind the scenes.Besides denying he’d ever met Assange, Manafort, who is currently in jail, said h e’d told Mueller’s prosecutors the truth during questioning. And WikiLeaks said Manafort had never met with Assange, offering to bet London’s Guardian newspaper “a million dollars and its editor’s head.”

The Guardian Faceplants As Manafort's Passport Stamps Don't Match Fabricated Assange Story - Further evidence that The Guardian "entirely fabricated" a report that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort visited Julian Assange in 2013, 2015 and the spring of 2016; his passports... The Washington Times reports that Manafort's three passports reveal just two visits to England in 2010 and 2012, which support his categorical denial of the "totally false and deliberately libelous" report in The Guardian, which said that Manafort visited Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy - ostensibly to coordinate on the WikiLeaks release of Hillary Clinton's emails. The Times does note that Manafort could have conceivably entered the UK from another European country and not received a stamp - however a representative for Manafort insisted to the Times that Manafort has only made those two visits to England since 2008, and that a libel suit against the Guardian is under discussion. While two of Manafort's passports were entered as evidence at his tax evasion trial - something that The Guardian's Luke Harding and Dan Collyns could have easily looked up - the Times has obtained a copy of his third passport which confirms the two visits.   His attorney explained the passports this way: One was lost, one was used to submit to foreign embassies for visas, and one was used as a backup. Manafort later found the third passport. -Washington Times   WikiLeaks immediately fired back at The Guardian - betting the paper "a million dollars and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange."

Manafort's Lawyer Repeatedly Briefed Trump Attorneys On What He Told Mueller - One day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller said that Paul Manafort had lied and violated his plea agreement with Federal prosecutors, and as a result should be sentenced immediately, the NYT has reported that in a "highly unusual" arrangement, a lawyer for Paul Manafort had repeatedly briefed president Trump's lawyer on what he told Mueller and other federal investigators after he agreed to cooperate with the special counsel.While the arrangement is not illegal, it reportedly inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began "cooperating" two months ago, with some legal experts speculating that Manafort's backdoor cooperation with Trump's legal team was a bid by Trump's former campaign chair for a presidential pardon even as he worked with Mueller in hopes of a lighter sentence.Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani acknowledged the arrangement to the NYT, and "defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed."Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office. As an example of of what Manafort told the Trump legal team, Giuliani said, Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing told him that prosecutors hammered away at whether the president knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians promised to deliver damaging information on Hillary Clinton to his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, although this line of investigation is hardly a surprise. Trump has long denied knowing about the meeting in advance, with Giuliani saying that Mueller "wants Manafort to incriminate Trump."What is notable is that this kind of joint defense agreement is legal, and while Downing’s discussions with the president’s team violated no laws, they helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Manafort and Mueller’s prosecutors, who on Monday accused Manafort of holding out on them and even lying, despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant. As a result of the collapse of the plea deal, Manafort will now face sentencing on two conspiracy charges and eight counts of financial fraud — crimes that could put him behind bars for at least 10 years. Just as importantly, Manafort's frequent updates helped reassure Trump’s legal team that Manafort had not implicated the president in any possible wrongdoing, which begs the question just how was Manafort "cooperating" with Mueller for two whole months.

Manafort Pardon Still On The Table, Trump Says- Even after the former Trump campaign executive struck a plea deal with prosecutors that many assumed involved offering crucial information that could potentially used to incriminate President Trump or other members of his inner circle, President Trump hasn't ruled out the possibility that he might pardon Paul Manafort, according to the New York Post.Though the possibility has never been discussed, the president told the Post during a brief Oval Office interview that he wouldn't rule it out. The comment comes after Mueller accused Manafort of violating his plea agreement to cooperate and demanded that the former lobbyist be sentenced immediately. He's facing a sentence of up to 10 years in prison."It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" the president said during an Oval Office interview. It's true that Trump has never publicly said he would pardon Manafort, but the president's team has always left the option open. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said before Manafort decided to cooperate that the possibility of a Manafort pardon wouldn't be discussed until the Mueller probe had ended (which could explain why Manafort opted to flip rather than risk another conviction). Trump also took the opportunity to criticize Mueller's effort to use relatively minor offenses - or offenses that had nothing to do with his targets' work for the Trump campaign (like most of the offenses that Manafort is accused of) - to try and flip witnesses, which Trump said puts them in a position where they'd go to jail if they told the truth. "If you told the truth, you go to jail," Trump said. "You know this flipping stuff is terrible. You flip and you lie and you get - the prosecutors will tell you 99 percent of the time they can get people to flip. It’s rare that they can’t," Trump said.

Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty to Lying to Congress About Trump and Russia -  — Four months after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance law violations, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has copped to new charges of lying to congressional committees investigating Trump-Russia collusion, according to ABC. His latest plea is part of a new deal reached with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which had been said to be winding down before its latest burst of activity, including an investigation into Roger Stone’s alleged ties to Wikileaks. Stone ally Jerome Corsi this week said he had refused to strike a plea deal with Mueller’s investigators, who had accused him of lying. To hold up his end of the deal, Cohen sat for 70 hours of testimony with the Mueller probe, he said Monday during an appearance at a federal courthouse in Manhattan where he officially pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements.According to the Hill, Cohen’s alleged lies stem from testimony he gave in 2017, when he told the House Intelligence Committee that a planned real-estate deal to build the Trump Moscow Hotel had been abandoned in January 2016 after the Trump Organization decided that “the proposal was not feasible.” While Cohen’s previous plea was an agreement with federal prosecutors in New York, this marks the first time Cohen has been charged by Mueller.As part of his plea Cohen admitted to lying in a written statement to Congress about his role in brokering a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow – the aborted project to build a Trump-branded hotel in the Russian capitol. As has been previously reported, Cohen infamously contacted a press secretary for President Putin to see if Putin could help with some red tape to help start development, though the project was eventually abandoned.Though, according to Cohen’s plea, discussions about the project continued through the first six months of the Trump administration. Cohen had discussed the Trump Moscow project with Trump as recently as August 2017, per a report in the Guardian.

Cohen pleads guilty to lying to Congress about Trump Tower project in Moscow, cuts deal with Mueller -  President Donald Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Russia, and the extent of the president's involvement in and knowledge of that deal.Cohen's plea in federal court in Manhattan, his second there in the past four months, came as part of a new deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.  Cohen, 52, did not previously have a formal cooperation agreement with Mueller, but it is known that he has been speaking for the past several months to the special counsel's office and other law enforcement entities. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and possible coordination between Trump campaign-related figures and the Kremlin, as well as possible obstruction of justice by Trump.Cohen told a judge Thursday that he lied in 2017 to the Senate Intelligence Committee about proposed Trump Tower development in Moscow in order to be consistent with Trump's political messages, and out of loyalty to the president.Cohen's violation carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release. Read Cohen's plea agreement here.A court document laying out the special counsel's allegations refer to Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, through the respective pseudonyms "Individual 1" and the "Company."The special counsel in a court document said Cohen "knowingly and deliberately" lied when he told the Senate committee that the Moscow proposal "ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others" in the Trump Organization.In fact, Cohen discussed the Moscow project with another individual as late as about June 2016, and briefed Trump on it more times than he had claimed to the Senate committee, the special counsel writes. Cohen had made the false claim in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2017. "I assume we will discuss the rejected proposal to build a Trump property in Moscow that was terminated in January of 2016; which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary," Cohen said in that letter. "This was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job. I would ask that the two-page statement about the Moscow proposal that I sent to the Committee in August be incorporated into and attached to this transcript."  Cohen's appearance in court was a surprise. He is due to be sentenced Dec. 12 on his prior guilty plea of eight criminal counts related to tax fraud, excessive campaign contributions and making false statements to a financial institution. Those charges came in a separate federal case not directly lodged by the special counsel.

Document: Michael Cohen Plea Documents in Mueller Probe - Lawfare - The Associate Press reports that on Thursday morning, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York to making false statements to Congress related to his involvement in real estate deals in Russia on behalf of Donald Trump. At the hearing, Cohen's lawyer told the judge that his client was entering a plea agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The criminal information describing Cohen's conduct and the plea agreement he reached with prosecutors are below. Lawfare will post any additional documents as they become available.

Putin Was To Get $50 Million Penthouse In Trump Tower Moscow; Michael Cohen And FBI Informant Negotiated Failed Deal - President Trump's ex-longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen worked with an FBI informant known as "The Quarterback" to negotiate a deal for Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 US election, according to BuzzFeed News.  "The Quarterback," Felix Sater - a longtime FBI and CIA undercover intelligence asset who was busted running a $40 million stock scheme, leveraged his Russia connections to pitch the deal, while Cohen discussed it with Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, according to BuzzFeed, citing two unnamed US law enforcement officials.  Sater told BuzzFeed News today that he and Cohen thought giving the Trump Tower’s most luxurious apartment, a $50 million penthouse, to Putin would entice other wealthy buyers to purchase their own. “In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.” A second source confirmed the plan. –BuzzFeed The Trump Tower Moscow plan is at the center of Cohen's new plea agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller after he admitted to lying to congressional committees investigating Trump-Russia collusion.

Putin Spokesman Shares 2016 Emails From Michael Cohen - It's still unclear whether President Trump and President Vladimir Putin will meet at the G-20 this weekend (the prospects for a meeting have been repeatedly confirmed and denied by both sides), but there's little doubt that, back in Washington, the talk of the town will focus on whether Michael Cohen's guilty plea represents an important turning point in the Russia collusion investigation (as the Washington Post suggested in a Page 1 story published in Friday's paper). But as Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani confirmed yesterday in an interview with the New York Times (and as the president himself told a group of reporters before departing for Argentina), the Cohen story is really just more of the same. And as if the media needed more evidence that the Trump Tower Moscow controversy has already been litigated in the public eye, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday offered a quick reminder when he showed two of Cohen's emails to a group of reporters, confirming a 15-month old report that Cohen had reached out to him to ask for help with facilitating the project (none was offered, and the project was eventually abandoned), the Daily Mail reported. As a reminder, here's what Peskov and Cohen said about Cohen's 'contact' with the Kremlin at the time (per CNN). Cohen has since admitted to lying about the talks ending in January 2016, and has instead claimed that they continued - with the president's involvement at times - until the summer of 2017. "This email said that a certain Russian company together with certain individuals is pursuing the goal of building a skyscraper in the 'Moscow City' district, but things aren't going well and they asked for help with some advice on moving this project forward," Peskov said. "But, since, I repeat again, we do not react to such business topics -- this is not our work -- we left it unanswered." He added: "We cannot discuss with President Putin hundreds and thousands of different requests, which, by the way, come from a variety of countries."

Cohen was in ‘close and regular contact’ with Trump White House staff, legal team while crafting misstatement to Congress - President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen was in “close and regular contact” with White House staff and Trump’s legal team while he was crafting misstatements to Congress, according to a new court filing late Friday night. Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to making misstatements before congressional intelligence committees while testifying about his contacts with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.In the court filing in the Southern District of New York, Cohen’s lawyers wrote that the false statements “sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion” to help push forward Trump’s political messaging.Cohen followed the political messaging that Trump, identified as "Client-1" in the documents, his staff and supporters “repeatedly and forcefully broadcast.” In cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Cohen said he lied about the effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, including his plans to travel to Russia, contacts with Russian officials in connection with the project and how long the property plans were discussed within the Trump Organization, according to court documents.Cohen reportedly discussed the idea of a Trump Tower Moscow with Russian press secretary Dmitry Peskov, two U.S. law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed on Thursday.The Trump Organization reportedly planned to give a $50 million penthouse in the tower to Russian President Vladimir Putin while the company was in negotiations in 2016.Trump and his spokespeople were trying to portray that contact as having ended before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, 2016, according to the Cohen’s court filing.He justified making the false statements to Congress on the grounds that the Moscow project did not end up going forward, Cohen’s lawyers wrote. The plea from Cohen marks the first time he has been charged by Mueller as part of the special counsel's investigation into Russia's election interference and possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow.

Special Counsel Used Cohen To Try To Catch Trump In A Perjury Trap, Giuliani Says -- Michael Cohen's admission that he lied to Congress about the timeline for an aborted Trump Organization deal to build a Trump Tower Moscow (Cohen initially told Congress that the deal fell apart in January 2016, but confessed on Thursday that talks had continued until August of last year) triggered a wave of speculation Thursday morning about whether this was the masterstroke that would finally bring down the president. But amid all of the breathless coverage (as the media did its part in trying to revive the long-dead Russian collusion narrative), one important detail was lost: The fact that Trump - as he told reporters on the White House lawn Thursday - never lied to anyone about the Trump Tower Moscow project.  In fact, the details of Cohen's admission fit with Trump's claims that he didn't have any business in Russia during his time as president (the deal, after all, never materialized). And what's more, when Trump submitted written answers to Mueller last week, he offered a truthful accounting of the deal that comports with the description provided by Cohen, according to White House lawyer Rudy Giuliani.During an interview with the New York Times, Giuliani revealed that Mueller had asked about the Trump Tower Moscow deal, and that Trump had been completely transparent about his involvement - turning over all requested documents and answering all of the special counsel's questions, unlike Cohen, who blatantly lied to Congress.  Though the president tried to accommodate the special counsel's office (within reason), he never provided a timeline for the deal talks. Why? Because Trump was never asked. Mr. Giuliani said that Mr. Mueller’s office did not ask the president about the timing of his discussions with Mr. Cohen about the project. Given the timing of Cohen's plea deal with prosecutors, Giuliani believes that Mueller was attempting to lay a perjury trap for Trump - waiting for the president to offer more details about the deal in the hopes that he would catch him in a lie.

CNN's Gloria Borger: Source close to Cohen says he has 'the goods' - CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger on Thursday said a source close to Michael Cohen told her that Cohen has "the goods" on his former boss, President Trump.  "'Michael has the goods,'" Borger said on CNN, reading her source's quote. "'He has extremely valuable information.'" Cohen, Trump's longtime fixer and attorney, pleaded guilty Thursday for misstatements he made to Congress while testifying about his contacts with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.Cohen appeared in a federal court in Manhattan after reaching a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating ties between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia. According to court documents, Cohen pleaded guilty to making a false statement about the effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign. He also said that he made false statements about the timing of the project."And so this clearly goes beyond the Trump Tower Moscow ... although that is crucial and important," Borger said on CNN. "But if Michael Cohen is talking, and we know how close he was to Trump at certain points, how loyal he has been to Donald Trump, and we also know the things that were being asked in the grand jury.""I think Michael Cohen, who was the man who said he would take a bullet for the president, has now become Brutus to the president," Borger said. "Because he has this need now to - his people say - tell the truth and come clean and is no longer in the business of protecting Donald Trump, which is what he did for all those years."  Cohen has reportedly spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s office since he pleaded guilty to multiple federal crimes in August. He indicated in court that he had violated campaign finance laws at the direction of then-candidate Trump.  The violation stemmed from a $130,000 "hush money" payment to adult film star and director Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged 2016 affair with Trump.

Stormy Daniels Says Michael Avenatti Went Rogue, Sued Trump Against Her Wishes - Two weeks after his arrest for allegedly abusing his girlfriend, Stormy Daniels says that Michael Avenatti sued Donald Trump against her wishes, according to a statement she gave to the Daily Beast on Wednesday.  Avenatti also launched a now-deleted legal defense fundraising site without her consent.  Daniels is now unsure if she will keep Avenatti on as her lawyer.  Here is her full statement, provided to The Daily Beast - with Avenatti's response below: "For months I’ve asked Michael Avenatti to give me accounting information about the fund my supporters so generously donated to for my safety and legal defense. He has repeatedly ignored those requests. Days ago I demanded again, repeatedly, that he tell me how the money was being spent and how much was left. Instead of answering me, without my permission or even my knowledge Michael launched another crowdfunding campaign to raise money on my behalf. I learned about it on Twitter. “I haven’t decided yet what to do about legal representation moving forward. Michael has been a great advocate in many ways. But in other ways Michael has not treated me with the respect and deference an attorney should show to a client. He has spoken on my behalf without my approval. He filed a defamation case against Donald Trump against my wishes. He repeatedly refused to tell me how my legal defense fund was being spent. Now he has launched a new crowdfunding campaign using my face and name without my permission and attributing words to me that I never wrote or said.  “My goal is the same as it has always been—to stand up for myself and take back my voice after being bullied and intimidated by President Trump and his minions. One way or another I’m going to continue in that fight, and I want everyone who has stood by me to know how profoundly grateful I am for their support.” Avenatti hit back, telling the Beast that he has "always been Stormy's biggest champion," and that he's "sacrificed an enormous amount of money, time and energy toward assisting her."  He also became a household name, so let's not pretend Avenatti did this out of the milk of human kindness.  According to NYU Law Professor Stephen Gillers, Avenatti could be in deep trouble if he sued Trump without consent. 

I'm Not Going To Agree That I Lied - Corsi Rejects Mueller's Plea Deal, Plans To Sue - Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi said on Monday that he is refusing to sign a plea deal offered by special counsel Robert Mueller. Corsi, who fell under suspicion as an intermediary between Stone and WikiLeaks during the 2016 US election, said he was offered a deal to plea on one count of perjury. According to the New York Times, Mueller presented Corsi with evidence that he had lied when investigators asked him beforehand if WikiLeaks was going to publish stolen DNC emails during the campaign, while Corsi ostensibly served as the conduit. Among other issues, investigators have been asking about an Aug. 21, 2016, Twitter message in which Mr. Stone predicted that John D. Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, would soon face his “time in the barrel.” Mr. Stone posted his message six weeks before WikiLeaks began releasing tens of thousands of Mr. Podesta’s emails, throwing the Clinton campaign on the defensive a month before the November election. -NYT"Having reviewed my records, I am now confident that I am the source behind Stone’s tweet," Corsi wrote in an early 2017 article on Infowars. While Corsi told the Times two weeks ago that he had told investigators the truth, the special counsel's office "has decided that his text messages and emails contradict some of his statements" concerning the WikiLeaks release, according to people familiar with those discussions. The 72-year-old Corsi says it's BS; "They want me to say I willfully lied. I’m not going to agree that I lied. I did not. I will not lie to save my life. I’d rather sit in prison and rot for as long as these thugs want me to," Corsi said.

Flake: Mueller bill has votes to pass Senate - Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Friday that he believes legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller could pass the Senate, if Republican leadership would agree to bring it up for a vote."I do believe the votes are there on the floor if we can just get a vote, and that's what I'm calling, let's just have a vote," Flake told CNN, asked about a measure that would protect Mueller from being fired without good cause.   The legislation — crafted by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — has languished for months after it passed out the Judiciary Committee. Republican leadership argues it isn't necessary because President Trump, they believe, will not try to interfere with or fire Mueller.

What does Mueller have on Trump?  -- While the Justice Department has stressed that Trump is a “subject,” not a “target,” of the special counsel investigation, he appears to be a rather significant subject that features a virtual bulls eye. The week began with what might have seemed good news for Trump. Jerome Corsi, an associate of Trump confidant Roger Stone, refused a plea bargain from Mueller that he said would force him to lie. However, the draft of the agreement had a clear target in mind, and it definitely was not Corsi. The draft notably refers to “Donald Trump” rather than using standard code like “Person One.” It further states that the Russians did in fact use WikiLeaks as a conduit for the public release of information. It described Stone as someone “Corsi understood to be in regular contact” with candidate Trump. It recounts how Stone allegedly told Corsi to “get to” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and how Corsi related that their “friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps” with “very damaging” information, and how in early 2017, Corsi allegedly “deleted from his computer all email correspondence that predated October 11, 2016.” Corsi has been clearly treated as the direct link to Stone, and Stone as the direct link to Trump. Then came the guilty plea by Cohen for lying to Congress, an account loaded with clear shots at Trump, including Cohen stating he lied to be consistent with Trump and to try to limit the Russia investigation. According to a later leak, Cohen told Mueller he was led to believe he would be given a presidential pardon or some other protection if he continued to maintain this false account. There was very little ambiguity as to the person who gave Cohen that idea in the statement. These efforts by Mueller to get a clean shot at Trump are less surprising than the lateness of the effort. While Mueller reportedly is working on at least one final report, his staff is still pushing hard to implicate Trump. There also is more evidence of a strategy on timing, as it seems likely that Cohen was held back from his plea in open court until after Trump submitted his written answers to the questions from the special counsel. While the known evidence falls short of a clear criminal connection to the president, the immediate danger could be a strategy to trigger Trump to commit possible impeachable offenses. The greatest injuries suffered by Trump in this legal controversy have been largely by his own hand.

How Guccifer 2 Planted Fake Russian Fingerprints On 'Leaked' DNC Docs - In this report, Forensicator analyzes metadata left in the various documents that Guccifer 2 modified and then published on his WordPress blog.  Some new discoveries are made, some revisited.  Forensicator concludes that Guccifer 2’s consistent intent was to plant clues which connected Guccifer 2 to Russia.  Except for one head fake, when Guccifer 2 was Romanian for a day.This report builds on two previous articles: Did Guccifer 2 Plant his Russian Fingerprints? and Media Mishaps: Early Guccifer 2 Coverage.  In those reports we analyze Guccifer 2’s first batch of documents that were published on his WordPress blog.  We demonstrate that Guccifer 2 likely planted his “Russian fingerprints” into those documents.  Those “Russian fingerprints” were widely covered by mainstream media and provided circumstantial support for the idea that Guccifer 2 was in fact a Russian operative (or a team of operatives), in spite of his rather clumsy attempts to cover his tracks. In this report, we take the position that most of Guccifer 2’s metadata modifications were deliberate.  Our position is at odds with mainstream media’s recital of events.The MSM narrative, as best we understand it, is that Guccifer 2 initially slipped up - disclosing documents that were last saved using a user id written in Cyrillic; that user id made reference to a famous Russian spy chief.Further, Guccifer 2’s first document, which he shared with two media outlets had Russian error messages embedded in the PDF’s that those media outlets published.  These error messages became known as Guccifer 2’s “Russian fingerprints”, presumably left behind by accident.  In Did Guccifer 2 Plant his Russian Fingerprints? we demonstrate that the process which Guccifer 2 likely used to plant those Russian error message was complex and deliberate. An important point to make here is that Guccifer 2 modified 36 documents, published in several batches, and each batch has metadata that can be linked to Russia (or in one batch, Romania).  Guccifer 2 often made minimal changes to a document apparently with no rhyme or reason; yet, Russian (Romanian) indications were the only tangible result that those changes had in common.  Guccifer 2 explained away his document tweaks as simply a result of his desire to plant his hacker “water mark” (signature).  The media accepted this explanation and viewed it as a clumsy (and obvious) effort to cover his initial (alleged) mistakes.  We have a different opinion.  We think that Guccifer 2’s main intent was to implant metadata that implicates Russia.

New York Times: Our crime was telling the truth - A new argument has been introduced into the editorial pages of the New York Times and Washington Post: that the American media, by reporting true information about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, was promoting “Russian propaganda.”Over the past two years, major US technology companies, under the pretext of fighting “Russian meddling” in American politics, have created a regime of internet censorship, in which left-wing, anti-war, and socialist viewpoints are routinely deleted or secretly restricted.Now, the leading architects of this censorship regime are demanding its expansion to the mainstream newspapers not targeted by Silicon Valley’s crackdown.On November 17, the Washington Post published an op-ed column by Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former head of security, arguing that the US media should not have reported the WikiLeaks revelations about Hillary Clinton’s corrupt relations with Wall Street and the theft of the Democratic primary in 2016.Stamos writes that Facebook executives “weren’t the only ones” responsible for Russian “meddling … We must also remember that in the summer of 2016, every major media outlet rewarded the hackers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) with thousands of collective stories drawn from the stolen emails of prominent Democrats. The sad truth is that blocking Russian propaganda would have required Facebook to ban stories from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and cable news—not to mention this very paper.” He concludes, these newspapers “have never adequately grappled with their culpability in empowering Russia’s election interference.”

Why Announcement of a Looming White Minority Makes Demographers Nervous.— The graphic was splashy by the Census Bureau’s standards and it showed an unmistakable moment in America’s future: the year 2044, when white Americans were projected to fall below half the population and lose their majority status. The presentation of the data disturbed Kenneth Prewitt, a former Census Bureau director, who saw it while looking through a government report. The graphic made demographic change look like a zero-sum game that white Americans were losing, he thought, and could provoke a political backlash.So after the report’s release three years ago, he organized a meeting with Katherine Wallman, at the time the chief statistician for the United States.“I said ‘I’m really worried about this,’” said Dr. Prewitt, now a professor of public affairs at Columbia University. He added, “Statistics are powerful. They are a description of who we are as a country. If you say majority-minority, that becomes a huge fact in the national discourse.”In a nation preoccupied by race, the moment when white Americans will make up less than half the country’s population has become an object of fascination.For white nationalists, it signifies a kind of doomsday clock counting down to the end of racial and cultural dominance. For progressives who seek an end to Republican power, the year points to inevitable political triumph, when they imagine voters of color will rise up and hand victories to the Democratic Party. But many academics have grown increasingly uneasy with the public fixation. They point to recent research demonstrating the data’s power to shape perceptions. Some are questioning the assumptions the Census Bureau is making about race, and whether projecting the American population even makes sense at a time of rapid demographic change when the categories themselves seem to be shifting.

Corporate PACs Plot Counterstrategy to Thwart Campaign Finance Reform - Jerri-lynn Scofield - A couple of days after the midterms, Politico reported: “I’m going to say something controversial: We believe there isn’t enough money in politics,” said Geoff Ziebart, executive director of the [National Association of Business Political Action Committees (NABPAC), which lobbies on behalf of PACs.] “There’s so much money outside the control of candidates and parties, and Congress has been unwilling to address that.” Well, I guess that’s one way of defining the American money and politics problem.It’s certainly not how I would frame the issue — nor I suspect would most readers of Naked Capitalism.But it’s a framing that accords with the mission of NABPAC, an organisation that describes itself as follows (from the About section of the NABPAC website):The National Association of Business Political Action Committees (NABPAC), a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association, was founded in 1977 and is the sole national organization dedicated to promoting, defending and professionalizing PACs and political action professionals.NABPAC is not a PAC, and does not contribute to candidates – it is a trade association for corporations and business associations. Our goal is to advance the interests of our membership and protect the rights of millions of Americans who participate in democracy though voluntary contributions to a PAC. NABPAC also provides comprehensive membership services to PAC and grassroots professionals through continuing educational workshops, annual conferences, informative publications and peer-to-peer advising. Membership consists of over 700 PAC and government affairs professionals from more than 215 corporations, associations and vendors throughout the country who represent some of the smallest and largest PACs. NABPAC members collectively accounted for PAC receipts in excess of $195 million during the 2016 election cycle.   I don’t think I’m especially naive, but I was a bit surprised to discover an association dedicated to advancing the agenda of “PAC and government affairs professionals.” To summarize NABPAC in a nutshell  (from the History section of the NABPAC website): From its founding, NABPAC has been dedicated to the premise that voluntary contributions to candidates, Parties and other political entities provide the critical resources necessary for pro-business candidates to carry their messages to voters.

Ease banks’ AML reporting burden? FBI, Fincen say not so fast — Recent bipartisan discussions among Senate Banking Committee members may raise hopes for reforming anti-money-laundering rules, but a hearing Thursday revealed that policymakers still have a ways to go to reach consensus. Lawmakers as well as witnesses from regulatory and law enforcement agencies debated whether Congress, in any revamp of the Bank Secrecy Act, should reduce the required amount of suspicious transactions that banks report to regulators. Financial institutions, Republican lawmakers and some regulators support raising thresholds for currency transaction reports and suspicious activity reports. A recent GOP House bill would triple the CTR threshold to $30,000, and double it for SARs to $10,000.   But Democrats, law enforcement officials and others worry that raising the thresholds would be a gift to criminals. “Bipartisan committee staff have been told by” the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the FBI that the threshold “levels contained in the House Republican bill would eliminate around 80% of the data available to federal law enforcement,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the committee’s ranking member, in his opening remarks. “We cannot throw 80% of the data, including on suspicious activity, out the window. That is irresponsible; it makes no sense.” Yet others say data is needed on whether current AML reporting amounts are effective in catching criminals, or simply impose costs on banks without much benefit. “Is there data about the number of prosecutions, the effectiveness of prosecutions, the number of investigations that arise because you’re getting the [CTR] transactions between [$10,000 and $30,000]?” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. “I get that that’s a big volume, but I don’t know how useful that data is.” The hearing came against the backdrop of private talks between staffs of four committee members — Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Doug Jones, D-Ala. — trying to reach consensus on an AML reform package. In addition to the reporting requirements, a key issue is whether Congress will require incorporating businesses to identify their “beneficial owners.”

Hensarling urges Senate action on JOBS Act 3.0 — House Financial Services Committee Chair Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, urged the Senate Thursday to pass a bipartisan capital formation plan that overwhelmingly passed the House in July. The House passed the JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018, commonly referred to as the JOBS Act 3.0, in June with more than 400 votes. Hensarling touted the bill as a way to expand on legislation enacted the month before rolling back certain provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act. The package of legislation was designed to promote entrepreneurial capitalism and venture capital, yet it also contains certain regulatory relief provisions for financial institutions — such as extending the period between living-will submissions, delaying a risk-based capital rule for credit unions and exempting nonbanks from mandatory stress test requirements. “I've been in this body for 16 years, Mr. Speaker, and I've learned a few things,” Hensarling said, speaking on the House floor. “One of the things I've learned is never underestimate the Senate's capacity to do nothing. And unfortunately, so far, the United States Senate has done nothing on a bill that passed 406-4.”  The original iteration of the bill was the Jumpstart Our Businesses Startups Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2012 to help small businesses secure funding. Hensarling’s version would make it easier for businesses to go public. “We cannot be blinded by the fact that as good as the economy is of today, we still have to concentrate on the economy of tomorrow,” Hensarling said. “And we need to know, can we ensure that the seed capital is there? Can we make sure that our public policy nourishes the drivers of tomorrow's economy, the next Amazons, the next Googles, the next Ubers; where are they going to come from?” Hensarling told American Banker in October that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised him JOBS Act 3.0 would receive a floor vote after the midterm elections. “I’ve known the leader, probably first met him in 1984, he has always kept his word,” Hensarling said at the time. “I have no doubt this will be voted on.   If the Senate does not consider JOBS Act 3.0 by the end of the session, the bill would have to be reintroduced and sponsored by another member of Congress.

 Risky Corporate Debt Among Top U.S. Threats Flagged in Fed Financial Stability Report - The U.S. economy is showing some vulnerabilities as investors increasingly buy up risky corporate debt and businesses rely on “historically high” borrowing levels, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday in its first-ever financial stability report. Should the economy turn, money managers who’ve been chasing returns might be in for a rude awakening, with prices for leveraged loans and junk bonds potentially causing some of the steepest losses, the U.S. central bank warned. “High leverage has historically been linked to elevated financial distress and retrenchment by businesses in economic downturns,” the Fed said in a section of its report highlighting how indebted companies are borrowing even more money. “Such an increase in financial distress, should it transpire, could trigger a broad adjustment in prices of business debt.” The Fed also cautioned that escalating trade tensions could lead to a “particularly large” drop in asset prices because “valuations appear elevated relative to historical standards.” Equity prices, in particular, are “somewhat high” relative to corporate earnings forecasts. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated the central bank’s concerns about corporate borrowing and deteriorating credit standards in a Wednesday speech. He added that he believes lenders would weather any widespread failures of debt-laden businesses, while investors in securitized loans might not be as lucky. “The question for financial stability is whether elevated business bankruptcies and outsized losses would risk undermining” financial stability, Powell said at the Economic Club of New York. “For now, my view is that such losses are unlikely to pose a threat to the safety and soundness of the institutions at the core of the system, and instead, are likely to fall on investors.”

Corporate debt credit standards 'deteriorating,' Fed warns — While most financial institutions and markets are strong and show little sign of systemic risk, the amount of debt owed by businesses and the valuations of corporations are elevated and could be a source of concern, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. In a financial stability report, the Fed said that of the four broad areas it examined — elevated valuation pressures, excessive borrowing, excessive leverage within the financial sector and funding risks — the biggest worries were around borrowing levels by businesses and historically high equity valuations and investor appetite for risk. “Valuation pressures are generally elevated, with investors appearing to exhibit a high tolerance for risk-taking, particularly with respect to assets linked to business debt,” the report said. “Borrowing by households has risen roughly in line with household incomes. However, debt owed by businesses relative to gross domestic product is historically high, and there are signs of deteriorating credit standards.” The Federal Reserve said in a report Wednesday that "debt owed by businesses relative to gross domestic product is historically high, and there are signs of deteriorating credit standards." Bloomberg News Private debt overall is only a “moderate” concern, the Fed said, but corporate debt loads have been growing rapidly — particularly at firms “with weaker earnings and higher leverage.” Moreover, credit standards for new leveraged loans “appear to have deteriorated over the last six months” though leveraged loan performance has remained “solid.” The distribution of corporate debt at the lower end of the investment grade in the corporate bond market is at “near-record levels,” suggesting that a sudden drop in rating quality could create a serious devaluation and potential source of systemic destabilization, the report said. ‘

Fed warns that a 'particularly large' plunge in market prices is possible if risks materialize - The Federal Reserve issued a cautionary note Wednesday about risks to financial stability, saying trade tensions, geopolitical uncertainty and a buildup in corporate debt among firms with weak balance sheets pose strong threats. In a lengthy first-time report on the banking system and corporate and business debt, the Fed warned of "generally elevated" asset prices that "appear high relative to their historical ranges." In addition, the central bank said ongoing trade tensions, which are running high between the U.S. and China, coupled with an uncertain geopolitical environment could combine with the high asset prices to provide a notable shock. "An escalation in trade tensions, geopolitical uncertainty, or other adverse shocks could lead to a decline in investor appetite for risks in general," the report said. "The resulting drop in asset prices might be particularly large, given that valuations appear elevated relative to historical levels." The drop in asset prices would make it more difficult for companies to get funding, "putting pressure on a sector where leverage is already high," the report said. The report further noted that the Fed's own rate hikes could pose a threat. A market and economy used to low rates could face issues as the Fed continues to normalize policy through rate hikes and a reduction in its balance sheet, or portfolio of bonds it purchased to stimulate the economy. "Even if central bank policies are fully anticipated by the public, some adjustments could occur abruptly, contributing to volatility in domestic and international financial markets and strains in institutions," the report said.

Markets Can No Longer Rely on the Fed ‘Put’ John Authers - The Federal Reserve and the stock market have a tense relationship. Both sides like to believe that they are in charge. And as Thanksgiving approached, there was a growing sense the Fed might accede the stock market’s wishes and signal that it’s poised to maybe stop raising interest rates. It has become accepted wisdom that the Fed always “tightens until something breaks,” and must be dissuaded from raising rates too far, too fast, for the sake of the stock market. As such, much effort has gone into calculating the strike price of the “Powell put,” or in less technical terms the degree to which the stock market would have to drop before Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his fellow policy makers felt that the risks of collateral damage to the broader economy were so great that they must cut rates. Lower rates tend to raise the valuations that can be justified for buying stocks. I think much of this way of thinking is flawed. To start, the notion of a Fed “put” that implies the central bank would set monetary policy in such a way that protects investors from suffering extreme losses dates back to when Alan Greenspan led the central bank. It was meant at the time as an insult. There is nothing in the Fed’s mandate about the stock market, and it should not care about stock valuations except as one of the factors that contributes to its primary mandate of stable inflation and full employment. Starting in 1998, however, the Fed appeared to move its target for the federal funds rate based exclusively on the level of the S&P 500 Index. Versions of this chart were widespread in trading rooms in the middle of the last decade, when the “Greenspan put” entered the argot:  After the collapse of Lehman Brothers, investors were convinced that another put was in operation, even though rates had already been cut to zero. This time it worked through the Fed’s balance sheet. If the market fell, the Fed would inject cash directly into the financial system by purchasing bonds, thereby expanding its balance sheet assets in a policy known as quantitative easing.  Again, it would be unwise to bank on the Fed using its balance sheet now to support the market. Two successive Fed chairs were determined to deal with the ever-expanding balance sheet before they left. Bernanke wanted to start tapering his bond purchases before he stepped down, and he just managed to do so. Similarly, Janet Yellen wanted to start the process of reducing the balance sheet — quantitative tightening — before she left, and did a great job of persuading the market that she would see it through. At this point, the Powell Fed seems to share the dislike of a big balance sheet. Talk of ending the current program of quantitative tightening has been conspicuous by its absence. Barring some major occurrence, the steady squeeze on its balance sheet, which puts upward pressure on bond yields, will continue on autopilot for the foreseeable future.

 Q3 corporate profits increase - Third quarter corporate profits were released as part of the first revision of GDP this morning.  Since corporate profits deflated by unit labor costs are a long leading indicator, let's take a look Here is the raw corporate profits table released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis: Lines #3 and #11 are the two we are interested in. Both measure corporate profits after tax, with and without inventory adjustments. The first increased quarter over quarter by +3.3%; the second by +0.7%. Note that this q/q result (as opposed to YoY) is not affected by the tax cut enacted last December.A few weeks ago, unit labor costs were reported to have increased by +0.3% in the third quarter.As a result, regardless of which way we measure, corporate profits increased in Q3. Between increased corporate profits and loose lending, as reflected in the Senior Loan Officer Survey several weeks ago, the producer side of the economy continued to do very well through September.  Although several other long leading indicators, most importantly interest rates and housing turned negative by the end of September, this is enough to confirm that, left to its own devices, the economy should not roll over into recession in the first three quarters of next year. The "left to its own devices" part in the above sentence, however, is an important qualifier right now, because it does not include the effect of Trump's tariffs. This is an ongoing and generally haphazard public policy intervention into the market, and the early results, as measured by rail traffic in particular, have been negative. It is simply impossible for me to do anything more than guess how much that might change the conclusion. At the most, I would hazard that Trump will continue to add tariffs, and that it *could* take a weak economy, such as I already foresee for next summer, and tip it into contraction.

CSX Slowly being Dissembled by Mantle Ridge Hedge Fund -- CSX connects most major U.S. cities east of the Mississippi River. Since 2017, the railroad has laid off 6,000 employees, cut back on capital spending, and slashed the number of trains it runs and discontinued hundreds of the routes it serves.Together CSX and Union Pacific serve major U.S. cities west of the Mississippi River and together they discontinued service on 197 out of 301 cross-country routes that the two rail giants partnered on in September 2017.The results of these actions leaves shippers who want to send goods across the country no “direct” means to send a container by rail from Houston to Baltimore. Instead, CSX will take the container as far as Chambersburg, Penn. And the rest of the way will be by a container trucker going the remaining 77 miles to Baltimore. The same exists if the shipper uses Norfolk Southern. Norfolk will take the container only as far as Harrisburg, Penn. And the container will be transferred to a container trucker for the balance of the 76 miles to Baltimore. Why would CSX owners do this when the need still exists? The cost cutting brings short-term profits and a soaring stock price. Between the beginning of 2017 and the end of this year’s third quarter, CSX labor expenses declined by 18% and the value of its stock rose by 106 percent. Rather than increase the price on its route, CSX can maximize profits and minimize capital and maintenance costs by cutting service in the aggregate. The cut in Labor cost is just an add on when compared to the cuts in Overhead costs.  E. Hunter Harrison is the man who figured out how-to pump-up profits by cutting service. Over the course of his career at the Illinois Central, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific Railways; Harrison implemented his trademark program: “precision scheduled railroading.” Besides cutting capital (engines, cars, etc.) Overhead (maintenance of equipment, facilities rail beds, costs associated with Labor, etc.) and Labor costs; precision scheduled railroading means less service, fewer and longer trains, fewer routes, and ignoring some major cities.

Can Zuckerberg Survive Facebook’s Stock Selloff?  --  After losing $200 billion in value since its peak in July, with stock plummeting 40 percent in only four months, Mark Zuckerberg’s longevity as Facebook’s chairman of the board is under attack, but he’s holding all the cards.The next shareholder meeting will vote on a proposal that would lead to an independent board chairman, and shareholders are increasingly disillusioned with the social media giant, which has dragged them through the murky waters of sinister manipulation and the spreading of false information.The blowback has been big, and Zuckerberg’s responses, insufficient, most recently culminating in a damning investigative report by the New York Times.And while some will point out that Facebook’s stock plunge is just part of a wider tech selloff, others will point out that the social media giants fall from grace began before this.Faced with all of this scandal, shareholders are now bemoaning the fact that they don’t have any control over what happens next, now that things have gotten out of hand. Zuckerberg owns 60 percent of the voting power here.And things are about to get even wilder …Over the weekend, British Parliament did something it’s never done before: It seized internal Facebook documents that had been acquired by a startup that is suing the company and brought into the UK by an American businessman.While the lawsuit itself relates to an app designed to find bikini shots among the photos of Facebook users and friends, for British Parliament, they are much more important. On Tuesday, a British lawmaker alleged that the seized documents show that a company engineer identified a major data collection effort based in Russia. It had never been disclosed before, the lawmaker—Damian Collins—alleged. Collins chairs a parliamentary committee investigating disinformation and the use of people’s data, which is a huge concern in Europe. Facebook claims those documents, by U.S. law, have to be kept under seal:

California judge condemns startup for giving secret Facebook papers to UK - A California judge sharply criticized the legal team of the app developer that turned over confidential Facebook documents to the British parliament, accusing the attorneys of behavior that “shocks the conscience” and ordering them to hand over their client’s laptops and other evidence.In a suburban courtroom in Silicon Valley – far from the jurisdiction of Westminster – Judge V Raymond Swope attempted to deal with the legal fallout from an extraordinary maneuver by the UK parliament, which last week seized highly confidential internal Facebook documents from Ted Kramer, founder of Six4Three, a former startup.How Kramer, who has been pursuing a protracted legal battle against Facebook, came to provide those documents to Damian Collins, chair of the parliamentary committee that has been investigating Facebook over fake news, was under dispute as Facebook and Six4Three’s attorneys squared off Friday afternoon. “What has happened is unconscionable,” Swope said from the bench. “It shocks the conscience. And your conduct is not well taken by this court.”Swope ordered Kramer to hand over his laptop, cellphone and passwords to a forensic investigator and ordered Thomas Scaramellino, a member of the Six4Three legal team who was also an investor in the company, to provide his devices for document preservation. The documents given to parliament were produced as part of a lawsuit filed by Six4Three over allegations of anti-competitive practices by Facebook. Six4Three created a controversial Facebook app called Pikinis that allowed users to filter photos to find images with people in bikinis and other swimwear.

Facebook Discussed Using People’s Data As a Bargaining Chip, Emails and Court Filings Suggest Washington Post: Facebook executives in recent years appeared to discuss giving access to their valuable user data to some companies that bought advertising when it was struggling to launch its mobile-ad business, according to internal emails quoted in newly unredacted court filings. In an ongoing federal court case against Facebook, the plaintiffs claim that the social media giant doled out people's data secretly and selectively in exchange for advertising purchases or other concessions, even as others were cut off, ruining their businesses. The case was brought by one such company, Six4Three, which claims its business was destroyed in 2015 by Facebook's actions. In one of the exchanges from the filings, Facebook employees discussed shutting down access "in one-go to all apps that don't spend at least $250k a year to maintain access to the data," according to the trove. The documents reference email exchanges regarding Facebook's relations with several large commercial partners, including Lyft, Tinder, Amazon.com, Airbnb and the Royal Bank of Canada. Facebook denies that it exchanged access to people's data for commercial benefit. Thousands of pages of court filings, which Facebook is fighting to keep sealed -- including in an emergency hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon -- illustrate the shrewd strategies the social network employed as it built its advertising empire. The disclosure sheds light on allegations of anti-competitive behavior that could play into efforts by U.S. and European lawmakers to curb the power of technology giants.

Sheryl Sandberg Is Said to Have Asked Facebook Staff to Research George Soros - Sheryl Sandberg asked Facebook’s communications staff to research George Soros’s financial interests in the wake of his high-profile attacks on tech companies, according to three people with knowledge of her request, indicating that Facebook’s second in command was directly involved in the social network’s response to the liberal billionaire.Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, asked for the information in an email to a senior executive in January that was forwarded to other senior communications and policy staff, the people said. The email came within days of a blistering speech Mr. Soros delivered that month at the World Economic Forum, attacking Facebook and Google as a “menace” to society and calling for the companies to be regulated.Ms. Sandberg — who was at the forum, but was not present for Mr. Soros’s speech, according to a person who attended it — requested an examination into why Mr. Soros had criticized the tech companies and whether he stood to gain financially from the attacks. At the time, Facebook was under growing scrutiny for the role its platform had played in disseminating Russian propaganda and fomenting campaigns of hatred in Myanmar and other countries. Facebook hired an opposition-research firm that gathered and circulated to reporters information about Mr. Soros’s funding of groups critical of the company.  Facebook later commissioned a campaign-style opposition research effort by Definers Public Affairs, a Republican-linked firm, which gathered and circulated to reporters public information about Mr. Soros’s funding of American advocacy groups critical of Facebook.  Those efforts, revealed this month in a New York Times investigation, set off a public relations debacle for Ms. Sandberg and for Facebook, which was accused of trafficking in anti-Semitic attacks against the billionaire. Facebook quickly fired Definers.

Who Will Fix Facebook- - Matt Taibbi -  In its effort to clamp down on fake news, Russian trolls and Nazis, the social media giant has also started banning innocent people, proving again it can’t be trusted to regulate itself –  James Reader tried to do everything right. No fake news, no sloppiness, no spam. The 54-year-old teamster and San Diego resident with a progressive bent had a history of activism, but itched to get more involved.   In 2014, he launched Reverb Press, a site that shared news from a pro-Democratic stance but also, Reader says, took great care to be correct and factual. The independent watchdog site mediabiasfactcheck.com would declare it strongly slanted left but rated it “high for factual reporting, as all news is sourced to credible media outlets.” The site took off, especially during the 2015-16 election season. “We had 30 writers contributing, four full-time editors and an IT worker,” Reader says. “At our peak, we had 4 million to 5 million unique visitors a month.” Through Facebook and social media, Reader estimates, as many as 13 million people a week were seeing Reverb stories. Much of the content was aggregated or had titles like “36 Scariest Quotes From the 2015 GOP Presidential Debates.” But Reverb also did original reporting, like a first-person account of Catholic Church abuse in New Jersey that was picked up by mainstream outlets. Like most independent publishers, he relied heavily on a Facebook page to drive traffic and used Facebook tools to help boost his readership. “We were pouring between $2,000 and $6,000 a month into Facebook, to grow the page,” Reader says. “We tried to do everything they suggested.” Publishers like Reader jumped to it every time Facebook sent hints about changes to its algorithm. When it emphasized video, he moved to develop video content. Reader viewed Facebook as an essential tool for independent media. “Small blogs cannot exist without Facebook,” he says. “At the same time, it was really small blogs that helped Facebook explode in the first place.” But Reader began noticing a problem. Starting with the 2016 election, he would post articles that would end up in right-wing Facebook groups, whose followers would pelt his material with negative comments. He also suspected they were mass-reporting his stories to Facebook as spam.  Reader saw drops in traffic. Soon, ad sales declined and he couldn’t afford to invest in Facebook’s boosting tools anymore, and even when he did, they weren’t working in the same way. “It was like crack-dealing,” he says. “The first hits are free, but pretty soon you have to spend more and more just to keep from losing ground.” After all this, on October 11th this year, Reader was hit with a shock. “I was driving home in San Diego when people started to call with bad news,” he says. They said Reverb had been taken offline. He got home and clicked on his computer: “Facebook Purged Over 800 Accounts and Pages for Pushing Political Spam,” a Washington Post headline read.

Why Was Nancy Pelosi 'Buying The F--king Dip' In AMZN, AAPL, & FB Shares-With Democrats demanding the regulation of social media firms - lambasting Zuckerberg at every opportunity - and leftist politicians up in arms over tax handouts to Jeff Bezos' company in liberal cities, we have a simple question... Why was Nancy Pelosi's family making leveraged long bets on tens of millions of dollars worth of shares in Amazon, Facebook, and Apple in the last month? According to House of Representatives official filings, soon-to-be-majority leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi, reported numerous huge call option purchases in the last few weeks - all of which are underwater now. In September, Pelosi bought 100 Call Options (1,000 shares) in Apple (Strike $145, Maturity 6/19/20) Source In October: Pelosi bought 30 Call Options (3,000 shares) in Amazon (strike $1600, Maturity 1/17/20), 10,000 AT&T shares, and 30 Call Options (3,000 shares) in Facebook (strike $140, Maturity 1/17/20) Source The positions are likely due to her husband of 50 years, Paul Pelosi - a wealthy businessman from San Francisco. Paul Pelosi’s exact net worth is not known, but in 2014, Nancy reported between $43.4 million and $202 million in assets. With Nancy battling the increasingly socialist progressives of her 'new' party to maintain her role as leader, one wonders what Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders will make of this ugly capitalism being unleashed at such an opportune time. (...also we note that the investments have taken a more serious tumble in the weeks since Democrats won the House in the Midterms).

Twitter’s Trans-Activist Decree -- On November 15, I woke up to find my Twitter account locked, on account of what the company described as “hateful conduct.” In order to regain access, I was made to delete two tweets from October. Fair enough, you might think. Concern about the tone of discourse on social media has been widespread for years. Certainly, many have argued that Twitter officials should be doing more to discourage the vitriol and violent threats that have become commonplace on their platform.In this case, however, the notion that my commentary could be construed as “hateful” baffled me. One tweet read, simply, “Men aren’t women,” and the other asked “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?” That last question is one I’ve asked countless times, including in public speeches, and I have yet to get a persuasive answer. I ask these questions not to spread hate—because I do not hate trans-identified individuals—but rather to make sense of arguments made by activists within that community. Instead of answering such questions, however, these same activists insist that the act of simply asking them is evidence of hatred.The statement that “Men aren’t women” would have been seen as banal—indeed, tautological—just a few years ago. Today, it’s considered heresy—akin to terrorist speech that seeks to “deny the humanity” of trans-identified people who very much wish they could change sex, but cannot. These heretics are smeared as “TERF”—a pejorative term that stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist—and blacklisted. On many Twitter threads, the term is more or less synonymous with “Nazi.” Earlier this year, Tyler Coates, an editor at the apparently respectable Esquire magazine, tweeted out “FUCK TERFs!” and promptly got retweeted more than a thousand times. In many progressive corners of academic and online life, it now is taken as cant that anyone who rejects transgender ideology—which is based on the theory that a mystical “gender identity” exists within us, akin to a soul—may be targeted with the most juvenile and vicious attacks. “Punch TERFs and Nazis” has become a common Twitter tagline, as is the demand that “TERFs” be “sent to the gulag.” (This latter suggestion was earnestly defended in a thread authored by students who run the official Twitter account of the LGBTQ+ Society at a British university. The authors went on to say that the gulag model would, in fact, comprise “a compassionate, non-violent course of action” to deal with “TERFs” and “anti-trans bigots” who must be “re-educat[ed].”)

Bitcoin Plunges to $3,738; Whole Crypto Scam Melts Down, Hedge Funds Stuck  Bitcoin plunged to $3,738 at the moment. Down nearly 40% from two weeks ago, and down 81% from peak-mania of $20,078 on December 17, 2017. It’s back where it had first been on August 12, 2017. It looks like a magnificent bubble that is imploding, but “bubble” is a misnomer; it’s a magnificent scam, where people paid a lot of money – many billions of dollars – to get an essentially useless digital entity whose price then dissolved into where it had come from. This chart via CoinMarketCap shows the drama of bitcoin’s market cap surge to $333 billion on December 17, 2017 and the collapse to $64.9 billion now: There are now 2,071 of these cryptos, according to CoinMarketCap, up from 1,926 when I last wrote about it on September 9, and up from 1,400 on January 17, 2018, and up from just a handful a few years ago. These cryptos are multiplying like rabbits.And each of these cryptos, those that are still alive, is constantly adding new coins through “mining.” This mega-dilution impacts some serious real money.Market cap for each crypto is figured by the current number of coins, multiplied by the current price. Since new coins are created all the time through mining, it also creates new market cap when the price is stable, and it covers up some of the damage on the way down.In overall market cap terms, new cryptos are created all the time through initial coin offerings (ICOs) and other methods, and each of these adds new coins through mining. And the overall historic market cap is figured going backwards, based on today’s existing cryptos to arrive at a theoretical market cap at a date in the past. Back in January 7, the actual market cap on that day for all cryptos combined was $704 billion, according to CoinMarketCap on January 7. Today, this market cap figure for January 7 has been inflated, by the process described above, to $833 billion. As of this morning, this market cap has plunged 86% to $116 billion. By this measure, $714 billion have gone up in smoke.

 You May Not Actually Own Your Bitcoin: Legal Expert --The price of Bitcoin has dropped by 75% in the past year, so anyone who invested heavily at the peak will have lost a lot of money. And now there’s more bad news for crypto-currency investors to worry about: they may not legally own the digital assets they have purchased.My colleagues and I have recently completed research showing that courts in England and Wales are unlikely to identify digital tokens as property, since the law does not recognise possession of intangible items. This means that crypto-currency holdings may not qualify as property at all. As a result, although digital tokens are technically secured through blockchain technology, the level of legal protection is unclear. And the same likely applies in other common law jurisdictions such as the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, and most of India. Property law deals with the rights you have over the things you own. Common law systems distinguish between land, called “real property”, and all other property, called “personal property”.Personal property includes rights over two categories of things. First, there are “things in possession”. These are tangible items which you can physically possess and transfer to another. The £20 note in your pocket is a thing in possession.Second, there are “things in action”, a mixed category of rights that can only be claimed or enforced by legal action. This includes debts, rights under contract, and intellectual property. The £20 you have deposited at a bank is a thing in action, because the bank owes you a debt of £20. That debt is intangible, but, if necessary, could be enforced through legal action. So what about digital tokens such as crypto-currencies? Tokens don’t physically exist. They are entries on a virtual ledger. And case law in England and Wales has established that a thing which exists only in electronic form cannot be the subject of possession. So digital tokens aren’t things in possession. But they don’t really resemble things in action either. A Bitcoin doesn’t give you a right to anything or against anyone. What you have is a cryptographic private key (a sort of secret number password) that gives you exclusive control over that Bitcoin.

 Ohio Set To Be First US State To Accept Bitcoin For Taxes, WSJ Report - The U.S. state of Ohio is poised to become the first state to accept Bitcoin (BTC) as tax payment, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports today, Nov. 25. As the WSJ writes, the move initially applies only to businesses, with plans to extend the offering to individual taxpayers in future. Starting this week, Ohio-based businesses will be able register to pay all of their taxes in the leading cryptocurrency. The payments are reportedly set to be processed via crypto payments service BitPay.As the WSJ reports, the crypto-friendly move was initiated by state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who told reporters he is looking to “plan[t] a flag” for Ohio in terms of national cryptocurrency adoption:“I do see [bitcoin] as a legitimate form of currency.”Mandel also told the publication that he is “confident that this cryptocurrency initiative will continue” after his term ends this January. As an elected state official, Mandel told journalists that he is able to decide that his office will accept the digital currency “without approval from the legislature or governor,” the WSJ reports.In contrast, several bills in other U.S. states in the past year that propose accepting crypto for taxes have been initiated, but state lawmakers have delayed their final passing.As Cointelegraph reported in May, the Arizona House of Representatives had passed a tax bill that would allow citizens to pay their taxes using cryptocurrencies, but following the vote, the initiative has been stymied with amendments. In February, the U.S. state of Georgia also had introduced a bill to accept cryptocurrencies as a valid form of payment for state taxes and licenses. At press time, the bill’s status reads “25% progression, died in committee.”

Blockchain's backers concede it has been tainted by crypto - Blockchain’s proponents are weary of trying to convince others of the tech's potential, but they're still committed to hyping it. “We might be a little bit ahead of ourselves with why everyone isn’t on the blockchain yet,” Amber Baldet, co-founder and CEO of Clovyr, told the audience at American Banker’s Block FS conference in New York on Thursday. “It’s going to take some time.” As for exactly how long, the answer to that is complicated. Though blockchain has proved useful in a wide variety of circumstances, particularly in the financial services arena, many bank executives and regulators still link the technology to cryptocurrencies' price volatility. Bitcoin's recent steep price drop only worsens that impression. As of Friday morning, the value of the most famous cryptocurrency had dropped more than $5,500 in the past year. The price has recently rallied, but its continued volatility has caused bank executives and regulators to question cryptocurrencies and anything associated with blockchain technology. Blockchain proponents at Block F|S agreed that concerns about cryptocurrency volatility are complicating the technology's adoption. Fidelity is one of the few major financial services companies to embrace and experiment with blockchain technology despite general cryptocurrency volatility. Tom Jessop, the head of Fidelity digital assets, said in the opening keynote address that the company has done “basic research and development” with blockchain for the past five years. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are "a very powerful development," Jessop said. “We’ll look back in history and say this was a very seminal event not only in finance, but history.”

Senate Banking’s top Dem issues scathing assessment of CFPB’s Mulvaney - Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on Tuesday released a scathing report accusing acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick Mulvaney of undermining the agency's mission.The report by the minority staff of the Senate Banking Committee also raised concern that the bureau could similarly be weakened by Kathy Kraninger, the administration's choice for permanent director who is awaiting Senate confirmation. “Working families and seniors are suffering while Mulvaney does favors for corporate special interests,” Brown, who is the committee's top Democrat and has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, said in a press release. “Wall Street and the financial industry have armies of lobbyists at the beck and call — the CFPB was created to deliver results for American consumers.” According to the findings by the panel's Democrats, Mulvaney "over and over again ... has used his position at the Consumer Protection Bureau to do favors for corporate special interests, rather than look out for the American people he’s supposed to serve."The 36-page report, "Pushing the Envelope: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the Trump Administration," was released before the full Senate is expected to vote soon on Kraninger, who is now a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget.The report largely focuses on Mulvaney, the director of the budget office, but toward the end it criticizes Kraninger as well. The CFPB nominee once interned for Brown when he was a member of the House.  “Mr. Mulvaney has undermined the Bureau’s mission at nearly every turn, and President Trump’s pick to succeed him, Kathy Kraninger, has refused to repudiate any of Mr. Mulvaney’s actions,” the report stated. “President Trump should nominate a serious candidate, with real consumer protection experience and a genuine commitment to the Bureau’s mission, to lead the CFPB.”

Senate vote puts Kraninger step closer to leading CFPB - The Senate moved one step closer Thursday to confirming Office of Management and Budget official Kathy Kraninger as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A motion to limit debate on Kraninger's nomination passed along strictly party lines, 50-49, advancing the nominee to a final vote. Kraninger, who would succeed OMB Director and acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, drew strong opposition from Democrats who raised concerns about her involvement in the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border, and response to three devastating hurricanes in 2017. Kathy Kraninger, who would succeed OMB Director and acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney as head of the consumer bureau, drew strong opposition from Democrats. Bloomberg News Critics also focused on her lack of experience with consumer protection issues, and claim she will resume Mulvaney's efforts to roll back the bureau's aggressive enforcement practices. "It isn’t Ms. Kraninger’s management experience that got her a giant promotion, it’s her enthusiasm for Mick Mulvaney’s anti-consumerism agenda that earned her this reward from President Trump," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the CFPB's original architect, said on the Senate floor Thursday. "And how do I know that? I asked Ms. Kraninger [at her nomination hearing] if she disagreed with one single action that Mr. Mulvaney took during the year he’s controlled the CFPB. And she said, 'I cannot identify any actions that the acting director Mulvaney has taken with which I disagree.’ Not a single one." Yet Kraninger drew backing from Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee. In the floor debate, Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said Kraninger had received "widespread support" from banks, credit unions, Realtors and auto dealers. He also repeated calls for Congress to change the CFPB's single-director structure and move to a bipartisan commission.

Goldman revamped risk oversight shortly after 1MDB deal - US bank supervisors told Goldman Sachs to tighten its oversight of risk and report more of its internal debates about deals just after the Wall Street bank completed $US6.5 billion ($9b) of controversial bond financing for 1MDB, the Malaysian fund. Goldman implemented sweeping changes to how the powerful internal committees that oversee how its operations work, under pressure from the New York Federal Reserve. The reforms were agreed in 2013 after the Fed pressed Goldman to be more transparent, but were not publicly disclosed. The bank is now being investigated by the US Department of Justice over the 1MDB scandal, and has been sued by an Abu Dhabi fund. Tim Leissner, a former Goldman partner, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy relating to money laundering and bribery. Roger Ng, another Goldman banker, has also been charged, although his plea is unknown. Mr Ng could not be reached for comment. The news will add to questions over Goldman's handling of the 1MDB deals and how it failed to block the involvement of Jho Low, a Malaysian financier who is accused by prosecutors of diverting $US2.7b of the 1MDB proceeds into payments including bribery of officials. Mr Low denies the accusations. The changes, which included rewriting of the charters of Goldman committees that approved three 1MDB bonds, were not directly linked to those deals. They resulted from a wider questioning of controls, including concerns that committee minutes did not record debate in sufficient detail.

  In Absolute Coincidence , Goldman Signed Queens Real Estate Deal Same Day As Amazon HQ2 Announced - On the very same day that Amazon.com Inc. announced that Long Island City, New York, would be half of its new headquarters, Goldman Sachs signed a massive real estate deal less than a mile away, Bloomberg reports.The timing was an “absolute coincidence,” said Margaret Anadu, the head of Goldman Sachs’s Urban Investment Group, who was the real estate transaction coordinator on the $83 million apartment complex deal, in Hunter’s Point South. “I didn’t think New York was in the running, much less Long Island City.”For years, Goldman's Urban Investment Group has been investing in communities across the US, supporting a wide variety of development and revitalization projects after decades of deindustrialization. At least that's its mission statement. What it is really doing is pursuing tax breaks anywhere it can get them.The group explicitly targets low-income areas in cities designated as “opportunity zones.” Wall Street firms and accredited investors that construct buildings in those areas can defer taxes on past capital gains, and avoid them on the future profits from their projects, said Bloomberg. And, as we learned thanks to Amazon's HQ2 decision, much of Long Island City resides in such a zone. The project, being built by the Gotham Organization, a real estate development firm with close ties to Goldman, will fund the construction project to produce more than 1,000 units, with 80% designated for affordable housing.“When this massive development is done, it’ll be one of the largest affordable housing communities in New York City’s history,” Anadu said.Amazon has not even moved in yet, but the area is already seeing a big surge of interest. In the weeks following the announcement, the Queens waterfront neighborhood, lined with condo towers, had experienced growing demand in an already hot market.

Bank that lent Manafort millions makes claim on his pricey real estate - A small Chicago bank that lent more than $15 million to Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair who awaits sentencing on a variety of federal charges, is asserting a claim on two multimillion-dollar properties that secure the delinquent loans and are subject to forfeit. The Federal Savings Bank is essentially trying to persuade a federal judge to look beyond the conduct of its own CEO, who allegedly approved the loans to Manafort because he wanted a job in the Trump administration. Paul Manafort's estate in the Hamptons is subject to forfeiture to the U.S. government. But now The Federal Savings Bank, which lent more than $15 million to Manafort, has asserted a claim on the sprawling property. Last month, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson declared that Manafort-owned properties in Brooklyn and the Hamptons were forfeitable to the U.S. government. Also deemed forfeitable was all of the cash — apparently $2.5 million — that Manafort had deposited in an account at Federal Savings. But in a court filing earlier this month, the bank called itself an innocent third party that has an interest in those forfeitable assets. “When it extended the loans to Mr. Manafort, the bank had no knowledge and no reason to know that Mr. Manafort had acquired any of that collateral as a result of his having engaged in any criminal activity,” the bank’s president, Javier Ubarri, wrote in a declaration to the judge. Federal Savings, a $387 million-asset bank that specializes in mortgage lending, has been under a spotlight because of its entanglement with Manafort, a key figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The bank’s efforts to recover on the New York real estate loans may be complicated by evidence and testimony that was presented at Manafort’s trial in Alexandria, Va., over the summer. Prosecutors charged Manafort with bank fraud in connection with the Federal Savings loans, alleging that he submitted false information to the bank. They did not charge the bank's CEO, Stephen Calk, with a crime, but they did seek to implicate him in the political operative’s wrongdoing. “Mr. Calk is a co-conspirator, and he participated in a conspiracy to defraud the bank,” prosecutor Greg Andres told Judge Thomas Ellis during the trial. One former Federal Savings Bank employee testified that Calk expedited approval of a $9.5 million loan to Manafort in November 2016. Eight days later, Manafort sent an email to a Trump transition official urging Calk to be considered for secretary of the Army. Manafort was found guilty in August on eight counts related to bank and tax fraud. A mistrial was declared on 10 additional charges, including four counts that were connected to the Federal Savings Bank loans, after a lone juror voted not to convict on those charges.

Cheat sheet: Hopes and hang-ups on CRA reform — Bank regulators have not come out with a formal plan for updating the Community Reinvestment Act, but a preliminary list of questions about the reform effort issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has produced a treasure trove of public feedback to guide their deliberations. The OCC received more than 1,300 comments on its advance notice of proposed rulemaking asking for responses on how to expand the 1977-era CRA, which grades banks on lending to low- to moderate-income communities in their branch networks. The comment period closed on Nov. 19. Opinions about the proposed rulemaking notice vary. Many in the industry have lauded the step taken by the agency, which insists it was merely trying to gather feedback. But some stakeholders say the agency's questions reflected its policy leanings. For example, some critics have suggested the agency appears to support expanding CRA assessment areas, but observers worry that could dilute resources in communities that need the law most. The comment letters as well as interviews with those following the agencies' effort reflect an intense debate among the various parties focused on CRA, which will only get more intense the further the agencies get in producing a plan. Among the comment letters, many industry stakeholders backed expanding CRA assessment areas, state authorities warned the regulators not to reduce oversight of discriminatory lending practices and consumer advocacy groups urged the federal agencies to avoid any plan resulting in a loss of loans and investments in low- and moderate-income communities. Here are key themes that were raised in the comment letters.

GSE capital rule is hypothetical, but FHFA gets earful anyway — A risk-based capital plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is only theoretical as long as the two mortgage giants remain under government control. But the Federal Housing Finance Agency proposal requiring the government-sponsored enterprises to prepare for future crises still elicits strong opinions. The FHFA has mostly won praise for developing the plan, meant to smooth the transition if Fannie and Freddie are released from their conservatorships. But lenders and other stakeholders are still poking holes in the proposal, calling for a higher level of required capital, changes to risk factors to protect the GSEs in a downturn, and a revamp to the FHFA's rulemaking process. Among the more than 70 comment letters received by the agency, several stakeholders also called for greater transparency about how the proposal was formulated. The Housing Policy Council "urges FHFA to reconsider and rework several features of the proposed capital framework and to republish the proposal with the full set of models, data, and assumptions, embedded in the proposed capital framework," wrote Edward DeMarco, president of the group representing some of the largest lenders and a former acting FHFA director. The proposal, issued in June, would assess the GSEs' credit risk for different mortgage categories and include market and operational risk components in measuring the firms' capital strength. The FHFA also asked for comment on two different options for establishing a minimum leverage ratio for the companies: one where capital is equal to 2.5% of assets and off-balance-sheet guarantees, or an option requiring capital equal to 1.5% of trust assets and 4% of nontrust assets. But both big and smaller lenders saw room for improvement in the plan. Smaller financial institutions encouraged the FHFA to require a bigger capital cushion than the agency originally proposed.

 Weren’t algorithms supposed to make digital mortgages colorblind? - When banks and fintechs offer mortgages online using automated underwriting, they charge creditworthy minorities more than white applicants — the same way human loan officers do. That's the conclusion of a study conducted by professors at the University of California, Berkeley. As more online lenders and banks automate their lending — using mathematical models to make loan decisions rather than officers — the question of whether those algorithms can be unbiased or potentially introduce new and unintended forms of discrimination is a critical one. This Berkeley study offers a new answer: So far, lending algorithms in digital mortgages are biased in exactly the same way humans are, possibly because developers build the logic human lenders use into their software. The report, Consumer-Lending Discrimination in the Era of FinTech, found that lending officers and software-based underwriting engines both charge Latino and African-American loan applicants interest rates that are six to nine basis points higher than white applicants who have the same FICO score and loan-to-value ratio. The higher interest rate was the same, whether it was a loan officer, a bank’s online lending arm or a fintech mortgage lender like Quicken or SoFi. Interest rates to minority borrowers versus whites on digital mortgages according to study by University of California, Berkeley Bank of America, which began offering a digital mortgage in April, declined to comment. Quicken and SoFi did not respond to requests for comment. Some online lenders, such as Upstart (which does not offer mortgages), have said their algorithms help reduce the cost of credit and give more people offers at better pricing than traditional lenders. Upstart uses “alternative” data about education, occupation and even loan application variables in its underwriting models.   “A lot of variables that tend to be correlated with speed or lack of prudence are highly correlated with default,”  “And indications that someone desperately needs the money right away will be correlated with defaults.” Such factors are less discriminatory than relying on FICO scores, which correlate to income and race, according to online lender. But in the mortgage area, it appears that bank and fintech lenders are baking traditional methods of underwriting into their digital channels. 

Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Decreased in October -- From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Mortgage Delinquencies Rebound Strongly in October; Number of Seriously Past-Due Loans Falls Below 500,000 for First Time Since 2006

• After rising sharply in September, mortgage delinquencies fell by 8.2 percent in October and are now down by nearly 18 percent from the same time last year
• Serious delinquencies – loans 90 or more days past due – fell by 14,000 from last month and 90,000 from last October to hit a more than 12-year low
• Improvements in hurricane-related delinquencies associated with Harvey and Irma – which spiked in late 2017 – are contributing to the strong year-over-year improvements
• Despite foreclosure starts seeing a monthly increase from September’s nearly 18-year low, the number of loans in active foreclosure fell slightly from September and has decreased by 24 percent from last year
• Prepayment activity – now driven primarily by housing turnover – climbed 14 percent, but remains 29 percent below last year’s level
According to Black Knight's First Look report for October, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 8.2% in October compared to September, and decreased 17.9% year-over-year.The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 0.5% in October and were down 24.2% over the last year. Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.64% in October, down from 3.97% in September. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased slightly in October to 0.52% from 0.52% in September. The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is down 378,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 81,000 properties year-over-year.

 Seriously delinquent mortgages hit lowest point since 2006 - October's loan delinquencies, especially those in serious delinquency, got much healthier after improving from the fallout of the last two hurricane seasons, according to Black Knight. The total number of properties with loans 90 or more days past due dropped to 499,000 in October. It represented a 12-year low, falling 90,000 from a year earlier and 14,000 from the prior month as properties rebounded from the aftermath of past hurricanes. "Long-term delinquencies related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma peaked late last year, but have showed continued improvement ever since. In turn, this improvement has largely driven the significant year-over-year reductions we've seen in serious delinquencies recently," Ben Graboske, executive vice president of Black Knight's data and analytics division, said in a statement to NMN. "More broadly speaking, though, the high quality of post-crisis mortgage originations and the historically low levels of new troubled loans we're seeing enter the market have resulted in a more than 12-year low in a serious delinquencies," Graboske continued. Of all the states, Mississippi's delinquency rate was highest at 10%. Louisiana followed with 7.89% and Alabama was third with 6.76%. Total active foreclosures also fell to 267,000, dropping 24.24% from the year before and 0.54% from September. Foreclosure starts, on the other hand, went up to 50,600, rising 0.8% year-over-year and 26.5% month-over-month. However, this was after reaching an 18-year low in September.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Decreased in October --Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in October was 0.71%, down from 0.73% in September. Freddie's rate is down from 0.86% in October 2017. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.This is the lowest serious delinquency rate for Freddie Mac since January 2008.These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  The increase in the delinquency rate late last year was due to the hurricanes (These are serious delinquencies, so it took three months late to be counted). I expect the delinquency rate to decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.5% to 0.7% range - but this is close to a bottom.

Fannie Mae: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Declined in October --Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency rate declined to 0.79% in October, from 0.82% in September. The serious delinquency rate is down from 1.01% in October 2017.These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure". The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59%. This is the lowest serious delinquency rate for Fannie Mae since September 2007.  By vintage, for loans made in 2004 or earlier (3% of portfolio), 2.73% are seriously delinquent. For loans made in 2005 through 2008 (5% of portfolio), 4.82% are seriously delinquent, For recent loans, originated in 2009 through 2018 (92% of portfolio), only 0.33% are seriously delinquent. So Fannie is still working through poor performing loans from the bubble years.The increase late last year in the delinquency rate was due to the hurricanes - there were no worries about the overall market. I expect the serious delinquency rate will probably decline to 0.5 to 0.7 percent or so to a cycle bottom.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Latest Weekly Survey -From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications increased 5.5 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending November 23, 2018. This week’s results include an adjustment for the Thanksgiving holiday…The Refinance Index increased 1 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 9 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 28 percent compared with the previous week and was 2 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ...“After several weeks of market volatility, 30-year fixed mortgage rates decreased four basis points to 5.12 percent last week. Homebuyers responded, with purchase applications 1.7 percent higher than a year ago, and after adjusting for the Thanksgiving holiday, they increased almost 9 percent from the previous week,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist. “The rise in purchase activity was led by conventional purchase applications, which surged almost 12 percent, while government purchases were essentially unchanged over the week. This also pushed the average loan size for purchase applications higher, which likely meant there were fewer first-time homebuyers in the market last week.”..The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) decreased to 5.12 percent from 5.16 percent, with points decreasing to 0.46 from 0.48 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

FHFA House Price Index: House Prices Up 1.3% in Q3 - The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for September. Here is the opening of the report: Washington, D.C. – U.S. house prices rose 1.3 percent in the third quarter of 2018 according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 6.3 percent from the third quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2018. FHFA’s seasonally adjusted monthly index for September was up 0.2 percent from August. [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.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 5.5% year-over-year in September --S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for September ("September" is a 3 month average of July, August and September prices).This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index.From S&P: Annual Home Price Gains Slow According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index: The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 5.5% annual gain in September, down from 5.7% in the previous month. The 10City Composite annual increase came in at 4.8%, down from 5.2% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 5.1% year-over-year gain, down from 5.5% in the previous month.Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In September, Las Vegas led the way with a 13.5% year-over-year price increase, followed by San Francisco with a 9.9% increase and Seattle with an 8.4% increase. Four of the 20 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending September 2018 versus the year ending August 2018.Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month gain of 0.1% in September. The 10-City and 20-City Composites did not report any gains for the month. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index recorded a 0.4% month-over-month increase in September. The 10-City Composite and the 20-City Composite both posted 0.3% month-over-month increases. In September, nine of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment, while 18 of 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment. “Home prices plus data on house sales and construction confirm the slowdown in housing,” “Sales of both new and existing single family homes peaked one year ago in November 2017. Sales of existing homes are down 9.3% from that peak. Housing starts are down 8.7% from November of last year.  One factor contributing to the weaker housing market is the recent increase in mortgage rates. Currently the national average for a 30-year fixed rate loan is 4.9%, a full percentage point higher than a year ago.” The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000). The National index is 10.8% above the bubble peak (SA), and up 0.4% (SA) in September.  The National index is up 49.8% from the post-bubble low set in December 2011 (SA).The second graph shows the Year over year change in all three indices.The Composite 10 SA is up 4.8% compared to September 2017.  The Composite 20 SA is up 5.2% year-over-year.The National index SA is up 5.5% year-over-year.Note: According to the data, prices increased in 18 of 20 cities month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

Real House Prices and Price-to-Rent Ratio in September -- It has been over eleven years since the bubble peak. In the Case-Shiller release this morning, the seasonally adjusted National Index (SA), was reported as being 10.8% above the previous bubble peak.However, in real terms, the National index (SA) is still about 8.5% below the bubble peak (and historically there has been an upward slope to real house prices).  The composite 20, in real terms, is still 12.4% below the bubble peak. The year-over-year increase in prices has slowed to 5.5% nationally, and will probably slow more as inventory picks up. Usually people graph nominal house prices, but it is also important to look at prices in real terms (inflation adjusted).  Case-Shiller and others report nominal house prices.  As an example, if a house price was $200,000 in January 2000, the price would be close to $286,000 today adjusted for inflation (43%).  That is why the second graph below is important - this shows "real" prices (adjusted for inflation).  The first graph shows the monthly Case-Shiller National Index SA, and the monthly Case-Shiller Composite 20 SA (through August) in nominal terms as reported.In nominal terms, the Case-Shiller National index (SA)and the Case-Shiller Composite 20 Index (SA) are both at new all times highs (above the bubble peak).  The second graph shows the same two indexes in real terms (adjusted for inflation using CPI less Shelter). Note: some people use other inflation measures to adjust for real prices.In real terms, the National index is back to January 2005 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to June 2004. In real terms,  house prices are at 2004/2005 levels. This graph shows the price to rent ratio (January 2000 = 1.0).On a price-to-rent basis, the Case-Shiller National index is back to February 2004 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to November 2003 levels.In real terms, prices are back to late 2004 levels, and the price-to-rent ratio is back to late 2003, early 2004.

Zillow Case-Shiller Forecast: Slower House Price Gains in October --The Case-Shiller house price indexes for September were released this week. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close.From Aaron Terrazas at Zillow: September Case-Shiller Results and October Forecast: A Slow Return to the Push-Pull of a Normal MarketThe U.S. National S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index — which tracks home prices — rose 5.5 percent in September from a year earlier, in line with Zillow’s forecast last month....Zillow forecasts an even slower 5.4 percent annual gain for October.  The Zillow forecast is for the year-over-year change for the Case-Shiller National index to be smaller in September than in August as house price growth slows.

 Housing market to flatten out in 2019- Barclays - While a downturn is expected to come for the housing market, it could be more of a side-step than falling off a cliff, according to the latest Barclays Global Economics Weekly report. Trajectories show a leveling off for housing activity in 2019 — pulled down by lower affordability with the Fed's forecasted tightening but buoyed by decreased home price growth and climbing income. Barclays housing report "Although it would not be surprising to see affordability deteriorate a little further if the Fed follows through on its planned tightening, this effect should be cushioned by the influence of accelerating wages on household income," the Barclays report said. "More broadly, we expect housing to be supported by the virtuous cycle of increased hiring, rising incomes and additional spending that continues to fuel the expansion." October had the first year-over-year housing inventory gain in 10 years, according to Remax. The perennially inflating home prices that kept sales down also helped boost inventory. Overall, the market moves closer to equilibrium between buyers and sellers with demand and supply maintaining a balance. "We expect demand from millennials and others to sustain a natural rate of starts in the vicinity of 1.25 million units, close to where the level of starts stands. This bodes favorably in comparison to historical housing downturns, where starts have typically ascended well above their natural level, leading to accumulating imbalances and subsequent correction," said the report. Housing starts fell 2.9% year-over-year in October, a decline of about 37,000 units. However, it grew 1.5% month-over-month, adding roughly 18,000 units from September, according to the Census Bureau. Subscribe

NAR: Pending Home Sales Index Decreased 2.6% in October - From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Slip 2.6 Percent in October  Pending home sales declined slightly in October in all regions but the Northeast, according to the National Association of Realtors®.  The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, decreased 2.6 percent to 102.1 in October, down from 104.8 in September. However, year-over-year contract signings dropped 6.7 percent, making this the tenth straight month of annual decreases. ..  The PHSI in the Northeast rose 0.7 percent to 92.9 in October, and is now 2.9 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest, the index fell 1.8 percent to 100.4 in October and is 4.9 percent lower than October 2017.   Pending home sales in the South fell 1.1 percent to an index of 118.9 in October, which is 4.6 percent lower than a year ago. The index in the West decreased 8.9 percent in October to 84.8 and fell 15.3 percent below a year ago.   This was well below expectations for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in November and December.

Pending home sales declined to four-year low in October - Contract signings to purchase previously owned homes unexpectedly fell by the most since January, reaching the lowest level since mid-2014 amid mounting evidence that the housing market is struggling.The index of pending home sales dropped 2.6%, after a 0.7% gain the previous month, according to data Thursday from the National Association of Realtors in Washington. That missed the median estimate in Bloomberg’s survey calling for a 0.5% rise. The gauge was down 4.6% from a year earlier on an unadjusted basis, following a 3.3% decrease. The results underscore the challenges as elevated prices and rising mortgage rates are keeping more Americans on the sidelines of the housing market. Economists consider pending-home sales a leading indicator because they track contract signings; purchases of existing homes are tabulated when a deal closes, typically a month or two later. The recent rise in mortgage rates has "reduced the pool of eligible homebuyers," Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, said in a statement. While the job market looks strong, making long-term prospects look solid, "we just have to get through this short-term period of uncertainty." Pending sales fell in three of four regions, led by an 8.9% slump in the West as the Midwest and South also declined. Signings in the Northeast rose 0.7%. The index level of 102.1 was the lowest since July 2014. While the report is in line with the view that housing isn't expected to collapse, the industry may have trouble gaining traction.

 New Home Sales decrease to 544,000 Annual Rate in October - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in October were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 544 thousand. The previous three months were revised up significantly.  "Sales of new single‐family houses in October 2018 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 544,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 8.9 percent  below the revised September rate of 597,000 and is 12.0 percent below the October 2017 estimate of 618,000. "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 decreased in October to 7.4 months from 6.5 months in September. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is above the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). "The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of October was 336,000. This represents a supply of 7.4 months at the current sales rate." Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is a little low.

A few Comments on October New Home Sales -- New home sales for October were reported at 544,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). This was below the consensus forecast, however the three previous months were revised up significantly. Although weak, this was only a little below the initial report for September of 553,000 (now revised up to 597,000). Sales in October were down 12.0% year-over-year compared to October 2017.    The largest declines were in the Northeast, possibly due to a combination of higher interest rates and changes in the tax law. Months of inventory is now above the top of the normal range, however the number of units completed and under construction is still somewhat low.   Inventory will be something to watch very closely.  This graph shows new home sales for 2017 and 2018 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).Sales are only up 2.8% through October compared to the same period in 2017. And the comparison in November will be very difficult (Sales in November 2017 were strong).  And sales might finish the year down from 2017,.This is below my forecast for 2018 for an increase of about 6% over 2017. As I noted early this year, there were downside risks to that forecast, primarily higher mortgage rates, but also higher costs (labor and material), the impact of the new tax law, and other possible policy errors.And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.  Now I'm looking for the gap to close over the next several years. The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through October 2018. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s.Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.   The gap has persisted even though distressed sales are down significantly, since new home builders focused on more expensive homes. I still expect this gap to slowly close.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. If not, then the gap will persist.Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

New-Home Prices Drop Nearly 7%, Supply Spikes to Highest since Housing Bust 1 - Sales of new single-family houses plunged 12% in October, compared to a year ago, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 544,000 houses, according to estimates by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.With an inventory of new houses for sale at 336,000 (seasonally adjusted), the supply at the current rate of sales spiked to 7.4 months, from 6.5 months’ supply in September, and from 5.6 months’ supply a year ago. Suddenly gone is the previously hyped “shortage” of inventory.  In fact, 7.4 months of supply of new houses was the highest since February 2011, during Housing Bust 1, the first housing bust in this millennium.The chart below, going back to 2004, shows how months’ supply clearly identifies the trajectory of Housing Bubble 1, with about 4 months’ supply or below during the upward price surge through 2005. But then, as prices were turning south, the hyped “shortage” of homes suddenly turned into a flood of homes, and contributed to the unglamorous bust in prices. So the current spike in supply fits right into this scene and is not exactly propitious:  What gives? The price.The median sale price of new single-family houses sold in October dropped 6.6% from a year ago to $309,700, the lowest since February 2017, and a price that was first reached in November 2015. Granted, this data is whiplash-volatile, but after a while the trend becomes clear:

Rising Rates Are Killing The Housing Market - Earlier this year, I penned an article entitled “The Coming Collision Of Debt & Rates” which discussed the 10-areas that rising interest rates would impact most directly. Number two on that list was housing: “Rising interest rates slow the housing market as people buy payments, not houses, and rising rates mean higher payments.”The housing recovery is ultimately a story of the “real” employment situation. With roughly a quarter of the home buying cohort unemployed and living at home with their parents, the option to buy simply is not available.  Another large chunk of that group are employed but at the lower end of the pay scale which pushes them to rent due to budgetary considerations and an inability to qualify for a mortgage.Even after a “decade of recovery,” the full-time employment-to-population ratios remain well below levels normally associated with a strong economy, and wage growth remains stagnant. Both of which makes home affordability an issue.Despite much of the media rhetoric to the contrary, I have warned repeatedly that rising rates would negatively impact the housing market which was still being supported by low interest rates.The mistake that mainstream analysts made was in the assumption that the recent increases in real estate prices were largely driven by first time home buyers creating an organic market. The reality, however, has been that market increases were being driven by speculators in the “buy to rent” game. As I noted previously: “As the “Buy-to-Rent” game drives prices of homes higher, it reduces inventory and increases rental rates. This in turn prices out “first-time home buyers” who would become longer-term homeowners, hence the low rates of homeownership rates noted above. The chart below shows the number of homes that are renter-occupied versus the seasonally adjusted homeownership rate.”

There Is No Crisis of Retail Vacancy in Manhattan - You may have heard that 20 percent of retail storefronts in Manhattan are vacant. But as Rebecca Baird-Remba reported for the Commercial Observer earlier this month, you heard wrong.This is just one of those Numbers People Say, like that we only use 10 percent of our brains. It’s false, and you should not make policy based on it. The 20 percent figure has been used to perpetuate the idea that Manhattan faces a crisis of vacant storefronts despite a strong economy, driven by greedy and/or unrealistic landlords holding out for tenants willing to pay ever higher rents. In response, there is a renewed push for commercial rent control, to ensure incumbent stores are offered lease renewal at a fixed rate. The hope, I suppose, is that our city’s neighborhoods can be preserved in amber and look forever as they did back when New York was “better.” Anyway: Comprehensive data about retail vacancy in Manhattan doesn’t exist. And nobody has actually promulgated a 20 percent estimate of the phenomenon people claim to be decrying: vacant, closed, unoccupied retail stores. As far as I can tell, the 20 percent claim originated in two places. One is a September 7 story in the New York Times which said, “A survey conducted by Douglas Elliman found that about 20 percent of all retail space in Manhattan is currently vacant, she said, compared with roughly 7 percent in 2016.” But the “she” in that story is Elliman broker Faith Hope Consolo, and this month Consolo told the Commercial Observer, a trade publication, that no such report exists. This might explain why Elliman’s PR office never responded last month when I contacted them to request the report.  The other source for the 20 percent factoid is a 2017 equity research report from Morgan Stanley, which found the amount of available retail space in certain Manhattan submarkets had doubled since 2012, to 20 percent. One is that “available” is not the same as “vacant.” An available space might be occupied by an operating store that has declined to renew a lease that hasn’t yet expired, or by a pop-up store, or by store with a long lease that it would like to get out of by subleasing.

Farm bankruptcies in the Upper Midwest have jumped — in one chart - Farm bankruptcies have jumped in the Upper Midwest, according to a new analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota.Some 84 farm operations filed for Chapter 12 bankruptcy in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana in the 12 months ended in June. That’s above a prior peak in 2010, which followed the 2008-09 recession, and it’s more than double the number of bankruptcies in 2014, as shown in the chart above from the Minneapolis Fed.   The rise in bankruptcy filings has been driven by low commodity pricesBCOM, -0.06% in recent years, as well as by U.S. disputes with trading partners that have led to tariffs, according to Ron Wirtz, the Minneapolis Fed’s regional outreach director.“That nagging economic strain of low commodity prices on farmers and ranchers — compounded for some by recent tariffs — is starting to show up not just in bottom-line profitability, but in simple viability,” he wrote in the bank’s Fedgazette publication. Wisconsin, the nation’s No. 2 milk producer, is seeing about 60% of all Upper Midwest bankruptcies, Wirtz said. That’s because bankruptcy filings have been particularly high among the Badger State’s dairy farms, which tend to be relatively small and more sensitive to price swings, he added.  Wirtz also warned that the number of farm bankruptcies in the region looks set to climb further: “Current price levels and the trajectory of the current trends suggest that this trend has not yet seen a peak.”

500 million Marriott customers have had their data hacked after staying at hotels including W, Sheraton, and Westin - Business Insider:

  • About 500 million people have had their data hacked after staying at hotels brands including W, Sheraton, and Westin, Marriott said on Friday.
  • A breach in the Starwood guest-authorization database meant that millions of people had a combination of their name, address, passport number, date of birth, and other information stolen, the company said.
  • An unspecified number of people also had their credit-card information taken. It is encrypted, but Marriott said the hackers might have taken the information needed to decrypt it.
  • Marriott said it informed law enforcement about the incident and was supporting the investigation.

October personal income and spending strong -- In October personal income increased 0.5%, and personal spending increased 0.6%. These are both very strong increases. Further, as the graph below shows, real inflation adjusted income and spending both also rose:These are coincident indicators that form part of the quintessential nowcast. Real personal income adjusted by transfer payments and real personal spending are two of the very series the NBER looks at to determine the onset and ending of recessions. As a result, they don't tell us anything about where we are going vs. where we've just been. Further, because these have been subject to very dramatic and very late (as in, years later) revisions, I'm putting even less stock in them. Still, I'd much rather they be strongly positive than negative, so this is evidence that the consumer economy remained strong in the first part of this quarter.

Personal Income increased 0.5% in October, Spending increased 0.6% --The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays report for October:  Personal income increased $84.9 billion (0.5 percent) in October according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $81.7 billion (0.5 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $86.9 billion (0.6 percent).Real DPI increased 0.3 percent in October and Real PCE increased 0.4 percent. The PCE price index increased 0.2 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent. The October PCE price index increased 2.0 percent year-over-year and the October PCE price index, excluding food and energy, also increased 1.8 percent year-over-year.The following graph shows real Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) through October 2018 (2012 dollars). Note that the y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change. The dashed red lines are the quarterly levels for real PCE. The increase in personal income, and the increase in PCE, were both above expectations.

Americans' Income & Spending Data Surges In October As Inflation Slows - After slowing in September, Americans' personal income and spending data was expected to re-accelerate in October and they did dramatically, rising 0.5% and 0.6% MoM respectively. This is the biggest monthly spike in 2018... However, one look between the line reveals that not all is as good as it seems: according to the US govt, "incomes were boosted by an $11.6 billion increase for farmers, which includes the subsidy payments. And the biggest contributor to the increase in services spending was household electricity and gas, which tends to reflect weather swings." On a year over year basis, both income and spending re-accelerated, rising 4.3% and 5.0% respectively... Wages for private workers jumped, rising 4.7% Y/Y while wages for government workers saw a 2.9% increase from the prior year. With spending continuing to outpace income, personal savings data (revised historically) fell to 6.2% in October, lowest since Dec 2017... Ironically, as the income and spending data jumped, The Fed's favorite inflation indicator - Core PCE - slowed notably to +1.8% YoY... Ahead of the print, when commenting on the core PCE, Nomura's Bilal Hafeez said that "lower oil prices will naturally lead to lower headline numbers in the coming months. It could mean that the 2.3% seen in July may well be the peak inflation rate in the latest phase of the US cycle. As for core inflation, this year’s strong dollar could end up weighing on inflation. History certainly points in that direction (see chart)." So take your pick - Dovish Fed signals from Core PCE or hawkishg Fed signals from income/spending/savings data?

Real Disposable Income Per Capita in October - With the release of yesterday's report on October Personal Incomes and Outlays, we can now take a closer look at "Real" Disposable Personal Income Per Capita.At two decimal places, the nominal 0.46% month-over-month change in disposable income was trimmed to 0.28% when we adjust for inflation. This is up from the 0.14% nominal and 0.01% real increases last month. The year-over-year metrics are 4.06% nominal and 2.04% real. Post-recession, the trend was one of steady growth, but generally flattened out in late 2015. Disposable income picked up in 2018.  The first chart shows both the nominal per capita disposable income and the real (inflation-adjusted) equivalent since 2000. This indicator was significantly disrupted by the bizarre but predictable oscillation caused by 2012 year-end tax strategies in expectation of tax hikes in 2013. It will be interesting to see how the recent tax legislation affects the trend over time. The BEA uses the average dollar value in 2012 for inflation adjustment. But the 2012 peg is arbitrary and unintuitive. For a more natural comparison, let's compare the nominal and real growth in per-capita disposable income since 2000. Nominal disposable income is up 86.3% since then. But the real purchasing power of those dollars is up only 32.5%.

Fed Says Millennials Are Just Like Their Parents. Only Poorer - Millennials, long presumed to have less interest in the nonstop consumption of goods that underpins the American economy, might not be that different after all, a new study from the Federal Reserve says. Their spending habits are a lot like the generations that came before them, they just have less money at this point in their lives, the Fed study found. The group born between 1981 and 1997 has fallen behind because many of them came of age during the financial crisis. “We find little evidence that millennial households have tastes and preference for consumption that are lower than those of earlier generations, once the effects of age, income, and a wide range of demographic characteristics are taken into account,” Their findings are grounded in an analysis of spending, income, debt, net worth, and demographic factors among different generations. The conclusion that millennials aren’t all that different also holds for the researchers’ more granular examination of expenditures on cars, food, and housing. “It primarily is the differences in average age and then differences in average income that explain a large and important portion of the consumption wedge between millennials and other cohorts,” they conclude. So much for the young folks favoring "experiences" over tangible goods. Millennials aren’t unique when it comes to what they spend their money on, either. The report finds that shifts in expenditure shares between different goods and services have been broadly consistent regardless of age. Housing and food are two areas where millennials have spent less than previous generations, with the younger cohort paying more for education. As a caveat, spending on avocado toast wasn’t specifically tracked for this analysis. What’s old is new again. The paper observes that some of the millennials’ parents were subject to similar baseless grumbles of "kids these days" from their elders.

Consumer Confidence Dips As Hope Fades - After surging to new cycle highs in October, Conference Board consumer confidence was expected to weaken in October and it did (dropping from 137.9 to 135.7).While the Present Situation rose modestly to new cycle highs (from a revised lower October print), Expectations (hope) in November tumbled...Consumers’ optimism about the short-term future declined in November. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions will improve over the next six months decreased from 26.3 percent to 22.5 percent, while those expecting business conditions will worsen increased, from 7.2 percent to 8.8 percent.Notably only the 35-54 cohort saw overall optimism decrease (tumbling from 143.2 to 132.0) while the younger- and older-cohorts saw confidence increase.Income expectations also fell from 16.5% net expecting an increase to 13.7% net (the lowest since June).Finally, as a reminder, the divergence between slumping savings rates and surging consumer confidence has typically not ended well...

"The Frenzy Of Black Friday As We Knew It Is Over": Traffic Slumps At Stores Across America - ShopperTrak, a provider of channel checks and traffic insights for the retail industry, has just confirmed that foot traffic at  brick-and-mortar retail stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday was disappointing. Preliminary data showed a 1% decline for the two-day period compared to 2017, with a 1.7% decline in traffic on Black Friday versus 2017. This decline in traffic is consistent with our forecast on Nov. 11 that traditional retailers could experience a weak holiday season. The culprit: online shopping.  "We know that online sales ... has certainly eroded traffic from retailers over the years," Brian Field, senior director of advisory services for ShopperTrak, told CNBC.  And while foot traffic at shopping malls has been in a steady decline, frigid weather, something else we warned about, also forced many consumers to shop from the comfort of their homes.  That was probably a wise choice, considering the widespread shootings, stampedes, and fights that erupted at some stores across the country. Another foot traffic report, this time from Bloomberg, showed that shopper traffic at malls and stores were similar to last year’s levels, if not entirely down for some locations.  One big caveat for this weekend, as we further discussed, is that Black Friday comes earlier and earlier every year. Retailers are offering deals in early November, and Thanksgiving day itself has now become a huge shopping day. An estimate by Citigroup said the Black Friday weekend would only make up 10% of retail sales in the fourth quarter. "The frenzy of Black Friday as we knew it is over," said Marshal Cohen, an analyst at researcher NPD Group, who visited stores in four states to start the holiday weekend. “We are watching the next edition of Black Friday, a more civilized and opportunistic edition."

Black Friday Has Brick-and-Mortar Stores Seeing Red -- Legacy brick-and-mortar retailers have found themselves falling behind this Thanksgiving season as the Black Friday "holiday" moves closer to becoming an online exclusive event. And as more Black Friday business gravitates towards online shopping, traditional retailers are still learning the ropes of how to take legacy models and move them online - despite posturing from these companies that they have already evolved in this regard.According to Bloomberg, this Black Friday traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like Lowe’s, Walmart, Lululemon and Kohl’s all dealt  with glitches and malfunctioning websites. Marshal Cohen, an analyst at researcher NPD Group told Bloomberg: "It really does show the importance of investing in logistics and technology. They have to be able to handle the online rush." For the most part, it has been a relatively solid year for US retailers, and the decent results have ticked up expectations for the holiday season. However, retail stocks pared gains recently due to investor jitters and also due to earnings from companies like Kohl’s and Target that failed to surpass already heightened expectations.That said, much of the growth for Black Friday appeared to take place online, according to Adobe Analytics. The $643 million spent online through 10AM Eastern time on Black Friday was 28% higher than the year prior. Digital spending was estimated to exceed $6.4 billion on Friday, which would be higher than last year's Cyber Monday totals.Meanwhile, as reported earlier, foot traffic at malls and stores seems to be similar to last year's levels if slightly lower at some locations. For instance, more than 62% of the malls managed by JLL reported the same volume of foot traffic this year as in 2017.

Nine Million Fewer Americans Shopped During Black Friday Weekend - After several years of disappointing holiday sales seasons (at least for brick and mortar retailers), industry analysts spent the weeks leading up to Black Friday establishing the narrative that this year would be different. Inspired by tax cuts, rising wages, low unemployment and, improbably enough, Trump's bellicose protectionism (according to some), US consumers would rack up more than $700 billion in purchases by Christmas. That would make this year's holiday shopping season the strongest since the boom years of the mid-2000s. Or at least that's what the National Retail Federation has been saying. But even with credit-card debt near all-time highs, it didn't shake expectations that consumers would reach deep into their pockets and splurge on what many fear could be the last boom year before the end of one of the longest business cycles in history. And when the headlines started rolling in Friday morning, they were universally positive. Online purchases surged nearly 30% yoy on Black Friday, and Amazon touted an increase of 20% on Cyber Monday, with sales in record territory for the entire weekend. Analysts also pointed out some notable shifts in how consumers shopped - for example, consumers' shopping on smartphones rivaled those using desktops.But for brick-and-mortar retailers, the picture was somewhat less rosy when compared with last year. And now that the final sales tallies are available, it appears the initial projections were a little too optimistic. Citing data from the NRF, Bloomberg reported that more than 165 million Americans shopped either in stores or online during the "Turkey Five" - the five-day period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. And while that beat estimates for 164 million, it was 9 million below the 174 million who turned out last year. And while those who did shop spent an average of $313 per person, that too was down from last year's $335. Analysts were quick to point out that this isn't a sign of faltering spending; rather, consumer shopping habits are simply shifting. Fed up with ridiculous lines on Black Friday, more consumers are starting their shopping earlier. Sales are starting earlier, offering fewer incentives for consumers to subject themselves to the crowds (not to mention the perennial frenzy of violence). According to the NRF, consumers spent $20 billion between Nov. 1 and Thanksgiving - nearly $1 billion a day. And while Black Friday has typically been the biggest-spending day of the holiday season, this year, analysts anticipate that it will be eclipsed by the Saturday before Christmas.

Lawmakers introduce bill to stop bots from ruining holiday shopping - Democratic lawmakers want to shut down shopping bots beloved by scalpers. The proposed "Stopping Grinch Bots Act" would make it illegal to use bots to shop online and also outlaw reselling items purchased by bots. Lawmakers label them "Grinch" bots because, during the holiday season, resellers use them to buy inventory of highly coveted toys that can be resold at highly inflated prices. Often times, these bots are so quick that they can purchase entire stocks of items before people can even add them to their carts. Sens. Tom Udall, Richard Blumenthal and Chuck Schumer along with Rep. Paul Tonko made the announcement on Black Friday -- a massive shopping day that broke records with $6.2 billion in online sales. Cyber Monday is also on track to become the largest online shopping day in US history. "Middle class folks save up — a little here, a little there — working to afford the hottest gifts of the season for their kids but ever-changing technology and its challenges are making that very difficult. It's time we help restore an even playing field by blocking the bots," said Schumer, a Democrat from New York, in a statement. 

Payless sold discount shoes at luxury prices — and it worked -- Payless Shoesource pranked VIP shoppers into paying markups of up to 1,800 percent for the bargain retailer's shoes as part of a viral advertising campaign designed to shift consumers' perceptions of the brand. Creating a fake luxury brand — Palessi — Payless built a temporary store and filled it with fashionistas. So-called fashion influencers – essentially trendsetters that regular consumers look to for style cues — paid up to $645 for footwear that usually retails for between $19.99 and $39.99, the company said. The fashion insiders were captured remarking on the quality of the shoes' design and fabrication – before being told who had made them. "It's just stunning. Elegant, sophisticated," one shopper said of a stiletto heel at the fake store's launch party. "I can tell it was made with high-quality material," said a man perusing a pair of leather sneakers. Payless enlisted advertising agency DCX Growth Accelerator to create the fake luxury store — replete with a statue and gold mannequins — and invited 60 influencers, recruited from the street and social media, to the made-up brand's launch party last month in Los Angeles, California. 

US Fast Food Chains Charred As Poorer Customers Aren't Lovin' It -- While many sectors of the US economy are doing better than they have in years, fast food chains aren't one of them, according to the Financial Times.  US fast-food outlets experienced a 2.6% drop in customers during September vs. a year ago, according to MillerPulse, a restaurant industry data provider. The decline compares to a meager 0.8% y/y drop in August. Industry insiders are placing blame on several factors, including consumer demand for healthier alternatives and lower construction activity - "which means fewer building workers are picking up fast food on lunch breaks," according to FT. And despite the lowest unemployment levels in decades (notwithstanding questionable number fuzzing), a seemingly robust economy isn't translating to higher consumption of burgers, pizzas and milkshakes. Earlier this month Wendy's CEO Todd Pengor said that low-income customers were failing to benefit as much as those with higher incomes. About 40 per cent of so-called quick-service restaurants’ customers earn $45,000 or less, said Mr Penegor as he presented his company’s third-quarter earnings. Wendy’s like-for-like sales in North America ticked down 0.2 per cent in the three months to September.“We are seeing the lowest unemployment levels in a long time, high consumer confidence . . . but as you look at that income growth, it skewed significantly to higher-income households,” he said. “On the low end, you start looking at folks with rent and healthcare costs starting to rise that are really eating into some of the headway that they are making.” –FT The lack of customers is having an effect up and down the industry. Earlier this month, the New England-based owner of D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches and Papa Gino's filed for bankruptcy protection and put itself up for sale after the two brands shuttered 95 restaurants. The company, PGHC Holdings, has $62 million in secured debt out of an overall debt burden of $100 million.  The 169-strong Texas-based Taco Bueno chain, meanwhile, filed for Chapter 11 as well this month under a "prepackaged" restructuring plan under which franchisee Sun Holdings will take control of the Tex-Mex fast food chain. 

  Comparison sites cry foul over Google Shopping service - Fourteen price comparison sites have written to the EU in Google's longest-running competition case, asking the European Commission (PDF) to rip up the remedy it agreed with Google. The case began after a British startup, Foundem, vanished from Google in 2006. The startup also saw a 10,000 per cent increase in the price of Google Adwords after Google downgraded its "Landing Page Quality" rating. That led to Google's first antitrust investigation and, to cut a very long story short, a remedy was ultimately agreed last year. The remedy, which Google started to put into place in November 2017, requires the firm to open up auction slots for third-party price comparison sites in its Shopping tab. Foundem argued that an oversubscribed auction obliges participants to bid away their potential profit. Third-party sites were bidding for those slots against Google, whose own bids cost nothing. Counsel for FairSearch, which represents the sites, Thomas Vinje, predicted in April that this incentive structure would be a flop. "Competitors do not see [that] they will achieve anything from the auction because of its nature," he said. This appears to have been borne out. That left Google with a need to fill those slots. As we reported last November, it created a scheme called Comparison Shopping Service, and touted the scheme to its ad agency partners. Soon those slots were filled with new sites, including Productcaster's CSS offering, using Google ad credits. Foundem and 13 others have cried foul on the process.

 US Trade Deficit Soars To Record High As Exports Tumble - The October advanced trade balance (deficit) of goods worsened to $77.2 billion ($77.0 billion expected) from $76.3 billion in September. •Imports rose 0.1% in Oct. to $217.764b from $217.554b in Sept. •Exports fell 0.6% in Oct. to $140.517b from $141.303b in Sept. This is a new record high deficit for Trump's America... In December 2016, the US goods trade deficit was $63.485 billion. In October 2018, the US goods trade deficit is $77.2 billion. A dramatic rise of almost $14 billion since Trump's election and trade war started. Since this is an advance print, there is no color on China trade data. 

Chemical Activity Barometer Declines in November --Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production. From the American Chemistry Council: Chemical Activity Barometer Adds to Signs U.S. Economy May Be Facing More Than a Seasonal Chill: The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), posted a 0.3 percent decline in November on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis. This marks the barometer’s first month-over-month drop since February 2016 and adds to the chorus of growing concern of slowing U.S economic expansion. On a year-over-year basis the barometer is up 2.8 percent (3MMA), a marked slowdown in the pace of growth from earlier this year. .. Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index.This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production.  It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue). The year-over-year increase in the CAB has softened recently, suggesting further gains in industrial production into 2019, but at a slower pace.

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Expansion Continues to Moderate" - From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Expansion Continues to ModerateTexas factory activity continued to expand in November, albeit at a markedly slower pace, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, remained positive but fell nine points to 8.4, indicating output growth continued to abate. Other indexes of manufacturing activity also suggested notably slower expansion in November. The survey’s demand indicators—the new orders and growth rate of new orders indexes—declined to 9.7 and 4.8, respectively, representing their lowest readings in 20 months. The capacity utilization index fell six points to 9.4, and the shipments index fell nine points to 7.7, both at their lowest levels in at least 20 months.Perceptions of broader business conditions remained positive overall but were less optimistic than in October. The general business activity and company outlook indexes posted double-digit declines, coming in at 17.6 and 13.7, respectively. These readings are lower than what has been seen over the past year but still well above long-term averages. The index measuring uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks rose five points to 12.3, indicating uncertainty was more widespread this month.Labor market measures suggested continued but slower employment growth and longer workweeks in November. The employment index retreated eight points to 15.9, a level well above average. Twenty-three percent of firms noted net hiring, compared with 7 percent noting net layoffs. The hours worked index edged down to 4.9. This is a solid reading, but suggests growth is slowing in the Texas region. So far the regional surveys suggest the national ISM index will be solid in November, but probably down from the October reading of 57.7.

 Richmond Fed Manufacturing: Moderate Growth in November - Today the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite Index decreased to 14 for the month of November, down from last month's 15. Investing.com had forecast 16. Because of the highly volatile nature of this index, we include a 3-month moving average to facilitate the identification of trends, now at 19.3, which indicates expansion. The complete data series behind today's Richmond Fed manufacturing report, which dates from November 1993, is available here. Here is a snapshot of the complete Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite series.

Richmond Fed: "Fifth District Manufacturing Activity Grew Moderately in November" - Earlier from the Richmond Fed: Fifth District Manufacturing Activity Grew Moderately in November: Fifth District manufacturing activity grew moderately in November, according to results of the most recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite index slipped from 15 in October to 14 in November, pulled down by drops in the indexes for new orders and employment, while the other component, the index for shipments, rose. However, all three continued to reflect expansion, as did most other measures of manufacturing activity. Firms were optimistic, expecting growth to continue in the next six months. While survey results suggested growth in employment and wages among manufacturing firms in November, the struggle to find workers with the required skills persisted. This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for November. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index: The New York and Philly Fed surveys are averaged together (yellow, through November), and five Fed surveys are averaged (blue, through November) including New York, Philly, Richmond, Dallas and Kansas City. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) PMI (red) is through October (right axis). Based on these regional surveys, it seems likely the ISM manufacturing index will decline slightly, but remain solid in November (to be released on Monday, December 3rd).

November Regional Fed Manufacturing Overview - Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia.Regional manufacturing surveys are a measure of local economic health and are used as a representative for the larger national manufacturing health. They have been used as a signal for business uncertainty and economic activity as a whole. Manufacturing makes up 12% of the country's GDP.The other 6 Federal Reserve Districts do not publish manufacturing data. For these, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book offers a short summary of each districts’ manufacturing health. The Chicago Fed published their Midwest Manufacturing Index from July 1996 through December of 2013. According to their website, "The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index (CFMMI) is undergoing a process of data and methodology revision. In December 2013, the monthly release of the CFMMI was suspended pending the release of updated benchmark data from the U.S. Census Bureau and a period of model verification. Significant revisions in the history of the CFMMI are anticipated." Here is a three-month moving average overlay of each of the five indicators since 2001 (for those with data). The latest average of the five for November is 19.9, down from the previous month's 20.5. It is below its all-time high of 25.1, set in May 2004. Here is the same chart including the average of the five. Readers will notice the range in expansion and contraction between all regions. For comparison, here is the latest ISM Manufacturing survey.

Chicago PMI Increased in November - From the Chicago PMI: Chicago Business Barometer Surges to 66.4 in November The MNI Chicago Business Barometer surged to an 11-month high of 66.4 in November, up 8.0 points from October’s 58.4.Business activity recorded its most impressive performance so far this year in November, ending a three-month run of declines. Although broad-based, with increases across all five of the Barometer’s subcomponents, resurgent orders, solid output and higher unfinished orders were the month’s key drivers....Building on October’s rise, the Employment indicator strengthened further in November, hitting a three-month high and moving further clear of the neutral-50 mark.…“The MNI Chicago Business Barometer clipped a run of three consecutive declines in emphatic style in November, boosted primarily by resurgent orders – stronger than typically seen at this time of year and enough to push the Barometer to its best level since December,” said Jamie Satchi, Economist at MNI Indicators.“However, many firms reported seeing the effects of higher China tariffs on their invoices for the first time, and voiced concern that business could be stifled going forward,” he added.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 234,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending November 24, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 234,000, an increase of 10,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 224,000. The 4-week moving average was 223,250, an increase of 4,750 from the previous week's unrevised average of 218,500. The previous week was unrevised.  The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

The recent rise in initial jobless claims: signal or noise? -  Yesterday initial jobless claims for the prior week were reported at 234,000, a six month high. That's 32,000 above the recent one week low. The four week moving average rose to 223,250, more than 15,000 higher than its recent low:  Is it cause for concern? After all, the long leading indicators have been neutral for half a year, and in the last several weeks their more volatile high frequency version turned negative, so it is reasonable to expect short leading indicators to start to follow suit. To cut to the chase, while it is certainly possible that it is the beginning of something worse, we aren't anywhere near the point where we can rule out it simply being noise (although it certainly suggests that the monthly unemployment rate isn't going to decline any further in the next few jobs reports, since initial claims lead the unemployment rate by several months). I've arrived at a formulation for distilling signal from noise, which will be the subject of a longer post, but consider this an introductory sketch. While I won't go into all the details here, the simple fact is that there is almost always one or two periods a year where the four week moving average of jobless claims rises between 5% and 10%. About once every other year for the past 50+ years, it rises over 10%. Typically (not always!) it has risen by 15% or more over its low before a recession has begun. And a longer term moving average of initial claims YoY has, with one exception, turned higher before a recession has begun. As of yesterday, the four week moving average is only 8.4% above its September low of 206,000,  so we are still well within the range of normal fluctuations during an expansion. Another way to look at this is the quarter over quarter percent change in the average of weekly initial claims: You can see that, even in the middle of expansions, increases of 5% are not uncommon. Here's the close-up of this expansion:

Laid-off Sears workers left with nothing – and they say wealthy bosses are to blame -  Sears, once the world’s largest retailer and a part of America’s cultural fabric for more than 100 years, filed for bankruptcy – putting thousands of workers’ jobs at risk.  Ondrea Patrick, who had worked at the Kmart in Rockford, Illinois for nine years, said: “I am a mother who has four biological children and one stepson, and my income is all we have. When you take away our only income, you leave us with nothing – and we don’t deserve nothing. Mentally and physically it drags on you. It’s like saying you’re not good enough. And we’re all good enough.” Sheila Brewer worked at the same Kmart in Rockford for 17 years as a full-time employee. Four weeks into receiving severance pay, a bankruptcy court stopped the rest of the payments. In the meantime, Sears executives have petitioned to receive up to $25m in bonuses. Brewer said: “It was a big toll emotionally and financially. It’s a big slap in the face, them telling me I can’t get the rest of my severance because of bankruptcy. “Yet they’re petitioning in court to get bonuses for the executives when that money could go into a plan or some kind of package deal for full and part-time employees to receive some sort of package. [It would help] to pay bills to help us get back on our feet.” Since their store closed, Patrick and Brewer have joined Rise Up Retail, a coalition of retail workers campaigning for better pay and conditions that has been gaining strength amid brutal layoffs for workers at Toys R Us and other retailers this year. Retail layoffs come even as the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since 1969. Andrew Challenger, the vice-president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said traditional retail had been the biggest cutter of jobs for three years in a row. More than 92,000 jobs have gone this year already and more are coming. Sears plans to shutter 188 stores nationwide by the end of 2018.

GM Plans More Than 14,000 Job Cuts, Seven Factory Closings -  General Motors Co. will cut more than 14,000 salaried staff and factory workers and close seven factories worldwide by the end of next year, part of a sweeping realignment to prepare for a future of electric and self-driving vehicles. Four factories in the U.S. and one in Canada could be shuttered by the end of 2019 if the automaker and its unions don’t come up with an agreement to allocate more work to those facilities, GM said in a statement Monday. Another two will close outside North America. The Detroit-based company’s shares surged on the plan, which includes abandoning some of its slower-selling sedan models. The plan to lop 15 percent of salaried workers follows a round of buyouts that GM offered to about a quarter of its longer-tenured workforce at the end of October. GM said the cuts will boost automotive free cash flow by $6 billion by the end of 2020 and result in one-time charges of up to $3.8 billion in the fourth quarter of this year and first quarter of 2019. GM also said that the company will jettison the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CT6 sedans next year. The Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid will also be dropped along with the Chevy Cruze compact, which will be made in Mexico for other markets. Too many of GM’s factories are operating on a single shift to build models that have fallen out of favor, leading its plants to run about 1 million vehicles short of their full capacity, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry,labor and economics for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Most of the one-shift plants are sedan plants,” Dziczek said. “That’s a real mismatch in a market where 40 percent of the vehicles sold are crossover utilities.” U.S. Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, said he’s “deeply frustrated” with GM’s decision to shut down a plant in Lordstown and is pressing Barra to come up with an alternative product for the factory.

After Wasting $14 billion on Share-Buybacks, GM Prepares for Carmageddon & Shift to EVs, Cuts Employees, Closes 8 Plants -Wolf Richter - A big shift, at a cost of $3.8 billion – which it now has to borrow. “We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences,” explained GM CEO Mary Barra in perfect corporate-speak in the statement released this morning, as employees are fretting about their jobs.The phrase, “changing market conditions,” in regular English means that sales are skidding in the US despite enormous incentives. GM’s new-vehicle deliveries in the US plunged 11% in the third quarter and are down 1.2% for the year. In Canada, GM’s sales have dropped 1.6% so far this year. GM apparently expects these “market conditions” to worsen further, and it’s getting ready for it.So GM is going to cut 15% of its salaried workers and salaried contract workers. At the end of 2017, GM had 54,000 salaried workers in North America. Of them 52,000 are in the US. That’s a lot of folks: 15% of those North American salaried workers amounts to 8,100 people. Included in this group are some people who may have already accepted voluntary buyouts.  And “to streamline decision making,” GM will slash 25% of its executives – starting with CEO Barra? Just kidding about the Barra part. The statement didn’t mention the fate of hourly workers, but it did mention the fate of eight plants, as GM wants to “accelerate its transformation for the future”:In the US, GM will “unallocate” four plants. That means production will cease, and the plants will be shuttered in 2019. This includes:

  • Two assembly plants: Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Detroit; and Lordstown Assembly in Warren, Ohio.
  • And two propulsion plants: Baltimore Operations in White Marsh, Maryland, and Warren Transmission Operations in Warren, Michigan.

In Canada, GM will “unallocate” its assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario. In South Korea, GM will close, as previously announced, its plant in Gunsan. “Outside North America,” GM will close two additional plants, at undisclosed locations.

It’s Going To Be Devastating - GM Cost Cuts Hit Home In Ohio - The massive job cuts announced by General Motors have been the talk of the financial media since they were announced on Monday. Not only did the news trigger a buying frenzy of GM stock among trading desks, it also quickly made its way to the factory floors at places like Northeast Ohio, as workers found themselves trying to assess the coming impact of the decision.The termination of 1,600 workers and the shuttering of Cruze production at GM's Lordstown plant has already resulted in profound aftershocks. The WSJ highlighted several such stories, like Sylvester Townsend, whose company makes front and rear bumpers for the ill-fated car in nearby Youngstown. He stated that he may need to lay off all of his 32 production workers as a result of the GM decision."It blew me away. It’s going to be devastating," he said. The mayor of Lordstown has anticipated that the cuts are going to cost $1 million in annual tax revenue, which is about 25% of the town's total budget. He is holding onto the slim hope that the plant may reopen at some point.Mayor Arno Hill stated: "They didn’t say they were permanently shuttering the plant. So we figure that we still have a heartbeat." And, as Trump's latest tweets confirm, the president is doing everything in his power to make sure the mayor's hopes come true. Until then, however, the Lordstown shut down is part of a larger cost-cutting initiative by General Motors to shed its slower-selling and lower-margin product lines.Among other things, GM announced on Monday that it plans to end production at additional assembly plants in Michigan and in Canada, which could contribute to up to 6,700 total factory workers being laid off. The company also was planning to cut another 8,100 salaried workers in North America, many of whom are working currently in product development. GM is planning to use the billions in cost savings to help it navigate further into electric and autonomous vehicles. The company also announced it would stop producing the Chevrolet Volt hybrid, the Cadillac CT6 and the Buick LaCrosse.

Industry publication boasts: GM plant closures aimed at extorting more concessions from autoworkers - In its coverage of the General Motors plant closure announcement, the World Socialist Web Site has stressed that one of the central aims of the job massacre is to intimidate 140,000 GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler workers whose contracts are expiring next summer and break their determination to win significant improvements in wages and working conditions from the highly profitable automakers.This has been confirmed by the chief industry publication Automotive News in an article published Thursday, headlined, "GM sends bold message to UAW with potential plant closures." In the article, Automotive News reporter Michael Wayland acknowledges that GM made the announcement, carefully timed to precede the start of negotiations, not only to undermine workers’ aspirations, but to soften them up for the imposition of even deeper concessions in the next labor agreements."While the negotiations don't officially kick off until next year, both sides have assembled their bargaining teams, and members are discussing what to focus on during the talks. As always, many UAW members want more: more raises, more profit-sharing, more everything," Wayland complains.By announcing that no new products would be allocated to the Detroit-Hamtramck, Lordstown, Ohio and Oshawa, Ontario assembly plants, he boasts, "GM is managing UAW members’ expectations" and "changing the narrative from members wanting more to potentially just wanting to save jobs and plants."He quotes Kristin Dziczek of the corporate think tank Center for Automotive Research, who adds, "These are real stakes in front of the bargaining team next year for the negotiations. It might actually help the membership focus on jobs and survival more than getting more, more and more in terms of raises, benefits and bonuses." Like the Mafia, the corporate executives are using the threat of plant closings, which would destroy tens of thousands of direct and related jobs and decimate entire communities, as a gun pointed at the heads of workers. Either they accept less pay, fewer benefits and conditions of industrial slavery or the workers and their families will starve.

Bayer To Fire 12,000 - One Of Every Ten Workers - After Monsanto Legal Troubles -- German pharmaceuticals and chemicals giant, Bayer, announced plans to cut 12,000 out of 118,200 jobs worldwide, or roughly 1 in 10 jobs, in hopes of cutting costs and regaining investor favor after a series of legal setbacks over its purchase of Monsanto earlier this year. As the FT reports, the proposed reorganization include a plan to exit the market for animal health products, as well the company's Coppertone sun care and Dr. Scholl’s foot care product lines; Bayer also plans to sell the group’s 60% stake in service provider Currenta."Including the synergies expected from the acquisition of Monsanto, Bayer anticipates annual contributions of €2.6bn from 2022 on as a result of its planned efficiency and structural measures," the group said in a statement. Werner Baumann, the Bayer chief executive, said: “With these measures, we are positioning Bayer optimally for the future as a life sciences company.” The group’s shares have tumbled in recent months, after a California court awarded $289MM in damages to a school groundskeeper with terminal cancer.

Big Business Is Stealing From Their Own Workers. Will Democrats Stop Them- - Not likely. According to indeed.com, your average apparel associate, cashier, or cashier/sales clerk at Nordstrom makes something around $11 an hour. That’s $385 a week, or right around $20,000 a year—before taxes. Of course, with experience, people make more, but even the highest salaries aren't great. And that $20,000 is virtually a poverty wage. And that’s assuming they’re letting them work a full 35-hour week, which of course a lot of places don’t because it means they have to pay benefits.   If the Democrats’ job number one heading into 2020 is to win back some of those white working-class voters who deserted them in 2016, this general problem ofwage theft seems like an awfully good place to start. It affects many millions of Americans of all races and in all places. Yet I don’t hear many Democrats talk about it. No one in the broader public even knows what “wage theft” means. Somebody stole your pay packet as you walked home from work? No. It’s what employers extract from employees in not paying them what they’ve earned. There are two notable exceptions to this silence that I’m aware of (though one is not a Democrat). Bernie Sanders has a bill that would impose a 100 percent taxon large employers for every dollar an employee needs in public assistance like food stamps; he has singled out Amazon, whose warehouses are going to be stuffed to the gills with part-timers for the next month.  And Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is a Democrat, has legislation that would similarly tax companies (though at a lower rate than Sanders) whose employees need public assistance and would offer some tax credits to companies that did the right thing and raised wages.

 America Is Poorer Than It Thinks - What does it mean to be poor? Currently there are two basic ways to define poverty. To get a better measure of who needs help — and a better sense of how to provide it — society needs a third definition. The first definition is absolute poverty — essentially, material destitution. Human beings need food, water and shelter, and if we can’t afford these things, life is pretty miserable. In the U.S., the federal government haspoverty guidelines that are based on food consumption: If you make less than about three times the minimum amount people need to spend on food each year, you’re poor. By this measure, a single adult living on $12,140 or less is considered poor as of 2018. For a family of four, the figure is $25,100. There is also aSupplemental Poverty Measure that includes not just food but clothing, shelter and utilities. Thanks in part to increased government assistance, U.S. poverty according to this measure has fallen, especially for children. Critics of the federal poverty guidelines argue that these numbers are too low, thanks to growing inequality — when your middle-class neighbors have several cars, several televisions and spacious homes, you might feel poor. This is where the second measure — relative poverty — comes in. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development defines poverty this way: If you earn less than half of the median income, you’re poor. By this measure, the U.S. is doing a bit worse than other rich countries: But this, too, feels unsatisfying. Imagine a future U.S. in which the median American is fabulously wealthy — with flying cars, robot servants, and multiple overseas vacations every year. Should someone with half as many flying cars, robot servants and overseas vacations be considered poor? That seems like a stretch. Intuitively, then, it seems that a third definition of poverty is necessary — one that measures more than just material well-being but also takes into account economic growth. Luckily, there is just such a concept: It’s called material security. Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that safety ranked second only to food and shelter as a basic human need. Someone who has food and a roof over their head today, but doesn’t know whether they will tomorrow, should be considered poor. 

Founder of Kansas group whose food for homeless was destroyed by police speaks out --On November 4, police and health department officials in Kansas City, Missouri, carried out a coordinated series of raids on four picnics hosted by Free Hot Soup Kansas City, a Facebook community that organizes picnics where hungry people can eat food and converse in a friendly, public environment. The Kansas City Health Department, aided by police, threw away edible food and bleached a portion of it, claiming that Free Hot Soup was an “organization” and that the picnics were “food establishments” that needed permits.  The raids followed a neighborhood association meeting that had as its first action item “Remove KC Free Soup at the park.” Police spied on the group using social media to determine the distribution locations.  After video of the health department’s actions went viral on social media and sparked international outrage, Kansas City officials let subsequent distribution events go forward. Nellie McCool, who founded Free Hot Soup Kansas City in 2015, recently spoke with the WSWS about the incident. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 The Proud Boys Are Imploding - The Proud Boys, a punch-happy extremist gang whose members spend their time harassing people online and attacking them in real life, fell apart at the seams last week as the rest of the country gave thanks. Over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Proud Boys were revealed as an extremist group in the eyes of the FBI; saw their leader, Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, publicly bail on them; added two of their members to a growing list of defendants in a rioting case in New York City; and named a new leader in Jason Lee Van Dyke, their lawyer who himself is a serial harasser and racist criminal. Today’s Proud Boys are not the same as yesterday’s Proud Boys, who just last month bragged that they had the support of police after beating protesters in the streets of New York City and Portland, Oregon. These Proud Boys are being proudly thrown under the bus by their misogynistic and destructive founder. Immediately after that weekend of coastal violence in October, McInnes said publicly that he was arranging for the surrender of the members involved. Eight of them now face charges of assault and rioting in New York City. Then last Monday it was revealed that the FBI classified the Proud Boys as an extremist group. Suddenly it wasn’t just the media and watchdog groups calling them a violent hate group that counts white nationalists and skinheads among its ranks and publicly portrays racist and sexist sentiments. Now the government was involved, and for McInnes, the FBI designation was the straw that broke the Proud Boys’ back. Two days later, he claimed that he was quitting the gang, if only because his departure might reduce his jailed members’ sentences in some way. “I’m officially disassociating myself from the Proud Boys, in all capacities, forever. I quit,” McInnes said in a rambling, 36-minute monologue on YouTube on Nov. 21.

Mother of toddler who died after ICE detainment sues US for $60 million - The mother of the 1-year-old child who died after being released from a family detention center is filing a claim against the U.S. government.  Attorneys for Yazmin Juarez filed a legal claim on Tuesday seeking $60 million from the government for the death of her daughter, Mariee,according to The Associated Press. The claim is against multiple agencies, the news agency reported.Lawyers for Juarez are arguing that Mariee developed a respiratory illness while she was being held at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas after being detained. They are accusing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of releasing Mariee despite treating her condition. Mariee died six weeks later in Philadelphia after being hospitalized for respiratory failure. The law firm Arnold & Porter told AP that it will file a lawsuit against the government if it doesn't settle its claim. R. Stanton Jones, a lawyer at the firm, told AP that the government has six months to respond to its claim. “Having made the decision to jail small children, the U.S. government is responsible to provide living conditions that are safe, sanitary and appropriate,” Jones said to the news service. ICE and other agencies listed in the claim declined to comment to the AP about pending litigation. The AP notes that the detention facility in Texas has received repeated complaints about alleged substandard care. Advocates have argued that detaining families can lead to damaged mental health.

 Bake Sales Can’t Fix This: Corporate Tax Cuts Leave Public Schools Desperate - Once upon a time, not very long ago, the promise of a free, public education meant that US families and teachers could count on a mixture of local and federal funding to fully cover the costs of kindergarten through 12th grade schooling. But no more.Since 2007, public investment in public schools has sharply tanked, leaving teachers and parents scrambling to organize against austerity, and simultaneously coordinate grassroots fundraisers and secure grants from private foundations in order to maintain basic school programs.Although cities and states across the US began to decrease funding for public schools in the 1980s by lowering corporate tax rates, local funding for schools — which get 92 percent of their money from their city and state and 8 percent from the federal government — has taken a deep nosedive since the 2007 recession. Over the last decade, plummeting property values and reduced corporate taxation in all 50 states have resulted in reduced tax revenue, causing public investment in public schools to dip. The upshot is that by the 2015-16 academic year, 29 states were providing less funding for K-12 programs than they’d provided in 2008.Staffing took a particularly hard hit, with local school districts slashing 351,000 jobs between 2007 and 2012. Although some of these positions have since been restored, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the number of school employees was still 135,000 lower in 2017 than it was a decade earlier. This, despite the fact that public school enrollment has spiked by a whopping 1,419,000 pupils since 2008.More students, combined with smaller budgets and fewer staff people, have meant that students, parents, teachers, administrators and education advocates have to contend many complex issues. While teachers in numerous states have gone on strike to oppose the relentless cuts to education, to boost salaries for teachers and other workers, and to promote a shift in priorities to elevate public well-being over corporate profits, the challenge of raising enough money to hire an adequate number of teachers, paraprofessionals, librarians and counselors — and buy school supplies — remains front-and-center.

Small bookstores are booming after nearly being wiped out -- A growing number of shoppers will be supporting their independent neighborhood bookstores on Small Business Saturday. After nearly being wiped out a decade ago, small bookstores are booming. Dane Neller, the owner of Shakespeare & Co. in New York City, just opened his third indie bookstore, and he's proving the naysayers wrong. "Bookstores are back and they're back in a big way," he said. "I'm not giving to to hyperbole -- it was record-breaking for us." The Manhattan sanctuary is part of a resurgence of independent bookstores nationwide. Customers who visit the story can stumble upon a new author or linger over a latte while a special machine can print a book in three minutes if it's not in stock. The rebound comes after years of competition from deep discount superstores and online behemoth Amazon, which together turned small shops into an endangered species. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores fell by approximately 40 percent between the mid-90s and 2009. They have recovered some of those closures, and this year, sales are up more than five percent over a year ago.  The localism movement has been a driving force. Customers are increasingly spending in their neighborhood stores.

 DeVos: Teachers union has a ‘stranglehold’ on many federal, state politicians - Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday ripped teachers’ unions across the country, saying they have a “stranglehold” over many federal and state officials and are resistant to “changes that need to happen.” “The teachers union has a stranglehold on many of the politicians in this country, both at the federal level and at the state-level, and they are very resistant to the kind of changes that need to happen,” DeVos said in an appearance on Fox Business network. “They are very protective of what they know, and there are protective, really protective of adult jobs and not really focused on what is right for individual students.” DeVos has regularly clashed with national and state teachers’ unions over her comments criticizing the nation’s public education system and her platform to expand school choice, particularly by increasing the number of privately-run charter schools, vouchers and similar programs that utilize public money for private education. “One of the most fundamental things again is focusing on individual children and knowing that all students are different, they learn differently. I have four children, they were all very different, very different learners. We have to allow for more kinds of schools, more kinds of educational experiences, and to do that we need to empower more families to make those decisions on behalf of their students,” DeVos said before targeting the teacher unions for “protecting the status quo.” “We have a lot of forces that are protecting what is and what is known, a lot of forces protecting the status quo. We need to combat those, break them, and again empower and allow parents to make decisions on behalf of their individual children because they know their children best,” she added. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in July called DeVos “the worst” education secretary in history and praised the U.S. public education system. “Betsy DeVos is a public school denier, denying the good in our public schools and their foundational place in our democracy. Her record back in Michigan, and now in Washington, makes it clear that she is the most anti-public education secretary of education ever,” she said last year.

New York Governor Cuomo proposes band-aid for student hunger - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a program calling for all campuses of the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY) to set up food pantries for students in need. Recent studies on the living conditions of American college students show a devastating reality, with more than one in three students facing food insecurity—the lack of reliable access to enough food.SUNY and CUNY are together the largest higher education system in the United States, with 64 campuses and more than 430,000 students enrolled in a degree program. Cuomo proposed a $1 million annual budget as “seed money” for starting a campus food pantry program throughout the state. This program was announced back-to-back with the passing by SUNY’s Board of Trustees of another $200 increase in annual tuition for all four-year SUNY/CUNY schools, raising in-state tuition (which does not include the approximately $10,000-20,000 in student fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation) to $6,870.The only vote against this increase came from the student representative on the Board. SUNY and CUNY tuition costs have more than doubled since 2000.Before the start of the current semester, CUNY students held a rally opposing the tuition hike, as well as recent SUNY/CUNY budget cuts. Maxwell, a CUNY student attending the rally, spoke to WPIX News saying, “$200 can really just mean choosing between that or rent, or choosing between that and the groceries that month.” The sobering truth of this statement is reflected in a 2018 report by Wisconsin HOPE Lab titled, “Still Hungry and Homeless in College”—its third study assessing basic needs insecurity among US college students, and the largest national survey of its kind to date. Containing responses from 43,000 students at 66 institutions in 20 states, the findings showed that 36 percent of four-year college students were food insecure in the 30 days preceding the survey, and 42 percent of two-year (community college) students were food insecure. The study also showed that 36 percent of university students and 46 percent of community college students were housing insecure (unable to regularly pay rent or utilities) in the last year, and 9 percent of university students and 12 percent of community college students were homeless in the last year—meaning 1 in 10 students experience homelessness every year.

For Defense Against Active Shooters, University Hands Out Hockey Pucks - Hockey pucks: They're small and heavy and — one Michigan college thinks — may be the perfect weapon against an active shooter on campus.  Oakland University, a public school in Rochester Hills, near Detroit, is distributing thousands of 94-cent hockey pucks for just that reason. The distribution, which began earlier this month, stemmed from a March faculty active-shooter training session, which followed February's shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 dead.A participant at the training asked Oakland University Police Chief Mark Gordon what items people could use to defend themselves on the campus, which has a no-weapons policy, the Detroit Free Press reports.A hockey puck was a "spur-of-the-moment idea that seemed to have some merit to it, and it kind of caught on," Gordon said.The faculty union followed up on the idea, purchasing 2,500 hockey pucks: 800 for union members and 1,700 for students, the Free Press reports.The school conducts active-shooter training sessions multiple times a year, teaching the"run, hide, fight" method, which emphasizes fleeing an active-shooter situation above all else, hiding if fleeing isn't an option — and fighting if hiding isn't, either.  Fighting, with a hockey puck or other means, should be "an absolute last strategy," Gordon told the Free Press.

UC-Berkeley Student Govt Unanimously Approves Resolution To Fund Migrant Caravan - The University of California Berkeley student government has resolved to financially support the Honduran migrant caravan after a four-hour meeting Wednesday evening, during which senators were told that voting against the funding would be “violent." The resolution passed Wednesday night was presented by the Associated Students of the University of California. Among other initiatives, the bill titled In Support of Central American Refugees in their Pursuit of Asylum proposed that the student government allocate $1500 to be donated to a non-profit organization with the intent of helping to fund the caravan.The bill specifically referenced the Honduran migrant caravan, acknowledging that "while some have gradually arrived to the US-Mexico border, thousands are still en route and should arrive in the next week or two,” and calling on the student government to “be in solidarity” with these individuals.The document details the plight of Honduran citizens and blames the state of Honduras on the United States. "The United States, fueled by corporate greed, has strategically intervened in Central American politics and warfare; thus strengthening the U.S. economy and further disregarding the livelihood of  the citizens in these countries." Multiple Latino American students, one of whom stated that she was "undocumented and unafraid," showed up to speak before the vote in an effort to persuade senators to pass the bill, some more aggressive than others.  These students urged the association to “put their money where their mouth is” to prove their empathy for the migrants and asserted that a refusal to allocate the $1,500 in caravan assistance funding would be “damn petty.” Multiple students called the proposed donation the “bare minimum” that could be done by ASUC to support migrants.

Fearing espionage, U.S. weighs tighter rules on Chinese students (Reuters) - The Trump administration is considering new background checks and other restrictions on Chinese students in the United States over growing espionage concerns, U.S. officials and congressional sources said. In June, the U.S. State Department shortened the length of visas for Chinese graduate students studying aviation, robotics and advanced manufacturing to one year from five. U.S. officials said the goal was to curb the risk of spying and theft of intellectual property in areas vital to national security. But now the Trump administration is weighing whether to subject Chinese students to additional vetting before they attend a U.S. school. The ideas under consideration, previously unreported, include checks of student phone records and scouring of personal accounts on Chinese and U.S. social media platforms for anything that might raise concerns about students’ intentions in the United States, including affiliations with government organizations, a U.S. official and three congressional and university sources told Reuters. U.S. law enforcement is also expected to provide training to academic officials on how to detect spying and cyber theft that it provides to people in government, a senior U.S. official said. “Every Chinese student who China sends here has to go through a party and government approval process,” one senior U.S. official told Reuters. “You may not be here for espionage purposes as traditionally defined, but no Chinese student who’s coming here is untethered from the state.” The White House declined comment on the new student restrictions under review. Asked what consideration was being given to additional vetting, a State Department official said: “The department helps to ensure that those who receive U.S. visas are eligible and pose no risk to national interests.” The Chinese government has repeatedly insisted that Washington has exaggerated the problem for political reasons. China’s ambassador to the United States told Reuters the accusations were groundless and “very indecent.” “Why should anybody accuse them as spies? I think that this is extremely unfair for them,” Ambassador Cui Tiankai said.  Greater scrutiny of Chinese students would be part of a broader effort to confront Beijing over what Washington sees as the use of sometimes illicit methods for acquiring rapid technological advances that China has made a national priority. The world’s two biggest economies also are in a trade war and increasingly at odds over diplomatic and economic issues. 

Trump to Foreign Students: “Get Lost” - It should be of no particular surprise that the United States is becoming an increasingly unattractive place for foreign students to study in. On the financial side, a strong US dollar is making other Anglophone countries comparatively attractive like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. I've always been bemused by Brexit plunging the British pound to recent depths and in the process benefiting UK educational institutions. On the security side, the mountebank President Trump's barely-concealed hatred for all things foreign--and foreigners themselves--has understandably caused apprehension among would-be students in the US. Recent numbers of new students tell the tale[T[he number of students enrolling for the first time at American colleges in fall 2017 dropped nearly 7 percent compared to the previous year, according to the 2018 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, an annual survey taken by the Institute of International Education. New foreign student enrollment in the U.S. dropped by 3 percent during the 2016-17 school year. American officials at the State Department [surprise!] emphasize competitive factors for the slowdown in new foreign students: The authors of the report, which has been supported by the State Department since 1972, downplayed the role of politics — including Trump’s policies — in the slowdown. They instead blamed intensifying competition from universities in other countries and the rising cost of college in the U.S. “We’re not hearing that students feel they can’t come here,” said Allan Goodman, president and CEO of IIE. “We’re hearing that they have choices. We’re hearing that there’s competition from other countries.” However, American universities are more willing to pin blame on the real culprit here: Trump and his xenophobic rhetoric and policies. To no one's real surprise, Anglophone competitors for international students are really happy about this state of affairs:

UAW negotiates secret deal with Columbia University to block strike action by graduate students - The United Auto Workers (UAW) has reached a secret deal with the Columbia University administration on union recognition for graduate student and postdoctoral researchers that includes a clause blocking strikes and other work action. According to documents released by the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC), the GWC bargaining committee was informed on November 18 that UAW Region 9A Director Beverly Brakeman and Columbia provost John Coatsworth had been conducting negotiations since sometime in October, completely unbeknownst to the members of the GWC and Columbia Postdoctoral Workers (CPW).Under the concluded agreement, Columbia would drop its decades-long opposition to graduate and postdoctoral worker unionization and bargain with the GWC and CPW in exchange for a legal agreement not to strike or otherwise carry out any “interference with Columbia’s operations” until April 6, 2020. The agreement, which Columbia officials made public on November 19, requires that the deal be accepted by both unions no later than November 28.The agreement came as the GWC was preparing to strike indefinitely on December 4, a week before final exams, if the university failed to agree to negotiate by November 30. It also occurs in the wake of massive strikes by teachers and other educators throughout the world earlier in the year. If the GWC and CPW agree to the proposed framework, graduate students and researchers will be deprived of any legal ability to resist the administration’s demands while enshrining the UAW’s role in policing Columbia graduate workers and postdocs on behalf of the university. This would form the basis for future unionization drives at other colleges and universities and ensure that any contracts that emerge would serve to keep wages down.

Dartmouth Faces Class-Action Lawsuit Following Professor Misconduct Allegations — Seven female science students filed a $70 million class-action lawsuit against Dartmouth College on Thursday, saying they and dozens of others were sexually harassed and assaulted by three tenured professors who have since left the Ivy League institution. The women accuse college administrators of turning a blind eye to the abuse for more than 16 years, despite knowing that the professors “leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Concord.The plaintiffs, some of whom still are at Dartmouth, say Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen “perpetuated an alcohol-saturated ‘party culture’ ” by conducting lab meetings at bars, by inviting students to “hot tub parties” at their private residencies, and by suggesting undergraduates use cocaine as part of a class demonstration on addiction. Sasha Brietzke, Annemarie Brown, Vassiki Chauhan, Andrea Courtney, Marissa Evans, Kristina Rapuano and an anonymous plaintiff identified as Jane Doe are bringing the lawsuit on behalf of every current and former female undergraduate and graduate student enrolled in Dartmouth’s psychological and brain sciences department between March 31, 2015, and the date of judgment. They have brought six claims against the institution, including Title IX violations to include sexual harassment and gender discrimination, as well as claims of breach of fiduciary duty and negligent supervision and retention under New Hampshire law.

Dispute Over ‘Lingerie’ Comment Persists, as Society Rejects Professor’s Appeal - The International Studies Association has rejected the appeal of a professor who was found responsible for violating its code of conduct after he jokingly requested that an elevator in a conference hotel be stopped at the lingerie department.  Richard Ned Lebow, a professor of international political theory at King’s College London, responded by saying he would meet with his lawyer on Thursday and expects to file a defamation lawsuit. Lebow, who had threatened to sue the association unless it found in his favor, did not immediately respond to a question about who exactly he’d sue.  The association’s lawyer, in a letter dated Tuesday, relayed its decision that no steps would be taken against Lebow if he offered an "unequivocal apology" to Simona Sharoni, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Merrimack College who filed a complaint about the incident.  If he does not apologize, the letter said, the association will issue a formal, private letter of reprimand.  In an email to The Chronicle on Wednesday, Lebow made it clear he had no intention of apologizing. The incident that sparked the uproar happened in April in a crowded elevator during the association’s annual conference at a Hilton in San Francisco. Sharoni said she had offered to press the buttons for the floors where the elevator’s occupants, who she said were mostly male conference attendees, wanted to get off. Lebow asked for the women’s lingerie department, and others in the elevator laughed, she wrote in her complaint. Lebow has disputed details of her account, but conceded joking about being let off on the lingerie floor.

DeVos decries student-loan program as a ‘looming crisis’ - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday warned that the federal student aid program is a “looming crisis in higher education,” in a speech that some education experts say lacked an understanding of the problem or solutions. “Our higher ed system is the envy of the world, but if we, as a country, do not make important policy changes in the way we distribute, administer and manage federal student loans, the program on which so many students rely will be in serious jeopardy,” DeVos said at the Education Department’s annual Federal Student Aid training conference in Atlanta. Higher-education experts have long criticized the Education Department’s lending program as unwieldy because of varying loan limits and repayment plans that have mushroomed over the past few administrations. The federal student loan portfolio has surpassed the trillion-dollar mark in the face of rising college costs, stagnant wages and paltry state investment in higher education. Many Americans saddled with even small amounts of education debt are struggling or taking longer to repay the debt, raising questions about the sustainability of the program. “The student-loan program is not only burying students in debt, it is also burying taxpayers and it’s stealing from future generations,” DeVos said Tuesday. The state of the program, she said, “demands the attention of Congress, the American taxpayer, colleges and universities, parents and students.” Yet she laid much of the blame for the mounting debt on the Obama administration’s decision to lend directly to students and eliminate a $60 billion program that backed private student loans with federal subsidies. “Since 2010, when the previous administration orchestrated a government takeover of student lending, [Federal Student Aid’s] portfolio has skyrocketed. Over 8 percent annual growth. Two times faster than the growth of the cost of attendance and almost four times faster than the growth of our economy," the secretary said. 

Is Student Debt Forgiveness Progressive-- David Leonhardt has a piece at the New York Times that argues that eliminating student debt is not progressive. The main point of the piece is that high-income families have higher student debt levels than low-income families and that across-the-board student debt relief would therefore benefit high-income families more than low-income families.In light of Leonhardt’s article and the flurry of social media activity that followed it, I figured it’d helpful to provide a variety of measures of the student debt distribution. As Leonhardt notes, student debt is positively related to income. The richest 20 percent of young families have an average student debt level of $21,186, while the student debt level of the poorest 20 percent stands at $9,679.The picture looks a lot different when you look at wealth. The bottom fifth of young families (measured by wealth) have an average student debt of $48,975. The next highest quintile — families between the sixtieth and eightieth percentiles — have an average student debt of $9,517.Since student debt is a balance-sheet thing (assets and liabilities), I suspect that it is this distribution that ordinary people feel, rightly or wrongly. It is almost true by definition that student debt levels will be concentrated on the bottom of the wealth distribution since having a high student debt pushes you down the wealth distribution. Thus it might be helpful to also look at student debt levels broken down by assets quintile. The assets quintiles count everything the families own (homes, retirement accounts, etc.) but does not count everything they owe (mortgages, student debt, etc.). In addition to looking at student debt by income quintile, it can also be helpful to flip the axes and see what the average income is in each student debt quintile. One difficulty of doing this is that only 43 percent of families with heads between the ages of twenty-five and forty have outstanding student loan balances. So for these purposes, I lump together the 57 percent without student debt into one bucket and then cut the 43 percent with student debt into two buckets and count them as the fourth and fifth quintiles. Flipping the axes on the student debt by wealth graph in a similar manner gives you the following.Finally, here is assets by student debt quintile.What this all shows is that the distributional story of student debt is a bit more complicated than Leonhardt lets on.

Three More Strikes Against Social Security's Already-Dismal Batting-Average - Every year, cost of living adjustments increase Social Security benefits. Over the past decade, payouts have increased by an average of 1.66% per year, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). But for 2019, the increase will be 2.8% to keep pace with inflation. Seems like a trivial difference until you realize that’s 69% higher than expected. That amounts to about $39 extra per check for the average retiree, according to the SSA. And with about 62 million Americans receiving Social Security, that’s an extra $2.4 billion per month… $29 billion per year. Social Security is underfunded by $50 TRILLION. By the government’s own estimates, the Social Security fund will run out of money in 2034. But those calculations used previous cost of living adjustments. Keep in mind that all future cost of living adjustments will compound on top of 2019’s increase. So even if they get back to the 1.66% average adjustments, the extra $29 billion is included in the base for future calculations.   Social Security depends on a ratio of 3 workers to support each retiree. Today, there are only 2.8 workers paying into Social Security for every beneficiary collecting. The Social Security Administration estimates that this will fall to 2 workers per retiree by 2030… surely this time their estimate is accurate…  And the economy is currently about as good as it gets. October unemployment was 3.7% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It hasn’t been this low since 1969… There are record numbers of people in the workforce… paying into Social Security. Yet Social Security still looks dismal, during the best economic times in decades. What happens when a recession hits? Or forget a recession, what happens at normal unemployment levels? And that’s the third strike. 

Suicide is rising in U.S., falling around world  - "The suicide rate in America is up by 18% since 2000," The Economist writes in its lead editorial:  "This is not merely a tragedy; it matters politically, too. The rise is largely among white, middle-aged, poorly educated men in areas that were left behind by booms and crushed by busts. Their deaths are a symptom of troubles to which some see President Donald Trump as the answer. Those troubles should not be ignored." But at a global level, "suicide is down by 29% since 2000 ... As a result, 2.8m lives have been saved in that time — three times as many as have been killed in battle." "The decline is particularly notable among three sets of people ... young women in China and India ... middle-aged men in Russia ... old people all around the world."Among the reasons for the decline among these groups: urbanization, fewer forced marriages, and social stability.  "Unemployed people kill themselves at around two-and-a-half times the rate of those in work. The financial crash of 2007-08 and the resulting recessions are reckoned to have caused an extra 10,000 or so suicides in America and western Europe. As crises recede and employment rises, so suicide tends to ebb."   "Falling poverty rates among the old, which have declined faster than among other groups globally, are reckoned to have contributed to the drop in the number of elderly suicides."

The Health 202- Obamacare enrollment is lagging, despite cheaper options - More Americans can get Obamacare plans for free next year. But enrollment in the health-care marketplaces still appears to be lagging halfway through the Affordable Care Act's sixth sign-up season.Total sign-ups this year are down by about 300,000 people compared to the same time last year — a roughly 11 percent decline. Enrollment could certainly pick up as the Dec. 15 deadline nears — that's been the pattern in previous years. But the initial figures don’t look so great for the Trump administration, which has been frequently accused of trying to sabotage the ACA.If final enrollment figures are less than 11.8 million — the number of people who signed up for 2018 marketplace coverage — that would be surprising considering the 2019 plan options look better for more people. Obamacare had several rough years, as insurers spiked premiums by double digits and dropped out of the marketplaces altogether. But if the health-care law ever had a banner moment, it would be now.For one thing, it’s the first year marketplace premiums are dropping instead of rising. And that’s true  across the spectrum for the leanest health plans to the most comprehensive. The average monthly premium is 0.3 percent lower for the lowest-cost “bronze” plan, 1 percent lower for the lowest-cost “silver” plan and 2 percent lower for the lowest-cost “gold” plan, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.Not only are premiums lower, but government subsidies for low-income Americans who want health insurance continue to be more generous than in years past. That’s because insurers are still engaging in what’s become known as “silver-loading.” We explained this practice here in detail, but it basically means insurers are hiking silver-plan premiums to make up for cost-sharing subsidy payments the Trump administration severed last year. As a result, subsidies are larger because they’re based on the cost of more expensive silver plans.This means more low-income, subsidy-eligible Americans can find a monthly premium cheap enough to be entirely covered by their subsidy. Consider a few examples:

You Snooze, You Lose: Insurers Make The Old Adage Literally True - Last March, Tony Schmidt discovered something unsettling about the machine that helps him breathe at night. Without his knowledge, it was spying on him. From his bedside, the device was tracking when he was using it and sending the information not just to his doctor, but to the maker of the machine, to the medical supply company that provided it and to his health insurer. Schmidt, an information technology specialist from Carrollton, Texas, was shocked. “I had no idea they were sending my information across the wire.” Schmidt, 59, has sleep apnea, a disorder that causes worrisome breaks in his breathing at night. Like millions of people, he relies on a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine that streams warm air into his nose while he sleeps, keeping his airway open. Without it, Schmidt would wake up hundreds of times a night; then, during the day, he’d nod off at work, sometimes while driving and even as he sat on the toilet. “I couldn’t keep a job,” he said. “I couldn’t stay awake.” As many CPAP users discover, the life-altering device comes with caveats: Health insurance companies are often tracking whether patients use them. If they aren’t, the insurers might not cover the machines or the supplies that go with them. In fact, faced with the popularity of CPAPs, which can cost $400 to $800, and their need for replacement filters, face masks and hoses, health insurers have deployed a host of tactics that can make the therapy more expensive or even price it out of reach. 

Plead for charity or die: A blunt message from the American health care system - Last week, Hedda Martin, a 60-year-old Grand Rapids, Michigan, resident, was informed that despite her immediate life-threatening congestive heart failure, she needed to raise $10,000 before she could be put on a list for a possible heart transplant. “The decision made by the [multidisciplinary heart transplant] committee is that you are not a candidate at this time for a heart transplant due to needing more secure financial plan for immunosuppressive medication coverage. The Committee is recommending a fundraising effort of $10,000,” the notification from Spectrum Health read, in coldly matter-of-fact language. Martin’s son, posting the story on the fundraising site, GoFundMe, implored the public: “Imagine [her] disappointment when she was told she was denied due to finances. Mom work[ed] all her life. She paid taxes into medical care and held up the economy by spending most of her hard earned dollars. Now this.” Hedda Martin’s story and Spectrum Health’s denial letter have since gone viral on social media. The crisis immediately struck a nerve among workers and young people across the US, many of whom are all too familiar with the burdens of high deductibles and co-pays as well as medical debt, the most common cause of personal bankruptcy.   Spectrum Health told the media that the cause of Martin’s rejection was her insurance’s annual deductible of $4,500 and drug co-pay of 20 percent, stating that if she couldn’t afford the immunosuppressant drugs the donor heart would be “wasted.” Costs are sometimes a “regrettable and unavoidable factor in the decision making process,” they said, justifying their decision. Sky-high annual deductibles coupled with punitive co-pays in the range of Martin’s were made commonplace by the fraudulently named Affordable Care Act (ACA) otherwise known as Obamacare. Initially sold to the public as a step toward universal health care, the ACA is a cynical plan created by the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry and hospital chains, which dramatically increased profits to the multitrillion-dollar industry while pricing essential medical services out of range for large portions of the American population. 

Overshadowed By Opioids, Meth Is Back And Hospitalizations Surge - The number of people hospitalized because of amphetamine use is skyrocketing in the United States, but the resurgence of the drug largely has been overshadowed by the nation’s intense focus on opioids.Amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped by about 245 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That dwarfs the rise in hospitalizations from other drugs, such as opioids, which were up by about 46 percent. The most significant increases were in Western states.The surge in hospitalizations and deaths due to amphetamines “is just totally off the radar,” said Jane Maxwell, an addiction researcher. “Nobody is paying attention.”Doctors see evidence of the drug’s comeback in emergency departments, where patients arrive agitated, paranoid and aggressive. Paramedics and police officers see it on the streets, where suspects’ heart rates are so high that they need to be taken to the hospital for medical clearance before being booked into jail. And medical examiners see it in the morgue, where in a few states, such as Texas and Colorado, overdoses from meth have surpassed those from the opioid heroin.Amphetamines are stimulant drugs, which are both legally prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and produced illegally into methamphetamine. Most of the hospitalizations in the study are believed to be due to methamphetamine use.Commonly known as crystal meth, methamphetamine was popular in the 1990s before laws made it more difficult to access the pseudoephedrine, a common cold medicine, needed to produce it. In recent years, law enforcement officials said, there are fewer domestic meth labs and more meth is smuggled in from south of the border. As opioids become harder to get, police said, more people have turned to meth, which is inexpensive and readily available.

 US life expectancy continues down amid drug, suicide crises -As the United States continues to face a devastating opioid epidemic, new data released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals the toll it has taken helped push down life expectancy in the country in yet another consecutive year. In addition to drug-overdose deaths, a spike in suicides contributed to the grim trend in 2017, the year for which the data were collected. The third consecutive annual dip is the longest such trend since 1915-1918, when the country braved World War I and a flu pandemic. “Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health, and these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” CDC director Robert Redfield said of the report. The US is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with a declining life expectancy or rising suicide rate.

U.S. life expectancy declines again, a dismal trend not seen since World War I - WaPo. Life expectancy in the United States declined again in 2017, the government said Thursday in a bleak series of reports that showed a nation still in the grip of escalating drug and suicide crises. The data continued the longest sustained decline in expected life span at birth in a century, an appalling performance not seen in the United States since 1915 through 1918. That four-year period included World War I and a flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in the United States and perhaps 50 million worldwide. Public health and demographic experts reacted with alarm to the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual statistics, which are considered a reliable barometer of a society’s health. In most developed nations, life expectancy has marched steadily upward for decades. “I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States.”  “After three years of stagnation and decline, what do we do now?” asked S.V. Subramanian, a professor of population health and geography at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Do we say this is the new normal? Or can we say this is a tractable problem?”  Overall, Americans could expect to live 78.6 years at birth in 2017, down a tenth of a year from the 2016 estimate, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Men could anticipate a life span of 76.1 years, down a tenth of a year from 2016. Life expectancy for women in 2017 was 81.1 years, unchanged from the previous year.

American Life Expectancy Continues to Fall: Rise in Suicides, Overdose Deaths the Big Culprit -- Yves Smith - The evidence of social decay in America is becoming more visible. As other countries continue to show increases in life expectancy, the US continues its deterioration. Life expectancy in the US fell to 78.6 years in 2017, a 0.1 year fall from 2016 and a 0.3 year decline from the peak.  From CNNOverdose deaths reached a new high in 2017, topping 70,000, while the suicide rate increased by 3.7%, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports.  Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, called the trend tragic and troubling. “Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” he wrote in a statement.  While this assessment is technically correct, it is too superficial in seeing the rising rate of what Angus Deaton and Ann Case called “deaths of despair” as a health problem, rather than symptoms of much deeper societal ills. Americans take antidepressants at a higher rate than any country in the world. The average job tenure is a mere 4.4 years. In my youth, if you changed jobs in less than seven or eight years, you were seen as an opportunist or probably poor performer. The near impossibility of getting a new job if you are over 40 and the fact that outside hot fields, young people can also find it hard to get work commensurate with their education and experience, means that those who do have jobs can be and are exploited by their employers. Amazon is the most visible symbol of that, working warehouse workers at a deadly pace, and regularly reducing even white collar males regularly to tears. On top of that, nuclear families, weakened communities, plus the neoliberal expectation that individuals be willing to move to find work means that many Americans have shallow personal networks, and that means less support if one suffers career or financial setbacks.But the big driver, which the mainstream press is unwilling to acknowledge, is that highly unequal societies are unhealthy societies.

The US mortality crisis: CDC reports extraordinary drop in life expectancy - Life expectancy in the United States continued its extraordinary decline in 2017 after stagnating in 2016 and falling in 2015. Not since the combined impact of World War I and the Spanish Flu in 1918 has the country experienced such a prolonged period of decline in life expectancy. The annual mortality report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) highlights the disastrous impact of the social crisis on the American working class. Suicides and drug overdoses, what have been termed deaths of despair, have been identified as the driving forces behind the continuing decline in how long Americans are expected to live. In 2017, over 2.8 million Americans died, an increase by approximately 70,000 from the previous year and the most deaths in a single year since the US government began keeping records. From 2016 to 2017, the age-adjusted death rate for the entire population increased by 0.4 percent. The average life expectancy in the US declined from 78.7 to 78.6 years. Life expectancy dropped for males from 76.2 to 76.1 but remained the same for females at 81.1. Life expectancy for females has consistently been higher than males and the gap continues to widen. In 2017, the difference in life expectancy between females and males increased 0.1 year from 4.9 years in 2016 to 5.0 years in 2017. Age-specific death rates between 2016 and 2017 increased for age groups 25–34, 35–44, and 85 and over. These statistics indicate a healthcare system failing the elderly and a societal crisis ravaging younger workers. Deaths of despair, including alcoholism, are a leading cause of deaths in younger ages groups. The US suicide death rate rose to the highest in 50 years last year. Since 2008, it has ranked as the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the US. In 2016, suicide became the second leading cause of death for ages 10–34 and the fourth leading cause for ages 35–54. From 1999 to 2017, suicide rates have increased for both males and females, with the greatest yearly increases occurring since 2006.  The average annual increase in suicide rates shifted from about one percent per year from 1999 through 2006 to two percent per year from 2006 through 2017. The age-adjusted rate of suicide among females increased from 4.0 per 100,000 in 1999 to 6.1 in 2017, while the rate for males increased from 17.8 to 22.4.

Report: Death Rates Increase for 5 of the 12 Leading Causes of Mortality - Suicides, chronic liver disease, septicemia, Alzheimer's disease, and unintentional injuries, which are 5 of the 12 leading causes of death, have all increased since 2000, according to a new report from the Secretary of Health and Human Services to the President and Congress.
Health, United States, 2017 includes an in-depth special feature that discusses mortality in America. It examines when, why, and where individuals are dying in the United States.Causes of death and mortality’s impact on changes in life expectancy at birth are key focuses of the special feature. Data on life expectancy at birth are presented by sex, followed by data on death rates by age group.Report authors noted that between 2006 and 2016, the age-adjusted suicide death rate increased 23%, from 11.0 to 13.5 deaths per 100,000 resident population.Among men ages 25–34, death rates for chronic liver disease and cirrhosis increased by an average of 7.9 percent per year during 2006–2016. Among women in the same age group, this increase averaged 11.4% per year. The report also noted that the age-adjusted death rate for drug overdose in the US increased 72% between 2006 and 2016 to 19.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 2016, and that  life expectancy at birth decreased for the first time since 1993 by 0.2 years between 2014 and 2015, and then decreased another 0.1 years between 2015 and 2016.

 Overdoses, bedsores, broken bones: What happened when a private-equity firm sought to care for society’s most vulnerable WaPo   — To the state inspectors visiting the HCR Manor­Care nursing home here last year, the signs of neglect were conspicuous. A disabled man who had long, dirty fingernails told them he was tended to “once in a blue moon.” The bedside “call buttons” were so poorly staffed that some residents regularly soiled themselves while waiting for help to the bathroom. A woman dying of uterine cancer was left on a bedpan for so long that she bruised. The lack of care had devastating consequences. One man had been dosed with so many opioids that he had to be rushed to a hospital, according to the inspection reports. During an undersupervised bus trip to church — one staff member was escorting six patients who could not walk without help — a resident flipped backward on a wheelchair ramp and suffered a brain hemorrhage. When a nurse’s aide who should have had a helper was trying to lift a paraplegic woman, the woman fell and fractured her hip, her head landing on the floor beneath her roommate’s bed. “It was horrible — my mom would call us every day crying when she was in there,” said Debbie Bojo, whose mother was treated at ManorCare’s Pottsville facility in September 2016. “It was dirty — like a run-down motel. Roaches and ants all over the place.” Under the ownership of the Carlyle Group, one of the richest private-equity firms in the world, the ManorCare nursing-home chain struggled financially until it filed for bankruptcy in March. During the five years preceding the bankruptcy, the second-largest nursing-home chain in the United States exposed its roughly 25,000 patients to increasing health risks, according to inspection records analyzed by The Washington Post.

Brace Yourselves- A 163% Meat Tax Could Be Coming - How would you like to pay a 163% meat tax every time you want a steak or a burger? What about when you want some bacon with breakfast, or when you’re craving a ham sandwich? After much talk, economists and so-called health experts have finally decided what’s best for society: no steak for you!  Do you think you and your family deserve an extra tax for having a steak every now and then? Well, brace yourselves…because social taxes are what’s for dinner.Remember when smoking was the only socially engineered target of government health nannies? Then fat, then sugar, then caffeine and now even soda.The American public has been encouraged to gorge themselves on decadent, calorie-rich food for decades. Now people are being watched with microscopes and being shamed for doing just that. Or rather, for enjoying themselves occasionally because who can even afford steaks now? After all, you are responsible for other people’s healthcare costs.It looks like the “experts” have finally figured out a way to remove your steak right out from under your forks. By inflicting yet another sin tax on the individual and making lifestyle choices more akin to the austere, Big Brother commands in pure Orwellian 1984 style.Are you ready to get ascetic?I didn’t think so!  Why a Meat Tax? A study published this month states:The consumption of red and processed meat has been associated with increased mortality from chronic diseases, and as a result, it has been classified by the World Health Organization as carcinogenic (processed meat) and probably carcinogenic (red meat) to humans. One policy response is to regulate red and processed meat consumption similar to other carcinogens and foods of public health concerns. Here we describe a market-based approach of taxing red and processed meat according to its health impacts. And, “Including the social health cost of red and processed meat consumption in the price of red and processed meat could lead to significant health and environmental benefits,…”

Why Ebola crisis in DRC is unlike anything before - It is the worst Ebola outbreak to have struck the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - and the most complex one.Since August, authorities in the country, together with a host of partners, have been trying to contain a new outbreak of the disease in the eastern North Kivu and Ituri provinces.As of November 21, there have been 373 suspected cases of Ebola, including 347 confirmed cases. At least 217 people have already died.There have been 10 outbreaks of Ebola since 1976 in the DRC, which is considered among the most experienced in dealing with the virus.The situation this time, though, is different. The North Kivu and Ituri provinces are among the most unstable and densely populated in the country, and subject to some of the highest levels of human mobility in it. At the same time, there are warnings that a "perfect storm" of insecurity, community resistance about vaccinations and political manipulation threatens the efforts to contain the spread of the virus. North Kivu is home to a number of armed groups, including the Allied Defence Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group, that has operated with impunity since 1995. The endless upheavals in the region have meant regular dispossession and the incessant movement of refugees to neighbouring countries or within the province itself. As it stands, there are more than a million internally displaced people in North Kivu. These factors collectively make the latest outbreak unlike anything the DRC, which is scheduled to hold a crucial presidential election on December 23, has experienced before.The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of infected animals.  The virus is known to cause high fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as internal and external bleeding; it puts the body into a state of shock and results in a decrease of the perfusion of blood to vital organs, ultimately inducing multi-system organ failure. Once infected, patients have a very low chance of surviving.

EXCLUSIVE- Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies – MIT - When Chinese researchers first edited the genes of a human embryo in a lab dish in 2015, it sparked global outcry and pleas from scientists not to make a baby using the technology, at least for the present. It was the invention of a powerful gene-editing tool, CRISPR, which is cheap and easy to deploy, that made the birth of humans genetically modified in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) center a theoretical possibility. Now, it appears it may already be happening. According to Chinese medical documents posted online this month (here and here), a team at the Southern University of Science and Technology, in Shenzhen, has been recruiting couples in an effort to create the first gene-edited babies. They planned to eliminate a gene called CCR5 in hopes of rendering the offspring resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera. The clinical trial documents describe a study in which CRISPR is employed to modify human embryos before they are transferred into women’s uteruses. The scientist behind the effort, He Jiankui, did not reply to a list of questions about whether the undertaking had produced a live birth. Reached by telephone, he declined to comment.  However, data submitted as part of the trial listing shows that genetic tests have been carried out on fetuses as late as 24 weeks, or six months. It’s not known if those pregnancies were terminated, carried to term, or are ongoing. The birth of the first genetically tailored humans would be a stunning medical achievement, for both He and China. But it will prove controversial, too. Where some see a new form of medicine that eliminates genetic disease, others see a slippery slope to enhancements, designer babies, and a new form of eugenics. The technology is ethically charged because changes to an embryo would be inherited by future generations and could eventually affect the entire gene pool. “We have never done anything that will change the genes of the human race, and we have never done anything that will have effects that will go on through the generations,” David Baltimore, a biologist and former president of the California Institute of Technology.

World’s First Genetically Edited Babies Claimed in China (AP) -- A Chinese researcher claims that he helped make the world's first genetically edited babies — twin girls born this month whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life. If true, it would be a profound leap of science and ethics. A U.S. scientist said he took part in the work in China, but this kind of gene editing is banned in the United States because the DNA changes can pass to future generations and it risks harming other genes. Many mainstream scientists think it's too unsafe to try, and some denounced the Chinese report as human experimentation. The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have — an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus. He said the parents involved declined to be identified or interviewed, and he would not say where they live or where the work was done. There is no independent confirmation of He's claim, and it has not been published in a journal, where it would be vetted by other experts.  "I feel a strong responsibility that it's not just to make a first, but also make it an example," He told the AP. "Society will decide what to do next" in terms of allowing or forbidding such science. Some scientists were astounded to hear of the claim and strongly condemned it. It's "unconscionable ... an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible," said Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal. "This is far too premature," said Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. "We're dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It's a big deal."

CRISPR-baby scientist fails to satisfy critics - He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist who claims he helped to produce the first people born with edited genomes — twin baby girls — appeared today at a gene-editing summit in Hong Kong to explain his experiment. He delivered his talk amid threats of legal action and mounting questions, from the scientific community and beyond, about the ethics of his work. He had never before presented his work publicly, outside a handful of videos he posted on YouTube. Scientists welcomed the fact that he appeared at all — but his talk left many hungry for more answers, and still not completely certain that He’s claims are accurate. “There’s no reason not to believe him,” says Robin Lovell-Badge, a developmental biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London. “I’m just not completely convinced.” He’s talk encompassed his work in animals and the details of how he genetically modified embryos and implanted them in women. He explained how he verified the gene edits — and revealed that another woman is possibly pregnant with a gene-edited embryo. How the genome-edited babies revelation will affect research Lovell-Badge, like many other scientists, says that an independent body should confirm the test results by performing an in-depth comparison of the parents’ and children’s genes. Many scientists faulted He for a lack of transparency and the seemingly cavalier nature in which he embarked on such a landmark, and potentially risky, project. “I’m happy he came, but I was really horrified and stunned when he described the process he used,” says Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a pioneer of the CRISPR–Cas-9 gene-editing technique that He used. “It was so inappropriate on so many levels.”

Can lab-grown human brains think? - A growing number of researchers are mastering the creation of organoids: simplified, miniature versions of real human organs. These structures aren't being harvested to make Frankenstein's monster. Instead, they're helping develop new drugs, and they are forcing the medical establishment to seriously consider the ethics of lab-grown life. Roughly 90 percent of drugs that make it to human trials are never submitted to the FDA for approval because they're found to be unsafe or ineffective.   Organoids, which are grown from human stem cells, may be able to remove some of the guesswork in patient trials.  "Researchers have gotten really good at curing diseases in mice, but unfortunately animal studies don't really translate to human bodies," says Kevin Costa, chief scientific officer at Novoheart, a stem cell biotechnology firm known for creating heart organoids.   Novoheart's miniature beating hearts can be designed to reflect healthy heart function, or they can reproduce the genetic abnormalities of a patient who originally donated their cells. These heart models can then be used by pharmaceutical companies in preclinical testing to determine the safety and efficacy of a potential treatment.  But things begin to stray into Frankenstein territory when scientists talk about designing realistic miniature brains. Earlier this month, researchers from the University of California, San Diego revealed they had grown organoids that spontaneously produced human-like brain waves for the first time. The electrical patterns observed by biologist Alysson Muotri and his team resembled those of infants born at 25 to 39 weeks' gestation. There are important differences between these lab-grown brains and their real-life counterparts. First of all, they don't yet contain all of the cell types found in the cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for cognition and awareness. Second, they don't have connections to other brain regions. But the very existence of electrical waves in these organoids raises uncomfortable questions about whether they could develop consciousness.

Mutant superbugs menace future space station expeditions – NASA - Researchers found five strains of a multidrug-resistant bacterium similar to hospital-acquired infections on the International Space Station, raising concerns about the organisms' health implications for future missions.  Resembling a bacterium recently discovered infecting newborns and one elderly immunocompromised patient across three hospitals, the Enterobacter bugadensis strains found on the ISS were not infectious to humans in their current form. However, their genomes are similar enough to three pathogenic Earth strains to warrant further study, according to researchers at California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group. All five bacterial strains were resistant to five of the most commonly-used antibiotics, including penicillin, and "resistant or intermediate resistant" to two more. Enterobacter species are commonly found in the human intestinal tract, as well as in sewage and soil, but they have also been implicated in a wide array of hospital-acquired infections, including endocarditis and bacteremia in addition to skin and soft tissue, urinary tract, lower respiratory tract, and intra-abdominal infections. The space-bugs have a 79 percent probability of potentially infecting humans, according to a computer analysis the researchers performed, but senior research scientist Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran stated that there was no cause for alarm (yet), emphasizing the need to conduct further studies in living creatures to determine how environmental factors related to space travel affected the bacteria. Microgravity is known to increase a bacterium's tendency to acquire foreign genetic material and to become resistant to metals and antibiotics, factors which could predispose the ISS E. bugadensis strains toward increased virulence in the future.

How Pollution Can Hurt the Health of the Economy --One argument for rolling back environmental regulations — as is occurring under the Trump administration — is that a lighter touch on industry will lift investment and economic growth.But increased pollution can also have long-term negative economic consequences. The effects on health are bad enough on their own, and are well understood.

  • ● Particulate matter — a significant recent concern in California because of wildfires — as well as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone can aggravate people’s airways, degrade lung function and worsen asthma.
  • Carbon monoxide can cause problems for people with some types of heart disease and, at very high levels (usually indoors), can lead to dizziness, confusion, unconsciousness and death.
  • Lead can cause cardiovascular and neurological problems. Pollution to groundwater from industrial waste can also harm health.Less well understood is how this can affect things like educational and economic outcomes. Many studies, some focused on regions of the United States, others on cities elsewhere, have documented this kind of relationship: It’s harder to perform well at work or school if you don’t feel well. Additionally, if school performance suffers as a result of health problems, that threatens long-term work and earnings prospects.

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of pollution. The fetal origins hypothesis posits that environmental conditions before birth can affect development, health and well-being. Daniel Prinz, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate, is an author of a recent paper on the subject. “The evidence is overwhelming that pollutants encountered in utero can cause long-term harm,” Mr. Prinz said.  The 1970 amendment to the Clean Air Act significantly reduced air pollution in certain areas, offering a research opportunity. A study published last year in the Journal of Political Economy looked at the level of pollution experienced by children born in each year between 1969 and 1974, and also their earnings 30 or more years later. The study found that exposure to lower levels of pollution in their birth years led to higher earnings by age 30 and at least $4,300 more over their lifetimes, or $6.5 billion per affected cohort. Another study examined the test scores of 13,000 children born in Florida between 1994 and 2002, when the E.P.A. cleaned up many Superfund sites. The children were all in families with one child born before and one after a nearby Superfund site cleanup. That meant one child was exposed, in utero, to a higher level of environmental toxicity than the other. The study found that children conceived within two miles of a Superfund site before it was cleaned up had lower elementary school standardized test scores than the siblings born later. They were also 40 percent more likely to repeat a grade; 6.6 percentage points more likely to be suspended from school; and 10 percentage points more likely to be diagnosed with a cognitive disability.

Upshot Extra: The harms of pollution -- My Upshot post today is about the long-term human capital and productivity effects of pollution, whether from industrial sources or California’s wildfires. A few paragraphs couldn’t fit, due to space:

  • Though the mechanism is not fully understood, pollution can also affect cognition. Recent researchlinked air pollution in China to cognitive decline — most acutely in older men — as measured by verbal and math tests.
  • A U.S. study by economists with the University of Arizona found that long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. By analyzing Medicare data on about 7 million people over 1999-2013, merged with pollution levels where people lived, the study found that a 9 percent increase in particulate matter raises the probability of a dementia diagnoses by almost 7 percent, an effect equivalent to increasing a 74 year old woman’s age to 77.
  • One study of ozone pollution in California’s Central Valley found that harvest volume of agricultural workers fell 5.5 percent when ozone pollution increased 20 percent above its average.

Passed on the Romaine Salad This Year -  On Wednesday, we pitched enough Romaine Hearts to feed 20 people for Thanksgiving as CDC said not to eat any Romaine as it was contaminated with E. Coli.  It is not the first-time leafy vegetables have been removed from the grocery shelf and the dinner table. Indeed, if you glance at the attached chart, it has happened frequently over the years. Since 2006, there has been at least one outbreak of E. Coli yearly caused by leafy vegetables. The Center for Investigative Reporting on its website Reveal was one of the first to break the story of why it has become hazardous to eat vegetables in the US. “5 people died from eating lettuce, but Trump’s FDA still won’t make farms test water for bacteria.” Congress legislated actions to be taken in 2011 after several out breaks of E. Coli and the resulting illness. The testing of the water used to irrigate the fields growing the plants was to start in 2018. Six months before people were sickened by the contaminated Romaine, in response to pressure from the farm industry, and Trump’s mandate to eliminate regulations, the FDA delayed the water-testing rules for at least four years. This particular outbreak originated in Yuma Arizona and is believed to be from irrigation water which is typically a prime source of food contamination and foodborne illnesses. When livestock feces flow into and contaminates a creek, the tainted water can seep into wells or is sprayed onto produce which is then harvested, processed, and sold at stores and restaurants. Salad leafy greens are particularly vulnerable and they are often eaten raw and can harbor bacteria when torn. In 2006, most California and Arizona growers of leafy greens signed agreements to voluntarily test irrigated water which minimizes the risk of contamination. Farm groups contend the testing of water is too expensive. Some farmers contend the whole thing is an overblown attempt to exert government power on them. Postponing the water-testing rules would save growers $12 million per year. It would also cost consumers $108 million per year in medical expenses, according to an FDA analysis. Go Figure . . .

The Science Is Clear: Dirty Farm Water Is Making Us Sick - William Whitt suffered violent diarrhea for days. But once he began vomiting blood, he knew it was time to rush to the hospital. His body swelled up so much that his wife thought he looked like the Michelin Man, and on the inside, his intestines were inflamed and bleeding.For four days last spring, doctors struggled to control the infection that was ravaging Whitt, a father of three in western Idaho. The pain was excruciating, even though he was given opioid painkillers intravenously every 10 minutes for days. How could a healthy 37-year-old suddenly get so sick? While he was fighting for his life, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quizzed Whitt, seeking information about what had sickened him. Finally, the agency’s second call offered a clue: “They kept drilling me about salad,” Whitt recalled. Before he fell ill, he had eaten two salads from a pizza shop.The culprit turned out to be E. coli, a powerful pathogen that had contaminated romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, and distributed nationwide. At least 210 people in 36 states were sickened. Five died and 27 suffered kidney failure. The same strain of E. coli that sickened them was detected in a Yuma canal used to irrigate some crops.For more than a decade, it’s been clear that there’s a gaping hole in American food safety: Growers aren’t required to test their irrigation water for pathogens such as E. coli. As a result, contaminated water can end up on fruits and vegetables.After several high-profile disease outbreaks linked to food, Congress in 2011 ordered a fix, and produce growers this year would have begun testing their water under rules crafted by the Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration. But six months before people were sickened by the contaminated romaine, President Donald Trump’s FDA – responding to pressure from the farm industry and Trump’s order to eliminate regulations – shelved the water-testing rules for at least four years. Despite this deadly outbreak, the FDA has shown no sign of reconsidering its plan to postpone the rules. The agency also is considering major changes, such as allowing some produce growers to test less frequently or find alternatives to water testing to ensure the safety of their crops.

Not Lovin’ It — Researchers Find Poop on Every McDonald’s Touchscreen Tested  — A study recently conducted by researchers at London Metropolitan University found that touchscreens used by customers at multiple McDonald’s locations were covered in fecal bacteria. Dr. Paul Matawele, one of the lead researchers in the study, explained that the spread of this bacteria could lead to serious infections.“We were all surprised how much gut and faecal bacteria there was on the touchscreen machines. These cause the kind of infections that people pick up in hospitals. For instance Enterococcus faecalis is part of the flora of gastrointestinal tracts of healthy humans and other mammals. It is notorious in hospitals for causing hospital acquired infections,” Matawele said.Researchers tested eight different McDonalds locations throughout the London and Birmingham area, and each location had its own collection of different viruses and bacteria, from listeria at one location to Staphylococcus at another.“Seeing Staphylococcus on these machines is worrying because it is so contagious. It starts around people’s noses, if they touch their nose with their fingers and then transfer it to the touchscreen someone else will get it, and if they have an open cut which it gets into, then it can be dangerous. There is a lot of worries at the moment that staphylococcus is becoming resistant to antibiotics. However, it is still really dangerous in places like Africa where it can cause toxic shock,” Dr. Matawele said.“Listeria is another rare bacterium we were shocked to find on touchscreen machines as again this can be very contagious and a problem for those with a weak immune system,” Matawele added. Meanwhile, a vast majority of the samples tested positive for traces of the bacteria Proteus.

Ragweed is on the move -  New research suggests that the plant will migrate north in the next three and a half decades. It will sprout where it hasn’t been before, and proliferate where it already is.  Upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, where ragweed has not been documented, will be especially vulnerable, according to their study. The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE, and is believed to be the first to examine ragweed distribution in the United States. Moreover, the effects of climate change also could result in a longer ragweed season, which currently begins in August and lasts through November.  “Ragweed is already flowering earlier and longer than it has in the past, so if the climate conditions become conducive, it is possible that the pollen season could start sooner and end later,” Stinson said. “Historical pollen records tell us that ragweed thrives in hot, dry environments. When we grow ragweed at high CO2 it luxuriates and produces more pollen.” Increasing amounts of fine-powder ragweed pollen, the primary allergen for hay fever symptoms, will mean increased misery in the form of sneezing, runny noses, irritated eyes, itchy throats and headaches. “One reason we chose to study ragweed is because of its human health implications,” Stinson said. “It affects a lot of people.” The warming climate has brought early springs, late-ending falls, warmer and shorter winters and large amounts of rain and snow. All of that, combined with historically high levels of carbon dioxide in the air, nourishes all of the trees and plants that make pollen, not just ragweed, as well as promoting fungal growth, such as mold, and the release of spores, other sources of allergies.

Asian ticks have arrived in the United States, and they’ve brought disease with them - Outdoor adventurers in the United States have plenty of tick problems of their own, and anyone who ventures into the woods in many areas of the country needs to be on the lookout for the tiny parasites and make sure none have latched on. Now, a new invasive tick species is getting a foothold in the country, posing a danger to humans and animals. The ticks are a nuisance in their native Asia where they have been blamed for spreading disease to humans as well as affecting livestock. As the Washington Post reports, the ticks are capable of carrying many diseases and drink enough blood to affect the output of dairy cattle production by up to 25 percent. A new report by the CDC highlights the dangers posed by the ticks. According to the organization, the tick species has been spotted in the United States in 2017 and 2018, located in a number of states including Arkansas Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The species, called the Asian longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis), has a knack for spreading. Females of the species can lay eggs without mating, making it fairly easy for the parasites to bolster their numbers in short order. “The presence of H. longicornis in the United States represents a new and emerging disease threat,” the CDC says. “Characterization of the tick’s biology and ecology are needed, and surveillance efforts should include testing for potential indigenous and exotic pathogens.”

Invasive Tick Spreads to Ninth State, CDC Warns of 'New and Emerging Disease Threat' -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of a "multistate infestation" with the Asian longhorned tick—the first new tick species to enter the U.S. in 50 years. New Jersey was the first state to report the Haemaphysalis longicornis on a sheep in August 2017. Since then, it has been found in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, according to Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report."The presence of H. longicornis in the United States represents a new and emerging disease threat," the report said.  The ticks were reported from 45 counties in nine states from August 2017 to September 2018.CDC As EcoWatch previously mentioned, in Asia the species carries a disease that kills 15 percent of those infected, but no human diseases have been linked to the species in the U.S. since it was first found in New Jersey.The CDC is currently working with public health, agricultural and academic experts to understand the possible threat posed by the insect."The full public health and agricultural impact of this tick discovery and spread is unknown," said Ben Beard, Ph.D., deputy director of CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in a press release. "In other parts of the world, the Asian longhorned tick can transmit many types of pathogens common in the United States. We are concerned that this tick, which can cause massive infestations on animals, on people, and in the environment, is spreading in the United States." LiveScience further reported: "In other parts of the world, longhorned ticks are known to spread diseases, including the bacterial infections babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, theileriosis and rickettsiosis, as well as certain viral diseases. In China and Japan, the longhorned tick transmits a disease called severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS), which can be deadly."

Pesticide poisoning kills millions of Cape Town’s bees -- Cape Town’s bee population has taken a serious knock in recent weeks, raising fears of widespread poisoning. As reported by eNCA, beekeepers in and around Cape Town have noticed a dire pandemic which has wiped out millions of nature’s chief pollinators. Brendan Ashley-Cooper, vice-president of the Western Cape bee association, confirmed that the erroneous use of agricultural pesticides is believed to be the cause of the devastation. Ashley-Cooper said he was first alerted to the deaths by fellow beekeepers. Upon inspecting his own hives, he discovered millions of dead bees. Ashley-Cooper estimates that about 2.5 million of his bees have perished as a result of the poisoning. The commercial farmer explained:“A week ago we started getting calls that be beekeepers were finding dead bees in front of their hives. I came to inspect my bee site and found similar results and found thousands upon thousands of dead bees in front of a lot of my bee hives.This look to me, from past experience, to be poisoning of some sort. It’s a very intense poison which has killed the bees in a very short space of time.” Ashley-Cooper confirmed that an urgent meeting would be convened with surrounding farmers to investigate the matter further and discuss possible solutions. He maintained that the farmers themselves were extremely concerned about the decimation of the local bee population, saying: “The farmers have been very concerned about the bee die-off. We’re having meetings with the farmers in the next couple of days to have a look if they have caused this problem and to see if we can find solutions.” Beekeepers in the Constantia are especially distressed by the recent devastation and have blamed local farmers for spraying their crops with pesticides that contain a mixture of molasses and ant poison. The sweetness of the molasses attracts the bees. A bee which has ingested the pesticide then returns to the hive and unwittingly infects the rest of the other pollinators. 

The insect apocalypse is here - In the United States, scientists recently found the population of monarch butterflies fell by 90 percent in the last 20 years, a loss of 900 million individuals; the rusty-patched bumblebee, which once lived in 28 states, dropped by 87 percent over the same period. With other, less-studied insect species, one butterfly researcher told me, “all we can do is wave our arms and say, ‘It’s not here anymore!’ ” Still, the most disquieting thing wasn’t the disappearance of certain species of insects; it was the deeper worry, shared by Riis and many others, that a whole insect world might be quietly going missing, a loss of abundance that could alter the planet in unknowable ways. “We notice the losses,” says David Wagner, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut. “It’s the diminishment that we don’t see.” Because insects are legion, inconspicuous and hard to meaningfully track, the fear that there might be far fewer than before was more felt than documented. People noticed it by canals or in backyards or under streetlights at night — familiar places that had become unfamiliarly empty. The feeling was so common that entomologists developed a shorthand for it, named for the way many people first began to notice that they weren’t seeing as many bugs. They called it the windshield phenomenon. To test what had been primarily a loose suspicion of wrongness, Riis and 200 other Danes were spending the month of June roaming their country’s back roads in their outfitted cars. They were part of a study conducted by the Natural History Museum of Denmark, a joint effort of the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and North Carolina State University. The nets would stand in for windshields as Riis and the other volunteers drove through various habitats — urban areas, forests, agricultural tracts, uncultivated open land and wetlands — hoping to quantify the disorienting sense that, as one of the study’s designers put it, “something from the past is missing from the present.”   But by the time the nets were ready, a paper by an obscure German entomological society had brought the problem of insect decline into sharp focus. The German study found that, measured simply by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over just 27 years. If you looked at midsummer population peaks, the drop was 82 percent.

Hurricane Florence Flooded Poultry Operations Housing 1.8 Million Birds, Investigation Finds --The heavy rains and high waters after Hurricane Florence flooded 35 industrial poultry operations in North Carolina housing an estimated 1.8 million birds, according to a new investigation by Waterkeeper Alliance and the Environmental Working Group (EWG).The analysis details how the swine and poultry industry, in the absence of smarter regulation, is not only repeating mistakes, it's compounding them. For instance, 18 of the industrial swine or poultry operations either surrounded or inundated by Florence floodwaters were flooded by Hurricane Matthew, in 2016. And of the 35 industrial poultry operations confirmed flooded, nine were new operations that had been built following flooding by Hurricane Matthew.The groups released an interactive map, available here, showing the location of industrial animal operations in the state where waste pits or piles were either flooded, breached or surrounded by floodwaters after Hurricane Florence. The new report is an update to the Fields of Filth investigation the groups produced in 2016, and the follow-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, when EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance documented 36 swine and poultry operations hit by flooding. Flooded poultry operations pose a significant environmental threat, as poultry operations are North Carolina's largest and fastest growing source of nutrient pollution, according to a 2017 report from the state's Department of Environmental Quality. North Carolina's poultry industry produced 56.6 million pounds of plant-available nitrogen in 2014, according to the state's report. That was three times as much nitrogen that year as the state's swine industry, which is second in size nationally only to Iowa's. North Carolina's poultry produced 79.8 million pounds of phosphorus in 2014, six times more phosphorus than the swine industry.The North Carolina poultry operations that flooded during Hurricane Florence generated an estimated 22,525 tons of waste a year, according to EWG.The groups will be doing regular testing of water quality in the coming months, and anticipate releasing a followup report in 2019. "There's no permitting system for poultry in North Carolina, so the state doesn't know where these operations are located," said Christian Breen, a field investigator with Waterkeeper Alliance. "No one did the due diligence to say, 'Is this really a good place to build them?'"

Nearly 200 Sea Turtles Die in Cape Cod Cold Snap -- The record cold snap that froze the northeast Thanksgiving weekend had deadly consequences for sea turtles still swimming in Cape Cod Bay. More than 80 frozen sea turtles were brought into the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary the day after Thanksgiving, and most did not survive, ABC News reported.  A full 173 turtles have died off of the Massachusetts coast since Wednesday, Mass Audubon Director Bob Prescott told CNN. A total of 227 near-frozen turtles were brought to the sanctuary over the holiday, but only 54 recovered. In total, more than 400 turtles have washed up on Massachusetts beaches since Oct. 22, more than average for the winter stranding season, the Cape Cod Times reported."We are at well over 400 cold-stunned turtles (for the year)—82 today, the vast majority of them frozen solid,"   "Sea turtles are moving further north along our coast, or south to the southern hemisphere, as waters are warming and they are expanding their ranges," Nichols told NBC. "So when we get these quick swings from warm to cooler, the turtles that haven't made it south definitely get into trouble."When sea turtles are stuck in rapidly cooling waters, they can fall victim to a potentially lethal condition called "cold stunning," as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains:"Sea turtle[s] are cold-blooded reptiles that depend on the temperature of their surroundings to maintain their body temperature. Sea turtles can normally control their body temperatures by moving between areas of water with different temperatures or basking in the sun at the water's surface or on the beach. However, when temperatures rapidly decline and sea turtles are cut off from moving to warmer waters, they can suffer from a form of hypothermia we call cold stunning."

145 Whales Dead After Mass Stranding on New Zealand Beach - As many as 145 pilot whales are dead after beaching themselves on a remote beach in Rakiura, or Stewart Island, in southern New Zealand.A "heartbreaking decision" was made to put down half of the animals due to their poor condition and the difficult-to-access location, a Department of Conservation (DOC) official said Monday in a media release.  "The remote location, lack of nearby personnel and the whales' deteriorating condition meant the most humane thing to do was to euthanize," DOC Rakiura Operations Manager Ren Leppens said in the media release.."  Two pods stranded at the southern end of Mason Bay, approximately 1.2 miles apart. The whales were discovered on Saturday afternoon by a hiker, The New York Times reported.   Leppens told the Times that the whales might have stranded as early as Friday. He said they "started to get covered in sand" by the time they were found on late Saturday. Poor weather also meant that experts could not be flown in to assess the situation, so conservation workers had no choice but to euthanize the animals, he added to the newspaper. This is the country's largest mass stranding event since 250 to 300 pilot whales were found dead last year in Golden Bay. It's not clear why marine mammals such as dolphins and whales strand, but factors can include sickness, navigational error, geographical features, a rapidly falling tide, and being chased by a predator or extreme weather, the agency said. Other strandings occurred on New Zealand shores over the weekend. Ten pygmy killer whales also stranded at 90 Mile Beach on Sunday. Two have since died and re-float attempts will be made Tuesday. A sperm whale beached in Doubtful Bay on Karikari Peninsula in Northland on Friday and died Saturday. Finally, a dead female pygmy sperm whale also washed up at Ohiwa over the weekend.

New Zealand whale stranding- ‘I will never forget their cries’ - "It was the worst night of my entire life." That's how Liz Carlson describes finding 145 whales beached and dying on a remote New Zealand beach. The travel blogger from the US was on a five-day hike on the Rakiura or Stewart Island with a friend when they came across the tragic scene. What would otherwise have a been a beautiful long stretch of deserted beach was the site of a desperate struggle for life. Almost 150 pilot whales, beached in the low tide, were fighting in agony in the gentle surf. "It was one of these jaw dropping moments," she told the BBC. "We came to the beach around sunset and spotted something in the shallows. "When we realised it was whales, we dropped everything and ran into the surf." She'd seen whales in the wild before, she said, but "nothing can prepare you for this, it was just horrific". The two immediately tried to find some way to help, to push the whales back into deeper water. "But you quickly realise that there is nothing you can do. They are just too big. "The futility was the worst," she said. "They are crying out to each other and are talking and clicking and there's no way to help them." Unable to do anything themselves, they frantically thought of other ways to help. Stewart Island is very remote, off the coast of New Zealand's South Island, and the beach they were hiking to is even more remote. The pair hadn't seen any other hikers for the past two days but knew that about 15km (9 miles) away there was a hut where some conservation workers were based. With no mobile phone reception, they hoped there might be a radio in the hut and Liz's friend, Julian Ripoll, set off running to get help. This left her all by herself, amid the scores of dying whales on the vast beach. "I'll never forget their cries, the way they watched me as I sat with them in the water, how they desperately tried to swim but their weight only dug them deeper into the sands," she wrote on Instagram. "My heart completely broke."   The 30-year-old spotted a young baby whale and tried to get it back into the water. While the adult whales were impossible to move at all, she did manage to move the young one. "It took everything I had to get the baby into the water and then he just kept re-beaching himself," she told the BBC. "After Julian left, I just sat there with the baby. "You can sense the fear in the animals, they are looking at you. They watch you and they have very human-like eyes."   The next morning, they woke to a situation even more dire.It was low tide and the whales were on the dry sand. Some had already died and the others were lying on the beach in pain, getting baked in the sun. "They had tears in their eyes," Liz says. "It looked like they are crying and they were making sad sounds." It was clear that none of the whales could be saved.

Shark warning after 28 whales die in mass beaching (photos) Twenty-eight whales have died after a mass beaching event on a remote part of the East Gippsland coast in Victoria's far east. Twenty-seven pilot whales and one humpback whale were reported beached yesterday afternoon at Wingan Inlet, between Cape Conran and Mallacoota, in the Croajingolong National Park, about 500km east of Melbourne. Authorities have issued a warning about increased shark activity in the area because of the rotting whale carcasses. Victoria's Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks (DELWP) are managing the situation, and a wildlife expert accompanied by a vet has been flown into the area by helicopter. Incident controller Michael Turner said 24 of the whales died yesterday at Rame Head, and the rest died today.  The large number of whale carcasses in the water has led authorities to issue a warning of a possible increase in shark activity in the region, which is near a popular camping and fishing spot.People are being warned to avoid the beach and one kilometre offshore, between Petrel Point and Rame Head, near Wingan Inlet. The location is remote, and the beach is only accessible on foot.The Victorian Fisheries Authority is monitoring the area for shark sightings. Mr Turner said there were no plans to remove the whale carcasses. "The most logical option [is] a natural process will take place, with the tide," he said.

Trump Administration Approves Harmful Seismic Blasting in Atlantic - Despite vehement opposition from communities, businesses and lawmakers along the Atlantic coast, the National Marine Fisheries Service on Friday is expected to issue five permits, or Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHA), that allow deafening seismic surveys to search for offshore oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean. The Trump administration's move was first reported by Bloomberg, which said the IHAs allow five companies to use airgun blasting in waters off Delaware to central Florida.During the seismic surveys, ships fire blasts of air to the bottom of the sea every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks or months at a time to map the contours of the ocean floor. The loud, continuous and far-reaching noise can damage the hearing and potentially disorientate and kill marine life, displace fish, devastate zooplankton and cause whales to beach. Blasting can also impact commercial and recreational fishing by decreasing catch rates. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), who is poised to assume the chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee in January, blasted the Trump administration's approval of the permits."Seismic testing risks injuring and killing critically endangered species, severely disrupting economically important fisheries, and threatening the Jersey shore," Pallone said on his website. "An environmentally sound coast is critical to New Jersey's economy and it is very possible that seismic testing could lead to oil and gas drilling off our coast—threatening public health, coastal communities, and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Members from both sides of the aisle will work tirelessly to fight this reckless decision by the Trump administration."

 Near-Extinct Vaquita Gets Another Lifeline from the Courts --In a crucial win for the quickly vanishing vaquita porpoise, a federal appeals court sided with conservationists Wednesday when it upheld a ban on Mexican seafood imports caught with gillnets, which drown the endangered marine mammal. "Immediate pressure on Mexico to ban all gillnets in the upper Gulf of California and to clear the area of illegal nets is necessary now for the vaquita's survival," said Giulia Good Stefani, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).The Trump administration was challenging a preliminary ban secured back in July after NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute filed suit in the U.S. Court of International Trade. Since then, the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security have tried to modify or undo the ban three times. "The federal agencies charged with protecting the vaquita should focus their resources on saving the last of these animals rather than continuing to lose in the courtroom," Stefani said.Failing to address Mexico's fishing practices violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which requires the U.S. government to ban seafood imports from international fisheries if they kill or injure marine mammals at a rate above U.S. standards. Despite repeated recommendations by scientists, Mexico still allowed the use of gillnets, which kill about 50 percent of the rapidly dwindling vaquita population every year. Today, an estimated 15 vaquita remain in the upper Gulf of California—just 5 percent of the population 20 years ago. Scientists predict that the species will be extinct soon, possibly even by 2021, if Mexican fishing practices and law enforcement efforts remain unchanged.

Brazil records worst annual deforestation for a decade - Brazil has released its worst annual deforestation figures in a decade amid fears that the situation might worsen when the avowedly anti-environmentalist president-elect Jair Bolsonaro takes power. Between August 2017 and July 2018, 7,900sq kms were deforested, according to preliminary figures from the environment ministry based on satellite monitoring – a 13.7% rise on the previous year and the biggest area of forest cleared since 2008. The area is equivalent to 987,000 football pitches. The news was met by dismay from environmentalists who warned deforestation was likely to become more acute when Bolsonaro becomes president on 1 January.   “The situation is very worrying… what is bad will get worse.” The environment ministry said the increase came despite an increase in its budget and in operations carried out by its environment agency Ibama. “We need to increase the mobilisation at all levels of government, of society, and of the productive sector to combat illicit environmental activities,” environment minister Edson Duarte said in a statement. But the government appears to be heading in the other direction. After falling for several years, deforestation began rising again in 2013, the year after leftist president Dilma Rousseff approved a new forest code which gave an amnesty to those deforesting on small properties. Deforestation has risen in four of the six years since then, including in 2016, the year Rousseff was impeached and replaced by her former vice-president Michel Temer.  Temer has made further concessions to powerful agribusiness interests in return for support from its congressional representatives – including approving a measure that legalised land that had been squatted in the Amazon, a common deforestation driver.

Scientists warn new Brazil president may smother rainforest — Scientists warn that Brazil’s president-elect could push the Amazon rainforest past its tipping point — with severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. Jair Bolsonaro, who takes office Jan. 1, claims a mandate to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms, calling Brazil’s rainforest protections an economic obstacle. Brazilians on Oct. 28 elected Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate who channeled outrage at the corruption scandals of the former government and support from agribusiness groups. Next week global leaders will meet in Poland for an international climate conference to discuss how to curb climate change, and questions about Brazil’s role in shaping the future of the Amazon rainforest after Bolsonaro’s election loom large. New Brazilian government data show the rate of deforestation — a major factor in global warming — has already increased over the past year. Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, and scientists are worried. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the planet’s living systems, said Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of Sao Paulo. Each tree stores carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. The Amazon takes in as much as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year and releases 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen, earning it the nickname “the lungs of the planet.” It’s also a global weather-maker. Stretching 10 times the size of Texas, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest. Billions of trees suck up water through deep roots and bring it up to their leaves, which release water vapor that forms a thick mist over the rainforest canopy. This mist ascends into clouds and eventually becomes rainfall — a cycle that shapes seasons in South America and far beyond. By one estimate, the Amazon creates 30 to 50 percent of its own rainfall. Now the integrity of all of three functions — as a carbon sink, the Earth’s lungs, and a rainmaker — hangs in the balance.

Amazon indigenous groups propose Mexico-sized 'corridor of life' - Indigenous groups in the Amazon have proposed the creation of the world’s biggest protected area, a 200m-hectare sanctuary for people, wildlife and climate stability that would stretch across borders from the Andes to the Atlantic. The plan, presented to the UN Conference on Biodiversity in Egypt on Wednesday, puts the alliance of Amazon communities in the middle of one of the world’s most important environmental and political disputes. Colombia previously outlined a similar triple-A (Andes, Amazon and Atlantic) protection project that it planned to put forward with the support of Ecuador at next month’s climate talks. But the election of new rightwing leaders in Colombia and Brazil has thrown into doubt what would have been a major contribution by South American nations to reduce emissions. The indigenous alliance, which represents 500 cultures in nine Amazonian countries, has now entered the fray with its own proposal for a “sacred corridor of life and culture” that would be the size of Mexico. “We have come from the forest and we worry about what is happening ,” said Tuntiak Katan, the vice-president of Coica (Coordinator of the Indigenous Organisation of the Amazon River Basin). “This space is the world’s last great sanctuary for biodiversity. It is there because we are there. Other places have been destroyed.” The organisation does not recognise national boundaries, which were put in place by colonial settlers and their descendants without the consent of indigenous people who have lived in the Amazon for millennia. Katan said the group was willing to talk to anyone who was ready to protect not just biodiversity but the territorial rights of forest communities. 

Meet the ‘vigilante’ grandfathers protecting indigenous forest life in Cambodia -At the edge of a forest on the northern plains of Cambodia, an indigenous community is building its own security system.It comprises a small outpost made of timber confiscated from illegal loggers at the main access point looters use as they look to rob the forest of its riches.For the community’s self-appointed forest patrol, it is a key line of defence when most indigenous people have been reduced to bystanders as their ancestral forests are felled.“We can’t depend on the law, it’s too slow,” says Ruos Lim, the 67-year-old patrol leader.  A group of mostly tribal elders, they see themselves as vigilantes, tasked with defending the forests that provide them with food and income. “Day and night, we will lead our children and grandchildren to protect our livelihoods from all intruders,” says Lim, who believes that if the forests are destroyed, next goes the community, its traditions, its language, and potentially an entire way of life. The forest has wild fruit, timber and honey.   “This place is a special kind of bank,” says Lim. “We invest by nurturing the forest, and there is always plenty to take out.” He has lived his entire life in the tiny village of Bang Khanphal, which backs the Chom Penh forest, part of the 242,500-hectare Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary. Chom Penh has provided the village with building materials, food and higher-value products like honey and resin for trading. “The trees, the streams, the mountains are our gifts to our children,” Lim said late one night, swinging in an old hammock and puffing on wild tobacco rolled in a leaf. “The forest is their inheritance and we must protect it from the thieves.”For Lim’s grandparents – members of the Koi indigenous minority, with populations through the north of Cambodia and across the border into Thailand – the forest was the community’s only source of wealth. But as deforestation has increased, indigenous people are forced to venture further into Beng Per to find products of value, putting Chom Penh, at the heart of the sanctuary, increasingly under threat.  Satellite images show grids of rubber plantations eating away at the lush green Beng Per Sanctuary.

 Fighting a Corporate Scheme to Sell the Mojave Desert's Water - Cadiz, Inc. is a public company that owns private land in a valley just east of Joshua Tree National Park and adjacent to the Sheephole Valley Wilderness, an area that's been called Joshua Tree's "untamed cousin." The company acquired land in Cadiz Valley in the 1980s, drilled a well, and began a small-scale farming operation, which helped it to establish water rights. It became clear almost immediately that Cadiz's true plan was not to farm, but rather to extract water from beneath the desert to sell to residents of southern California at a steep profit. The company's own website acknowledges that as early as 1984 it was investigating the "potential of the aquifer system" beneath its property. Cadiz's visions of water extraction have ebbed and flowed over the years, and have now crystallized into abehemoth plan to extract 16 billion gallons of water—annually—from beneath the Mojave Desert. This is a terrible idea for at least two reasons. First and foremost, such a massive extraction of water from beneath the desert will have devastating consequences for the many species that live in and rely on the Mojave Desert ecosystem. A recent studypublished earlier this year confirmed what has long been suspected: that the groundwater in this region is interconnected—or in scientist's terms, "hydrologically linked." As a result, the authors of the study warnedthat reducing groundwater in this area will result in a "potentially substantial decrease in free-flowing water" at natural springs in the area. Natural springs in the desert, like the beautiful Bonanza Springs, are a critical source of water for a wide range of desert critters, including frogs, migrating birds, bighorn sheep and several threatened or endangered species.  Cadiz's project is likely to put many of these species at risk. Second, the water beneath Cadiz is contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing chemical that was at the center of the movie "Erin Brockovich." Cadiz insists the contamination is naturally occurring, and it has promised to treat it, although it admits the water has been found to contain at least 16 parts per billion of hexavalent chromium.

Queensland flying fox species decimated by record heatwave - Thousands of threatened flying foxes have dropped dead due to heat stress brought on by extreme temperatures in far north Queensland this week. Conservationists and wildlife volunteers estimate more than 4,000 have perished this week during the record heatwave, which has seen temperatures in Cairns reach all-time highs of 42.6C [108.7F]. Volunteer carers that have been counting dead animals and taking orphaned young into care say it is the first time the species has suffered mass deaths because of extreme heat. “It’s never had a heat stress event before because it’s in the tropics,” said Maree Treadwell Kerr, a wildlife carer and president of the Bats and Tree Society of Cairns.  Volunteers found 3,000 dead bats and 54 live bats needing care at one site in Edmonton alone. Wildlife carers have been overwhelmed by orphaned young and are recruiting extra volunteers as well as moving animals to centres in cities including Brisbane. Tim Pearson, a consultant wildlife ecologist specialising in flying foxes, said more frequent and severe heatwaves were a danger for the animals. “What’s scary about this one is the spectacled flying fox has been hit,” he said. “As far as we know, they’ve never suffered heat deaths before.”

Thousands forced to flee “catastrophic” fire event in Australia - Unprecedented weather conditions—a combination of record-breaking temperatures, “tornado-like” winds and unusually low humidity—fanned huge fires that have threatened entire townships in coastal central Queensland this week.Already, at least 8,000 people have been forced to evacuate in the face of the northern Australian state’s first-ever “catastrophic” fire emergency. No one has yet been reported killed, but an unknown number of homes have been destroyed.Flames as high as 20 metres have suddenly loomed over homes, giving residents just minutes to flee. Comparisons have been drawn with recent devastating bush fires in Western Australia and this month’s infernos in California.A firefighting commander, Rural Fire Services Central Region manager Brian Smith said: “This is something we don’t want to overstate, but they’re comparing this to the conditions in the Waroona fires in Western Australia, which completely wiped out a town a few years ago, and also to the recent California fires.”Nearly 200 fires, with fronts up to 50 kilometres wide, burnt thousands of hectares on Wednesday, causing authorities to warn of “catastrophic fire risks” from central Queensland north to the tropical city of Townsville. Around 100 fires were still burning across the state yesterday, and that number could rise again, with five more days of heatwave predicted. More than 40 schools remained closed and the main north-south highway was cut for a period.

Camp Fire – the deadliest wildfire in California history – is finally 100 percent contained after burning for TWO WEEKS - The deadliest wildfire in California history that destroyed the northern part of the state is 100 percent contained, state fire officials say.The so-called Camp Fire killed at least 85 people, and 249 are on a list of those unaccounted for after burning for more than two weeks.   Starting on November 8, the fire burned nearly 154,000 acres and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes.  The deadliest wildfire in California history that destroyed the northern part of the state is 100 percent contained, state fire officials say.   Crews continued sifting through ash and debris for human remains. Nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes, are gone. According to SF Gate, two rainstorms brought a great amount of precipitation to the area, which helped slow the fire. Despite fears of mudslides and debris flow, neither occurred in the burn areas where rain fell. The National Weather Service reported that Paradise received 3.22 inches of rain, Concow received five inches and Magalia received 5.41 inches. However, Brigitte Foster, a spokeswoman for the Camp Fire unified command unit, said that full containment does not mean the fire has been extinguished.'They're going to be working on it for months,' Foster told SF Gate.'Within the perimeter, there are stumps and burning roots that are underground, and we still need to try to pull those up and remove the heat.'  Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has warned that remains of some victims may never be found.

Woolsey Fire's tab up to $6B in real estate charred - The Woolsey Fire destroyed or damaged as much as $6 billion in real estate, a new estimate shows. Real estate tracker CoreLogic reported that the property losses for the Woolsey Fire in Southern California will cost between $4 billion to $6 billion. Of that tab, $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion will come from residential properties; up to $500 million from commercial real estate. The fire killed three civilians and injured three firefighters. It destroyed 1,643 structures, damaged 364 others and charred 96,949 acres. CoreLogic says its estimates include the costs of buildings, their contents and additional expenses incurred by the property owner. CoreLogic noted insurers will pick up much of the tab. Fire damages from Northern California's horrific Camp Fire were estimated to be between $11 billion and $13 billion, according to CoreLogic. Residential losses run between $8 billion and $6 billion while commercial property losses run $3 billion and $4 billion. The wildfire, that decimated the Butte County town of Paradise, killed 85 people, burnt 153,336 acres, and destroyed roughly 14,000 homes and 4,800 businesses and other structures, according to Cal Fire.

 California Wildfire Likely Spread Nuclear Contamination From Toxic Site - The incredibly destructive Woolsey Fire in southern California has burned nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, killed three people, destroyed more than 400 structures, and at the time of this writing, was finally nearly completely contained.The fire may also have released large amounts of radiation and toxins into the air after burning through a former rocket engine testing site where a partial nuclear meltdown took place nearly six decades ago.“The Woolsey Fire has most likely released and spread both radiological and chemical contamination that was in the Santa Susana Field Laboratory’s soil and vegetation via smoke and ash,” Dr. Bob Dodge, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA), told Truthout.The fire has been widely reported to have started “near” the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site (SSFL), but according to PSR-LA, it appears to have started at the site itself.The contaminated site — a 2,849-acre former rocket engine test site and nuclear research facility — is located just 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.A press release issued by PSR-LA on November 12 stated: Cal Fire identifies the fire location as E Street and Alfa Road, a location that is in fact on SSFL. It was recently reported that the “Chatsworth electric substation” experienced a disturbance 2 minutes before the fire was reported, but that substation is in fact on SSFL, near that location. A photograph posted on Twitter from KCAL9’s Stu Mundel shows the fire starting Thursday afternoon near the same location [on November 8], which is only about 1,000 yards away from the site of the 1959 partial nuclear meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) reactor.   Cal Fire maps show that much of the SSFL is within the boundaries of the Woolsey Fire.It is possible that the millions of people who live within a 100-mile radius of the site have been exposed to its radioactive waste and toxic chemicals that are now airborne.

Rain triggers debris flows as storm rolls across fire-scarred regions of California -A storm that brought wind and steady rain across California on Thursday unleashed debris flows in Orange and Riverside counties, putting residents in areas recently scarred by devastating wildfires on high alert. A cold front that brought wind and heavy rain to California on Thursday unleashed debris flows in fire-ravaged neighborhoods, triggering evacuations and school closures as crews up and down the state rescued people trapped in homes and cars and, in one case, a man clinging to a tree in the Los Angeles River. In Southern California, the storm dumped a significant amount of moisture on the Holy fire burn area, where a mixture of fast-moving mud and branches tore down a creek in Trabuco Canyon. Other flows powered through Lake Elsinore — where crews rescued an elderly man who was stuck in Rice Canyon and removed two feet of mud from the garage of someone’s home — and closed a portion of Temescal Canyon Road in Corona. AdvertisementIn Forest Falls in San Bernardino County, a mudslide trapped vehicles and prompted the California Highway Patrol to close Highway 38 between Valley of the Falls Drive and Sugar Pine Circle. Dime-sized hail was reported in the Santa Barbara area. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch through early Friday in burn areas of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The soil in burn areas cannot absorb a lot of moisture, so heavy rainfall can lead to fast-moving flows containing mud, debris and even trees and boulders. When rain falls over time, it can be gradually absorbed or dispersed, but when areas see rapid runoff, entire hillsides can come down without warning, sometimes with deadly results.

PG&E chose not to cut power as winds raged before deadliest fire -- In the days before California’s deadliest wildfire erupted near a PG&E Corp. power line during a windstorm, the company kept a close eye on the weather, warned customers it might shut off electricity in the area, and finally decided conditions weren’t bad enough to warrant it, according to a report filed Tuesday with state regulators. The report from PG&E also shows that the giant utility company made its final decision not to cut electricity more than six hours after the Camp Fire began on Nov. 8 in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Butte County. Pushed by strong winds, the fire leveled the town of Paradise, killing at least 88 people. Even if PG&E had chosen to cut power, the company wouldn’t have switched off the high-voltage transmission line that malfunctioned in Butte County minutes before the blaze began. That’s because the utility owner’s policy of switching off power when winds kick up applies only to local distribution wires. The report may nonetheless add ammunition to lawsuits filed against PG&E by residents who lost loved ones and homes, blaming the company’s equipment for starting the fire. No cause has been determined. Strong winds can snap the wooden poles that support distribution lines, allowing live wires to fall into dry grass, triggering a blaze. Gusts also can cause parallel lines to sway close enough to each other that electrons jump from one to another, causing sparks that can fall into grass. As wind-driven wildfires increase in the state, California utilities have resorted to shutting off certain power lines during periods of intense winds and low humidity. PG&E had resisted the idea for years but changed course after last year’s devastating wine country fires, which killed 44. State investigators have blamed 17 of those 2017 fires on the company’s equipment. 

Zinke: House farm bill would save ‘forests and lives,’ create logging jobs - Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday again called for Congress to enact more aggressive forest management policies included in the House-passed farm bill, saying they could save forests and lives and create jobs in the logging industry.An opinion piece by Zinke published on CNN largely aligned with what he told reporters last week, although he did not blame “radical environmentalists” for the wildfires in California.Zinke also did not directly mention climate change, which his critics say is a primary factor making wildfires worse.“California is a tinderbox. The ongoing drought, warm temperatures, insect infestations, poor forest management, continued residential and commercial expansion in the wildland-urban interface and other factors have made the western United States more prone to fire,” Zinke wrote.Zinke and the Trump administration want Congress to approve measures in a farm bill passed this year in the House, which would give the Interior Department and the Forest Service new authority to clear risky biomass like dead trees and brush from forests.The controversial measures include new exemptions from environmental review for many forest thinning practices, reducing barriers to removing wood after fires and making it easier to build roads through federal land in the name of forest management.“Now Congress has the opportunity to pass good policy that saves forests and lives by including House-passed proposals for forest management in the Farm Bill,” he wrote. Zinke said such policies would help the environment, save lives and help the logging industry, among other benefits. “Logs typically come out of the forest in one of two ways: they are either harvested as timber to sustainably improve the health and resiliency of the forest (while creating jobs), or they are burned to the ground,” he said. “Jobs matter, and the timber industry has long been a cornerstone of rural economies. Fortunately, these economic benefits go hand in hand with our goal of healthy forests.”

A rush to judgment: The Trump administration is taking science out of air quality standards - Many critics of government regulation argue that it reduces economic growth by making it more expensive for businesses to operate. But there is a strong counterargument that a clean environment is consistent with long-term economic prosperity. Here’s a compelling example: Since 1980, U.S. gross domestic product has grown by 165 percent, while emissions of six common air pollutants decreased by 67 percent – thanks largely to government regulation. Science is a critical foundation of effective regulation. I have studied air pollution and air quality for over 30 years, and have been directly involved for a decade with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s reviews of scientific findings on air pollution. This includes seven years of service on the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, or CASAC, and stints on 10 specialized panels focused on individual pollutants. In my view, the Trump administration’s focus on short-term profit-taking based on regulatory rollback fails to recognize the importance of science-based regulation. Alarmingly, a multi-pronged attack on science at EPA is threatening air quality standards that by law are required to protect public health.  Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to conduct regular reviews of national air quality standards for major pollutants, and to revise those standards if the latest science indicates that they are not adequately protecting public health. It is now reviewing standards for ozone and particulate matter – the two most significant air pollution regulations on the books.  Emissions from cars, trucks and power plants react in sunlight to form excessive amounts of ozone in the lower atmosphere. Fine particles are produced from many sources, including fossil fuel combustion. These pollutants harm the public generally and at-risk groups in particular, including children, the elderly, outdoor workers and people with asthma. Health impacts include respiratory, cardiovascular and other diseases and premature death. Today more than 124 million Americans live in areas with breathable ozone above health protective levels, and over 23 million live in areas with high levels of fine particles.

Climate-warming El Niño very likely in 2019, says UN agency -  There is a 75-80% chance of a climate-warming El Niño event by February, according to the latest analysis from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. The last El Niño event ended in 2016 and helped make that year the hottest ever recorded by adding to the heating caused by humanity’s carbon emissions. The 2019 event is not currently forecast to be as strong as in 2016.El Niño events occur naturally every few years and stem from abnormally high ocean temperatures in the western Pacific. They have a major influence on weather around the globe, bringing droughts to normally damp places, such as parts of Australia, and floods to normally drier regions, such as in South America. The high temperatures also cause major bleaching on coral reefs.“The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016,” said Maxx Dilley, the director of WMO’s climate prediction and adaptation branch. “Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agriculture and food security, and for management of water resources and public health. It may also combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures.”Forecasters in the US have already warned of an imminent El Niño. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said in October that a dry, hot summer was very likely, with increased risk of heatwaves and bushfires and no relief for already drought-stricken farmers. There is evidence that climate change is making the effects of El Niño more severe. The heat boost from El Niño helped 2016 to be the hottest year ever recorded. The following year, 2017, was ranked equal second, but was the hottest for a year without an El Niño. Scientists expect 2018, which saw climate-related disasters around the globe, to be the fourth hottest on record.

Brace Yourselves for El Niño Likely in 2019 - There is a 75-80 percent chance of an El Niño developing by February, the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced Tuesday. So what exactly does that entail? Well, the last time we had an El Niño was in 2015-2016, which caused extreme weather-related events (droughts, fires, floods and coral bleaching) around the world, pushed atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 400 parts per million for the first time, and drove 2016 to be the hottest year in recorded history. Although this year's forecasted El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the one in 2015-2016, it's not to be overlooked, weather experts warned. "It can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health, and it may combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures," Maxx Dilley, director of WMO's Climate Prediction and Adaptation branch, said in a news release. El Niños are naturally occurring phenomenons that happen every two to seven years. They have a major effect on global weather patterns, including spikes in temperatures. Meteorologist and Grist columnist Eric Holthaus pointed out that El Niño could drive 2019 into becoming another unusually hot year:"Since El Niño also works to warm the atmosphere, it's possible that 2019 could beat 2016 as the warmest year on record. As El Niño begins to set in, both October and November have been unusually warm globally, and that trend is likely to continue, according to Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at University of California-Berkeley. 'It's not a safe bet 2019 will beat 2016, but it will very likely be warmer than 2018," Hausfather told me.' The WMO said the chance of a full-fledged El Niño event between December 2018 and February 2019 is estimated to be about 75-80 percent, and about 60 percent for it to continue through February to April 2019.

Last four years were the hottest on record, UN agency says - The 20 warmest years on record occurred in the last 22 years, while the "top four" took place in the last four years, the WMO added. The WMO's Provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2018 also found that "tell-tale signs of climate change" like sea-level rise, sea ice and glacier melt, and ocean heat and acidification were continuing. Extreme weather had "left a trail of devastation on all continents," the WMO said. The WMO's report showed that for the first 10 months of the year, global average temperature was almost 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial baseline, which it defines as being between 1850 and 1900. These data were based on five global temperature data sets that were independently maintained, the WMO added. "We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases," Petteri Taalas, the WMO's secretary-general, said in a statement Thursday. "Greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels and if the current trend continues we may see temperature increases (of) 3-5°C by the end of the century," he added. "If we exploit all known fossil fuel resources, the temperature rise will be considerably higher." The WMO's report comes just days before world leaders meet for a crucial climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, known as COP24. In a strongly-worded statement, the WMO's Deputy Secretary General, Elena Manaenkova, sought to highlight just how important the issue of a warming planet was. "Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference to human health and access to food and fresh water, to the extinction of animals and plants, to the survival of coral reefs and marine life," she said. "It makes a difference to economic productivity, food security, and to the resilience of our infrastructure and cities," she added. "It makes a difference to the speed of glacier melt and water supplies, and the future of low-lying islands and coastal communities. Every extra bit matters."

 Weather Channel- It's Been One Of The Most Miserable Starts To Winter On Record - Central New York, the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area, and much of the Rust Belt have already reported one of the snowiest starts to November in decades. According to the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index (AWSSI) also known as the "Winter Misery Index" from the Midwest Regional Climate Center, 74 metro areas from New England to the Plains and Rockies have experienced cold and snow that generally would not occur until January. AWSSI index computes the "intensity and persistence of cold weather, the frequency and amount of snow and the amount and persistence of snow on the ground (wind and mixed precipitation are not a part of the index)," the Midwest Regional Climate Center said.The weather index uses five categories – mild, moderate, average, severe and extreme – to assess the severity of winter weather in a particular region.The exact start date of the winter season is defined by the first snowfall (at least 0.1 inches) or when temps dip below 32 degrees or lower, otherwise, the start date is Dec. 01. "The spread among the categories is very narrow this early in the season," said Dr. Barbara Mayes Boustead, a co-creator of the index and an instructor at the National Weather Service's Warning Decision Training Division in Norman, Oklahoma. Metro areas classified as having an extreme winter, so far, ranked in the 99th percentile of the index for Nov. 27, said The Weather Channel, adding that a combination of persistent cold from the Northeast to the Plains and a pair of expansive winter storms, Avery and then Bruce, gave this winter season a fast start.

Climate-heating greenhouse gases at record levels, says UN - The main greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change have all reached record levels, the UN’s meteorology experts have reported.Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are now far above pre-industrial levels, with no sign of a reversal of the upward trend, a World Meteorological Organization report says.“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5m years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now,” said the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas.“The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed.”  Levels of CO2 rose to a global average of 405.5 parts per million in the atmosphere in 2017 – almost 50% higher than before the industrial revolution.Levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas responsible for about 17% of global warming are now 2.5 times higher than pre-industrial times owing to emissions from cattle, rice paddies and leaks from oil and gas wells.Nitrous oxide, which also warms the planet and destroys the Earth’s protective ozone layer, is now over 20% higher than pre-industrial levels. About 40% of N2O comes from human activities including soil degradation, fertilizer use and industry.The WMO also highlighted the discovery of illicit production of CFC-11, a banned chemical that also both warms the planet and destroys ozone. Investigations indicate that at least some of the production is in China.In October the world’s scientists said global warming of even 1.5C would have severe consequences for humanity. International climate agreements had for two decades set 2C as a limit. “Every fraction of a degree of global warming matters, and so does every part per million of greenhouse gases,” said the WMO deputy secretary general, Elena Manaenkova. “CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. There is currently no magic wand to remove all the excess CO2 from the atmosphere.”

 Ocean circulation in North Atlantic at its weakest - The research co-led by Drs. Christelle Not and Benoit Thibodeau from the Department of Earth Sciences and the Swire Institute of Marine Science, The University of Hong Kong, highlights a dramatic weakening of the circulation during the 20th century that is interpreted to be a direct consequence of global warming and associated melt of the Greenland Ice-Sheet. This is important for near-future climate as slower circulation in the North Atlantic can yield profound change on both the North American and European climate but also on the African and Asian summer monsoon rainfall. The findings were recently published in the prestigious journal Geophysical Research Letters. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is the branch of the North Atlantic circulation that brings warm surface water toward the Arctic and cold deep water toward the equator. This transfer of heat and energy not only has direct influence on climate over Europe and North American but can impact the African and Asian monsoon system through its effect on sea surface temperature, hydrological cycle, atmospheric circulation and variation in the intertropical convergence zone. Many climate models predicted a weakening, or even a collapse of this branch of the circulation under global warming, partly due to the release of freshwater from Greenland Ice-Sheet. This freshwater has lower density than salty water and thus prevents the formation of deep water, slowing down the whole circulation. However, this weakening is still vigorously debated because of the scarcity of long-term record of the AMOC. Interestingly, the research team also found a weak signal during a period called the Little Ice Age (a cold spell observed between about 1600 and 1850 AD). While not as pronounced as the 20th century trend, the signal might confirm that this period was also characterized by a weaker circulation in the North Atlantic, which implies a decrease in the transfer of heat toward Europe, contributing to the cold temperature of this period. However, more work is needed to validate this hypothesis.

Strange waves rippled around the world, and nobody knows why - On the morning of November 11, just before 9:30 UT, a mysterious rumble rolled around the world.The seismic waves began roughly 15 miles off the shores of Mayotte, a French island sandwiched between Africa and the northern tip of Madagascar. The waves buzzed across Africa, ringing sensors in Zambia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. They traversed vast oceans, humming across Chile, New Zealand, Canada, and even Hawaii nearly 11,000 miles away. These waves didn't just zip by; they rang for more than 20 minutes. And yet, it seems, no human felt them. That small action kicked off another ripple of sorts, as researchers around the world attempted to suss out the source of the waves. Was it a meteor strike? A submarine volcano eruption? An ancient sea monster rising from the deep? “I don't think I've seen anything like it,” says Göran Ekström, a seismologist at Columbia University who specializes in unusual earthquakes.“It doesn't mean that, in the end, the cause of them is that exotic,” he notes. Yet many features of the waves are remarkably weird—from their surprisingly monotone, low-frequency “ring” to their global spread.  In a normal earthquake, the built-up tensions in Earth's crust release with a jolt in mere seconds. This sends out a series of waves known as a “wave train” that radiates from the point of the rupture, explains Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at the University of Southampton.However, there was no big earthquake kicking off the recent slow waves. Adding to the weirdness, Mayotte's mystery waves are what scientists call monochromatic. Most earthquakes send out waves with a slew of different frequencies, but Mayotte's signal was a clean zigzag dominated by one type of wave that took a steady 17 seconds to repeat.

Magnitude-7 quake destroys roads and triggers tsunami warning in Alaska - Back-to-back earthquakes measuring magnitude-7 and 5.8 have rocked buildings and shattered roads in Alaska, sending people running into the streets and briefly triggering a tsunami warning for residents to flee to higher ground. The tsunami warning was lifted a short time later. There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries.The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the first and more powerful quake on Friday morning local time was centred about 12 kilometres north of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, with a population of about 300,000.  People ran from their offices or took cover under desks. Cracks could be seen in a two-storey downtown Anchorage building, and photographs posted to social media showed fractured roads and collapsed ceiling tiles at an Anchorage high school. One image showed a car stranded on an island of pavement, surrounded by cavernous cracks where the earthquake split the road.Cereal boxes and packages of batteries littered the floor of a grocery store, and picture frames and mirrors were knocked from living room walls.People went back inside after the first earthquake struck, but the magnitude-5.8 aftershock about five minutes later sent them running back into the streets.A tsunami warning was issued for the southern Alaska coastal areas of Cook's Inlet and part of the Kenai peninsula.

Back-to-back earthquakes shatter roads and windows in Alaska - (AP) — Back-to-back earthquakes measuring 7.0 and 5.7 shattered highways and rocked buildings Friday in Anchorage and the surrounding area, sending people running into the streets and briefly triggering a tsunami warning for islands and coastal areas south of the city. No tsunami arrived and there were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey said the first and more powerful quake was centered about 7 miles (12 kilometers) north of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, with a population of about 300,000. People ran from their offices or took cover under desks. The 5.7 aftershock arrived within minutes, followed by a series of smaller quakes. “We just hung onto each other. You couldn’t even stand,” said Sheila Bailey, who was working at a high school cafeteria in Palmer when the quake struck. “It sounded and felt like the school was breaking apart.” A large section of an off-ramp near the Anchorage airport collapsed, marooning a car on a narrow island of pavement surrounded by deep chasms in the concrete. Several cars crashed at a major intersection in Wasilla, north of Anchorage, during the shaking. Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll said he had been told that parts of Glenn Highway, a scenic route that runs northeast out of the city past farms, mountains and glaciers, had “completely disappeared.” Traffic in the three lanes heading out of the city was bumper-to-bumper and all but stopped Friday afternoon as emergency vehicles passed on the shoulder. The quake broke store windows, knocked items off shelves, opened cracks in a two-story, downtown building, disrupted electrical service and disabled traffic lights, snarling traffic. It also threw a full-grown man out of his bathtub. Flights at the airport were suspended for hours after the quake knocked out telephones and forced the evacuation of the control tower. And the 800-mile Alaska oil pipeline was shut down while crews were sent to inspect it for damage. 

Trump issues Alaska emergency declaration after earthquake -President Trump on Friday issued an emergency declaration for Alaska, ordering federal assistance to support response efforts following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit the Anchorage area earlier in the day.Trump's action allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help coordinate relief efforts in the area, the White House noted in its statement on the move late Friday.The agencies will support ongoing state, tribal and local responses to devastation from the earthquake that hit north of Anchorage early Friday. Trump tweeted his support to Alaska earlier in the day, saying the state had been hit by a “big one.” He added that the federal government “will spare no expense.”

Climate Change Puts U.S. Economy and Lives at Risk, and Costs Are Rising, Federal Agencies Warn - The U.S. government's climate scientists issued a blunt warning on Friday, writing that global warming is a growing threat to human life, property and ecosystems across the country, and that the economic damage—from worsening heat waves, extreme weather, sea level rise, droughts and wildfires—will spiral in the coming decades. Capping global greenhouse gas emissions to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) or less would avoid hundreds of billions of dollars of future damages, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, written by a science panel representing 13 federal agencies.  The agencies write that global warming is:

  • Intensifying and increasing the frequency of extreme rainstorms that cause devastating flooding and crop losses.
  • Putting people and economies at risk as temperatures rise: Increases in extreme heat waves could kill up to 2,000 more people per year in the Midwest alone by 2090.
  • Increasing the drying of land and vegetation, which puts crops at risk and contributes to deadly wildfires.
  • Harming U.S. forests, making them more vulnerable to fire and insects, disrupting their watersheds and wildlife habitat, and also reducing their ability to store carbon.
  • Putting water supplies and water quality at risk, with "significant changes already evident across the country," including more pollution runoff from extreme rainfall that, along with warmer water, fuels and toxic algae blooms.
  • Creating multiple threats for coastal communities, including significant shifts in fish populations, ocean acidification, direct flooding damage from rising sea level and tropical storms. Along the coasts, $1 trillion in public infrastructure and private property are threatened by flooding, rising sea level and storm surges.
  • Threatening indigenous peoples' livelihoods and economies by affecting fishing, agriculture and forestry.

The report looks at the damage already happening and what's ahead in each region, describing damage from wildfires and the impact of ocean acidification on shellfish in the Northwest; rising temperatures thawing permafrost in Alaska; coral reef damage in Hawaii; hurricanes, coastal flooding and mosquito-borne diseases in the Southeast; extreme rainfall destroying crops and eroding farm soil in the Midwest; flash droughts in the Northern Plains; and the dwindling of the snowpack and the Colorado River that the Southwest relies on.

Climate Change Report - This is a critical threat and should be a nonpartisan issue.  Here is the Fourth National Climate Assessment. An except on the economic impact:   In the absence of significant global mitigation action and regional adaptation efforts, rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities. Regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, are vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs. The impacts of climate change beyond our borders are expected to increasingly affect our trade and economy, including import and export prices and U.S. businesses with overseas operations and supply chains. Some aspects of our economy may see slight near-term improvements in a modestly warmer world. However, the continued warming that is projected to occur without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts. With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century—more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.

What’s New in the Latest U.S. Climate Assessment  — Global warming is now affecting the United States more than ever, and the risks of future disasters — from flooding along the coasts to crop failures in the Midwest — could pose a profound threat to Americans’ well-being.  That’s the gist of Volume Two of the latest National Climate Assessment, a 1,656-page report issued on Friday that explores both the current and future impacts of climate change. The scientific report, which comes out every four years as mandated by Congress, was produced by 13 federal agencies and released by the Trump administration. This year’s report contains many of the same findings cited in the previous National Climate Assessment, published in 2014. Temperatures are still going up, and the odds of dangers such as wildfires in the West continue to increase. But reflecting some of the impacts that have been felt across the country in the past four years, some of the report’s emphasis has changed. More and more of the predicted impacts of global warming are now becoming a reality. For instance, the 2014 assessment forecast that coastal cities would see more flooding in the coming years as sea levels rose. That’s no longer theoretical: Scientists have now documented a record number of “nuisance flooding” events during high tides in cities like Miami and Charleston, S.C.The report suggests a different approach to assessing the effects of climate change, by considering how various impacts — on food supplies, water and electricity generation, for example — interact with each other.“It is not possible to fully understand the implications of climate change on the United States without considering the interactions among sectors and their consequences,” the report says.The United States military has long taken climate change seriously, both for its potential impacts on troops and infrastructure around the world and for its potential to cause political instability in other countries.The report cites these international concerns, but goes far beyond the military. Climate change is already affecting American companies’ overseas operations and supply chains, it says, and as these impacts worsen it will take a toll on trade and the economy.

What’s in the Climate Report the Trump Administration Doesn’t Want You to Read? -  As families across the U.S. gathered together to enjoy Thanksgiving weekend, the government released an urgent report on climate change Friday, warning that human-caused global warming could have dire consequences for American lives and livelihoods."Earth's climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities," the report begins. "The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future—but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur."The report marks volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, the work of 1,000 people, 300 top scientists and 13 federal agencies operating under the auspices of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, CNN reported. The report's clear and urgent message on climate change runs counter to President Trump's climate denialism and decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement to keep global temperatures "well below" two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.Director of the Technical Support Unit at the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information David Easterling told CNN there was "no external interference in the report's development," but some speculated the report's content was why the administration chose to release the report on Friday, when Americans would be distracted by the biggest shopping day of the year, as EcoWatch reported.The report was originally scheduled to be released in December at a large scientific conference, and its early release took its authors by surprise, The Atlantic reported. But Climate Central reporter John Upton tweetedthat any attempt to bury the news "backfired." "The news is everywhere," Upton wrote Saturday. "After details of the plan leaked, the government confirmed the release in advance, giving outlets time to prepare. And yesterday was a slow news day."

 Climate May Force Millions to Move and U.S. Isn’t Ready, Report Says -- Global warming may push millions of Americans away from the coast, and the U.S. isn’t prepared for the consequences of such a mass migration, scientists from across the federal government warned on Friday.  “Sea level rise might reshape the U.S. population distribution,” the scientists wrote in a sweeping report on climate change. “The potential need for millions of people and billions of dollars of coastal infrastructure to be relocated in the future creates challenging legal, financial, and equity issues that have not yet been addressed.” The warning comes in the latest edition of the National Climate Assessment, a compendium of research about the state of climate change released every four years by scientists and other experts from across federal agencies. The assessment finds that climate change continues to outpace efforts to combat it or to adapt to its effects.The report comes at a time of worsening natural disasters like hurricanes and fires in the U.S., which exceeded a record $300 billion in costs in 2017. Those incidents have highlighted the exposure of vulnerable communities; in October, Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, excoriated coastal communities and states for not doing more to protect their residents from hurricanes. The prospect and consequences of large-scale migration receive more attention this year than in past editions of the report. In 2014, for example, the section on the Northeast U.S. made no mention of people being forced to move. In the version released on Friday, migration was a large focus. “Coastal states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are anticipated to see large outflows of migrants, a pattern that would stress regional locations further inland,” the authors write.  Yet those movements are all but certain to take place, not just in the Northeast but around the country. “In all but the very lowest sea level rise projections, retreat will become an unavoidable option in some areas of the U.S. coastline,” the authors wrote.

Climate change will hurt poor people the most, according to a bombshell federal report -- Climate change will hit low-income communities the hardest as it takes a toll on the U.S. in general, says a blockbuster government report released on Friday. Low-income communities in both urban and rural areas will be disproportionately impacted by climate change relative to other communities, according to the assessment, which was created by a team of over 300 experts from the government and the private sector to analyze the impact of climate change on the country. Those communities already have higher rates of many adverse health conditions, are more exposed to environmental hazards and take longer to bounce back from natural disasters. These existing inequalities will only be exacerbated due to climate change, according to the report, which is known as the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The report made waves in Washington despite being released the day after Thanksgiving, which prompted speculation that the Trump administration was trying to bury the findings. The assessment is at odds with the views of President Donald Trump, who has historically denied evidence of climate change. Last year, he announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this month, he tweeted, "Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?" On Monday, Trump rejected the report's findings about climate change's economic impact. "I don't believe it," he told reporters on the White House South Lawn, as he was departing to hold campaign rallies in Mississippi.

How Economists Impede Addressing Climate Change - If you’ve heard anything about last week’s huge White House climate report, it might be that climate change could dent the economy up to 10 percent by 2100 — more than twice the impact of the Great Recession.  However, that number is a strange one to highlight. Yes, climate change hurts the economy — the hurricanes of the past two years alone have caused nearly half a trillion dollars of damages — but projecting that forward 80 years into the future is awash with unnecessary uncertainty. It’s a number gleaned from a graph buried deep in the assessment. The real takeaway is that climate change is already hurting people, today. And as the years roll by, those impacts will get exponentially worse. In an era where the U.N.’s climate body says we only have 12 years left to complete the process of transitioning to a society that’s rapidly cutting carbon emissions, all the attention on far-off economic risks drastically understates the urgency of the climate fight.  Money just isn’t the appropriate frame when we’re talking about the planet. Climate change is a special problem that traditional economic analyses aren’t built to handle. The idea of eternal economic growth is fundamentally flawed on a finite planet, and there is substantial evidence that these economic costs will be borne disproportionately by lower-income countries. There’s no dollar figure that anyone can attach to a civilization’s collapse.  In addition to the widely covered economic risks, there were scads of human-centered impacts listed in Friday’s report: Unchecked climate change will displace hundreds of millions of people in the next 30 years,swamping coastal cities, drying up farmland around the world, burning cities to the ground, and kickstarting a public health crisis inflicting everything from infectious disease outbreaks to suffocating air pollution to worsening mental health.  This process is already in motion. Those of us who talk about climate change for a living should be focusing our dialogue on the immediate danger of climate change in human terms, not making it even more abstract and distant than it already seemingly is.

'I Don’t Believe It’: Trump Rejects U.S. Government Climate Report - President Donald Trump has dismissed a report released by his own government Friday that warned climate change could kill thousands of Americans each year and slash the GDP by more than 10 percent by 2100."I don't believe it," Trump replied when asked by reporters outside the White House Monday about the "devastating" economic impacts predicted by the report. Trump: 'I don't believe' gov't climate report – YouTube The report, Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, is the work of 13 federal agencies and 300 leading scientists. It states unequivocally that climate change is happening, is human-caused and will get worse if we don't take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."Climate-related risks will continue to grow without additional action," the report authors wrote. "Decisions made today determine risk exposure for current and future generations and will either broaden or limit options to reduce the negative consequences of climate change."But Trump did not appear to take it as motivation for new policy in his statement to reporters. He instead focused on what he thought other countries should do."You're going to have to have China, and Japan, and all of Asia and all of these other countries ... You know, it addresses our country," he said. "Right now we're at the cleanest we've ever been, and it's very important to me. But if we're clean, but every other place on earth is dirty, that's not so good. So I want clean air, I want clean water, very important."

Sarah Sanders: Climate change report 'not based on facts' - White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday dismissed the findings of a government report that warned of the impending consequences of climate change, claiming it's "not based on facts." “The president’s certainly leading on what matters most in this process, and that’s on having clean air, clean water,” Sanders told reporters at a press briefing. “In fact, the United States continues to be a leader on that front.” Sanders disputed the report’s findings, claiming it’s “not based on facts” and arguing that modeling the climate “is never exact.” She did not indicate that Trump would call on world leaders at this week's Group of 20 summit to address the report's findings. “We think that this is the most extreme version and it’s not based on facts,” she said. “It’s not data driven. We’d like to see something that is more data driven. It’s based on modeling, which is extremely hard to do when you’re talking about the climate.” The report was developed by multiple federal agencies. A version of it is mandated to be released every four years under the National Climate Assessment from the multiagency Global Change Research Program. The hundreds of government and external scientists involved in the research concluded that climate change could cost the United States billions of dollars annually within decades if greenhouse gases aren’t dramatically reduced, and could worsen environmental disasters like wildfires and flooding. Its findings aligned with those of the broader scientific community. Trump downplayed the report's findings, telling reporters on Monday's that he doesn't "believe" its warnings about the economic impacts of climate change.

The More Education Republicans Have, the Less They Tend to Believe in Climate Change -An exhaustive scientific report unveiled this month concluded that the earth is experiencing the warmest period in recorded history and that humans are the dominant cause of the temperature rise observed since the mid-20th century. That consensus does not extend to the American public.Climate change divides Americans, but in an unlikely way: The more education that Democrats and Republicans have, the more their beliefs in climate change diverge. Percent saying they worry about climate change “a great deal”:  High school or less Some college College or higher.  This chart , based on a Gallup surveyfrom March 2015, demonstrates this relationship clearly. About one in four Republicans with only a high school education said they worried about climate change a great deal. But among college-educated Republicans, that figure decreases,sharply, to 8 percent.This relationship persists even when pollsters pose different kinds of questions about climate change – when Republicans are asked if they believe global warming “will never happen,” if they think it poses “a serious threat to way of life in your lifetime” or if it is caused by “natural changes in the environment.”This may seem counterintuitive, because better-educated Republicans are more likely to be aware of the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change. But in the realm of public opinion, climate change isn’t really a scientific issue. It’s a political one. Even though better-educated Republicans may have more exposure to information about the science around climate change, they also have more exposure to partisan messages about it. And communications research says that matters more.

Fox & Friends Let Pruitt Set Own Interview Agenda - Disgraced former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has managed to add to his scandal count even after his resignation. Emails obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request and reviewed by The Daily Beast show that during his time in office, Pruitt's staff were sent interview questions ahead of time before appearing on the cable show Fox & Friends, and, in one instance, even pre-approved a script, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday. Cable news shows will sometimes conduct pre-interviews with guests to make sure the speaker has relevant information to offer, but it is taboo to do this with public officials, out of fear it would help them avoid tough questions. "Every American journalist knows that to provide scripts or articles to the government for review before publication or broadcast is a cardinal sin. It's Journalism 101," CBS News and CNN veteran and Fordham University journalism Prof. David Hawkins told The Daily Beast. "This is worse than that. It would and should get you fired from any news organization with integrity." In one instance, in May 2017, the EPA reached out to Fox & Friends for a segment on how Pruitt was helping communities "poorly served by the last administration." After Fox & Friends Producer Andrew Murray agreed to the interview topic, fellow producer Diana Aloi went further by asking for talking points from Pruitt's staff and then proposing an opening script.

Countries must raise emissions targets fivefold to stop disastrous global warming, UN warns -Countries must slash emissions by five times their planned amount in the next 11 years if they are to avert disastrous global warming, the UN has warned.Vanishing islands, widespread species extinctions and extreme weather have all been predicted under even the most optimistic climate predictions.However, experts think the worst effects of climate change can be averted if the world breaks its dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. CO2 pollution increased in 2017 after a promising three-year decline, dashing hopes that the world had reached peak emissions. Initial reports suggest in 2018 this worrying trend will continue. Despite efforts to eradicate fossil fuels in many countries, plans to slash emissions are still way off what is required to keep warming under 2C above pre-industrial levels. This is even more pronounced if the more ambitious target of 1.5C recommended by many in the global climate science community is to be achieved.In a new report, UN environment specialists predict that if this “emissions gap” is not closed by 2030, the world will never meet these targets, which are set out by the Paris climate agreement.This echoes the scientific conclusions of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October, which found emissions needed to halve in 12 years to avoid climate catastrophe.

Thousands of Australian high school students join climate change strike --Thousands of students walked out of high schools around Australia yesterday to voice their concern and anger over the worsening degradation of the global environment and oppose the refusal of governments to address climate change. More than 5,000 students joined the Sydney protest, while an estimated 3,000 participated in Melbourne. Around 2,000 rallied in Newcastle, a working-class port city north of Sydney. Smaller events were held in other state capitals and dozens of regional centres. An estimated 15,000 students participated in what became a national strike. The rallies were the largest involving secondary school students in many years. They expressed the developing politicisation of a generation that has grown up amid continuous war, growing inequality, worsening environmental destruction and a turn to authoritarianism, presided over by all the official parties, including Labor and the Greens.

UK’s first carbon capture and storage project ‘operational by mid 2020s’ -- The UK’s first carbon capture and storage project should be operational by the mid-2020s, according to ministers. A commitment to develop the technology, which stops greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, was made ahead of a summit in Edinburgh. Research funding has also been announced for a carbon capture scheme in Aberdeenshire. It will see carbon dioxide piped to storage sites under the North Sea. The UK government was criticised in 2015 after a £1bn pound competition to develop carbon capture and storage was dropped. Power stations at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire and Drax in North Yorkshire were the final contenders for the grant. Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said: “Today at this seminal summit, the UK is setting a world-leading ambition for developing and deploying carbon capture and storage technology to cut emissions.”

Carbon dioxide storage project off UK wins early nod - A project that would store carbon dioxide in a deep saline aquifer off the UK has won an early nod from the Scottish government. Crown Estate Scotland awarded a lease option to Acorn CCS, a project of Pale Blue Dot Energy, Banchory, Scotland, that would capture CO2 emitted by industries near the St. Fergus Gas Terminal and transport it offshore through existing pipelines. The CO2 would be injected into the Early Cretaceous Captain sandstone 2 km below the seabed about 100 km offshore in the Central North Sea. Crown Estate Scotland said the lease option is the first it has granted for CO2 storage.

Is it feasible to remove enough CO2 from the air?  - Is there still time to avoid runaway climate change? To a large degree, the answer depends on the feasibility of “negative emissions” — techniques or technologies that suck CO2 out of the air. In the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), all scenarios for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius depend on negative emissions technologies, or NETs. Most 2-degree scenarios also rely on negative emissions; many call for removing billions of tons of CO2 per year by mid-century. Yet most NETs remain either untested or unproved. To help bridge this gap, the National Academies convened a panel of scientists and asked it to propose aresearch agenda. The panel considered several possible techniques, ranging from the low-tech — planting more trees — to the high-tech — developing machines to scrub CO2 from the sky. It also looked at a hybrid technology that has become known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. The panel recommended several billion dollars be directed to research on NETs. Such technologies, it suggested, ought to be viewed as a “component of the mitigation portfolio,” rather than as a futuristic, last-ditch effort to reduce atmospheric CO2.  Stephen Pacala, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, chaired the panel. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about why NETs are needed, what should be done to advance them, and why he believes that “direct air capture” technologies could come into widespread use within the next decade.

Dimming the sun- The answer to global warming- - Scientists are proposing an ingenious but as-yet-unproven way to tackle climate change: spraying sun-dimming chemicals into the Earth's atmosphere. The research by scientists at Harvard and Yale universities, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, proposes using a technique known as stratospheric aerosol injection, which they say could cut the rate of global warming in half. The technique would involve spraying large amounts of sulfate particles into the Earth's lower stratosphere at altitudes as high as 12 miles. The scientists propose delivering the sulfates with specially designed high-altitude aircraft, balloons or large naval-style guns. Despite the technology being undeveloped and with no existing aircraft suitable for adaptation, the researchers say that "developing a new, purpose-built tanker with substantial payload capabilities would neither be technologically difficult nor prohibitively expensive." They estimate the total cost of launching a hypothetical system in 15 years' time at around $3.5 billion, with running costs of $2.25 billion a year over a 15-year period. The report does, however, acknowledge that the technique is purely hypothetical. "We make no judgment about the desirability of SAI," the report states. "We simply show that a hypothetical deployment program commencing 15 years hence, while both highly uncertain and ambitious, would indeed be technically possible from an engineering perspective. It would also be remarkably inexpensive." The researchers also acknowledge potential risks: coordination between multiple countries in both hemispheres would be required, and stratospheric aerosol injection techniques could jeopardize crop yields, lead to droughts or cause extreme weather. The proposals also don't address the issue of rising greenhouse gas emissions, which are a leading cause of global warming.

Health effects of diesel ‘cost European taxpayers billions’ -- Air pollution from roads causes at least €70bn (£62bn) in health damage every year in the European Union, according to a new report, with diesel fumes responsible for three-quarters of the harm.The research, commissioned by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), found the vast majority of the costs were borne by taxpayers through government-funded health services. But these costs could be reduced by 80% by 2030 if ambitious action were taken, the report concluded.Diesel emissions have been in the spotlight since 2015 when Volkswagen was caught cheating regulatory tests. Virtually all diesel cars were then revealed to be pumping out far more pollution on the road than in official tests. Research in 2017 showed at least 38,000 people a year were dying early as a result of this failure.In the UK, most urban areas have illegal levels of air pollution and ministers have lost three times in the high court over the inadequacy of their action. The latest government action plan, called “pitiful” by environmental lawyers, revealed air pollution was actually much worse than previously feared. Some of the very latest diesel models do comply with official limits in real-world driving, but Zoltán Massay-Kosubek, policy manager at the EPHA, said: “I would not consider diesel as part of the solution, but as part of the problem. You can improve the filters but it still remains a fuel-burning technology.”“Low and zero-emission alternatives would be a much more appropriate solution,” he said. “But as a public health advocate, I cannot stress enough the importance of walking and cycling, which give additional health benefits.” The research used real world data on vehicle emissions and known impacts on health to calculate the total health costs for the 28 EU nations, including medical support, hospital admissions and early deaths. It took a conservative approach and only included health impacts conclusively linked to toxic air, such as heart attacks and lung diseases.

Highly flammable gas leak closes Delaware Memorial Bridge in both directions (AP) - A chemical leak shut down the Delaware Memorial Bridge in both directions Sunday evening, bringing traffic on a major East Coast artery to a standstill on one of the busiest travel days of the year. The leak stems from the Delaware chemical production facility Croda Atlas Point, located near the twin suspension bridges on a major route between Washington and New York City, Holloway Terrace Fire Company Public Information Officer George Greenley said. The leaked chemical is ethylene oxide, a highly flammable gas that is a finished product stemming from methanol, Greenley said. "If that flume would have had an ignition source it could have been catastrophic with the bridge traffic," he said. The bridge closed around 5 p.m. Sunday. Croda operators requested it be shut down, the Delaware River and Bay Authority tweeted. Greenley said fire officials are waiting for pressure to dissipate in the pipes at the facility before reopening the bridge. He said the chemical is dissipating fairly quickly from the pipes and estimated the bridge could reopen in the next few hours. The state Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is on scene at the leak.

Average U.S. electricity customer interruptions totaled nearly 8 hours in 2017  -- Electric power for U.S. customers was interrupted for an average of 7.8 hours (470 minutes) in 2017, nearly double the average total duration of interruptions experienced in 2016. More major events such as hurricanes and winter storms occurred in 2017, and the total duration of interruptions caused by major events was longer. Excluding major events, the average duration of interruptions customers experienced was almost identical in 2016 and 2017, at about 2 hours in both years. In 2017, the average customer experienced 1.4 interruptions counting major events and 1.0 interruption excluding major events.  The District of Columbia, New Jersey, North Dakota, Arizona, and South Dakota had the shortest total time interrupted in 2017, with average interruptions ranging from 58 minutes (District of Columbia) to 95 minutes (South Dakota).  Maine, Florida, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Vermont on average had the longest total time interrupted in 2017. In each of these states, the large interruption durations were caused by major events such as winter storms (in the case of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) or hurricanes (in the case of Florida and Georgia). The average customer interruption time in these five states ranged from 15 hours in Vermont to 42 hours in Maine.  Puerto Rico experienced the longest U.S. blackout in history as a result of Hurricane Maria; however, the data in this analysis does not include Puerto Rico.

White House Doubles Down On Coal Despite New Climate Report -- President Trump has spent much of the first two years of his presidency at odds with environmentalists over numerous issues, but now that disagreement also includes the federal government. On Friday, a congressionally mandated government report said that climate change will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, ranging across numerous sectors including health care and infrastructure. The 1,656-page assessment was written with the help of more than a dozen U.S. government agencies and departments and outlines the projected impact of global warming on every corner of American society in what some have called a dire warning. “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century – more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states,” the report, the Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II, said. The report added that global warming would disproportionately hurt the poor, broadly undermine human health, damage infrastructure, limit the availability of water, alter coastlines, and boost costs in industries from farming, to fisheries and energy production. However, the White House has countered the report, calling it inaccurate. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said the new report was “largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that…there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population.” She added that the government’s next update of the National Climate Assessment “gives us the opportunity to provide for a more transparent and data-driven process that includes fuller information on the range of potential scenarios and outcomes.” Despite the report, there is no indication that the Trump administration will alter its policies. In fact, Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign pledge of reviving the country’s coal industry is gaining momentum. In August, the Trump Administration released details of a new energy policy that would disregard regulations on coal-fired power plants. The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule would take power plant emissions standards out of federal hands and put it in the hands of individual states to develop their own plans to cut pollution.

New Report Reveals Severe Groundwater Contamination at Illinois Coal Ash Dumps - A new report written by Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club, revealed widespread pollution of the groundwater surrounding 90 percent of reporting Illinois coal ash dumpsites.The report is based on industry data made publicly available for the first time this year because of a requirement in federal coal ash regulations. It concludes that 22 of Illinois 24 coal ash dumpsites with available data have released toxic pollutants including arsenic, cobalt and lithium, into groundwater.Millions of tons of coal ash, generated by the State's coal-fired power plants, has been stored in primarily unlined ponds and landfills near the plants for decades. This toxic byproduct of burning coal continues to flow into groundwater, rivers, and lakes all over the State, including the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Illinois' only National Scenic River. Illinois started the process of regulating coal ash in 2013, but those plans were abandoned, and multiple administrations have allowed the coal ash ponds to operate for years with little or no state or federal oversight.In 2015, federal coal ash regulations required utilities to start collecting groundwater data near coal ash dumps. In March of 2018, this data became public for the first time. The report analyzes the groundwater monitoring data reported by utilities.Coal ash contains a hazardous brew of toxic pollutants including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, radium, selenium and more. The toxics in coal ash can cause cancer, heart disease, reproductive failure and stroke, and can inflict lasting brain damage on children.This pollution is not limited to groundwater contamination. According to the most recent Clean Water Act permit applications on file with Illinois EPA, Illinois coal plants dump millions of pounds of pollution into lakes, rivers and streams each year. These pollutants include over 300,000 pounds of aluminum, 600 pounds of arsenic, nearly 300,000 pounds of boron, over 200 pounds of cadmium, over 15,000 pounds of manganese, roughly 1,500 pounds of selenium, roughly 500,000 pounds of nitrogen, and nearly 40 million pounds of sulfate. Local groups from all over the state are calling for action from State officials to put protections in place to stop the pollution from coal ash permanently, prevent further dumping or storage of coal ash in the state, and hold polluters accountable for the toxic messes they have created.

Fossil Fuel Companies Blocked From West Coast Ports Keep Pushing to Bypass Local Governments - A year after Washington state denied key permits for a coal-export terminal in the port city of Longview, theArmy Corps of Engineers announced it would proceed with its review—essentially ignoring the state's decision. This dispute pits federal authorities against local and state governments. It's also part of a larger and long-running battle over fossil fuel shipments to foreign countries that stretches up the entire American West Coast. With President Donald Trump pushing hard for more fossil fuel production and exports, we believe it could get significantly harder for local communities to have a say in these important decisions. Oil and gas exports have dramatically increased nationwide over the past decade, ever since technological advances turned the U.S. from a top importer of these fuels to a growing exporter. Energy companies have sought more access to West Coast ports for decades for routes to Asia and Australia. The region's deepwater ports, railroad and pipeline networks, and proximity to some of the nation's most productive oil, gas and coal fields make it particularly attractive for export terminals. In some cases, exporting through the West Coast is the only economically viable option, as longer overland transportation routes would be too costly. Moreover, shorter trips by sea to reach China and other growing Asian markets cut costs. Yet Western ports do not export as much crude oil as other American coastal areas.

The EPA Can’t Wait to Reopen the Mine That Poisoned North Idaho -- For a century, the mines of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains in North Idaho produced more than 11 million tons of zinc, lead, and silver, as much as a fifth of U.S. production.  Mining has left a mark on the culture of the Silver Valley and an indelible stain on the landscape, which remains heavily contaminated. To extract a pound of metal, mining companies had to process nearly 14 pounds of ore, and they dumped the crushed waste rock into mountain streams and along river banks. Over the course of a century, the tailings and mine drainage flowed down the 40-mile-long watershed, depositing some 75 million tons of highly toxic sludge into Lake Coeur d’Alene. House cats convulsed from drinking the water. Migratory tundra swans suffered slow deaths as their digestive tracts seized up from lead poisoning, causing both suffocation and starvation as undigested food backed up into their long necks. Children in the Silver Valley in the 1970s registered some of the highest levels of lead in their bloodstreams recorded anywhere.By the time the area’s biggest mine, run by the Bunker Hill Mining Co., in Kellogg, closed in the early 1980s, the mines had spread a ribbon of poison from the Idaho-Montana border to Lake Coeur d’Alene and down the Spokane River all the way into Eastern Washington. In 1983, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the Bunker Hill Mine and smelter complex the nation’s second-largest Superfund site. The agency has been a presence in the valley ever since. Today, after 35 years and almost $900 million in cleanup costs, Bunker Hill’s tailings heap still oozes 400 pounds of toxic metals a day into the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. Tundra swans still flap and stagger in the marshes. After picking up more mine waste downstream, the river dumps almost 400 tons of lead and 700 tons of zinc into Lake Coeur d’Alene every year.

Japan has restarted five nuclear power reactors in 2018 - Shikoku Electric Power Co. restarted the 890 megawatt (MW) Ikata-3 reactor in Japan’s Ehime Prefecture at the end of October, the fifth nuclear reactor in Japan to be restarted in 2018. Japan had suspended its nuclear fleet in 2013 for mandatory safety checks and upgrades following the 2011 Fukushima accident, and before 2018 only four reactors had been restarted.  Following the Fukushima accident, as each Japanese nuclear reactor entered its scheduled maintenance and refueling outage, it was not returned to operation. Between September 2013 and August 2015, Japan's entire reactor fleet was suspended from operation, leaving the country with no nuclear generation. Sendai Units 1 and 2, in Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture, were the first reactors to be restarted in August and October 2015, respectively.The restart of Japan's nuclear power plants requires the approval of both Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and the central government, as well as consent from the governments of local prefectures. In July 2013, the NRA issued more stringent safety regulations to address issues dealing with tsunamis and seismic events, complete loss of station power, and emergency preparedness. Before a nuclear operator can resume electricity generation, it must apply for permission to restart the reactor. The NRA reviews the restart application and inspects the reactor, potentially requiring the operator to make safety upgrades and complete another inspection.  The suspension of Japan's nuclear fleet resulted in significantly greater dependence on liquefied natural gas (LNG), oil, and coal imports to make up for lost domestic nuclear generation. Japan has limited domestic energy resources and imports virtually all of the fossil fuels it uses. Therefore, Japan is the world's largest importer of LNG and the third-largest importer of coal, behind India and China. In 2017, natural gas accounted for nearly 37% of Japan’s electricity generation, followed by coal at 33%. LNG and coal imports rose last year as court injunctions delayed the planned restart of some nuclear reactors. Japan’s utilities spent approximately $30 billion each year for additional fossil fuel imports in the three years following the Fukushima accident.

Pro-Nuclear Activists Win Landslide Electoral Victory In Taiwan - In a surprise victory, Taiwanese voters on Saturday decisively rejected the government’s phase-out of nuclear power, 59% to 41%. Pro-nuclear activists in Taiwan shouted and shed tears of joy at around 10:15 pm Taiwan time (9:15 am Eastern time) after it became clear that they had won the required five million votes to pass a referendum ending the phase-out. “We will immediately ask the government to start-up non-operating reactors and extend the lives of the others,” said Shih-Hsiu Huang, a “Go Green With Nuclear” referendum organizer. As of this writing, 5,894,570 votes were cast in favor of repealing the nuclear phase-out, and 4,013,621 votes against the initiative. A Trend Survey Research poll commissioned by pro-nuclear activists before the vote found that one of the strongest arguments for nuclear was, “Solar and wind are not stable, and are expensive,” attracting 71% agreement.

Owner of failed nuclear plant might use golden parachute fund in settlement -  Today, South Carolina energy company SCANA and its potential purchaser Dominion Energy reached a settlement with class-action litigants to offer a significant energy bill rate cut in exchange for the litigants dropping a lawsuit over $2 billion in energy bill fees. Attorneys for the class-action members told The Post and Courier that they will accept the deal if it’s approved. SCANA was a 55-percent owner of the VC Summer nuclear power plant expansion, and when reactor maker Westinghouse went bankrupt early last year, the owners of the plant found themselves in a very bad position. Stakeholders opted not to continue construction on Summer, unlike in Georgia, where a similar reactor construction project from Westinghouse found the public support to fulfill construction. Meanwhile, SCANA and its public-facing utility, South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCG&E), still found themselves on the hook after massive cost overruns. Customer energy bills subsidized the billions of dollars of construction that would ultimately go nowhere.A class-action lawsuit representing these customers argued that they should not have to pay for an unfinished nuclear plant. Interestingly, the deal calls for SCANA to partially pay the settlement with its $115 million “golden parachute” fund, usually reserved to give high-level executives generous severance payments on their way out. The deal must be approved by a judge, and it’s also contingent on SCANA being purchased by Virginia company Dominion Energy. Dominion appears motivated to purchase SCANA, and as part of today’s proposed settlement, Dominion would offer SCG&E customers a 15-percent customer rate cut that Utility Dive says could cut bills by more than $22 per month. Dominion’s acquisition of SCANA has secured approval from six state and federal regulatory agencies, and now the company is only waiting on approval from South Carolina’s Public Services Commission. South Carolina PSC says it wants to see a 33-percent rate cut for customers.

U.S. Nuclear Fleet’s Dry Docks Threatened by Storms and Rising Seas — At the foot of the Chesapeake Bay in southeast Virginia lies a Naval shipyard older than the nation itself. One of the country's first warships was built here in 1799. So was the first battleship, and decades later the first aircraft carrier. Norfolk Naval Shipyard is an essential maintenance facility for the nation's fleet of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, and it's facing a threat that could shut it down permanently.  Rising seas will likely engulf the shipyard by century's end, but the reckoning for Norfolk and nearby military installations could come much sooner."They're going to disappear" unless the Pentagon acts quickly to protect them, said Ray Mabus, Navy secretary under President Barack Obama. The most immediate worry is a direct hit from a major storm. "It would have the potential for serious, if not catastrophic damage, and it would certainly put the shipyard out of business for some amount of time," Mabus said. "That has implications not just for the shipyard, but for us, for the Navy." The shipyard is among the American military sites most vulnerable to climate change. Because of its role in maintaining the fleet, damage to the aging facility could undermine the Pentagon's ability to respond to military and humanitarian crises and to counter China's growing naval ambitions. Like most of the Hampton Roads region, it's low-lying and hugged by water. Sea level has risen 1.5 feet in the past century here, about twice as much as the global average, because of climate change and land subsidence. Meanwhile, global warming is increasing the frequency of severe storms. Among Norfolk Naval Shipyard's greatest vulnerabilities are its five dry docks, waterside basins that can be sealed off and pumped dry to expose a ship's hull for repairs for months or years at a time. Once inside, the vessels are often opened up, leaving expensive electronics and mechanical systems vulnerable to storms and flooding. The ships' nuclear reactors raise radiological concerns, too, though the Navy says it takes extensive measures to prevent nuclear accidents.The dry docks "were not designed to accommodate the threats" of rising seas and stronger storms, according to a 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office. Navy officials warned the GAO that flooding in a dry dock could cause "catastrophic damage to the ships."

Ohio May Expand Emissions Rules for Unconventional Oil, Natural Gas Ops - The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) is seeking input on potential rules that would expand air emissions rules for both existing and new unconventional oil and gas facilities that aren’t already covered by general permits for midstream and upstream equipment.The early outreach efforts kick-off a rulemaking process that could potentially lead to new regulations that are similar to those in effect for the industry under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS). But unlike the NSPS, which cover only new or modified facilities, Ohio’s latest potential rules would extend to all unconventional oil and gas facilities.OEPA said it envisions new regulations covering equipment installed at well sites, including dehydrators, heaters and storage tanks. Equipment installed at midstream compressor stations and other equipment involved in processing natural gas once it leaves a well could also be covered.Early outreach, OEPA said, gives stakeholders an opportunity to provide comments and suggestions before the agency drafts the language of the rules. After it receives the input, the agency said it would begin drafting the proposed rule language and launch a formal comment period.OEPA said it would accept early input until Dec. 19. More information about the process can be found on OEPA’s website.If the agency proceeds with the rulemaking, it would be the latest in a series of regulatory overhauls since the first commercial production was reported from unconventional Utica Shale wells in 2011. Since then, OEPA has drafted and rolled-out general permits for the upstream andmidstream sectors to streamline the permitting process and reinforce the industry’s compliance with state pollution regulations. It’s also implemented requirements in recent years targeting fugitive emissions at well sites.

Weakening methane standards will hurt SE Ohioans - Our region is at the epicenter of the Utica Shale deposit and the booming oil-and-gas development that has accompanied the extraction of those resources. Compared to the rules already in place, these new rules proposed by the Trump administration do not go far enough in curbing harmful methane pollution, or in reducing how much of this harmful greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere. These limits on methane emissions are not just theoretical numbers on paper – they offer real-life protections for my family and yours.Methane poses a great danger to our planet. With over 80 times the warming power of carbon pollution, methane is a dangerous driver of climate change. Right now, oil-and-gas industrial facilities release at least 8.1 million metric tons of methane pollution a year – the same climate impact as operating over 150 coal-fired power plants for a year or driving more than 145 million cars for a year.Throughout history, my home region has seen resources extracted, again and again, yet we never see the benefits. While corporations get richer, our communities have been left with the legacy costs of that extraction. Desolate landscapes, stagnant economies, generations of sick children – we have paid more than our fair share to power this country.First they came for timber, then coal, and now natural gas. Through all of this, we have had little protection from state and national agencies against these companies that can come in and buy towns outright.  While we may be rural, we are worthy of protections, which are paramount for our future. My hometown of Cheshire is located within a stone’s throw of West Virginia, and Ohio’s Appalachian region flows directly into Pennsylvania and Kentucky. This is a region rich in natural resources, and because of its wealth in minerals, for decades it has borne the brunt of mining, drilling and extraction. Because pollution does not stop at state lines, the health of people of the central Appalachian region has suffered as a result, and we’re also beginning to see the impacts of a changing climate. For southeast Ohio, our climate impacts are not seen in wildfires or rising sea levels. Rather, we experience climate change in the form of more voracious tick populations and therefore higher tick-borne illnesses, more extreme and more frequent rain events, and therefore more flooding and infrastructure damage.

Marksmen Energy drilling in Ohio's Clinton Sandstone -- Calgary-based Marksmen Energy reports it's making progress in drilling a Clinton Sandstone well in southeast Ohio, Kallanish Energy reports. The company has a 60% interest in the Leaman #1 horizontal well in Hocking County. The well is operated by Hocking Hills Energy and Well Services LLC of Ohio. Completion of milling and drilling the 1,500-foot lateral is expected to begin this week. The lateral drilling is expected to take 10 to 15 days. The sandstone was previously stimulated with a 12-stage hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. Marksmen said it has interests in 5,500 acres of additional land with several potential Clinton Sandstone wells locations that could be developed under its agreement with its operator. The company has said it's planning “an aggressive drilling program in 2019 to fully develop the acreage,” subject to financing. Marksmen has targeted the Clinton Sandstone previously drilled in many parts of Ohio. The company points out that Texas-based EnerVest Ltd. had drilled eight Clinton Sandstone wells about 100 miles north of its Hocking County well. EnerVest, it said, is evaluating plans to drill multiple horizontal wells on its 115,000 gross acres of leases in Ohio’s East Canton oilfield in Stark County. It spills into surrounding counties. EnerVest operates roughly 1,600 vertical-only Clinton Sandstone wells in that area, some dating back to the late 1940s. The oil recovery from those wells has been estimated at 7% by EnerVest, Marksmen said. EnerVest reports a nearly 10-fold increase in Clinton Sandstone production by using horizontal wells, and it reported its horizontal wells encountered near virgin reservoir pressures within the field, the Canadian company reported. It also said U.S. Energy OH LLC is also drilling Clinton Sandstone wells in the East Canton field and has drilled and completed nine of 21 permitted locations.

Fears and Hopes on Cracker Expressed During OEPA Hearing in Shadyside — Dozens of local residents and environmental advocates turned out Tuesday to express their fear of the “plastic monster” Michelle Fetting believes PTT Global Chemical and Daelim will create if the companies construct an ethane cracker plant at Dilles Bottom. Many others, though, are eager to welcome another industry to the Ohio Valley, saying they believe good-paying jobs and a higher quality of life will come with it. Fetting, a representative of the Pittsburgh-based BreatheProject.org, described the monstrous impact she believes such a facility would have on the region. Her organization was formed in response to construction of a similar facility by Royal Dutch Shell at Monaca, Pennsylvania. She was one of 30 people who testified on the official record when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing Tuesday evening at Shadyside High School.The hearing was regarding a draft air pollution permit-to-install for the proposed petrochemical complex in Belmont County. A cracker plant processes ethane to create ethylene, a key component of plastic.  While describing the project and answering questions from the audience, OEPA’s Mike Hopkins, assistant chief of permitting for OEPA, talked extensively about the plant’s anticipated emissions. He said his agency has been monitoring air quality in Shadyside for two years and will continue to do so for many years after the cracker plant begins to operate, if the project becomes a reality.“The whole idea is to make sure we are protecting public health,” Hopkins said. He compared expected emission levels at the cracker plant to those of several other types of polluters. While the cracker might emit about 396 tons of volatile organic compounds per year, for example, a typical gas station or dry cleaner emits 10 tons annually, he said. Larger facilities, such as small factories, emit 50-100 tons per year, while an auto assembly plant or steel mill might emit 1,000 tons each year. He said the largest polluters in Ohio are usually coal-fired power plants, which can emit more than 50,000 tons of VOCs annually. But the fact that he classified the potential PTT plant as a “medium to slightly larger than medium-sized plant in terms of emissions” did not alleviate the concerns of many members of the audience.

Two US pipelines rack up violations, threaten industry growth (Reuters)  - Energy Transfer LP and its Sunoco pipeline subsidiary have racked up more than 800 state and federal permit violations while racing to build two of the nation’s largest natural gas pipelines, according to a Reuters analysis of government data and regulatory records. The pipelines, known as Energy Transfer Rover and Sunoco Mariner East 2, will carry natural gas and gas liquids from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, an area that now accounts for more than a third of U.S. gas production. Reuters analyzed four comparable pipeline projects and found they averaged 19 violations each during construction. The Rover and Mariner violations included spills of drilling fluid, a clay-and-water mixture that lubricates equipment for drilling under rivers and highways; sinkholes in backyards; and improper disposal of hazardous waste and other trash. Fines topped $15 million. Energy Transfer also raised the ire of federal regulators by tearing down a historic house along Rover’s route. The Appalachia region has become a hub for natural gas as it increasingly replaces coal for U.S. power generation, creating an urgent need for new pipelines. But the recent experience of residents and regulators with the two Energy Transfer pipelines has state officials vowing to tighten laws and scrutinize future projects. “Ohio’s negative experience with Rover has fundamentally changed how we will permit pipeline projects,” said James Lee, a spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Energy Transfer's Troubled Pipeline Projects Amass 800+ Violations --A damning new report has highlighted the spotty incident record of Energy Transfer, which owns tens of thousands of miles of pipelines across America, including the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.The Texas-based energy company and its subsidiary Sunoco have amassed more than 800 federal and state permit violations and millions of dollars in fines while building its two newest natural gas pipelines, the Roverand Mariner East 2, respectively, Reuters reporters Scott DiSavino and Stephanie Kelly revealed Wednesday. To compare, Reuters analyzed four similar pipeline projects and found they averaged 19 violations each during construction.Rover and Mariner violations include spills of drilling fluid; sinkholes in backyards; and improper disposal of hazardous waste and other trash, with fines topping at $15 million, according to Reuters.Rover started construction in March 2017, while Mariner started in February 2017. The two troubled pipelines were slated for completion last year, but construction has slowed due to state and federal regulators halting the work after permit violations.The $4.2 billion Rover pipeline is a 713-mile interstate project designed to transport up to 3.25 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas. Its proposed route includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Canada. In one of its most high-profile spills, the pipeline project released 2 million gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio wetlands last April. It followed with another 150,000 gallons of drilling fluid at the same site in January."Ohio's negative experience with Rover has fundamentally changed how we will permit pipeline projects," James Lee, a spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, told Reuters.The $2.5 billion Mariner East 2 is a 350-mile pipeline project designed to carry 275,000 barrels a day of butane, propane and other liquid fossil fuels from Ohio and West Virginia, across Pennsylvania to the Atlantic coast. Last year, horizontal directional drilling triggered three releases of drilling fluid around the same site in East Goshen, Pennsylvania in the span of three days. In September, a 24-inch natural gas line owned by Energy Transfer and Sunoco exploded in Beaver County, Pennsylvania a week after it was activated. The explosion prompted calls from environmentalists and lawmakers to halt the Mariner pipeline, which is currently under construction in the state.

Utica Shale provides stacked drilling options in Pennsylvania - Everyone thinks of Ohio when it comes to the Utica shale in the Appalachian Basin, but the gas-rich formation spills over into western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Operators in Pennsylvania are starting to drill the Utica, as it creates new stacked options in northern Pennsylvania, as well as in southwest Pennsylvania, Penn State University’s Thomas Murphy told attendees at Kallanish New Horizons: Appalachian Basin.  Pennsylvania has about 250 Utica wells and West Virginia has about 50 Utica wells, compared to roughly 2,080 producing Utica wells in Ohio. In southwest Pennsylvania, drillers have been reluctant to pursue the Utica because it is deeper than the lucrative Marcellus Shale. That makes it more costly and riskier for drillers to go after, Murphy said. It appears the Utica Shale play in northcentral Pennsylvania is thicker and shallower and those particulars have some operators like Eclipse Resources and JKLM Energy interested in it, he said. Shell drilled the first Utica wells in that region in Tioga County, Murphy noted. “It’s more of a stacked resource than people thought … and that makes it increasingly attractive and gives companies long-term options,” said Murphy, director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research. Pennsylvania drillers can opt to go after the Utica, Marcellus and perhaps the Upper Devonian shales from the same pads, he said. The Marcellus remains “the king pin,” and Pennsylvania is No. 2 in the U.S. for natural gas production (behind Texas) with 15 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of Marcellus production, he said. Ohio is fifth with 5 billion cubic feet per day of Utica gas production that is still growing. It ranks behind Oklahoma and Louisiana.   He estimated just 15% to 20% of the total number of wells that could be drilled have been drilled in the Appalachian Basin. 

Allegheny Township property owners taking fracking fight to Pa. Supreme Court --Allegheny Township property owners are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to appeal a ruling that allows unconventional gas drilling in all of the township’s zoning districts. The plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to review a Commonwealth Court ruling that they believe infringed on their “fundamental and constitutionally-protected property and environmental rights.” The appeal was filed Nov. 26 by the plaintiffs and Willowbrook Road residents Dolores Frederick, Patricia Hagaman and Beverly Taylor. The defendants include Allegheny Township, its zoning hearing board, CNX Gas Co. and other township residents. They have been challenging a series of court rulings stemming from CNX Gas Co. in October 2014 winning approval to install an unconventional natural gas well pad, which is used in fracking, within 1,200 feet of township homes. The gas well pad site is on the property of a neighboring farm owned by John and Anne Slike and Northmoreland Farms LP, who are among the defendants in the case. Specifically, the plaintiffs take issue with Allegheny Township’s enactment in 2010 of a zoning ordinance amendment providing for oil and gas drilling operations in all of the township’s zoning districts. They have argued that the intensive hydraulic fracturing process — fracking — and horizontal drilling used to tap deep gas reserves constitute an industrial use. Last month, the Commonwealth Court ruled 5-2 to deny an appeal by Allegheny Township property owners who tried to overturn multiple rulings that allow unconventional gas drilling in all of the township’s zoning districts. Although the state Supreme Court is asked to consider a number of cases, the plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Papa, of New Castle, felt that the court would take the case. Papa said that the implications from the Allegheny Township case could be far-reaching because it covers residential property rights and zoning. “When you buy residential, you are not buying industrial and that is what this is about,” he said. If the Commonwealth Court ruling is allowed to stand, Papa said it would completely undercut traditional zoning. “The whole purpose of which is to segregate industry from residents,” he said.

Plaintiffs alleging EQT shortchanged on gas royalties reach tentative settlement - The trial of a major lawsuit alleging that energy giant EQT Corp. has been shortchanging thousands of West Virginians on their royalty payments won’t start Tuesday as planned, following the tentative settlement of the case late last week. Details of the deal have not yet been made public. Marvin Masters, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said “the parties have tentatively resolved the case,” pending settlement details being worked out. A spokeswoman for the court confirmed the settlement, and said the trial was canceled. Linda Robertson, spokeswoman for EQT, declined to comment on the settlement, citing “pending litigation.” More than 10,000 individuals and businesses in West Virginia are estimated to be members of the class of plaintiffs. They allege that EQT, the state’s second-largest gas producer, was illegally deducting various costs — such as for transporting and processing gas — from their royalty payments. Under federal court rules, details of class-action settlements are subject to review by members of the plaintiff class. Such settlements must also be reviewed by U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey and determined to be “fair, reasonable and adequate.” The lawsuit against EQT was among the royalty cases highlighted earlier this month in a joint examination by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica of the ways West Virginia natural gas producers whittle away at royalties promised to thousands of state residents and businesses. Companies have both deducted various costs from royalty payments, despite lease language that doesn’t allow them to do so, and formed shell companies that buy the gas at reduced rates, lowering percentage-based royalties. These practices have gone on for decades, despite efforts by state lawmakers and courts to ensure that residents get their fair share. Several lawsuits in the mid-2000s led to a series of settlements and a $400 million jury verdict in 2007. Those earlier settlements included a roughly $30 million deal by Equitable, as EQT was then known, with about 10,000 class members who had leases with the company.

Pipeline Company to Pay $122K for Environmental Violations - A company building a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia has agreed to pay $122,350 for environmental violations.The Charleston Gazette-Mail cited a consent order made public Monday in reporting that Columbia Gas Transmission agreed to pay the amount to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for 16 violations while building the Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline.Columbia Gas Transmission is a subsidiary of TransCanada and will operate the Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline when it's completed.TransCanada spokesman Scott Castleman said the company implemented measures to address each environmental issue as it arose and has accepted the draft consent order.The pipeline is one of many being built in the region and would run 170 miles (274 kilometers) from Marshall County to Wayne County.

4th circuit opinion explains reasoning behind vacating pipeline permit in Oct. -- When the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection waived its authority required for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, it made the project ineligible for a water-crossing permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, a panel of judges wrote in an opinion Tuesday.The opinion from the judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals comes after the panel vacated the key Clean Water Act permit for the pipeline in October, saying regulators lacked legal authority to “substitute” one kind of construction standard for another.That order came four days after the panel heard oral arguments in the case brought by a coalition of environmental and citizen groups that challenged the federal government’s approval of the 300-mile long pipeline.The pipeline would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia, into Virginia.Questions about the permit began in early 2017, when West Virginia issued a 401 certification, needed for the streamlined permit, but then opted to waive the certification in November when the permit was challenged by environmental and citizen groups.“We further conclude that, absent completion of the notice-and-comment procedures required by the Clean Water Act, a state cannot waive a special condition previously imposed as part of its certification of a nationwide permit,” Judge James Wynn wrote in the 35-page opinion. Chief Judge Roger Gregory and Judge Stephanie Thacker joined. “Because West Virginia did not follow its federally mandated notice-and-comment procedures in waiving another special condition the state imposed as part of its certification of NWP 12, that condition remains a required — but, in this case, unsatisfied — condition of the nationwide permit,” he wrote.

Member of Appalachians Against Pipeline Group uses body to physically stop pipeline construction (WVNSTV video) For more than eight hours, a member of the Appalachians Against Pipelines group locked his body to a boom tractor, suspended in the air, to block construction at a Mountain Valley Pipeline site off Ellison Ridge Rd. on Tuesday, November 27.

Eminent Domain for Natural Gas Pipelines at Issue in NY State - A state appellate court ruled Friday that National Fuel Gas Corp. could not use eminent domain proceedings to cross a Clarksville couple’s property for the Northern Access Pipeline from McKean County, Pa. to Western New York. The Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department overturned an earlier State Supreme Court ruling granting eminent domain powers to National Fuel Gas in order to cross the 200-acre parcel owned by Joseph and Theresa Schueckler. The property lay in the path of the proposed 97-mile $455 million Northern Access pipeline. While National Fuel officials are still hopeful about the project’s future, the Schueckler’s attorney Gary Abraham thinks differently. “The pipeline is dead,” he said. Dozens of streams and creeks are also in the pipeline’s path, which require DEC permission to cross. The DEC asked National Fuel Gas to use horizontal drilling to minimize stream disruptions. The company said it was unnecessary in most streams. The 12-page ruling acknowledges the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied a Water Quality Certificate under the federal Clean Water Act, which National Fuel Gas has challenged in the Second Circuit U.S. Federal Court in New York City. National Fuel Gas claimed DEC took longer than the one year allowed to review the company’s application for a Water Quality Certificate. The DEC said both parties had agreed to extend the deadline. Last year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which controls interstate transmission of natural gas, agreed with a National Fuel Gas request to approve the project with conditions. One of the conditions is that National Fuel Gas obtain a Water Quality Certificate from DEC. National Fuel Gas sued FERC in Federal Court in the District of Columbia to remove the conditions. The ruling states that “It is indisputable, however, that if the Water Quality Certificate denial is ultimately upheld, the pipeline cannot be built.”

Thousands remain homeless after Columbia Gas disaster in Massachusetts --Some 5,000 people are still unable to return to their homes and are having to survive in hotel rooms and trailers set up in city parks more than two months after the September 13 Columbia Gas explosions in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley. An early-season snow storm on November 15 caused pipes in the trailers to freeze, revealing that the drainage pipes carrying dirty “grey water” from sinks and showers mix with the pipes supposedly bringing clean water into the trailers. On Thanksgiving, thousands of people received nothing but boxed dinners, while outdoor temperatures dropped below 15 Fahrenheit (-9 Celsius).On Monday morning, Democratic US Senator Edward Markey hosted a hearing at a middle school in South Lawrence. Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom Markey called his “partner,” New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, US Representatives Nikki Tsongas and Seth Moulton, and Representative-elect Lori Trahan, joined Markey in questioning a panel of state and federal regulators as well as Columbia Gas executives.  The word “tragedy” was thrown around the auditorium by politicians and panel members in an attempt to deny what the September 13 events obviously were: a social crime. Markey and Warren’s pretense of holding the executives, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts president Steve Bryant and Joe Hamrock, the president of parent company NiSource, accountable was limited to calling for their resignations and to extracting a vague promise that victims will be “made whole” financially. Bryant refused to resign, knowing full well the toothless nature of the hearing, while both he and Hamrock said that they might forego their bonuses this year.

Michigan Senate to consider straits oil pipeline legislation (AP)— Legislation moving in Michigan's Senate would authorize the Mackinac Bridge Authority to help implement a deal to replace twin oil pipelines in a crucial Great Lakes channel.The Republican-led Senate Government Operations Committee passed the bill 3-2 on party lines Wednesday, but the full Senate delayed voting so changes can be made.Gov. Rick Snyder's administration says the bridge authority is the logical choice to oversee a proposed pipeline tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac. Opponents of the agreement say the authority's mission should not be altered so significantly. In October, the Snyder administration and Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge announced a deal to replace the 65-year-old oil pipes that critics describe as an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Snyder hopes to lock in the hotly contested deal before leaving office.

Eminent domain trial on Bayou Bridge pipeline begins with assertion that land worth only $1.11 — A testy trial over the Bayou Bridge pipeline began Tuesday with an assertion that the plaintiff's share of the land at the center of the dispute is worth only $1.11. The 162-mile Bayou Bridge will carry crude oil between Lake Charles and St. James, but to do so, it is designed to go through a contentious plot of property. The undeveloped Buffalo Cove swampland has been subdivided and passed down so many times it now has perhaps 700 heirs, attorneys have said. Most, but not all, appear to have agreed to let the company have its right-of-way. However, Theda Larson-Wright and siblings Peter and Katherine Aaslestad don’t want the pipeline and told the company if they want it, they’d have to seize it under eminent domain. Under Louisiana law, utility providers have the authority to legally expropriate property if they can prove it is for the public benefit. Industrialists and environmentalists sparred over the pipeline's merits and will continue to do so Wednesday in state district court in St. Martin Parish. On Tuesday, Bayou Bridge lawyers tried to show Judge Keith Comeaux that the plaintiffs are just three voices among hundreds. The company hired expert witness David Dominy to formally appraise the land. After a lengthy explanation, he revealed that while the 38-acre property is worth $871 an acre, Larson-Wright only owns 0.00994 percent, and the Aaslestads combine for 0.0003125 percent, meaning if the whole property were to sell at its appraised value, their share wouldn’t even buy a soda at a vending machine.

Trump poised to allow Atlantic Coast seismic testing for subsea oil and gas - The Trump administration is set to allow companies to conduct seismic tests for oil-and-gas resources in the Atlantic Ocean — a process that uses powerful air-gun blasts that could harm whales, dolphins and other marine life. The surveys will help gauge the size of hydrocarbon resources off coastal areas that are now off-limits to drilling, but would become available under draft federal offshore leasing plans. However, environmental groups say the tests could harm or even lead to the death of sensitive ocean mammals. The Obama administration had thwarted similar industry requests. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Friday announced approvals for five companies to "incidentally harass" marine mammals in a region that spans from Delaware to Cape Canaveral, Florida.  They still need separate Interior Department permits to undertake the testing. But Friday's move likely signals plans by the administration — which supports expanding regions made available for fossil fuel development — to let the tests proceed.  Multiple environmental groups bashed the move Friday. "President Trump is essentially giving these companies permission to harass, harm and possibly even kill marine life, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale — all in the pursuit of dirty and dangerous offshore oil."  NOAA officials, in their approval and comments to reporters, said the "incidental harassment authorizations" contain a suite of provisions aimed at protecting marine life. One example is a requirement that activities cease if a North Atlantic right whale is spotted within 1.5 kilometers of the testing. These whales are listed under the Endangered Species Act, and NOAA estimates there are only about 430 of them left in the wild. They transit areas off the East Coast, where the seismic blasting is set to take place. Studies have shown that military sonar and other loud underwater noises can disrupt marine mammals' feeding and other behavior, possibly leading to mass strandings.  While the seismic testing is likely moving ahead, oil and gas drilling and production is not allowed off the Atlantic Coast. However, there's industry interest in sizing up the amount of hydrocarbons in the region. In January, the Interior Department issued a draft plan than envisions leasing offshore drilling blocs off the Atlantic Coast beginning in 2020.

New projects expected to reverse Gulf of Mexico natural gas production declines - Natural gas production in the U.S. Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) has been declining for nearly two decades. However, 10 new natural gas production fields are expected to start producing natural gas in 2018 and another 8 are expected to start producing in 2019, according to information reported to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. These new field starts may slow or reverse the long-term decline in GOM production. The 16 projects starting in 2018 and 2019 have a combined natural gas resource estimate of about 836 billion cubic feet.Marketed natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico averaged 2.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) through August 2018, accounting for 4% of total U.S. production. In 1997, when EIA began collecting GOM production data, production averaged 14.3 Bcf/d, accounting for 26% of the United States’ total annual marketed natural gas production. The decline in GOM natural gas production occurred as the number of producing natural gas wells in the GOM declined, falling from 3,271 in 2001 to 875 in 2017. The technology and expertise required to produce oil and natural gas from the seabed is expensive and specialized, and costs of production platforms can often exceed one billion dollars. With the growth in exploration and production activities in shale gas and tight oil formations, onshore drilling became more economic relative to offshore drilling. Most of the natural gas produced in the GOM is associated-dissolved natural gas produced from oil fields. Although older oil wells in the GOM tend to have higher natural gas content, newer wells are more oil-rich, resulting in less natural gas per well. According EIA’s Natural Gas Annual, 59% of gross withdrawals of natural gas in the GOM were from oil wells in 2017, up from 13% in 1997.

Cost Inflation Threatens Deepwater Recovery - Cost inflation could threaten the deepwater industry by raising break-even costs, according to a new report from Wood Mackenzie (WoodMac). The report notes that the cost to develop new deepwater barrels has fallen over 50 percent since 2013 and highlights steps operators have taken to lower their costs. But it also warns of the cyclical nature of inflation. “One of the key drivers in cost reduction in deepwater projects is lower rig costs, which is a cyclical factor,” research director Angus Rodger, said in a release. “But more importantly, there have also been big structural changes, such as the faster drilling of wells. For example, in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico it now takes half the time to drill a deepwater well compared to 2014.” WoodMac expects annual CAPEX for deepwater to reach nearly $60 billion by 2022, driven by large projects in Guyana, Brazil and Mozambique. However, that increase could be offset by offshore cost inflation, including rig day rates that could double by the early 2020s. “The return of cyclical inflation could see this epic period of deepwater cost reduction come to a close,” Rodger said. “The question now is how much of the ‘structural’ cost savings we have seen through the downturn will prove sustainable through the investment cycle, and which are just short-term company adaptions.” Rodger went on to say that many of the cost savings aren’t as “sticky” as the industry would have you believe. We’re “skeptical that many will stand the test of time during a sustained cyclical uptick,” he said. 

High gasoline inventories help drive U.S. refining margins to five-year lows - Flattening year-over-year growth in gasoline demand in the United States, combined with high levels of refinery output, have contributed to low or negative motor gasoline refining margins for refiners along the East and Gulf Coasts. Gasoline refining margins—the difference between the spot price of gasoline and the Brent crude oil spot price—have been on a downward trend since August, and these margins have been at some of their lowest October and November levels in the past five years. At the same time, strong growth in distillate demand has driven increased distillate prices and refining margins. This combination of low gasoline and high distillate refining margins may signal a shift by refiners to maximize diesel fuel production instead of gasoline production. The crack spreads in the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp (ARA) region of Europe and in Singapore, two global refining and distribution hubs, suggest markets in these regions are experiencing similar trends. Crude oil processed through a U.S. refinery typically yields about twice as much motor gasoline as distillate fuels. As a result, although gasoline margins have been low recently, refiners cannot completely stop making gasoline in favor of other petroleum products, such as distillate. High refinery runs (driven by increased distillate demand) combined with lower demand for gasoline contributes to the high gasoline inventory levels, which have been higher than their recent five-year range since mid-August. Higher gasoline prices in 2018 have contributed to flattening U.S. gasoline demand growth. Combined with increased levels of refinery output driven by strong demand for diesel fuel, gasoline production has outpaced demand, and inventories have increased beyond their normal seasonal levels, lowering gasoline prices and, as a result, gasoline margins. Motor gasoline margins based on wholesale gasoline prices at New York Harbor averaged 26 cents per gallon (gal) in the first half of 2018, but these margins fell to an average of 4 cents/gal in October 2018 and have been negative so far in November. Changes in margins in the Gulf Coast were similar, falling from 27 cents/gal in the first half of the year to 1 cent/gal in October and falling further to negative values during November. By comparison, New York Harbor ultra-low sulfur diesel margins averaged 38 cents/gal in the first half of 2018 and increased to 40 cents/gal in October and to more than 50 cents/gal in November.

Race to Export US Shale Gets Fierce, Gulf Coast Terminals Want In -- The race to export U.S. shale oil overseas is about to get fierce, with at least nine proposed terminals angling for a piece of a very limited pie. Within 18 months, new pipelines opening in the nation’s most prolific shale basin promise to carry an added 2 million barrels of oil a day to the Gulf Coast. But the extra crude will arrive at a time when existing terminals in the Corpus Christi area can already offer only about 300,000 barrels a day of unused capacity. Meanwhile, some of the terminals proposed are being designed to load a supertanker every other day, each capable of carrying 2 million barrels. The result: It’s likely only one or two new terminals are needed, with the edge going to companies such as Enbridge Inc., whose Freeport, Texas, effort could be fed by two pipelines it already owns interests in.  . U.S. oil exports have soared to nearly 2 million barrels a day since a near four-decade moratorium was lifted in late 2015, just as shale production kicked into high gear. Trafigura Group Ltd. and other trading houses have jumped at the opportunity to send those supplies to Europe and Asia. But there’s been a problem: Pipeline shortages, particularly in the prolific Permian Basin, have limited how much oil makes it to the coast. Now, anticipating an end to those woes with three major new pipelines expected to open in 2019, several companies -- including Trafigura -- are lining up with plans to provide terminals that can take advantage of the change. Enbridge hasn’t released many details on its proposal for Freeport, which is about 175 miles northeast of Corpus Christi. But it would likely be fed by the company’s own Seaway pipeline system, which runs south from the U.S. storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, as well as the Gray Oak pipeline it owns a stake in. Once completed, that pipe will run southeast from Midland, Texas, in the heart of the Permian, into Freeport and Corpus Christi.

New report details oil and petrochemical opportunities as US becomes net exporter -Oil and chemical traders believe the U.S. will become a net exporter for the first time in generations, according to Petrochemical Update’s North American Downstream Market Outlook and Insights 2019. By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production including natural gas liquids (NGLs) used in the petrochemical industry is expected to rise to 17.4 million barrels/day according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).U.S. crude oil production and subsequently petrochemical production has increased significantly during the past ten years, driven mainly by production from tight oil formations using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Total U.S. oil production is rising at the fastest pace in nearly 100 years and the pipeline bottleneck everyone warned about looks set to ease as early as the end of 2019. At this rate, many analysts are predicting that Texas will surpass Iraq and Iran and pave the way for the U.S. to become the world’s leader in oil production.Most recently, U.S. crude oil production reached 11.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in August 2018, according to the U.S. EIA Petroleum Supply Monthly in November, up from 10.9 million b/d in July. This is the first time that monthly U.S. production levels surpassed 11 million b/d. U.S. crude oil production exceeded the Russian Ministry of Energy’s estimated August production of 11.2 million b/d, making the U.S. the leading crude oil producer in the world.At that rate, oil and chemical traders believe the U.S. will become a net exporter, something that has not happened for 75 years.  In the face of this almost unprecedented growth, the market is dealing with instability in oil prices, mega disruptions in technology, and a growing trade war. This confluence of market factors is driving new investments and a reconfiguration of the status quo.

Deep Water - A New Drill Down Report On Proposed Crude Export Terminals - This summer and fall, more than a half dozen companies and midstream joint ventures have announced plans for new deepwater export terminals along the Gulf Coast that — if all built — would have the capacity to load and send out more than 10 MMb/d, which is notable because the U.S. Lower 48 currently produces 11.2 MMb/d. Most of these projects won’t get built, of course — export volumes may well continue rising, and the economics of fully loading VLCCs at deepwater ports are compelling, but even the most optimistic forecasts suggest that only one or two of these new terminals will be needed through the early 2020s. So, there’s a fierce competition on among developers to advance their VLCC-ready export projects to Final Investment Decisions (FIDs) first. Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on deepwater crude export terminals as well as the export growth and tanker-loading economics that are driving the project-development frenzy.

Cheniere ramps up feedgas deliveries to LNG export terminal in Texas - — Cheniere Energy appears to be getting closer to having enough LNG produced at its export terminal near Corpus Christi, Texas, to ship a full cargo - the first from the site since startup November 14. The company has said the first export would occur soon, but has not been more specific, and a tanker that had been waiting at the terminal for about 10 days left over the Thanksgiving holiday - still unladen based on vessel tracking data. It diverted to Cheniere's Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana, where it loaded a cargo and departed again. Despite the uncertainty on timing, activity has clearly picked up at the Texas terminal. Feedgas deliveries to the 700 MMcf/d capacity Train 1 ramped up to an average of around 300 MMcf/d since Friday, peaking at over 400 MMcf/d on Sunday, S&P Global Platts Analytics data shows. Flows dipped to approximately 250 MMcf/d on Monday. In anticipation of the increased LNG production at Corpus Christi, Cheniere asked Williams' Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line to start up early an expansion project that will boost the amount of feedgas available to serve the export terminal. Transco said in a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on November 19 that it was requesting permission for partial in-service of the Gulf Connector Expansion Project by Tuesday, so that it would be able to provide the LNG terminal up to 290 MMcf/d of service on an interim basis along the full path of the project beginning December 1. Speed to market was Cheniere's goal in getting its Texas terminal up and running ahead of schedule, amid a flurry of existing and proposed terminal projects that are poised to make the US a much bigger player in the global supply of LNG. Cheniere has five liquefaction trains in operation at Sabine Pass in Cameron Parish. A final investment decision is expected by early 2019 on whether to build a sixth train there. At the facility near Corpus Christi, three trains are under construction.  CEO Jack Fusco told reporters November 15 during an event at the site to mark the facility's startup that workers planned to take the loading of the first cargo slowly to make sure it was done safely.

Sky falls for Permian gas prices on cyber Monday. - Permian natural gas markets felt a cold shiver this week, but not a meteorologically induced one of the types running through other regional markets. Gas marketers braced as prices for Permian natural gas skidded toward a new threshold: zero! That’s not basis, but absolute price, a long-anticipated possibility that became reality on Monday. The cause is very likely driven, in our view, by continued associated gas production growth poured into a region that won’t see new greenfield pipeline capacity for at least 10 months. What happens next isn’t clear, but expect Permian gas market participants to be a little excitable or jittery over the next few months.  Permian gas markets were sent for a spin on Monday, with prices at the key Waha benchmark averaging just $0.625/MMBtu (see Figure 1). This is the second lowest price we have in our dataset from our friends at Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI), which dates to 2007. That’s not all though, as that average is based on trading throughout a period spanning roughly three hours between 7 and 10 a.m. Central Time. Prices near the end of this period traded one penny below zero at Waha, according to the daily range posted by NGI. Some trades at other points on pipelines in the Permian also traded in negative territory yesterday. That’s right, someone was paid to buy gas in the Permian on Monday. While we’d like to tell you this was some sort of transient, one-off event that led to a day of dramatically low gas prices, that isn’t likely the truth of the matter. The Permian gas market is flooded with associated gas and won’t see significant new takeaway capacity until the start-up of Kinder Morgan’s Gulf Coast Express (GCX) pipeline in late 2019. The problem is here to stay, at least for a few months. Take a deep breath if you trade the Permian gas markets.

 Natural Gas Prices Fall Below Zero In Texas - Surging U.S. oil production in the Permian basin has helped crash oil prices. But the Permian is also home to skyrocketing natural gas production, and output is growing so fast that drillers are trying to give it away for free. When they can’t, they just burn it off into the atmosphere.Unlike in the Marcellus shale, where natural gas is the main target, drilling in the Permian is focused entirely on crude oil. Natural gas is a nice bonus that comes along with the oil. But the drilling frenzy in West Texas and New Mexico has resulted in a glut of this associated natural gas. There is a pipeline bottleneck for crude oil, but there is also a shortage of pipeline space for natural gas.The glut has become so bad that next-day prices for gas at the Waha hub in the Permian have plunged to a record low, falling to as low as 25 cents per MMBtu. In some instances, producers have actually sold some gas at negative prices. That means that a company is paying someone else to take the gas off of their hands. On Tuesday, the lowest price recorded was -25 cents/MMBtu (to be clear, that is negative 25 cents), according to Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI). It was the second consecutive day that prices were in negative territory.  “That’s right, someone was paid to buy gas in the Permian on Monday,” RBN Energy LLC analyst Jason Ferguson said, referring to NGI’s pricing data. “While we’d like to tell you this was some sort of transient, one-off event that led to a day of dramatically low gas prices, that isn’t likely the truth of the matter.Ferguson went on to add that there is little prospect of a recovery until next year. “The Permian gas market is flooded with associated gas and won’t see significant new takeaway capacity until the start-up of Kinder Morgan’s Gulf Coast Express pipeline in late 2019,” Ferguson said, according to NGI. “The problem is here to stay, at least for a few months. Take a deep breath if you trade the Permian gas markets.” The negative prices are down sharply from the average price this year at $2.16/MMBtu at the Waha hub.

Tensions rise as oil and gas flow to the Texas coastline - Center for Public Integrity - —To the east, the Gulf of Mexico stretches out, blue-green and sparkling. To the west and north, flounder and trout meander in a chain of bays. People flock here to fish. Others come to this beach town near Corpus Christi to kayak, parasail or admire the hundreds of bird species on the barrier island, which is deep into rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey damaged or destroyed 85 percent of the buildings here last year. A perfect location, from a certain point of view, to put not one but two crude-oil export terminals for ships so big they’re called supertankers. Those proposals are part of a historic buildout of oil and gas infrastructure in the United States as it becomes a top exporter of both fuels.  More than 80 plants, terminals and other projects are in the works or planned up and down the state’s Gulf Coast, from Port Arthur to Brownsville, according to a Center for Public Integrity and Texas Tribune review of corporate plans. Companies have been laying enough pipeline in Texas in the last several years to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific three times over, more than 8,000 miles in all. Oil and gas production in the U.S. has skyrocketed, particularly in the Permian Basin, most of which underlies West Texas. When Congress lifted decades-old federal restrictions on crude exports at the end of 2015, a move that came on the heels of rule changes throwing open the doors for exports of natural gas, it set off a mad dash. Companies want to get oil and gas from West Texas to the Gulf Coast and, from there, abroad. Much of the infrastructure is headed for just two regions: Houston — America’s oil capital — and Corpus Christi, where a port previously focused on oil imports is battling it out with Houston to be the country’s No. 1 location for moving crude to other nations. Each shipped out more than $7 billion in crude during the first nine months of the year, up from less than $1 billion two years earlier, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Terminals once used to bring oil in are pushing it the other direction.  Oil and gas export growth means jobs paying good wages. But it also intensifies a tragic quandary bedeviling the Gulf. Heavy industry there pumps out greenhouse gases warming the climate, upping the risks of powerful storms that, in turn, endanger those same facilities and everything around them. Harvey, which dumped more rain than any other U.S. storm on record, damaged hundreds of thousands of homes in Texas last year, killed at least 68 people and, particularly around Houston, sparked industrial spills, air pollution and explosions.

US rig count drops by 25 to 1183 in week ended November 28 — The US rig count dropped by 25 on the week to 1,183 for the period ended November 28, posting small reductions in most of the eight large domestic oil and natural gas basins, but with the Permian Basin by far the biggest loser, S&P Global Platts Analytics said Thursday. The Permian, located in West Texas and southeast New Mexico, fell by 12 rigs to 482, reversing most of the gains during the last month, according to Platts weekly rig count released each Thursday. Last week's numbers came out Monday to accommodate the US Thanksgiving holiday. The rig count has spent most of the second half of 2018 dangling just below 1,200 and only reached that figure in mid-November for the first time since early 2015. The week-on-week decline, during a post-holiday week, is relatively high, but could be traceable to potential sluggishness during the Thanksgiving break coupled with limited Permian pipeline capacity. The Permian is the largest producing oil and gas basin in the US with an estimated 3.6 million b/d of oil and 12.1 Bcf/d of gas output. But pipeline and other takeaway capacity is limited and virtually matches production. Experts say substantial new capacity will start coming online in the third quarter of 2019, although some new takeaway is already ramping up. Most of the rig reductions in the past week -- 19 -- came from oil-oriented basins, while five rigs chasing gas dropped out of active drilling. The numbers may not precisely add up because some rigs cannot be identified as either gas or oil, and so are assigned other categories according to Platts methodology. Meanwhile, the Marcellus Shale, a large gas-oriented play mostly in Pennsylvania and neighboring states, lost three rigs to 53, while the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas lost two to 93. Another four basins lost a rig each, including the SCOOP/STACK of Oklahoma (down to 107), Williston of North Dakota and Montana (down to 63), Haynesville Shale in northwest Louisiana and east Texas (down to 59), and Utica Shale largely in Ohio and Pennsylvania (down to 16). The sole basin that gained during the week was the Denver-Julesburg Basin of Colorado, up one to 32 rigs. In addition, both oil and gas prices were down during the week, Platts average weekly assessments showed. WTI fell to $51.17/b, down $4.29, and WTI Midland fell $4.65 to $44.46/b. Also, the average Henry Hub gas price was $4.33/MMBtu, down 24 cents, while the Dominion South price fell to $4.07/MMBtu, down 16 cents. Drilling permits also fell substantially -- by 162 from the prior week to 1,040. The biggest change was in the DJ, which was down 96 permits week on week to 181. Permian was next, down by 24 to 121, while the SCOOP/STACK was down 10 to 28. The Haynesville and Marcellus each lost 13 permits, to 13 and nine, respectively, while the Eagle Ford was down by four to 41. The Williston, however, was up six to 24, and the Utica was up one to eight.

Trump Push For 'Energy Dominance' Boosts Drilling On Public Land - Peter Wold, CEO of Wold Energy Partners, has been investing heavily in the Powder River Basin, buying leases on both private and public land in recent years, and he's not alone. The number of applications to begin drilling in the state has increased over 400 percent in the past five years, a spike driven in part by the Trump administration's push for 'energy dominance.' "Our phone's been ringing off the hook as far as people that want a joint venture with us," Wold says. The wide-open land here is now filling up with trucks that kick up dirt on new roads. "I would call it a pre-boom, absolutely," says Wold. "We ought to call it recognition of economic exploration for Wyoming." Analysts say a perfect storm is making the country's largest coal state more favorable for oil and gas. Higher oil prices are certainly one factor, says Carl Larry, who advises oil and gas companies with the financial consulting firm Refinitiv in Houston. So is better technology for hydraulic fracturing, which allows wells to extract a lot more oil and gas than they used to from the same land. Another reason is the vast expanse of cheap land in this state, much of it federally owned, and some of which is now being auctioned off for as little as $2 an acre. That's a fraction of some prices in Texas, Larry says, where more competition has driven up the cost of land. In Wyoming, "we're looking at places that aren't so crowded," he says. "It's untouched fields and that's what people are most interested in." The Trump administration has made much more of that cheap, public land available to oil and gas companies. The amount of land for lease has increased six times over since 2016. Federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have also streamlined and shortened the leasing process. "I think that makes a big difference here, and you're making it easy. It's not like there's lot of red tape and documents and paperwork to sign,"

Public land drilling contributes a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in US: report -- Drilling on public lands contributes nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to a new Trump administration report.  The first-of-its-kind U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report, released late Friday, found that emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands and offshore areas represent an average of 24 percent of all national emissions of carbon, a major contributor to air pollution and climate change. Wyoming was the top contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Federal lands within the state contributed 57 percent of the climate change contributing emissions across all states and offshore areas combined. The report was released on the same day as another Trump administration report that raised an alarm over U.S. efforts to stave off the effects of climate change, arguing that they are insufficient. Democrats were quick to criticize the timing of that report's release — the day after Thanksgiving — and said it highlighted a need to address emissions as soon as possible. The USGS report, requested in 2016 under President Obama, measured total greenhouse gas emissions from oil, gas and coal drilling and mining on public land between 2005 and 2014. It found that emissions for all three greenhouse gases dropped in 2014 compared to 2005 values, including a 6 percent drop in carbon emissions. Fluctuations in greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel production are closely tied, according to the study. Environmental groups point out that emissions are likely to be higher today due to the Trump administration’s more active and supportive approach to drilling on federal lands and offshore. In March, the Interior Department under Secretary Ryan Zinke held the largest sale of oil and gas leases on federal land in U.S. history. Some 77.3 million acres of offshore waters were auctioned for drilling, covering coastal waters in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Thirty-three companies bidded on plots off the coasts of those five states for a total of $124.8 million. The USGS report found that the forests and other terrain on public lands does help to counter carbon emissions, but only offsets the greenhouse gases released on federal land by 15 percent.

Resource-Rich New Mexico Has a $322 Million Methane Problem  - New Mexico has a methane problem. Despite being the No. 9 natural gas producer in the U.S., the Land of Enchantment ranks first when it comes to wasting federal gas. Producers operating on federal lands in New Mexico have reported losing more than 86.6 billion cubic feet of gas between 2008 and 2017 through venting, flaring and leaks. That amounts to about $322 million of wasted product, according to a report released Tuesday by the Wilderness Society and Taxpayers for Common Sense.  The problem is poised to grow with the Trump administration’s relaxation of federal rules governing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere 84 times more than carbon dioxide.In a bid to cut industry costs, the Environmental Protection Agency in September proposed dialing back Obama-era rules to curb methane leaks on private land -- despite internal concerns that doing so would trigger greater methane missions. Weeks later, the Interior Department rolled backsimilar methane curbs on federal lands. That leaves regulation up to the states. Colorado has the strictest curbs, while New Mexico has some of the laxest. Unlike other top producers, New Mexico doesn’t ban the venting of natural gas at the wellhead, nor does it impose emissions standards for producers. New Mexico also happens to be deeply attractive to oil and gas explorers. A September auction of drilling rights on federal land saw leases going for a record $95,001 an acre.

 Oil and Water: Finding New Uses for Fracking Waste Water - Fracking requires a huge amount of water, a major concern in dry Western states that otherwise welcome the practice. But New Mexico thinks it can mitigate that problem by pushing oil companies to treat and recycle fracking waste water for use in agriculture — or even as drinking water.State officials, with the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are still working out the details. If they move forward with the strategy, other arid states may follow New Mexico’s lead.“Oil and gas in New Mexico provide over a third of our general fund,” said Ken McQueen, who heads the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. “We have to be concerned we’re doing what’s necessary into the future to make sure this industry continues to be alive and vibrant.”In addition to keeping a vital industry going, McQueen thinks the reclaimed waste water could be a boon to New Mexico farmers and ranchers who need water for their crops and herds. Factories could use it, and it might help revive parched wildlife habitat, he said. And even though the waste water is filled with salt and other minerals, it might even be treated and used for drinking.In a typical month, the amount of waste water generated by the fracking process in New Mexico, the country’s third-largest producer of oil, would be enough to fill Elephant Butte, the state’s largest lake.“Our hope is that it has a significant impact,” McQueen said, eyeing figures that might total a billion barrels of water a year. “As we see the produced water volumes increase, it just makes sense that we explore other methods of disposal, particularly if those methods may have an upside or beneficial use to New Mexico.” But even in the nation’s fifth-driest state, where water is as precious as crude, environmentalists are skeptical of a strategy many state leaders view as a greener approach to dealing with waste water. Even after it is treated, they argue, the water can be tainted by harmful metals or chemicals used in fracking, creating long-term risks for people and the environment.

U.S. crude oil and natural gas proved reserves set new records in 2017 --High prices and continued development of shale and tight resources drove proved reserves of both U.S. crude oil and natural gas to new records in 2017, according to EIA’s recently released U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves report. Proved reserves of U.S. crude oil increased 19.5% from the end of 2016, reaching 39.2 billion barrels and surpassing the previous peak level of 39.0 billion barrels set in 1970. Proved reserves of natural gas increased 36.1% from the end of 2016 to reach 464.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2017, surpassing the previous record of 388.8 Tcf set in 2014.Proved reserves are those volumes of oil and natural gas that geological and engineering data demonstrate with reasonable certainty to be recoverable in future years from known reservoirs under existing economic and operating conditions. Changes in proved reserves from year to year reflect new discoveries (in new fields, new reservoirs in old fields, or extensions of existing reservoirs), net revisions and other adjustments to previous reserve estimates, and reductions from annual production of each fuel.Higher fuel prices typically increase estimates as operators consider a broader portion of the resource base economically producible. In 2017, the annual average spot price for the benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil increased 20% from the 2016 average price, exceeding $60 per barrel for the first time since June 2015 and helping to drive increases in reserves. Texas and New Mexico had the largest net increases in proved reserves of crude oil in 2017, adding 3.1 billion and 1.0 billion barrels of proved crude oil reserves, respectively. Increases in these states were primarily the result of increased crude oil prices and development in the Permian Basin, particularly in the stacked oil-bearing formations of the Spraberry Trend and the Wolfcamp/Bone Spring shale play. The annual average spot price for natural gas also increased in 2017. Natural gas prices at Louisiana’s Henry Hub increased 21% in 2017, helping to drive increases in natural gas reserves. Pennsylvania added 28.1 Tcf of natural gas proved reserves, the largest net increase among states in 2017, as a result of increased prices and development of the Marcellus and Utica shales in the Appalachian Basin..

Oil Exploration Activity Will Pick Up in 2019 - There will be a pick up in oil exploration activity next year, compared to 2018, according to a new report from Fitch Solutions Macro Research. “On an annual average basis, revenues will be boosted by higher oil prices, while still compressed services costs will flatter margins and bolster cash flows. This will give companies greater flexibility to increase their CAPEX and assume more risk,” the report stated. “Exploration largely dried up following the oil price collapse in 2014, as companies focused on conserving their cash, gearing their spending towards lower risk, lower cost and shorter cycle projects. However, there are signs that exploration activity is starting to recover,” the report added. Exploration in frontier and deepwater plays “is showing signs of recovery,” according to the report, which also reveals that exploration appetite is returning in more prospective plays. Fitch Solutions Macro Research’s report highlights, however, that companies face continued constrains on their exploration spending. “Financial discipline continues to be a key concern for oil companies globally. Discipline will slacken as prices rise, but fears of peak demand and the longer-term health of the industry will likely keep margins more sharply in focus. This is not a bad thing and improved capital efficiency, and lower services cost, means companies can effectively do more with less,” the report said. “Arguably a bigger issue is not the level of spending, but how capital is allocated. As the market has recovered, much of the additional cash has been funneled towards shareholders (through dividends and buybacks) rather than towards productive investments. This competition for capital is likely to persist in 2019, continuing to drag on exploration next year,” the report added. Earlier this month, Rystad Energy announced that there was less appetite for exploration drilling.“Of the 100,000 wells drilled globally in 2013, four percent were exploration or appraisal wells. In 2018, this share is expected to drop to only two percent of the 70,000 wells drilled,” Rystad said in a company statement published on its website Nov. 9

 Bakken crude back on infrastructure treadmill - Prices are not the only thing that’s been aligning to hold back future oil production growth in North Dakota.The industry’s record oil and gas production has filled up existing infrastructure much faster than industry has been able to build new pipelines and processing plants to take it away.That’s putting the Bakken back onto a familiar treadmill, one that’s similar to what’s happening in the Permian right now, and similar to what’s happened in the Bakken’s own not so distant past. The latest infrastructure crunch could result in significant dampening of future Bakken production and prices if it is not dealt with swiftly, according to analyst reports.Stratus Advisors, in its latest weekly analysis, notes that North Dakota’s August gas production alone added 260 million cubic feet per day of gas to daily production totals. By comparison, one world-class gas processing plant would handle 200 million cubic feet per day.Annualized on a 12-month basis, that kind of growth would require 16 new plants in a year’s time. So far, seven new gas plants have been proposed, adding a little more than one billion cubic feet per day in processing capacity, along with incremental increases of about 40 million cubic feet per day.The gas production doesn’t come alone, however. There are also NGLs associated with that, which require their own infrastructure. Using a conservative estimate of 6 gallons of NGLs per thousand cubic feet of gas, that would suggest about 40,000 new barrels of NGLs per plant that will also need takeaway and processing infrastructure. Bakken gas can be as low as 2 NGLs per thousand, but is more often up to 10, making 6 GPM a conservative estimate. Industry captured 83 percent of that, missing its 85 percent capture target for the sixth month in a row, and flaring 431 million cubic feet into the air. The situation has prompted some companies to voluntarily restrict production, according to Lynn Helms, Director of Mineral Resources and the Oil and Gas Division. He believes, based on his conversations with oil company officials, that oil production has been curtailed by as much as 50,000 barrels per day.The state has 1.37 million barrels per day in pipeline capacity for crude oil takeaway, but its oil production just tagged 1.36 million barrels per day in October. Right now the state is taking around 300,000 barrels per day by rail, which has helped leave some room on pipelines, but projections by the state’s pipeline authority, Justin Kringstad, have shown oil production exceeding current pipeline capacity by as much as 700,000 barrels per day in the next 10 to 15 years.Energy Transfer Partners recently proposed expanding the capacity of Dakota Access to 570,000 from 520,000, an additional 50,000 barrels per day of takeaway. And Phillips 66 and Bridger Pipeline have announced the Liberty Pipeline project, which could take up to 350,000 barrels per day to Texas. Keystone XL, meanwhile, was to have carried up to 100,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude at an on ramp in Baker, Montana. That is now on indefinite hold, however, after a judge ruled that certain studies for the line must be revisited to consider new information since the company’s initial application.

Bakken producers get a welcomed reprieve on natural gas flaring --Crude oil and natural gas production in the Bakken are at all-time highs, as are the volumes of gas being processed in and transported out of the play. The bad news is that for the past few months, the volumes of Bakken gas being flared are also at record levels, and producers as a whole have been exceeding the state of North Dakota’s goal on the percentage of gas that is flared at the lease rather than captured, processed and piped away. State regulators last week stood by their flaring goals, but in an effort to ease the squeeze they gave producers a lot more flexibility in what gas is counted — and not counted — when the flaring calculations are made. Today, we update gas production, processing and flaring in what’s been one of the nation’s hottest production regions. Given that Bakken gas production has been increasing more quickly than processing and takeaway capacity — and that North Dakota wants to stick to its flaring-reduction goals (if only to encourage more processing capacity to be built) — the NDIC on November 20 (2018) voted to change out the policy aims in its flaring-reduction rules and to provide additional flexibility to producers in their efforts to comply with the state’s flaring goals. First, the commission replaced its original policy aims of reducing the volumes of gas that is flared, the number of wells flaring and the duration of flaring with the aims of increasing the volumes of captured gas, reducing the percentage of gas flared and incentivizing investment in gas capture infrastructure (gathering pipelines, processing plants, onsite use of gas etc.) Second, the NDIC agreed to allow producers to remove from their monthly volume calculations:

  • Any gas flaring tied to curtailments on gas gathering systems and processing plants,
  • Any gas flaring resulting from newly completed wells being tied to the same gas infrastructure, and
  • Any gas that is placed in geologic storage or used in enhanced oil recovery.

Keystone XL pipeline builder asks Montana judge to allow pre-construction work (AP) The company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline is asking a judge to change his order blocking the project to allow pre-construction work to continue, such as purchasing materials and finalizing contracts. Attorneys for the company will argue in a Wednesday telephone conference that U.S. District Judge Brian Morris should clarify or amend his ruling to say the injunction does not apply to activities such as finalizing contracts, purchasing materials, conducting land surveys and discussing federal permits. TransCanada wants to keep that preliminary work on track so that the Calgary-based company can be prepared to start pipeline construction as early as mid-February. Blocking the pre-construction work even for several weeks would likely cause the company to miss the entire 2019 construction season and delay its 2021 target for oil to start flowing through the pipeline. "A one-year delay in construction of the pipeline would result in substantial harm to TransCanada, as well was to United States workers, and to TransCanada's customers relying on the current in-service date of the project," TransCanada Pipelines Limited Senior Vice President Norrie Ramsay said in a written statement to the court. A year-long delay would cost TransCanada $949 million in earnings and put off the hiring of about 6,600 workers for construction, Ramsay said.

 Toxic Oilfield Wastewater Used to Grow California Food, Including Organics -- Are families around the country—and around the globe—eating California produce grown with toxic water from oil drilling? If they consume Halos Mandarins, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Wonderful pistachios, Sunview Raisins, Bee Sweet citrus or Sutter Home wine, they may well be. Those companies grow some of their products in four water districts in California’s Central Valley that buy wastewater from Chevron and other oil companies’ drill sites. Now, Food & Water Watch is announcing a campaign to ban the practice, which threatens our food, farm workers and the environment, with a new documentary by noted filmmaker Jon Bowermaster and a campaign video capturing shocked reactions from people who previewed the video last week in front of Whole Foods’ headquarters in Austin, Texas. “It’s time to shine a light on the risky yet under-the-radar use of toxic oil wastewater to grow our crops,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “People are shocked when they hear that the food—even organic food—that they give to their kids is grown in districts where this is happening.” Nearly 40 percent of all organic produce grown in the U.S. comes from California.  “So-called healthy brands grown in these districts are using toxic waste to grow crops and then labeling them as pure goodness.” According to the state, four water districts in California (Cawelo Water District, North Kern Water District, Jasmin Mutual Water District, and Kern-Tulare Water District) receive up to 16 billion gallons of wastewater each year—enough to fill 25,000 Olympic-sized pools—from oil companies that can be used in the systems that provide water for irrigating crops. The oilfield wastewater is minimally processed and mixed with fresh water and sold to farmers for crop irrigation. The crops are not routinely tested for toxic chemicals. A recent study found that nearly 40 percent of the chemicals used by the companies providing oil wastewater to the districts are classified as “trade secrets” or could not otherwise be identified, and known chemicals include several that cause cancer or reproductive harm, such as ethylbenzene and toluene.

Alberta officials are signaling they have no idea how to clean up toxic oilsands tailings ponds - The toxic waste of the Canadian oilpatch has been quietly spreading in the boreal forest since bitumen mining began near Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta in the 1960s. The mix of clay, water, toxic acids, metals and leftover bitumen has sprawled in artificial ponds to cover an area twice the size of the city of Vancouver. “It’s biologically and chemically an impossible fantasy,” said David Schindler, a renowned freshwater scientist and officer of the Order of Canada, when asked about Alberta's plan to clean up oilsands tailings. More than one trillion litres of the goop, called tailings, fill these man-made waste lakes that can be seen from space. An equivalent amount of water would take five days to tumble over Niagara Falls. The contaminated tailings ponds attract and kill migrating birds. They emit methane and other greenhouse gases. Despite years of public promises from officials that the tailings ponds would shrink and go away, they are growing. And in the meantime, troubling gaps are opening in the oversight system meant to ensure the oilpatch cleans up its mess. Alberta has collected only $1 billion from companies to help remediate tailings — a problem that is now estimated to cost about 100 times that. Decades and billions have been spent on research and still there is no sure solution to a problem that is getting attention beyond Alberta. In August, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation — a NAFTA organization composed of officials from the U.S., Mexico and Canada — announced it would investigate and produce a report on tailings ponds and the threat they pose to surrounding groundwater and rivers. 

Oilsands waste is collected in sprawling toxic ponds. To clean them up, oil companies plan to pour water on them —The toxic waste of the Canadian oilpatch has been quietly spreading in the boreal forest since bitumen mining began here in the 1960s.The yogurt-like mix of clay, water, toxic acids, metals and leftover bitumen has sprawled in artificial ponds to cover an area twice the size of the city of Vancouver.More than one trillion litres of the goop, called tailings, fill these man-made waste lakes that can be seen from space. An equivalent amount of water would take five days to tumble over Niagara Falls.The contaminated tailings ponds attract and kill migrating birds. They emit methane and other greenhouse gases.Despite years of public promises from officials that the tailings ponds would shrink and go away, they are growing. And in the meantime, troubling gaps are opening in the oversight system meant to ensure the oilpatch cleans up its mess. Alberta has collected only $1 billion from companies to help remediate tailings — a problem that is now estimated to cost about 100 times that.  While the world watches, the mining companies operating here have been allowed by regulators to pursue a clean-up technique called water capping.It’s supposed to work like this: put the tailings into a mined-out pit, then cover it with fresh water from a nearby river or reservoir. The idea, according to oil producer Syncrude, is that the tailings will settle to the bottom and over time the lake will turn into a healthy ecosystem supporting fish, animals and aquatic plants. “It’s biologically and chemically an impossible fantasy,” said David Schindler, renowned freshwater scientist and officer of the Order of Canada. Other scientists say the water-capped ponds may become effective in storing tailings even if they do not one day support aquatic life, though it will take years to be sure.

Trans Mountain: The billion-dollar oil pipeline Canadians own and can’t build - Canada recently spent billions on an oil pipeline in order to triple its capacity. But amid fierce opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plans, will the Trans Mountain project ever get built? The Burnaby terminal of the Trans Mountain pipeline, at the pipeline's Pacific end, is now free of protesters, though over 200 people were arrested this year for blockading the construction site. Nestled in suburban Burnaby, British Columbia (BC), there is little sign the pipeline project has become a battlefield. The site is central to a fight over climate change and Canada's economy, the environment and the oil sector - between those who argue the pipeline project could devastate the Pacific coastline and those who say it will fuel the economy for years to come. The current peace is just a lull as sides regroup in the wake of a court rulling that dealt a blow to the project in August. That federal appellate court decision quashed Canada's 2016 approval of the project, saying regulators failed to adequately consult First Nations along the pipeline route and to fully account for the project's impact on the region's endangered killer whales. It was handed down the day Canada finalised its C$4.5bn ($3.4bn; £2.6bn) purchase of the 65-year-old pipeline from Kinder Morgan. The Texas-based energy infrastructure company agreed to sell the infrastructure amid myriad legal and regulatory challenges launched against their expansion plan. The C$7.4bn project would twin the existing 1,150km (715 mile) pipeline and increase capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 per day from Alberta, the heart of Canada's oil industry, to Burnaby, BC. It would add roughly 980km of pipeline, new pump stations, and expand the dock facility and pipeline capacity at the Burnaby marine terminal. It would also increase oil tanker traffic on BC's coast from five to up to 34 tankers a month, tankers that would carry the oil along from Pacific coast refineries to Asian markets.

Canada's Output Grows Despite Pipeline Problems-- Canada’s lingering crude glut isn’t hindering the country’s growing oil output, according to the National Energy Board’s most recent forecast. The country’s oil production will average 4.59 million barrels a day, 22,000 more than previously forecast, data from the Canadian energy regulator show. The raised production outlook comes even as pipeline bottlenecks have driven Canadian crude prices to record lows and prompted some producers, including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Athabasca Oil Corp., to reduce output by about 160,000 barrels a day, according to estimates by TD Securities Inc. The biggest driver of higher output is heavy oil-sands crude, which is forecast to have exceeded 2 million barrels a day in October to average 1.88 million daily barrels for the year. That’s 42,000 barrels a day more than the previously forecast. Output of conventional light and heavy oil also exceeded the earlier forecasts. The increase might reflect the faster-than-expected ramp-up of Suncor Energy Inc.’s Fort Hills oil sands mine, according to Stephen Kallir, upstream research analyst at Wood Mackenzie in Calgary. The 194,000 barrel-a-day Fort Hills mine started operation earlier this year and will run at 90 percent of capacity through the fourth quarter, Suncor Chief Executive Steve Williams said on a Nov. 1 conference call. “They are producing above 90 percent capacity as of end of the third quarter,” he said by phone. “We expected that early next year.” To be sure, the NEB recent data shows production trailing off in December with output lower than forecast earlier. Heavy Western Canadian Select crude fell below $14 a barrel on Nov. 15, the lowest in Bloomberg data extending back a decade. The crude’s discount to West Texas Intermediate futures widened to $50 a barrel in October, also a record in data extending back 10 years. The price fell $1.17 to $17.96 a barrel on Tuesday and the discount widened $1 to $33.50 a barrel.

Canada's Alberta province to buy rail cars to reduce oil glut (Reuters) - Canada’s Alberta province is in talks to buy rail cars to transport 120,000 barrels per day of crude oil and expects a deal to be concluded within weeks, Premier Rachel Notley said on Wednesday, as the oil-rich province tries to move oil stuck in the region because of a lack of pipeline capacity. Notley, who said the cars were needed to help deal with a glut that has slashed the price of Alberta oil, told a business audience she was disappointed the federal government was not helping fund the purchase. Reuters reported last week that Alberta had proposed a joint purchase of two unit trains worth of capacity and estimated the one-time capital cost at about C$350 million ($263.7 million). Federal officials are cool to the idea, saying that by the time the first cars come on line late next year, the supply problems will have eased. Alberta estimates it is producing about 250,000 bpd more than can be shipped using existing pipeline and rail capacity. “Alberta will buy the rail cars ourselves to move this oil,” Notley said in a speech. “We have already engaged a third party to negotiate and work is well under way. We anticipate conclusion of the deal within weeks.” She later told reporters a deal could be announced before year end. Based on the initial talks, Alberta expects the first 15,000 bpd of capacity to come online in December 2019, ramping up to the full 120,000 bpd by August 2020, with the agreement running for three years. “It’s a lot of trains and a lot of cars,” Notley told Maclean’s magazine in a webcast interview on Wednesday evening, noting it took multiple 60,000-barrel unit trains to move the equivalent of 120,000 bpd. The added transport capacity is expected to improve the Canadian crude discount by about $4 over the three-year term, the provincial government said. Under that time line, the first rail cars would roll out just as an expansion of Enbridge Inc’s Line 3 oil export pipeline is set to start operation, although Notley argued the rail capacity would still be needed.  Notley said the cost of buying the cars would be fully recouped through royalties and the selling of shipping capacity. Her spokeswoman, Cheryl Oates, said the province did not anticipate keeping the unit trains beyond 2021. 

Canada's Oil Industry Needs $40B to Flourish - At around 4.5 million barrels per day (MMbpd), Canada is the world’s 5th largest oil producer. Some 75 percent of Canada’s production occurs in the western province of Alberta, having a massive deposit of heavier, harder-to-produce “oil sands.” Canada has a nearly unlimited hydrocarbon resource, so importing oil nations around the world are increasingly seeking the country to supply resources. Canada’s biggest advantage may be its widening capacity to export. A slow growing population and mature energy demand market make incremental domestic needs rather low. Currently, most of Canada’s petroleum production is exported, and almost all of that gets shipped south to the U.S. This overreliance on the U.S. market has become a problem for Canada because a shale revolution has meant surging U.S. oil production amid its flat demand. As such, Canada needs to find new growing markets for its domestic oil industry to flourish. Canada’s natural goal is to reach Asia, responsible for about 70 percent of new oil demand in the world. Exporters are banking on cheaper transport. It takes a little over a week for a ship to reach Tokyo Bay from Vancouver, for instance, compared to nearly three weeks from the U.S. Gulf Coast. As seen by the ongoing legal fight of the Trans Mountain expansion running west from Edmonton to the Vancouver area, the anti-pipeline movement is very strong in Canada. This is especially true for those links that move oil sands crude because it has higher greenhouse gas emissions, making it a prime target for environmental groups. It is the very same lack of pipelines, however, that is also making Canadian oil cheaper and thus more desirable for importers abroad. For example, in recent weeks, Canada’s heavy oil has been trading at a whopping $50 per barrel discount to U.S. WTI. In turn, China purchased almost 1.60 million barrels of Canadian crude oil in September, up nearly 50 percent from April. China’s oil major Sinopec has joined a group planning to build an oil refinery in Alberta to better access the province’s heavily discounted crude. 

 Liberals renew efforts to save fracking ban- Shale gas politics dominated New Brunswick's fractured legislature on Wednesday, with the Liberal opposition launching a new effort to keep a moratorium on gas development in place. Liberal Leader Brian Gallant introduced legislation that would write the moratorium into law, making it harder for the Progressive Conservative minority government to undo it. Gallant said he introduced the bill because it's become clear the three People's Alliance MLAs plan to vote with the PCs on the issue in Friday's throne speech vote. Shortly after his comments, those Alliance MLAs confirmed that. They said they'll vote against Gallant's proposed amendment to the throne speech motion. The amendment would call for the provincewide moratorium to stay in place. They say voting to amend the PC throne speech motion would amount to a non-confidence vote that would bring down the Higgs government. "The last thing New Brunswickers want for Christmas is an election," said Fredericton-York Alliance MLA Rick DeSaulniers, who promised last week to vote against any lifting of the shale gas moratorium anywhere in the province.

TransCanada halts work on two pipeline projects in Central Mexico - Citing numerous delays, runaway costs and alleged acts of extortion, the Canadian pipeline company TransCanada has halted construction along the routes of two natural gas pipeline projects in Central Mexico that are worth more than $1 billion combined. TransCanada stopped construction in the state of Hidalgo on the Tuxpan-Tula Pipeline and the Tula-Villa de Reyes Pipeline, the company's Mexican subsidiary said in an open letter published in several Mexican newspapers. "The social and legal uncertainty that prevails in this state makes the continuity of our investments impossible," the company wrote in the statement. "On multiple occasions, social groups have made irrational requests that border on extortion and have performed acts outside the law." TransCanada won contracts with Mexico's state-owned power company to build the two pipelines as part of that nation's historic energy reforms. The company received a $500 million contract in Nov. 2015 to build the 163-mile Tuxpan-Tula Pipeline to move natural gas from the coastal state of Veracruz to power plants in Hidalgo. Several months later, the company received an April 2016 contract worth $550 million to build a pipeline to move natural gas from Tula to the State of San Luis Potosi. As part of larger network to move natural gas from South Texas into the Mexican interior, the two pipelines were originally planned to be in service this year, moving up to 886 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. But with routes going through rugged mountain terrain, the projects have encountered strong opposition and legal challenges from farmers and indigenous people citing landowner rights issues as well as environmental and safety concerns. TransCanada's situation in Hidalgo follows opposition to pipeline projects raised by indigenous groups in the United States, Canada and elsewhere in Mexico. Last year, members of the Yaqui tribe in Mexican border state of Sonora dug up a small section of a natural gas pipeline being built San Diego-based Sempra Energy on their land.

Pemex Triples Estimate for 'Most Important Onshore Field in 25 Years' -- Pemex has more than tripled its estimated reserves in its Ixachi field. The company now believes the onshore field in Veracruz contains 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent in proven, probable and possible, or "3P," reserves, Petroleos Mexicanos exploration chief Jose Antonio Escalera said Tuesday at a press conference in Mexico City. Pemex expects the field to reach 80,000 barrels a day of condensate production and 720 million cubic feet per day of gas production by 2022. “Without doubt this news will allow Pemex to contribute with more production in the future and stabilize the production platform,” Chief Executive Officer Carlos Trevino said. “I am confident the next administration will value this discovery a lot.” Trevino is due to step down from that role as President elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes office Saturday, having pledged to revive Mexico’s state-owned oil company. The field is currently producing about 2,000 barrels a day of condensate, Escalera said. The company is expecting 5,000 barrels a day of condensate and 30 million cubic feet a day of gas by the end of 2019. Ixachi is the most important onshore field in 25 years, Escalera said. Pemex has struggled to increase its crude production, which is heading for a 14th consecutive year of declines. It’s target for output in 2018 is about 1.8 million daily barrels, down from a previous target of 1.95 million barrels a day. In 2019, it expects to pump more than 1.8 million barrels a day, Trevino said. The estimated investment to develop Ixachi field is 30 billion pesos ($1.47 billion) for 40 wells, Trevino said. The Ixachi announcement comes a month after Pemex said it had found light crude in the shallow water Manik and Mulach oil wells in the Southeast Basin in the Gulf of Mexico, an area estimated to hold 3P reserves of more than 180 million barrels. Pemex’s Xikin-1 and Esah-1 fields are expected to begin production in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

This is what Cuadrilla has said about the 18 day halt to fracking at its Preston New Road site - Shale gas firm Cuadrilla has moved to deny rumours that there are problems with its fracking operation at Preston New Road. The move comes after Fylde MP Mark Menzies wrote to energy minister Claire Perry to ask for an independent probe into the site following questions from constituents and claims from anti-fracking campaigners. They say that no fracking has been carried out at the site off the A583 near Little Plumpton, since fracking operations triggered a series of 36 small tremors, six of which were above the 0.5ML (local magnitude) limit where a halt has to be called on fracking for 18 days. The protesters said Cuadrilla appears to have stopped fracking at the site, the only activity being staff entering and exiting the site and the odd cherry picker working near the silo tanks. They suggested that, as well as the earthquakes, Cuadrilla is facing problems ranging from further issues with their impermeable membrane to problems with their well bore. Mark Menzies letter to Claire Perry states: "Following recent seismic activity, constituents have expressed concern over the well integrity at this site and believe that the current checks being carried out are not satisfactory.  I would appreciate if you could clarify what plans the department have for an independent inspection of the well integrity at this site, either directly by the OGA or an appointee of that body, to reassure nearby residents that recent seismicity has not jeopardised the safety of operations." But today, a spokesman for Cuadrilla said: “We are continuing to test the shale gas exploration well in Preston New Road, Lancashire, and the coiled tubing remains clearly and visibly attached to the coiled tubing tower on site above the well. "We have completed a series of smaller fracks along the length of the horizontal well to gather data to assess the micro-seismic response of the shale rock 2km below the surface. "We have said many times in recent days and weeks, to both local people and any media who have asked for an update, that we are now analysing that data as well as drawing on expert advice to determine how we can further optimise our hydraulic fracturing programme within the very rigorous operating boundaries of the micro-seismic traffic light system.

 High Court to hear latest legal challenge to fracking in Lancashire - The latest legal challenge against fracking at Cuadrilla’s controversial Preston New Road site is set to be heard at the High Court. Friends Of The Earth claims the Environment Agency (EA) failed to ensure that the best available techniques are being used to reduce the environmental impact of fracking at the energy firm’s site in Little Plumpton, Lancashire. The environmental campaign group argues that the EA should have considered the use of other techniques which could produce less contaminated waste fluids when it considered Cuadrilla’s permit application in December 2017. At a hearing in London on Thursday, Mr Justice Supperstone will be asked to rule on Friends Of The Earth’s action. In a statement ahead of the hearing, Friends Of The Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “All along, the Government stated that gold standard regulation would make fracking OK, but we believe our case, and the reality of what’s happening at Preston New Road, shows the opposite. “They should be putting in place the best possible regulation to ensure that people and the environment are protected. “How can the Government be considering rolling fracking out across the country when it can’t be properly regulated at even one site? “Isn’t it time the Government gives up on fracking and backs renewables instead?” Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a process to extract shale gas whereby rock is drilled into and “fractured” before water, sand and chemicals are pumped into it to release gas. Supporters say fracking could help provide greater energy security for the UK, but critics warn the process can trigger earthquakes and pollute water supplies.

Cuadrilla will seek to raise fracking tremor threshold in Lancashire - The company in charge of the UK's only active shale gas site said it would seek to raise the threshold of seismic activity at which fracking must stop.Cuadrilla has had to stop fracking four times for breaching the current limit of 0.5 magnitude at its site in Little Plumpton, Lancashire. Energy minister Claire Perry said in October it would be "foolish" to change the threshold at present.Cuadrilla confirmed the plan but did not provide a statement.Anti-fracking campaigners said they would strongly oppose any increase in the limit, which they said was in place for safety reasons.The plan would need to be submitted to the government and was outlined in a statement from one of Cuadrilla's main investors, the Australian mining company A J Lucas.Chairman Philip Arnall said the 0.5 ML threshold was regarded as "overly conservative". But he said Cuadrilla was "working on the assumption that this constraint will not be altered for the current hydraulic fracturing operations". Cuadrilla would also allow more fluid to come back to the surface after fracking, in an attempt to tackle the problem of earth tremors, the statement said.This process is predicted to reduce friction in the well, which is more than 2km (1.2 miles) underground.The statement to shareholders continued: "Cuadrilla will engage with the regulators and the industry to clearly demonstrate that a more appropriate upper limit on seismic monitoring should be set to enable optimal testing without compromising on world class environmental and safety measures."A series of 36 small tremors have been recorded since the company began fracking at the site near Preston New Road on 15 October, the largest measured 1.1 magnitude.Anti-fracking campaigners argue the process of fracking to extract shale gas poses risks to the environment. A 2.3 magnitude tremor on the Fylde coast seven years ago was probably caused by shale gas test drilling, a study found.Campaigners had tried to stop fracking at Little Plumpton with an injunction bid but failed. Judgment has been reserved in a new legal action over fracking at the site.

 Scottish Government look to fortify fracking policy with fresh consultation - TThe Scottish Government confirmed last night it was looking to fortify its fracking policy with a fresh public consultation on the practice. The new consultation will hope to “finalise” the current ambiguity surrounding the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, which has been described as an “effective ban” Last month, ministers confirmed they were consulting on their “preferred policy position” on fracking being prohibited in Scotland, more than a year after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the controversial practice was being banned “end of story”. Ms Sturgeon declared at the time: “Fracking is being banned in Scotland, end of story. There will be no fracking in Scotland. I don’t think that position could be any clearer.” But confusion reigned in July when ministers extended the licence of fracking firm Ineos across the Scottish central belt . Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said responses were now being sought on the issue, with the consultation to last until December 18. A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government’s preferred policy position is that it does not support unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland, based on consideration of scientific and economic evidence and a significant public consultation in 2017. “This position is now subject to key statutory assessments, including a Strategic Environmental Assessment and a Business Regulatory Impact Assessment. These assessments, which themselves involve current public consultations, are the latest steps in a cautious, evidence-led approach the Scottish Government has adopted in its policy-making process on this issue.

Fracking ban lifted by WA Government, but Perth, Peel and South West to remain 'frack free' - The WA Government has lifted its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, but has promised 98 per cent of the state will remain "frack free". Premier Mark McGowan said a ban on fracking in the Perth, Peel and South West regions would be maintained. Farmers, landowners and native title holders would also be allowed to refused fracking — a practice where drilling is used to fracture the ground and release trapped gas.  The decision comes after the release of a 12-month inquiry, led by Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) chairman Tom Hatton and commissioned by the McGowan Government. The report found if the process was carried out safely, the risk of fracking to people and the environment was low. "However, the report identified the opportunity to further reduce risks with a set of recommendations for additional prescriptive regulation," the inquiry concluded.A total of 44 recommendations were made to tighten regulations, including:

  • No fracking to be allowed within 2 kilometres of public drinking water sources;
  • All projects to include EPA assessment;
  • An enforceable code of practice; and
  • No fracking to be allowed within 2 kilometres of towns and dwellings

"What we presented are the risks and how they might be minimised," Dr Hatton said.  "The principal recommendation is for an enforceable code of practice, incorporating a number of very specific and technical and prescriptive recommendations aimed at further reducing the risk."

Protest movement swells as Premier green-lights fracking - The state government announced on Tuesday it would lift a moratorium on gas fracking in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Mid West of Western Australia on the grounds that the risks to people and environment were manageable and that it could not turn its back on industry. The Premier said the moratorium would only be lifted on existing petroleum titles, that landowners and traditional owners would get veto rights, and royalties would go into a fund for renewable energy. The McGowan government came to power promising to ban fracking in the South West, Perth and Peel regions and put a moratorium on fracking across the Kimberley, Pilbara and Mid West pending an independent inquiry headed by Environmental Protection Authority chairman Tom Hatton. Green groups, public figures, scientists, farmers and traditional owner groups have watched anxiously for the results of the inquiry into fracking and the government response, both announced on Tuesday. Dr Hatton said when the WA government announced its scientific inquiry last year, there was a widely held view that preceding national and international inquiries made one in WA unnecessary. But there was a unique and distinctive picture of WA's risks and concerns and how those risks might be further reduced. There was also new science that made other inquiries somewhat dated. The panel was asked to recommend a scientific approach to regulating fracking and limit its scope to the technical risks of shattering rock to get gas. Instead, the panel took a "wider view" of the risks and impacts a fracking industry would have on the environment and communities. "It was our view given the nature of the concerns ... that this broader interpretation would be of greater value and more respectful to the community and the West Australian government," Dr Hatton said.

 Companies still face hurdles after WA fracking moratorium is lifted - Lifting a state-wide moratorium on fracking in Western Australia will lead to "very few" new jobs, despite hopes and promises of economic benefits, an independent mining analyst predicts. The WA Government has lifted its moratorium on fracking after a 12-month inquiry led by the Environmental Protection Authority found the risk to people and the environment was low if the process was carried out safely.The WA Premier Mark McGowan said the state could not turn its back "on the potential jobs, investment and new energy supply the onshore gas industry can supply".   But independent mining analyst Tim Treadgold said the key to a successful fracking industry in the state would be oil extraction."The gas we've got we can't even develop and sell. The business case for fracking to produce oil and gas just does not add up at this point in time." He said the oil price would need to be double what it was now to make fracking a viable industry in WA. "You would need somewhere in the order of $US120 a barrel in order to justify the cost [of fracking]," he said."It is a devilishly expensive operation and you need a lot of oil to justify it."The nature of artificial stimulation of oil fields is that they don't actually produce a lot of oil per well. You would need to drill hundreds of these things in order to make the field commercially viable. "And the biggest problem of all is that in most places in Western Australia there is no pipeline to get the oil to a refinery.

Prices Edge Higher With Volatility To Remain Elevated And Weather Dependent - Highlights of the Natural Gas Summary and Outlook for the week ending November 23, 2018 follow. The full report is available at the link below.

  • Price Action: The December contract rose 3.6 cents (0.8%) to $4.308 on a 64.2 cent range ($4.864/$4.222).
  • Price Outlook: The market edged higher on continued bullish weather forecasts. Although inside weeks are considered rare, after last week’s huge $1.194 range, an inside week is not surprising. The market is extremely sensitive to change weather forecasts and will remain volatile. If temperatures remain below normal, last weeks’ $4.929 high will likely not be the high. CFTC data indicated a 52,996 contract increase in the managed money net long position as longs added and shorts covered. The is the smallest short position on record for comparable data. This is the largest net long position since February 20. The long position is 389,656 contracts smaller than the record long position of 809,566 from April 16, 2013.Total open interest rose 228,338 to 4.131 million as of November 13. Aggregated CME futures open interest fell to 1.321 million as of November 23. The is the smallest OI since September 28, 2017. The current weather forecast is now cooler than 8 of the last 10 years. Pipeline data indicates total flows to Cheniere’s Sabine Pass export facility were at 3.2 bcf. This flow volume suggests feed gas is entering Train 5. Cove Point is net exporting 0.8 bcf.
  • Weekly Storage: US working gas storage for the week ending November 16 indicated a withdrawal of (134) bcf. Working gas inventories fell to 3,113 bcf. Current inventories fall (613) bcf (-16.5%) below last year and fall (718) bcf (- 18.7%) below the 5-year average.
  • Storage Outlook: The EIA weekly implied flow was (14)bcf from our EIA storage estimate. This week’s storage miss is well above our tolerance. The forecasts use a 10-year rolling temperature profile past the 15-day forecast. Our joint publication with RBN updates storage projections daily.
  • Supply Trends: Total supply rose 0.5 bcf/d to 81.6 bcf/d. US production fell. Canadian imports rose. LNG imports rose. LNG exports rose. Mexican exports fell. The US Baker Hughes rig count fell (3). Oil activity decreased (3). Natural gas activity was unchanged +0. The total US rig count now stands at 1,079 .The Canadian rig count rose +7 to 204. Thus, the total North American rig count rose +4 to 1,283 and now exceeds last year by +145. The higher efficiency US horizontal rig count fell (10) to 929 and rises +143 above last year.
  • Demand Trends: Total demand rose +22.6 bcf/d to +98.1 bcf/d. Power demand rose. Industrial demand rose. Res/Comm demand rose. Electricity demand rose +5,622 gigawatt-hrs to 77,175 which exceeds last year by +4,497 (6.2%) and exceeds the 5-year average by 5,534 (7.7%%).
  • Nuclear Generation: Nuclear generation rose 3,020 MW in the reference week to 82,664 MW. This is (6,255) MW lower than last year and (2,147) MW lower than the 5-year average. Recent output was at 88,183 MW.

The heating season has begun. With a forecast through December 7 the 2018/19 total cooling index is at (684) compared to (520) for 2017/18, (359) for 2016/17, (445) for 2015/16, (621) for 2014/15, (641) for 2013/14, (542) for 2012/13 and (519) for 2011/12.Natural Gas Summary and Outlook for the week ending November 23, 2018

November 23 Natural Gas Weekly: The Fears Of Under-Supply Are Exaggerated - We estimate that aggregate demand for American natural gas (consumption + exports) totaled around 675 bcf for the week ending November 23 (up as much as 14.0% y-o-y, but down 5% w-o-w). The deviation from the norm stayed positive, but declined from +44% to +31% (see the chart below). According to our calculations, aggregate demand for U.S. natural gas (on a weekly basis) has been above 9-year norm since February 24, 2017.  This week, the weather conditions have warmed up across the country – but particularly in the Central and Midwest parts of the U.S. We estimate that the number of nation-wide heating degree-days (HDDs) dropped by 4.0% w-o-w in the week ending November 23. Non-degree-day factors were no longer supporting any extra consumption. The most important four non-degree-day factors that we are looking at are: the spread between natural gas and coal, wind speeds, hydro inflows and nuclear outages. Specifically, higher ng/coal spreads have already reduced some 3.0 bcf/d of potential coal-to-gas-switching, while the level of nuclear outages has normalized. According to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear outages averaged 11,300 MW this week, which was only 12% above 5-year average. Overall, however, total energy demand (measured in total degree-days) should be above last year’s level by no less than 26%. Total exports jumped by 13% w-o-w – mostly due to stronger LNG sales. According to Marine Traffic data, Sabine Pass and Cove Point together served no less than 10 LNG tankers last week (total natural gas carrying capacity of 34 bcf), which is a new all-time-record.mWe estimate that dry gas production has been expanding in annual terms for 77 consecutive weeks now. Currently, we project that dry gas production will average 90.0 bcf/d in November, 89.5 bcf/d in December and 89.3 bcf/d in January. The aggregate supply of natural gas (production + imports) averaged around 95.3 bcf per day for the week ending November 23 (up 12.0% y-o-y and up 1.0% w-o-w). Overall, total unadjusted supply/demand balance should be negative at around -8 bcf. The volume is as much as 48 bcf above last week’s results, but around 4 bcf below 5-year average for this time of the year (see the chart below). Last Thursday, the EIA reported a draw of 134 bcf. Total storage now stands at 3,113 bcf, which is 710 bcf (or 18.57%) below 5-year average for this time of the year. Currently, we expect EIA to report a draw of 67 bcf next week (final estimate will be released on Wednesday). Overall, at this point in time, we expect storage flows to average -73 bcf over the next three reports. Natural gas inventories deviation from 5-year average is currently projected to expand from -710 bcf (-18.57%) today to -742 bcf (-20.40%) for the week ending December 7.

Warmer Weekend Forecasts Hit Natural Gas --It was another volatile day for the December natural gas contract, as it gapped down significantly last evening and recovered through much of today's trading session but still settled down almost a percent and a half below Friday's settle.   The February and March contracts were hit the hardest.   This came following significant weekend GWDD losses, which we highlighted for clients in our Morning Update.   Such weekend trends were not particularly surprising, as we had been tracking warm risks last week as well. Last Monday we highlighted in our Note of the Day that we were seeing weather model trends that may allow prices to set a top; they spiked on Wednesday off a bullish EIA print but that turned out to be the top (after initially seeming to set a top Monday).  Then on Friday we warned that risk was skewed lower in prices despite low confidence in this high volatility environment, and that long-range warm risks should arrive on models by today.  Those medium-range cold risks did intensify as expected, and current Week 2 forecasts have quite a few cold risks per the Climate Prediction Center.  Models then show some easing cold risks late Week 2 into Week 3, as seen by less intense cold on the 12z GEFS this afternoon (model images courtesy of Tropical Tidbits).  Prices did recover from their early morning lows today, thanks in part to lingering Week 2 cold risks and firm cash prices that we outlined in our Morning Update, which is why we said "...we would first look for bounces to $4.1 or even $4.25..." when prices were trading around $4.05. Yet into the settle the December and January contract both logged similar losses (though after hours the January contract has been hit a bit harder).

Another Couple Nat Gas Bounces Fail - It was a slow natural gas trading day by recent standards, yet the December contract still saw a range of 20 cents with large, quick moves in both directions as weather models bounced around and December futures options expired at the settle. Heavy selling into the settle cut into the December gain on the day, with the contract settling up slightly as later winter contracts were hit harder. In our Morning Update we outlined that there were some modest GWDD additions in Week 2 and that combined with "lingering cash strength or into options expiry $4.25-$4.3 resistance could get tested again..." In fact, resistance was tested first off AM cash strength and then again into options expiry, with a brief poke above before prices crashed back below into and after the settle. Some colder afternoon American weather model guidance in Week 2 helped prices recover a second time today, which the CPC picked up on. Yet clearly storage concerns overall eased with such relatively large March contract weakness. This was something we broke down for clients in our subscriber-only live chat today, where we fielded questions on our December weather forecast as well as natural gas pricing risk and the latest weather-adjusted demand balances. Of note were power burns really picking up again relative to past years on the cold shot peaking today. We also released our Seasonal Trader Report, which outlined out weather expectations through the next 5 months. In it we looked at the latest Sea Surface Temperature profile globally to look at where temperature risk was skewed and broke down the probabilistic El Nino forecasts by the Climate Prediction Center. 

December Contract Expiry Sends Gas Soaring -- It was another wild day in the natural gas space, with the December contract shooting higher into its expiry as gas for the upcoming month was clearly in high demand.  The December contract logged the largest gain on the day, clearly dragging the rest of the strip higher.  The end result was the December/January Z/F spread ending in positive territory, which is far from common.   Colder medium-range trends on afternoon weather model guidance likely helped add fuel to the fire in the expiration rally, as seen by colder 6-10 Day CPC forecasts.  Our Morning Update also highlighted that "...we could see the December contract jolt higher as cash has been strong relative to futures recently..." which verified this morning and also likely played a role in this strong expiry, with the stage set by overnight HDD additions.  Traders are now awaiting an EIA report tomorrow that should show a solidly smaller storage pull last week than was seen in the previous week thanks to less weather-driven demand, though it is unclear just how much smaller the draw will be.

US Midwest natural gas power burn remains strong despite higher prices — Midwest gas-fired power generation remains high despite Chicago November cash prices maintaining its highest average in four years. The balance of the Chicago winter 2018-19 strip has been on the rise this month, rising from a 10-cent premium in October to the current 35-cent premium the past few days. Daily Chicago cash prices have followed suit, rising from the $3.10 to $3.30/MMBtu range at the end of October to an average of $4.02 so far this November with daily cash reaching as high as $4.65. This is a drastic increase in the price of gas over past Novembers as Chicago November cash prices haven't averaged above $3.00/MMBtu since 2014. However, the power sector seems largely unaffected by the higher fuel costs as powerburn in the region has averaged more than usual when after prices get this elevated. For example, in November 2014, when Chicago cash prices averaged $4.35/MMBtu during November, the Midwest sample averaged 28 MMcf/d of gas burned at power plants per heating degree day, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. This November, with Chicago cash prices averaging $4.02, Midwest power plants are burning an average of 61 MMcf/d per HDD. This is likely due to a large amount of coal retirements and new gas generation since 2012, shifting gas from the role of swing supplier to a baseload provider which is less sensitive to price swings. Since 2012, the Midwest has retired a total of 13.8 GW of coal capacity, although much of this occurred in 2015 and 2016, according to Platts Analytics. The Midwest power market has been more reliant on gas for several years. However, there have not been sustained prices of more than $4.00/MMBtu over that period. Still, as prices steadily rose in 2015 through 2017, powerburn per HDD remained strong and even set a new November high in 2017 despite prices that were higher than the two prior Novembers. The scenario will likely bring volatility to the Midwest this winter, as it does not appear as though the power sector will play a substantial role in balancing the gas market, according to Platts Analytics. The volatility could be especially pronounced if colder than average weather arrives prompting the region to conserve gas in order to not plow through already low storage stocks. Midwest inventories currently sit 70 Bcf lower than the five-year low for this time at 830 Bcf.

Weekly Gas Storage- Draw Falls Short of Expectations - The EIA released its weekly Natural Gas Storage Report today, outlining how national natural gas stocks have changed in the last week.In total, the EIA reports natural gas stocks fell by 59 Bcf last week, decreasing to 3,054 Bcf from 3,113 Bcf. This is 17.4% below the 3,698 Bcf that was in storage at this point last year and is 19.1% below the five-year average of 3,774 Bcf. This week’s storage draw fell slightly short of expectations, as analysts predicted a draw of 76 Bcf. Nearly every region saw a draw this week, with the largest in the East and Midwest region where stocks fell by 25 Bcf and 21 Bcf. The only build came in salt stocks in the South Central region, which added 8 Bcf.

 Natural Gas Shakes Off A Looser EIA Print -- Though the January natural gas contract settled down slightly on its first day as the prompt contract, it settled higher than it was initially ahead of the morning's EIA storage number, closing solidly off the lows. It was the March contract that lagged the most on the day still, with the January contract settling down just over 5 cents from yesterday's expiry spike. Prices fell initially overnight on warmer GEFS American model guidance, then shot higher on a colder European model run. We outlined these differences in our Morning Update for subscribers. Yet prices still meandered down ahead of the morning EIA print as traders positioned for a potential bearish miss and reacted to what may have been an overdone short squeeze yesterday (which is why we held a Slightly Bearish sentiment in our Afternoon Update yesterday). This worked well as the EIA announced 59 bcf of gas was pulled from storage versus our estimate of 67 bcf and market expectations just north of 70 bcf. This was a much looser print when compared to the previous week's very large draw. Certainly the Thanksgiving holiday played a role, but even so it still was a far looser print. Yet very cold medium-range forecasts helped prices rebound through the session still. Now traders are attempting to figure out how long-range forecasts will adjust over the weekend, as the Climate Prediction Center is showing more warm risks there. 

Brazil Eyes $30 Billion Offshore Oil Boom - Over the past few years, Brazil has held several very successful oil auctions under production-sharing contracts in its pre-salt layer, attracting major oil companies to its prized offshore oil area.   Now President-elect Jair Bolsonaro wants to open more of the pre-salt assets - an area currently exclusively in the hands of state oil firm Petrobras - to private investors, hoping to earn US$31 billion (120 billion Brazilian reais) that could help narrow Brazil’s massive budget deficit.However, as Bolsonaro prepares to take office on January 1, 2019, his transition team may need to negotiate how different Brazilian states and municipalities could divide the revenues from the potential sale of stakes in more pre-salt fields to foreign oil firms. This uncertainty is not welcome news for Big Oil, which has expressed interest in the area that has been explored to some extent and proven to hold much more oil than initially thought.The area at stake is the so-called ‘transfer of rights’ area, where Petrobras holds 100 percent of the rights to produce 5 billion barrels of oil. The state oil firm has explored the area and found that a lot more oil lies in this low-risk offshore zone. There are estimates that the ‘transfer of rights’ area could hold up to 15 billion barrels of oil in excess of the 5 billion barrels to which Petrobras is entitled to produce when the government transferred the area to the state firm in 2010. Brazil has been looking to pass legislation to remove the obligation that only Petrobras can produce oil in the ‘transfer of rights’ area. Far-right President-elect Bolsonaro, who had supported state control over the oil assets in the past, now plans to sell oil and other energy assets and supports the bill to allow foreign participation in the currently Petrobras-only ‘transfer of rights’ area, Bolsonaro’s advisor Luciano de Castro told Bloomberg earlier this month.

Brazil's recent subsalt sales to add 2.1 mil b/d in output by 2028: PPSA— The 14 subsalt areas that Brazil sold at the country's five production-sharing auctions will yield about 2.1 million b/d and 24 million cu m/d in fresh output by 2028, according to a study published this week by government subsalt management company Pre-Sal Petroleo SA, or PPSA. Not registered? Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience. Register Now "The Brazilian subsalt is one of the world's biggest oil frontiers," PPSA's president Ibsen Flores said during a presentation at the company's first subsalt technical seminar. The record-setting profit oil guarantees submitted to win development rights to the subsalt blocks during the bid rounds also will result in the government receiving about 250,000 b/d and 3 million cu m/d for its share of output, according to the PPSA study. The forecasts show "the importance of these 14 contracts for Brazil," Flores said. Subsalt output, which already accounts for more than 50% of Brazil's 2.3 million b/d of production, will start to trend steadily higher starting in 2021, when the first floating production, storage and offloading vessel is installed at the Mero field in the Libra area. The FPSO will have installed capacity to produce 180,000 b/d and process 12 million cu m/d. Investments in the new areas will reach $144 billion to drill 316 injection and production wells that will feed 19 separate FPSOs, according to PPSA's forecast. But Brazil needs to continue with its current schedule of future bid rounds to ward off a sharp drop-off in investments in 2029, when the first phase of subsalt development will come to close, Flores said. President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who will take office on January 1, has indicated that it will maintain the bid rounds, which the industry says it needs for planning purposes and to refresh portfolios. Brazil sold the first subsalt field under its production-sharing regime in 2013, when the Libra area was auctioned. That was followed by the three areas each in the second, third and fourth auctions and four areas in the fifth sale held in September. Additional subsalt acreage expected to come up for sale in 2019-2021, including the much-anticipated sale of oil discovered in the transfer-of-rights areas, is expected to further boost output over the next decade, officials said.

 Oil Pipeline Spills 8,000 Barrels of Crude in Peruvian Amazon - Approximately 8,000 barrels (336,000 gallons) of crude oil spilled from a severed pipeline into the Peruvian Amazon on Tuesday night, according to state-owned oil company Petroperu.In a press release, Petroperu said its Norperuano pipeline was cut by members of the Mayuriaga indigenous community in the Loreto region in an act of "sabotage" and prevented technicians from repairing the pipe and containing the release.The four-decades-old pipeline transports crude from Amazonian oil fields to Petroperu's coastal refineries."We could face an environmental catastrophe," Beatriz Alva, a manager with Petroperu, told channel N television (via AFP).After the oil reached the Mayuriaga River, company chief James Atkins described the potential ecological damage as "tremendous and irreparable," teleSUR reported.Environmental regulator (OEFA) is waiting on police and prosecutors to verify the damages and determine culpability, according to a statement published by teleSUR.The Norperuano pipeline has a history of spill incidents. More than 20,000 barrels of petroleum have spilled from the pipe in 15 protest attacks in just the last two years, Reuters reported, citing data OEFA. Another 5,600 barrels were released from corrosion or operative failures.Mayuriaga community leaders have not immediately issued any comments to the media about the latest leak. Pipeline Break Spills Oil Into Amazon Waterways – www.youtube.com

Peru catastrophe feared after 8,000-barrel Amazon oil spill - A Peruvian oil executive warned Wednesday of "catastrophe" after indigenous residents cut a major pipeline in a region of the Amazon, triggering the spill of 8,000 barrels of oil. "We could face an environmental catastrophe," Beatriz Alva, a manager with state oil firm Petroperu, told channel N television. Alva gave the volume of spilled crude as "more or less 8,000 barrels." Residents in a remote community of Morona district, in the northeastern Loreto region, "cut the pipeline" on Tuesday night and prevented workers from repairing it, Alva said. Residents of the district are overwhelmingly indigenous people. Villagers had threatened last week to cut the pipeline, which moves crude from Amazonian wells to coastal refineries, in a protest against alleged irregularities in local elections held in October. Peru's Amazon region has seen repeated oil spills in recent years, some the results of a lack of maintenance. Others were caused by protest attacks. The country produced 127,000 barrels of oil per day in 2017, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Venezuela is leaking oil everywhere - From a distance, the scene is beautiful, a dark pool shimmering under the midday sun, reflecting billowing clouds. But when you close in on the dirt-packed trail leading toward a trio of storage tanks, a pungent odor makes it clear. It’s not pretty; it’s an oil spill. In this one spot in the Orinoco Belt, a region in Venezuela named for the river that flows above the world’s largest deposits of crude, so many barrels have escaped from underground pipes that a 2,150-square-foot pit around the tanks is filled to the brim. The country is pockmarked with these messes, as Petroleos de Venezuela’s infrastructure rots after years of neglect, scant investment and corruption scandals under the regimes of the late Hugo Chavez and his successor as president, Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela, an OPEC member dependent on oil sales for almost half the national budget, is pumping at the lowest levels since the 1940s. The spills are conspicuous signs of what has gone so horribly wrong at once-mighty PDVSA. The state-owned company doesn’t publish statistics, but environmentalists, analysts and workers keep seemingly endless lists of examples of wayward crude—unleashed by busted valves, ripped gaskets, cracked pipes and on and on—that they say has polluted waterways and farmland and probably has seeped into aquifers. PDVSA’s cleanup policy is, on paper, strict, because “if spills aren’t quickly attended to, they become environmental liabilities,” said Carmen Infante, a Caracas-based industry consultant. But resources are spread so thin that responses are rarely swift or comprehensive; trunks of nance trees near the three tanks in Anzoategui state are buried in crude more than 10 months after the leak was discovered. According to workers in the field, many of the services contractors that specialize in sponging up spills, with trucks equipped with giant vacuums, have gone out of business because they’ve had such trouble getting paid by PDVSA.

 Forget Nordstream 2, Turkstream Is The Prize -- While the Trump Administration still thinks it can play enough games to derail the Nordstream 2 pipeline via sanctions and threats, the impotence of its position geopolitically was on display the other day as the final pipe of the first train of the Turkstream pipeline entered the waters of the Black Sea.The pipe was sanctioned by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who shared a public stage and held bilateral talks afterwards.  I think it is important for everyone to watch the response to Putin’s speech in its entirety.  Because it highlights just how far Russian/Turkish relations have come since the November 24th, 2015 incident where Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 over Syria. When you contrast this event with the strained and uninspired interactions between Erdogan and President Trump you realize that the world is moving forward despite the seeming power of the United States to derail events.And Turkey is the key player in the region, geographically, culturally and politically.  Erdogan and Putin know this.  And they also know that Turkey being the transit corridor of energy for Eastern Europe opens those countries up to economic and political power they haven’t enjoyed in a long time.The first train of Turkstream will serve Turkey directly.  Over the next couple of years the second train will be built which will serve as a jumping off point for bringing gas to Eastern and Southern Europe.Countries like Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Greece, Serbia and Slovakia are lining up for access to Turkstream’s energy.  This, again, is in stark contrast to the insanely expensive Southern Transport Corridor (STC) pipeline set to bring one-third the amount of gas to Italy at five times the initial cost. Turkstream will bring 15.75 bcm annually to Turkey and the second train that same amount to Europe.  The TAP – Trans Adriatic Pipeline  — will bring just 10 bcm annually and won’t do so before 2020, a project more than six years in the making.  The real story behind Turkstream, however, is, despite Putin’s protestations to the contrary, political.  No project of this size is purely economic, even if it makes immense economic sense.  If that were the case then the STC wouldn’t exist because it makes zero economic sense but some, if not much, political sense. No, this pipeline along with the other major energy projects between Russia and Turkey have massive long-term political implications for the Middle East. Erdogan wants to re-take control of the Islamic world from the Saudis.

A Gamechanger In European Gas Markets? - The Southern Gas Corridor on which the European Union is pinning most of its hopes for natural gas supply diversification away from Russia is coming along nicely and will not just be on schedule, but it will come with a price tag that is US$5-billion lower than the original budget, BP’s vice president in charge of the project told S&P Global Platts this week.  "Often these kinds of mega-projects fall behind schedule. But the way the projects have maintained the schedule has meant that your traditional overspend, or utilization of contingency, has not occurred," Joseph Murphy said, adding that savings had been the top priority for the supermajor. The Southern Gas Corridor will carry natural gas from the Azeri Shah Deniz 2 field in the Caspian Sea to Europe via a network of three pipelines: the Georgia South Caucasus Pipeline, which was recently expanded and can carry 23 billion cubic meters of gas; the TANAP pipeline via Turkey, with a peak capacity of 31 billion cubic meters annually; and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, or TAP, which will link with TANAP at the Turkish-Greek border and carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Italy. TANAP was commissioned in July this year and the first phase of TAP is expected to be completed in two years, so Europe will hopefully have more non-Russian gas at the start of the new decade. But not that much, at least initially: TANAP will operate at an initial capacity of 16 billion cubic meters annually, of which 6 billion cubic meters will be supplied to Turkey and the remainder will go to Europe. In the context of total natural gas demand of 564 billion cubic meters in 2020, according to a forecast from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies released earlier this year, this is not a lot. Yet at some point the TANAP will reach its full capacity and hopefully by that time, TAP will be completed. Surprisingly, it was the branch to Italy that proved the most challenging, and BP’s Murphy acknowledged that. While Turkey built TANAP on time to the surprise of the project operator, TAP has been struggling because of legal issues and uncertainty after the new Italian government entered office earlier this year. Meanwhile, however, Russia and Turkey are building another pipeline, Turkish Stream, that will supply gas to Turkey and Eastern Europe, as well as possibly Hungary. The two recently marked the completion of its subsea section. Turkish Stream will have two lines, each able to carry up to 15.75 billion cubic meters. One will supply the Turkish market and the other European countries. In this context, the Southern Gas Corridor seems to have more of a political rather than practical significance for the time being, giving Europe the confidence that it could at some future point import a lot more Caspian gas because the infrastructure is there.

Russian South Stream 2.0 Comes Out Of The Shadows - Russia and Turkey have announced that the two countries have reached significant progress in reviving the November 2014-shut down South Stream gas pipeline intended to land Russian gas across the Black Sea. The project is the part of the already secured open tender contracts for purchases of gas signed between Gazprom, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia and Austria. The new Black Sea gas pipeline Turkish Stream will run under sea from Krasnodar to a landing hub just west of Istanbul. On November 19, presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Istanbul to announce the completion of pipeline's off-shore section.Pipeline capacity is for 30 bullion cubic meters, bcm, although initial phase capacity will be closer to 17bcm (the first pipe). Currently, Gazprom supplies the above volume (30bcm) to Turkey (ca 16bcm), Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. Turkish market has been supplied via Blue Stream pipeline, and the other countries are supplied via Ukraine. Based on reports from Russia's Kommersant (https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3806415), Gazprom has managed to achieve two feats:

  1. Gazprom has completed laying two (not one) pipes for Turkish Stream, one intended to supply Turkey and another, to supply Southern Europe,
  2. Gazprom secured tenders for purchases of gas from all EU states to be connected to the South Stream project (Bulgaria's open tender closes in December 2018, but all other countries have already signed onto supply agreements).

Significantly, the tenders were secured in compliance with the EU Energy Directives. This means that Gazprom latest venture has addressed the main cause of the EU's original objections to the same pipeline prior to 2014. In the case of open tenders process, Gazprom used exactly the same scheme to secure capacity orders for its Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia back in 2017. According to the experts cited by Kommersant, this makes in impossible for the EU to shut down the project. Of course, history reminder due, South Stream was primarily killed off not by the EU, but by the U.S. keen on protecting Ukraine's near monopoly on Russian gas transit. The Obama Administration exerted massive pressure on Bulgaria and other South Stream-receiving countries to prevent landing Russian gas in Southern Europe. So far, there has been little indication what Washington's position on the latest iteration of the South Stream might be, but I doubt it will be welcoming.

Stationary Cargoes Indicate LNG Market Might Be Following Oil’s Footsteps-- Some liquefied natural gas sellers aren’t in a rush to deliver their multimillion-dollar cargoes. With uncertain demand and no signs yet of bitter cold, some traders are preferring to keep their fuel inside vessels in the hope prices will rise. While the sight of stationary cargoes might not be unusual in the more-established oil market, technology has only recently made it feasible to keep LNG at minus 162 degrees Celsius (minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit) for longer periods. “There are cargoes parked close to Singapore, apparently waiting for the right market conditions to be delivered,” said Dumitru Dediu, an associate partner at McKinsey Energy Insights, which monitors LNG flows. “Some of the players are speculating.” There are about 30 vessels currently flagged as floating storage globally, two-thirds of which are in Asia, the biggest LNG consuming region, according to cargo-tracking company Kpler SAS. That’s still a fraction of a global fleet of more than 500 vessels. The practice of using tankers as floating storage is common in the more developed oil market. It happens during periods of contango -- when storage on land is used up, immediate demand is weak and the cost for later delivery is high enough to cover the expense of storing crude on a tanker. Trading houses and oil majors from Vitol Group and Glencore Plc to BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc collectively made billions of dollars from 2008 to 2009 stockpiling crude at sea. At the peak of the floating storage spree, sheltered anchorages in the North Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Singapore Strait and off South Africa each hosted dozens of supertankers. LNG, the fastest-growing fossil fuel, is starting to resemble the oil market in that sense. Holding it back is that some LNG is lost to keep it cool during its journey, known as boil off, and that most sales are through traditional long-term contracts without destination flexibility. But that’s rapidly changing. Modern tankers are capable of serving as floating storage, especially for markets such as China that lack that capacity. They have lower boil-off rates, bigger capacity and re-liquefaction units on board to keep the cargoes cool. 

Aramco Plans To Significantly Boost Gas Output -Aramco has plans to increase its natural gas production by 64 percent from the current 14 Bcf daily to 23 Bcf, the company’s chief executive officer, Amin Nasser, said at an industry event in Dubai as quoted by S&P Global Platts.Natural gas is among Aramco’s top priorities for the future along with downstream crude oil operations with a particular focus on petrochemicals.The company will invest some US$160 billion in raising its natural gas production, Nasser said, as part of a larger US$500-billion investment program for the next decade. Natural gas production capacity will be boosted to 25 Bcf.The company will pursue both conventional gas developments and unconventional ones, the executive also said. Earlier this year, Aramco began production of unconventional gas at the North Arabia field. Production from the field was seen to ramp up from the initial 55 million cu ft per day to 190 million cu ft per day by the end of this year.As part of its gas plans, Aramco earlier this month signed a joint exploration and production agreement with Adnoc, covering both natural gas and LNG. Under the terms of the deal the two companies will look into LNG investment opportunities, the companies said at the time.Nasser yesterday said Aramco had allocated total investments of US$500 billion for its international expansion and diversification over the next ten years. Besides the US$160 billion earmarked for natural gas, the company would also set aside US$100 billion for growing its petrochemical business, on top of the US$70 billion Aramco is expected to pay for a majority stake in Saudi petrochemicals major Sabic.The company also plans to boost its refining capacity to 8-10 million barrels daily, the chief executive also said, t o “create a better balance between our upstream and downstream segments."

Oil demand for cars is already falling - The International Energy Agency published its World Energy Outlook last week, its annual effort at revising assessments of future demand for and supply of fuels and electricity. 1 There’s a familiar theme within it: The IEA expects more renewable-energy use in the future than it did in last year’s outlook, which was more than it forecast in the 2016 outlook. There’s also something noteworthy on transportation: The IEA is calling the top on oil demand from cars.According to the report:Oil use for cars peaks in the mid-2020s, but petrochemicals, trucks, planes and ships still keep overall oil demand on a rising trend. Improvements in fuel efficiency in the conventional car fleet avoid three-times more in potential demand than the 3 million barrels per day (mb/d) displaced by 300 million electric cars on the road in 2040.It’s noteworthy when a long-term projection calls the top on demand for something as fundamental as a component of global oil demand. But demand for oil consumed for transportation is already waning in certain markets and segments.One place is in buses. Electric buses will displace about 233,000 barrels of oil demand a day by the end of the year. Add in the much smaller displacement from electric cars, and there’s 279,000 barrels a day displaced — about as much oil as Greece consumes per day.Another is Europe. As Bloomberg Intelligence’s Rob Barnett notes, the latest figures from Germany show demand for diesel fell 9 percent in the first half of the year. The influence of Green Party lawmakers will dent demand further.Then there’s Italy, where demand for gasoline has fallen by nearly half since 2005. Even if electric vehicles make up a very small part of the current displacement of oil demand, that will certainly grow. Bloomberg NEF expects twice as many electric vehicles on the road as the IEA does, and those vehicles will displace more than twice as much oil demand as the IEA expects.

How IMO 2020 may impact markets and challenge refiners and shippers  - The planned implementation date for IMO 2020 is still more than a year away, but this much already seems clear: even assuming some degree of non-compliance, a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate shifts, refinery upgrades and ship-mounted “scrubbers” won’t be enough to achieve full, Day 1 compliance with the international mandate to slash the shipping sector’s sulfur emissions. Increased global refinery runs would help, but there are limits to what that could do. So, what’s ahead for global crude oil and bunker-fuel markets — and for refiners in the U.S. and elsewhere — in the coming months? Today, we discuss Baker & O’Brien’s analysis of how sharply rising demand for low-sulfur marine fuel might affect crude flows, crude slates and a whole lot more. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations, in recent years has been implementing ever-tightening rules to reduce allowable sulfur-oxide emissions from the engines that power the 50,000-plus tankers, dry bulkers, container ships and other commercial vessels plying international waters. In Against the Wind, we explained that in January 2012, the global cap on sulfur content in bunker (marine fuel) was reduced to 3.5% (from the old 4.5%) and that on January 1, 2020 — only 13 months away — it is set to be reduced to a much stiffer 0.5%. There are even tougher standards already in place in the IMO’s Emission Control Areas (ECAs) for sulfur, which include Europe’s Baltic and North seas and areas within 200 nautical miles of the U.S. and Canadian coasts. In July 2010, the ECA sulfur limit in marine fuel was reduced to 1% (from the old 1.5%), and in January 2015, the limit was ratcheted down again to a very stringent 0.1% — a standard that will remain in force within the ECAs when the 0.5% sulfur cap for the rest of the world becomes effective on New Year’s Day in 2020.

Nigeria will lose $6 billion in 'corrupt' oil deal with Shell and Eni, report claims - A deal Shell and Eni brokered with the Nigerian government in 2011 is set to cost the African nation $6 billion in lost revenue, a report claimed Monday.The report, published by campaign group Global Witness, said the allegedly corrupt deal's terms would stop Nigeria accessing its share of the profits from oil extracted from its offshore block. Shell and Eni were accused of bribery last year over a $1.3 billion payment that secured an exploration licence for the block, known as OPL 245, in 2011. It was alleged that although the funds were paid to the Nigerian government, the money actually went to Malabu Oil and Gas — a company linked to former oil minister Dan Etete.   Global Witness claimed that a term granting Nigeria a share of the oil production profits was negotiated out of the 2011 deal by former Nigerian ministers, who it alleges took bribes from the oil giants. It said the clause was replaced with a back-in option that required Nigeria to pay more towards the exploration costs than it could afford. Shell and Eni — along with some of their former employees — are facing charges relating to the payment, with Italian prosecutors alleging there was awareness the funds would be pocketed by individuals. All of the defendants have denied any wrongdoing.  In a statement emailed to CNBC, a Shell spokesperson said: "Since this matter is before the Tribunal of Milan it would not be appropriate for us to comment in detail. We maintain that the settlement was a fully legal transaction with the federal government of Nigeria and Eni and, based on our review of the prosecutor of Milan's file and all of the information and facts available to us, we do not believe that there is a basis to convict Shell or any of its former employees."

European Gas Stations Out Of Diesel- French Refinery Strike Deepens Crisis - Diesel is in short supply in Europe. The situation is about to worsen as the biggest French refinery is shutting down. Bloomberg reports Europe's Diesel Woes Deepen as Strike Halts French Oil Refinery. Total SA, France’s biggest refiner, is in the process of shutting its largest plant in the country, the 247,000-barrel-a-day Gonfreville facility in Normandy, due to a labor dispute, a spokeswoman for the company said on Tuesday. A few hundred miles away, in the Netherlands, retail fuel stations are running out of supplies because of shipping constraints on the Rhine, according to Royal Dutch Shell Plc.Shell said Nov. 20 that it cut production at its Rheinland refining site, the biggest complex of its kind in Germany, due to low water levels on the Rhine. In a tweet on Tuesday, the company said that it was temporarily unable to supply some unmanned fuel stations in the Netherlands.Gas stations in Germany had already been running dry due to the situation on the Rhine, a major petroleum product transportation corridor that runs northwest from the Swiss Alps all the way to the Netherlands. Switzerland released emergency fuel stockpiles because of the situation on the river.The premium per barrel of diesel over Brent crude - another indicator of market strength - was at $15.96 on Tuesday, the highest for the time of year in six years.  This shutdown cannot possibly come at a worse time for French President Emmanuel Macron.Macron is already reeling over a protest of his diesel tax. People from across France went to Paris to let the president know how they feel about the taxes in general and the tax on diesel. The [Diesel Tax Protests](Diesel Protests in France Turn Violent) then turned violent.Expect more reactions when the price skyrockets.

Wave of refinery shutdowns may push India into importing fuel next year (Reuters) - A wave of shutdowns will hit Indian state-owned refineries next year as the country prepares for cleaner fuels from April 2020, company officials said, in moves that could temporarily dent oil demand and push up imports of refined fuels. India, the world’s third-biggest oil importer and consumer, has surplus refining capacity and rarely imports gasoil and gasoline. It also means that demand for fuel produced by India’s privately owned refiners will likely climb during the period, as state refiners seek to fill the gap. State refiners - Indian Oil Corp, Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals - account for about 60 percent of the country’s nearly 5 million barrels per day (bpd) capacity. GRAPHIC: India gasoline & gasoil imports - tmsnrt.rs/2RmScrO The refiners will have to shut gasoil- and gasoline-making units at their plants for 15 to 45 days to churn out Euro VI-compliant fuels from January 2020 to be able to sell them from April of that year. “Next year will be challenging for us as I have to protect my crude throughput and finish the job at the refineries and get ready for Euro VI by April 2020,” said B.V. Rama Gopal, head of refineries at IOC, the country’s top refiner. IOC plans a roughly month-long shutdown of gasoline- and gasoil-producing units at all of its 11 refineries, he told Reuters. Key parts of the refineries requiring a revamp include naphtha hydrotreaters, catalytic reforming units, isomerisation units, diesel sulphurisers and diesel hydrotreaters. In addition, some refiners have to revamp or set up new gasoline treaters, hydrogen production and sulfur recovery units. India has been gradually reducing sulfur emissions from vehicles since 2000, when fuel sold in the country had 500 parts per million (ppm).

Tugboat spills oil at Vizhinjam - On Wednesday an abandoned tugboat at Seaward Wharf of Vizhinjam Port - MV Brahmekshara - sank spilling oil and fuel posing threat to marine life and environment. The port authorities were on the toes due to lack of pollution-fighting equipment and disaster management measures to contain the spill. The tugboat sank around 4.30 am. Initially, none of the authorities including the coastguards or fire department was ready to contain the spill claiming that the incident happened in Port's jurisdiction. The pollution control board, who tried to coordinate the damage control operations, were clueless on the steps to be taken as the Port had no equipment or facilities to skim spilt oil and contain the pollution. Skimmer, the device used to remove oil floating on liquid surface and barriers for avoiding spreading of oil, are the two necessary equipment required for the purpose.  After hours of discussions, finally, the coastguard and fire department stepped in and used oil spill disbursement to control damages. A top official of the port department said that Vizhinjam Port is not a major port and commercial activities are very less. The tugboat has around 3,000 litres of diesel and 2,500 litres of used oil. "We have placed a proposal to buy pollution-fighting equipment. We cannot buy heavy duty and expensive equipment as there is no use for them most of the time. The incident occurred today is just a random one," said the official. "We took measures to auction the tugboat as the owner abandoned it. But the boat is in a legal tussle, and State Bank of India stopped the procedure to auction due to some default by the owner. The wreckage could be removed only with the permission of the bank or the court." He said that amount to the tune of Rs 46 lakh would be collected as dues before the wreckage is removed. 

Russia crude supply to China surges to record, Iran shipments sink: customs (Reuters) - Russia shipped record volumes of crude oil to China in October as independent refiners continued to fill import quotas, while Iranian oil shipments fell on uncertainty over Washington’s imposition of sanctions on Tehran, data showed on Monday. China’s imports from top supplier Russia jumped 58 percent from a year earlier to 7.347 million tonnes, according to the General Administration of Customs data, marking the highest ever and equivalent to about 1.73 million barrels per day (bpd). For the first 10 months, Russian imports were at 57.91 million tonnes, or 1.39 million bpd, up 16.6 percent. Chinese customs last month began updating an online database with commodity imports by country of origin, replacing a service that had until March only been available to clients. Percentage changes with year-earlier figures were calculated by Reuters. China’s crude import demand hit an all-time high in October and is expected to stay strong to year-end as independent refiners snap up cargoes to use up their import quotas. The strong demand from China’s so-called “teapot” refiners has helped to push spot premiums for popular grades such as Russian ESPO Blend and Oman crude to their highest in more than four years. Iranian shipments, however, tumbled 64 percent in October from the year-ago month to 1.0496 million tonnes, about 247,160 bpd, ahead of U.S. sanctions that came into effect on Nov. 4. Month-on-month, imports from Iran in October marked their third fall in a row as China’s state oil firms came under growing pressure to scale back purchases ahead of the sanctions. For the January-October period, imports from Iran fell 3.4 percent from 2017 to 25.54 million tonnes, or 613,300 bpd. China is one of eight countries that have been granted a waiver to continue buying some crude oil from Iran. The world’s largest energy consumer is allowed to buy 360,000 bpd of oil from the Islamic Republic for at least 180 days from the imposition of sanctions, Reuters reported. 

Contender: Saudi Arabia nabs new China oil demand, challenges Russia's top spot (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is set to expand its market share in China this year for the first time since 2012, with demand stirred up by new Chinese refiners pushing the kingdom back into contention with Russia as top supplier to the world’s largest oil buyer. Saudi Arabia, the biggest global oil exporter, has been surpassed by Russia as top crude supplier to China the past two years as private “teapot” refiners and a new pipeline drove up demand for Russian oil. Now fresh demand from new refineries starting up in 2019 could increase China’s Saudi oil imports by between 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) and 700,000 bpd, nudging the OPEC kingpin back towards the top, analysts say. Saudi Aramco said last week it will sign five crude supply agreements that will take its 2019 contract totals with Chinese buyers to 1.67 million bpd. “With the recent crude oil supply agreements and potential increase of refinery capacity, the Saudis could overtake the Russians and reclaim (the) crown as the biggest crude exporter to China,” Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodriguez-Masiu said. Saudi Arabia has already gained ground this year. China imported 1.04 million bpd of Saudi crude in the first 10 months of 2018, China customs data showed. This is equivalent to 11.5 percent of total Chinese imports, up from 11 percent in 2017, Reuters calculations showed. Saudi’s market share in China could jump to nearly 17 percent next year, if buyers requested full contractual volumes, analysts from Rystad Energy and Refinitiv said, while growth in Russian oil supply to China could slow. China imported 1.39 million bpd of Russian crude in January-October this year, about 15 percent of total Chinese imports, customs data showed. Russia had a 14 percent share at 1.2 million bpd in 2017. “We expect Chinese imports of Russian crude to remain at a similar rate in 2019 as a large share of these Russian barrels are imported via pipeline,” Refinitiv analyst Mark Tay said. 

China is Said to Resume Iran Oil Imports -- Asia’s largest buyer of Iranian oil is said to have resumed purchases from the Persian Gulf state following a one-month hiatus, a move that will help allay fears that U.S. sanctions on the OPEC producer will constrain global supplies. China will start loading the crude again in November after it halted purchases in October, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because it’s confidential. The Asian nation was one of a handful that won exemptions from the U.S. to keep importing Iranian oil without falling foul of sanctions, with a waiver allowing 360,000 barrels a day for six months starting November. Global benchmark Brent crude surged more than 20 per cent after President Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran stoked fears of a supply deficit. Prices have since collapsed to their lowest level this year as those concerns eased after the issuance of waivers to eight nations including China, South Korea and India. The Chinese government had previously told at least two state-owned companies to avoid buying Iranian oil in the lead-up to the Nov. 4 sanctions review deadline. The nation’s decision to restart purchases precedes an upcoming meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the Group of 20 summit next week and coincides with flaring trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. Although Chinese purchases are set to resume shortly, payments to Iran will only be settled at a later date, say the people, as both parties strive to work out a smooth process. India, one of Iran’s top Asian customers, is set to purchase 1.25 million metric tons in November while Korean refiners are likely to be held back by payment and insurance complications until February or later. Nobody responded to faxes sent to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Commerce seeking comment. 

US State Department says Iranian oil exports will fall further 'very soon' — The US State Department is "doing everything we can to deter and discover" evasion of sanctions on Iran's oil buyers, a top official said Thursday, adding that Tehran's crude exports will fall further "very soon." Brian Hook, State Department special representative for Iran, said US sanctions on Iran's oil buyers have cut the country's exports by more than 1 million b/d."Many more barrels will be coming off very soon," Hook said at a briefing at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, DC."All of our diplomatic posts in the region, especially in the Middle East and in Europe, are putting in place strategies to detect and to prevent sanctions evasion," he added.Iranian crude export loadings are below 800,000 b/d so far for November, compared with a six-month average of 2.4 million b/d earlier this year, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics and data from Platts trade flow software cFlow.But Platts Analytics expects the actual November average to be higher than 800,000 b/d due to ships increasingly turning off transponders. Average loadings could be closer to 1.1 million b/d this month, given contractual lags in Japan and South Korea. Platts Analytics expects Iran's exports to stay around 1 million b/d by the next US sanctions deadline in May. Eight countries received waivers to continue importing Iranian crude through May 4: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Taiwan, Greece and Italy. Many of the countries are expected to seek fresh waivers for the six months starting May 5, in exchange for cutting their Iranian imports further.Hook said the US government is concerned Iran could block two key chokepoints for oil shipments if its influence in the Yemen conflict grows.  About 18.5 million b/d of oil flowed through the Strait of Hormuz and 4.8 million b/d through Bab el-Mandab in 2016, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Iran's nuclear chief warns EU patience is running thin (Reuters) - Iran’s nuclear chief said on Tuesday he was warning the European Union’s top diplomat that Iranian patience was running out on the bloc’s pledges to keep up oil trade despite U.S. sanctions. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, said the Islamic Republic could resume enriching uranium to 20 percent purity - seen as well above the level suitable for fuelling civilian power plants - if it fails to see the economic benefit of the 2015 deal that curbed its nuclear program. “If we cannot sell our oil and we don’t enjoy financial transactions, then I don’t think keeping the deal will benefit us anymore,” Salehi told Reuters ahead of a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels. “I will pass certainly a word of caution to her (Mogherini): I think the period of patience for our people is getting more limited and limited. We are running out of the assumed timeline, which was in terms of months.” Following the meeting, Mogherini said she and Salehi remained committed to safeguarding the nuclear accord. Related Coverage • EU foreign policy chief determined to preserve Iran nuclear deal “They equally expressed their determination to preserve the nuclear agreement as a matter of respecting international agreements and a key pillar for European and regional security,” Mogherini’s office said in a statement. It said Mogherini also repeated the EU stance “on issues of concern such as Iran’s role in the region” - alluding to Iranian involvement in Middle East conflicts from Yemen to Syria. Under the 2015 deal with world powers, Iran restricted its enrichment program, widely seen in the West as a disguised effort to develop the means to make atomic bombs, in exchange for an end to international sanctions. U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in May, arguing it was weak because it did not halt Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or support for armed proxies abroad, and reimposed sanctions on Iran’s vital oil export sector earlier this month. But Europe sees the nuclear deal as an important element of international security. 

Iraq may be on the cusp of a major revenue windfall from oil - Iraq may be on the cusp of a revenue windfall after losing billions of dollars annually due to its insufficient oil production facilities, according to investors. International energy executives have been clinching new contracts to develop the hydrocarbon-rich country's energy sector that, despite being OPEC's second-largest producer, has failed to solve domestic poverty and infrastructure woes. But foreign investors admit that lofty development goals continue to be hindered by sluggish administration, corruption and a wall of bureaucracy. "The administrative decision-making process takes so long, it takes a lot of resources to be there and support during those fallow periods,"  Other executives noted it takes up to eight weeks for employees to get visas to enter the country.  Development goals include capturing gas flares, or the gas burned off during oil production, to convert into usable energy and which Siemens estimates could save Iraq $5.2 billion over the next four years. Previous inability to capture this excess natural gas due to the war-weary country's underdeveloped infrastructure has amounted to billions of dollars in lost revenue per year. Working with Iraq's electricity ministry, multinational energy and industrial companies have major plans to turn the sector around — something that will be critical for post-war reconstruction, the funding of which the World Bank estimates will require up to $150 billion. Executives from Shell, BP, Chevron, Siemens and General Electric (GE), among others, gathered in Dubai on Sunday to present their plans for the country's energy and infrastructure sectors. The conference, organized by the Iraqi British Business Council (IBBC), focused on the private sector's role in rebuilding and investing in the country of 38 million, one year on from the defeat of the Islamic State group in Iraq. At the helm of major energy investments is GE, which in October beat out German manufacturer Siemens in a hotly contested competition for a massive 14 gigawatt (GW) power generation contract worth a reported $15 billion. Siemens inked its own agreement to provide a separate 11 GW to Iraq's power infrastructure. 

Trump to Iraqi PM: How about that oil?  President Trump twice raised to the Iraqi prime minister the idea of repaying America for its wars with Iraqi oil, a highly controversial ask that runs afoul of international norms and logic, according to sources with direct knowledge. Trump appears to have finally given up on this idea, but until now it hasn't been revealed that as president he's raised the concept twice with Iraq's prime minister and brought it up separately in the Situation Room with his national security team. In March last year, at the end of a White House meeting with Iraq's then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Trump brought up the subject of taking oil from Iraq to reimburse the United States for the costs of the war there.  "It was a very run-of-the-mill, low-key, meeting in general," a source who was in the room told Axios. "And then right at the end, Trump says something to the effect of, he gets a little smirk on his face and he says, 'So what are we going to do about the oil?'"  On the campaign trail, Trump complained that the U.S. had spent trillions in Iraq and lost thousands of lives but got "nothing" in return. He lamented that usually in war "to the victor belong the spoils" and he repeatedly said the U.S. should have seized Iraq's oilfields as reimbursement for the steep costs of the war.  Top national security figures from both parties condemned Trump's idea, calling it outrageous and unworkable — a violation of international law that would fuel the propaganda of America's foes.  In the March meeting, the Iraqi prime minister replied, "What do you mean?" according to the source in the room. "And Trump's like, 'Well, we did a lot, we did a lot over there, we spent trillions over there, and a lot of people have been talking about the oil.'"Al-Abadi "had clearly prepared," the source added, "and he said something like, 'Well, you know Mr. President, we work very closely with a lot of American companies and American energy companies have interests in our country,'" the source added. "He was smirking. And the president just kind of tapped his hand on the table as if to say 'I had to ask.'"

  • "I remember thinking, 'Wow. He said it. He couldn't help himself,'" the source said.
  • A second source who was in the room confirmed this account. "It was a look down and reach for your coffee moment," the second source said. 
  • A third source, who was briefed at the time on the conversation between Trump and al-Abadi, said the back and forth "made its rounds" around the National Security Council. "It was still early on in the administration, and we were all still trying to figure out how this was going to go, and so it was one of those horror stories … he's really going to do this."

Trump's desire to raid Iraq's oil is illegal and unworkable. But it reveals a great deal about his approach to the Middle East. Trump remains hellbent on extracting payments from Middle Eastern countries, in the form of natural resources, for the trillions of dollars America has spent since the early 2000s. Bob Woodward and others have reported on the formal steps Trump took to push his team to extract rare minerals from Afghanistan as repayment for the war. (Security concerns have stymied that effort; though Afghan's leadership was more open to Trump's pitch than Iraq's leaders have been.)

OPEC reportedly plans quiet oil output cut to avoid Trump's ire - OPEC and Saudi Arabia are reportedly planning to throttle back oil production but will attempt to message the output cut in a way that does not antagonize President Donald Trump. The strategy, explained by OPEC and Saudi sources to The Wall Street Journal, implies that top OPEC producer Saudi Arabia would slash production by up to 1 million barrels per day. OPEC is preparing to pull back output because the 15-nation cartel thinks the oil market will be oversupplied next year. Crude prices have plunged more than 30 percent since last month on the growing consensus that supply will soon outstrip demand. But ahead of OPEC's policy meeting on Dec. 6, Trump is urging the group against cutting production and imploring the Saudis to help him drive oil prices even lower. The president praised Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for helping to cut fuel prices by increasing output earlier this year. On Tuesday, Trump declared he'd stand by the Saudis even though the CIA has reportedly concluded that the nation's powerful crown prince ordered the killing of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the CIA assessment this week. "Because of Khashoggi, the Saudis will do anything to make sure Trump doesn't do anything nasty," an OPEC official told The Wall Street Journal. In light of Trump's overtures, OPEC and the Saudis plan to reaffirm the output targets they first agreed to in November 2016, the Journal reported on Friday. That means Saudi Arabia would begin cutting output from its target of 11 million bpd this month to its 2016 quota, which is just over 10 million barrels a day.

Goldman Sachs contradicts Trump: $50 oil is bad for the US, commodity chief warns - The rapid plunge in oil prices to $50 a barrel is bad for the United States and threatens to create problems in the credit market, warns Jeff Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs.Currie's opinion is at odds with the view from the White House, where President Donald Trump has beencheering the recent oil market sell-off and urging Saudi Arabia to drive prices even lower. The president, eager to see gasoline prices fall, is publicly pressuring OPEC to reject price-boosting output cuts when the group meets with Russia and other producers next week. Saudi Arabia convinced about two dozen producers to increase output in June ahead of U.S. sanctions on Iran. However, Trump did not apply those sanctions as harshly as expected, and now OPEC and its allies are strongly signaling they will once again throttle back output following a collapse in oil prices.Currie thinks Saudi Arabia and Russia have an opportunity to convince Trump that the production cuts are necessary at this week's G-20 meeting in Argentina."We think a production cut is in the interest of all three parties," Currie told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Monday. "Oil prices at $50 a barrel dig into the U.S. industry's cost structure. It's not good for the U.S. either at these prices." U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude prices plunged to a more than one-year low at $50.10 on Monday, down 35 percent since the start of October. The price that's best for all parties is the $65 to $70 range, according to Currie.

In Oil’s Huge Drop, All Signs Say Made in the U.S.A. - The downward spiral in oil prices is accelerating as a surge in crude production from a turbocharged U.S. petroleum industry runs into weaker global economic growth. Crude prices slid 7.7% Friday, their largest one-day drop since July 2015, and are now down by nearly a third since the start of October. The U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate futures, closed at $50.42 a barrel—its lowest level in over a year. As economic growth outside the U.S. has flagged, producers and traders are beginning to worry that demand for crude will also decline. In export-dependent Germany, a purchasing managers index hit a four-year low, well below the level economists were expecting.The steepness of the drop has prompted Saudi Arabia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to consider a plan to quietly cut production to bolster prices, according to people familiar with the matter. The idea would see the cartel retain the official output targets it set in 2016. But, because Saudi Arabia is overshooting those targets by nearly 1 million barrels a day, it would effectively be a cut. Such a move may help support prices without raising the ire of President Trump, who has been calling on OPEC to keep prices lower. Investors remain skeptical that the OPEC meeting in Vienna on Dec. 6 will be able to turn the tide on oil supply enough to support prices. A big reason why: the emergence of the U.S. oil industry as one of the world’s most important players. Ballooning shale production—American output has nearly doubled since the start of 2012—has made the U.S. a key supplier and exacerbated worries about a global glut of crude. “I never thought I would hear these kinds of numbers coming out of the U.S.,” said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA. “This is going to force OPEC’s hand.”

Could Oil Prices Fall To $40? - Crude market volatility has soared in the second half of 2018, with prices touching a four year high before entering their longest losing streak in three decades. Analysts were calling for $100 oil but now seem to think prices will head as low as $40. While inventory build-ups and oil traders continue to impact prices in short term, it is the KSA’s (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) actions in December, a potential hike in U.S. interest rates and a rumbling trade war between China and the U.S. that will really move the market. Between them, these three factors have the potential to drive oil prices in the $40s.  It appears that Saudi Arabia and its allies have gone too far in their attempt to avoid a supply shortage as sanctions on Iran loomed. As prices continue to fall, many in the oil market appear to be waiting on another OPEC agreement – but the outcome of OPEC’s meeting in December is far from certain. Trump appears to be against any production cut from OPEC, enjoying the low oil price environment. Russia, responsible for the largest production cut outside of OPEC, also appears to be against joining in with any production cut. While most in the market are expecting some sort of cut from the KSA and its allies, there remains a chance that the cut will either be less than expected or will simply not happen.  There have been very few signs from either Beijing or Washington that the trade war will come to an end any time soon. There is, however, a flicker of hope. Trump and Xi are set to meet at the G20 summit at the end of November, with Trump having planned a dinner after the summit where both leaders will try to find a way to end the trade war. If these two superpowers were able to come to an agreement then oil prices would get a significant boost.  The U.S economy has been showing robust growth of late and wages have also been increasing. All of this forms a strong case for another interest rate hike when the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) meets in December. This would result in a stronger U.S dollar which would make commodities more expensive for other countries to buy. This would lead to a fall in oil prices due to relatively low demand.

Falling oil prices could prompt world leaders to agree on production policy at G-20 summit - A crucial meeting between OPEC and its allies in early December could easily turn into a "formality," analysts have told CNBC, with the world's most influential oil market players likely to iron out production policy in Buenos Aires instead.The heads of the world's 20 largest economies are due to arrive in the Argentinian capital this weekend, where leaders will try to build a consensus on key issues. It comes a week before a much-anticipated meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC producers in Vienna, Austria, on December 6."All eyes are now on the upcoming OPEC meeting, but the get-together could easily turn out to be a formality," Tamas Varga, senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said in a research note published Tuesday."It might well be the case that when oil ministers from producing countries sit down a week later in Vienna they will merely make official what was agreed this weekend at the G-20 summit."Oil prices have crashed more than 25 percent since climbing to a four-year high in early October. The sharp decline has ratcheted up the pressure on the OPEC alliance to orchestrate another round of supply cuts.International benchmark Brent crude was trading at $59.71 a barrel Wednesday afternoon, down around 0.8 percent, while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $51.16, around 0.75 percent lower.OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has been leading calls for the oil cartel to trim output in a bid to alleviate concerns of oversupply. Earlier this month, the oil-rich kingdom even went so far as to promise it would be prepared to do "whatever it takes" in order to prevent the return of a supply glut.However, Russia has appeared reluctant to sign-off on a reversal in production strategy. The non-OPEC heavyweight has warned the Middle East-dominated group that it must be careful to ensure it does not end upchanging its course by 180 degrees whenever it meets. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump — who is publicly in favor of low fuel prices — has repeatedly urged OPEC not to cut production.

As Oil Plunges, the Real OPEC Meeting Will Be at Next Week's G20 - For the oil market, it looks like the real OPEC meeting will come a week ahead of schedule. The cartel is set to meet on Dec. 6 in Vienna, but days earlier the key decision makers are set to gather on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in a meeting that may well decide the direction of oil prices in 2019.  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who lead the world’s two largest oil exporters and have been working together to manage the oil market for the past two years, both plan to be in the Argentinian capital at the end of next week. Just as important will be U.S. President Donald Trump, who’s made his opposition to OPEC a regular theme in his Twitter diplomacy. "I expect President Trump will be discussing the optimal price range with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and President Putin at the G20," said Bob McNally, president of Washington consultant Rapidan Energy Advisors LLC and a former White House energy official. The oil market is abuzz with talk that MBS, as Prince Mohammed is known, may not be able to defy Trump’s desire for lower oil prices after the White House supported him following the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. "The market is assuming the Saudis won’t be able to cut," said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London.Khalid Al-Falih and Alexander Novak, the Saudi and Russian energy ministers, are also scheduled to travel to Buenos Aires together with their principals, according to people familiar with their plans, asking not to be named because their agendas haven’t been disclosed yet. Their presence reinforces the impression that Saudi Arabia and Russia will try to reach a deal ahead of the OPEC meeting a few days later.

Oil market power ebbs from OPEC to the troika – Kemp (Reuters) - The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has been marginalised as critical decisions about the oil market are taken by a troika of the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The rise and subsequent fall in oil prices this year has been almost entirely driven by production decisions in these three countries and their policies towards managing the impact of renewed sanctions on Iran. The troika accounted for 36 million barrels per day of crude and condensates production in 2017 (39 percent of the global total) compared with just 27 million bpd from the rest of OPEC (30 percent of the global total). Troika production has surged even further this year as U.S. shale firms ramped up output in response to higher prices, while Russia and Saudi Arabia relaxed production curbs put in place at the end of 2016. Output from the troika is the fastest-growing element in global oil supplies, which will likely push its share above 40 percent in 2018 while the rest of OPEC falls below 30 percent(“Statistical review of world energy”, BP, 2018). Production decisions made in the troika tend to determine whether the oil market will be over- or under-supplied in the short to medium term, while other OPEC and non-OPEC countries watch from the sidelines. The rest of OPEC is struggling under sanctions, mismanagement and unrest; is too small to matter; is maximising production rather than participating in output controls; or simply aligns its output policies with those of Saudi Arabia. The only OPEC member that operates an independent production policy and has been able to increase its output significantly in 2017/18 has been Iraq. In this context, it is not surprising that the distinction between OPEC and non-OPEC members has become increasingly blurred and decision-making shifted outside the organisation. Discussion and analysis have moved away from OPEC’s twice-yearly ministerial conference to the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC), which blends OPEC and non-OPEC members. The JMMC contains two leading non-OPEC producers (Russia and Oman) and just four OPEC countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria and Venezuela) plus the OPEC president (currently the United Arab Emirates). The JMMC’s membership is a tacit admission that non-OPEC Russia and to a lesser extent Oman play a more important role in production policy than most OPEC members. 

 Oil price slump won't hit most Gulf states — but they're far from out of the woods - The near-panic in oil markets last week and expectations of continued low crude prices are likely to spare key Gulf states' balance sheets, regional analysts say. While many of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries' currencies will avoid devaluations, however, the modest economic recovery of the last year is set to falter, with weaker growth expected in the next few quarters. The big question as to the market's direction, meanwhile, depends in large part on the decision of OPEC and non-OPEC members on production cuts in the weeks ahead.As prices hover around 2018 lows and struggle to stay above $60 a barrel, market watchers are reminded of the oil price collapse in 2014 that rocked the hydrocarbon-dependent economies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Both global benchmark Brent crude and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) are down more than 20 percent this month, and if monthly losses continue at the current pace, could see their biggest fall in more than ten years. But according to Capital Economics, prices as low as $40 to $50 a barrel shouldn't put major strains on the larger economies' balance sheets as long as tight fiscal policy is maintained. The fiscal policy reforms of the last few years — subsidy and spending cuts and the introduction of new taxes — will continue but at a more subdued rate than when first implemented, preventing potential currency devaluations and protecting dollar pegs, the consultancy said in a research note published Monday. This means that current accounts in the major Gulf economies — the balance of imports and exports — are likely to stay in surplus.

What Oil at $50 a Barrel Means for the World Economy - Just a couple of months ago, major oil trading houses were predicting the return of $100 crude. Now, with oil prices at half that level, here’s a look at what the slump means for the world economy. Energy importers like India and South Africa will benefit; oil producers such as Russia and Saudi Arabia will hurt. Central banks under pressure to raise interest rates will get a reprieve; those looking to revive prices, such as the Bank of Japan, face another headwind. Ultimately, much depends on how world oil demand shapes up as it gets battered by a stronger dollar and global trade spats, and how the biggest producers react. Saudi Arabia sits between Russia on one side, its ally in managing production to support prices, and the U.S., where President Donald Trump is sending Twitter messages to the producer to get prices down. All eyes are on the Group of 20 meeting this week to see if a consensus on output emerges between the Saudis and Russians, and if that can carry through to the OPEC gathering next week. Here’s a Bloomberg Economics chart showing net oil imports (or exports) as a percentage of GDP -- cheaper oil helps those at the top of the chart and hurts those at the bottom. With the northern hemisphere winter approaching, the oil-price slump will cushion households and businesses during a period of slowing economic growth. Countries that import oil and have current-account deficits, such as South Africa, will also stand to benefit. China is the world’s biggest importer of oil and is already battling a broader moderation in its economy amid a trade war with the U.S. and domestic challenges. What does it mean for inflation? Lower oil prices mean less pressure on inflation and less pressure on central banks to raise interest rates. One example: Bloomberg Economics says the energy slump is a game changer for India and could mean the Reserve Bank of India shifts to a neutral outlook.

Oil prices steady as funds near end of liquidation – Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers continued to exit from their former bullish positions in crude oil and fuels last week but the worst of the selling may be over, which has helped steady futures prices. Hedge funds and other money managers cut their combined net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by another 54 million barrels in the week to Nov. 20. Portfolio managers have slashed their combined net long position by a total of 607 million barrels over the last eight weeks, the largest reduction over a comparable period since at least 2013, when the current data series began, and very likely the largest ever. Long positions were reduced by 55 million barrels to just 752 million barrels, the lowest level since January 2016, at the trough of the bear market (https://tmsnrt.rs/2RhOtvg ). But short positions, betting on a further fall in prices, were trimmed, albeit by just 1 million barrels, the first such reduction in eight weeks. In particular, hedge fund managers reduced short positions in NYMEX and ICE WTI by 10 million barrels, the biggest reduction for 12 weeks. By Nov. 20, WTI prices had declined by 30 percent from their peak and Brent was down 28 percent, which likely convinced many fund managers the scope for further falls was much smaller than before. Long positions accumulated during the bull market in the second half of 2017 and early 2018 have now all been liquidated, and for the moment most managers appear reluctant to add new short positions. The wave of hedge fund selling which has hammered oil prices since the start of October may therefore have run its course for the time being.

Oil prices edge up after nearly 8-percent 'Black Friday' plunge --Oil prices rose on Monday, recovering some of the previous session's sharp declines, although uncertainty over global economic growth limited the gains. Brent crude futures were last up $1.76, or 3 percent, at $60.56 a barrel by 9:40 a.m. ET (1440 GMT). Brent sank 6 percent on Friday.U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up $1.46, or 2.9 percent, at $51.88 a barrel. The gains partly made up for Friday's 7.7 percent drop.    "The recent weakness seems dramatic given the lack of actual catalysts - it seems to have been driven by a wider impending sense of doom amidst weak equities, geopolitics, subsequent softening demand and increasing supply," The International Energy Agency predicts global oil demand will top 100 million barrels a year in 2019, growing at a rate of 1.4 million barrels per day, but this is down from its initial assessment in June of 1.5 million bpd.  A rising dollar that has undercut demand in key emerging market economies, higher borrowing costs and the threat to global growth from the escalating trade dispute between the United States and China have pushed investors out of assets that are more closely aligned with the global economy, such as equities or oil.  In November alone, hedge funds have pulled more than $12 billion out of the oil market, based on a record drop in net long holdings of Brent and U.S. crude futures and options against the average oil price for the month.  Analysts at Fitch Solutions said that even an expected supply cut led by OPEC following an official meeting on Dec. 6 "may not be enough to counteract the bearish forces." "2019 will be a choppy year for the oil market as questions surrounding the prospect of a slowing global economy and a supply surplus are expected to increase,"   The options market shows that investors in Brent crude, which is more closely linked to OPEC output, have increased their holdings of contracts that give the owner the right, but not the obligation, to sell oil futures below the current benchmark futures price, by 10 percent.This compares with an increase of just 4.5 percent in holdings of options that give the owner the right to buy oil futures above the current price by a certain date.

Saudis Confuse Traders By Pumping A Record Amount Of Oil As Goldman Top Trade Says Buy - After crashing by a dramatic 8% on Friday, and tumbling to one year lows, crude is attempting a feeble rebound this morning on hopes the OPEC meeting next week will result in new production curbs by OPEC+. However, trader optimism has been dented by overnight news that  Saudi Arabia raised oil production to an all-time high in November, boosting its output well beyond the quota that had been agreed upon in the Vienna 2016 OPEC summit, and prompting fresh doubts if Riyadh is sincere about cutting output.Reuters cited an industry source, who said Saudi crude oil production hit 11.1-11.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in November, an all time high. That levels is up around 0.5 million bpd - equal to 0.5% of global demand - from October and more than 1 million bpd higher than in early 2018, when Riyadh was curtailing production together with other OPEC members.Saudi Arabia agreed to raise supply steeply in June, in response to calls from consumers, including the United States and India, to help cool oil prices and address a supply shortage after Washington imposed sanctions on Iran. However, the move backfired on Riyadh after Washington imposed softer than expected sanctions on Tehran. That promptly triggered worries of a supply glut and Brent collapsed to below $60 per barrel on Friday from as high as $85 per barrel in October. Russia, which teamed up with Saudi Arabia in the first OPEC joint production cuts since 2016, also raised production steeply in recent months to a post-Soviet high of 11.4 million bpd, as the world suddenly found itself awash in excess oil, and leading to a spike in oil inventories. Ironically, Saudi oil industry sources have signaled they wanted prices to stay above $70 per barrel and Saudi energy minister Khalid al Falih said this month global oil supply could exceed demand by over 1 million bpd next year, requiring OPEC to take action. Yet as so often happens, it was Saudi Arabia - OPEC's swing producer - that was instrumental for much of the excess production that has sent oil prices tumbling. And while Falih said earlier this month that state oil giant Saudi Aramco would ship 0.5 million bpd less crude in December than in November as demand from customers was lower, he now faces a formidable adversary to any stated production cut: US president Trump.

Factbox- Markets weigh risks of Kerch Strait escalation — Tensions in the Kerch Strait shipping route escalated over the weekend after Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Sea of Azov off Crimea. Despite heightened political risk in the area, Russia's energy flows to international markets are unlikely to be disrupted by the dispute. Moscow and Kiev blame each other for the incident, which occurred Sunday. Ukraine is a major transit route for Russian gas to Europe, with 94 Bcm sent via the Ukrainian network to Europe and Turkey in 2017. These flows are equal to 20% of total European consumption. Russia produced 690 Bcm of gas in 2017 and exported 224 Bcm, making it the world's biggest gas exporter. Russia is currently the world's second-biggest oil producer after being overtaken by the US earlier this year. Russian crude output rose to 11.4 million b/d in October, according to the International Energy Agency. Ukraine's crude oil and gas condensate output increased 3.2% year-on-year to 1.618 million mt in January through September. Most of Ukraine's own crude imports are sourced from Azerbaijan, accounting for 95% of the country's imports. In 2017, Ukraine's imports of crude increased 96% on the year to 1.01 million mt. Russia is the largest exporter of wheat globally. In the last marketing year, it shipped over 41 million mt. The main markets include the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. Russia has a 27% share of the imported European wheat market. Ukraine is the fourth-largest exporter of corn globally. It shipped over 18.5 million mt of corn last year. It is the number one exporter to the EU and a big supplier to the Middle East and North Africa. Ukraine has almost 40% of the EU's import corn market share. European natural gas prices were unmoved in early trade Monday, with the UK NBP December contract down 4% at 65.10 p/th. There has been no obvious impact on crude oil prices.

Oil breaks above $60/bbl, but doubts about growth curb gains - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose nearly 3 percent on Monday, clawing back some of last week’s steep losses, but gains were capped by uncertainty over global economic growth and further signs of increasing supply, including record Saudi production. Brent crude futures rose $1.68 to settle at $60.48 a barrel, a 2.9 percent gain. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained $1.21, or 2.4 percent, to close at $51.63 a barrel. Prices on Friday hit their lowest since October 2017 amid intensifying fears of a supply glut. Brent sank to $58.41 a barrel, while WTI fell to $50.15 a barrel. “We are reluctant to read much into today’s oil price advance given a much oversold technical condition that needed only a moderate stock market rally to force some short covering,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. Supporting oil prices, U.S. stock markets broadly rallied as Cyber Monday, the largest online shopping day of the year, began. Crude futures sometimes track with the equities market. Prices found some support as crude stockpiles at the delivery point for WTI at Cushing, Oklahoma, rose just 126 barrels from Tuesday to Friday, traders said, citing a report from market intelligence firm Genscape. However, demand concerns and record output from Saudi Arabia limited Monday’s rebound. Saudi crude oil production hit 11.1-11.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in November, an all-time high, an industry source said. A rising dollar that has undercut demand in key emerging market economies, higher borrowing costs and the threat to global growth from the trade dispute between the United States and China have pushed investors out of assets more closely aligned with the global economy, such as equities or oil. Hedge funds and other money managers raised their bullish position on U.S. crude for the first time in 8 weeks in the week that ended Nov. 20, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Monday. The increase was the first since September and lifted net longs from their lowest point in more than a year.

Oil Dips After Biggest Gain in 2 Months -- Oil fell after rising the most in almost two months as major oil exporters prepare to discuss output policy amid rising price volatility. Futures in New York lost as much as 1 percent after a 2.4 percent gain Monday. All eyes are on this week’s G20 meeting in Argentina, which will include Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin, before OPEC meets next week in Vienna. Meanwhile, U.S. crude inventories are seen falling for the first time in 10 weeks in a Bloomberg survey before government data Wednesday. Oil has collapsed into a bear market on fears of a supply glut amid a toxic mix of America’s unexpected sanctions waiver for Iranian oil, a record Saudi output and surging U.S. production. Also, rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China cloud the outlook for demand. Speculation is swirling over whether the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies will curb output when they meet on Dec. 6, despite President Donald Trump’s call for lower prices. “A tug-of-war between President Trump and oil producers will continue through the OPEC meeting,” said Satoru Yoshida, a commodity analyst at Rakuten Securities Inc. in Tokyo. “Oil could remain volatile until the meeting, which will determine the direction of prices.” West Texas Intermediate for January fell as much as 52 cents to $51.11 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange and traded at $51.25 at 4:20 p.m. in Tokyo. The contract rose $1.21 to $51.63 on Monday after plunging about 11 percent last week, the most since January 2016. Total volume traded was 16 percent above the 100-day average. The Cboe/Nymex WTI Volatility Index fell on Monday from the highest level since early 2016 reached last Friday. Brent for January settlement slid 21 cents to $60.27 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract added $1.68 to at $60.48 on Monday. The global benchmark traded at a $8.97 premium to WTI. 

Saudi Arabia Struggles As Oil Prices Crash - Oil prices are struggling to find a bottom, moving up on Monday but floundering in early trading on Tuesday. A few weeks ago, rumors floated of a potential aggressive production cut at the upcoming OPEC+ meeting, perhaps as large as 1.4 million barrels per day. However, that now looks unlikely, as President Trump has simultaneously protected Saudi Arabia from international outrage over the Khashoggi murder, at the same time that he has pressured them into keeping oil prices low. Russia is also not keen on a large production cut. That leaves Saudi Arabia looking for a “quiet cut,” which would mean taking production back down to previously agreed upon production limit – around 10 mb/d, down from the current 11 mb/d.  The pressure campaign by the White House to deter OPEC+ from cutting production could succeed in keeping crude prices low, but prices are approaching a level that could damage U.S. shale companies. “We're at the point where we're nearing full cycle break-evens for Permian producers and depending on how long this lasts, we might see an impact on capex budgets over the next few months,” Muhammed Ghulam, senior research associate at Raymond James, told CNBC.. Saudi Aramco’s CEO told Bloomberg that the company will spend $500 billion over the next decade to transform itself into a major refiner and petrochemical maker, not just an oil producer. “Saudi Aramco will make the most of those prospects with global investments in the chemicals space of roughly $100 billion over the next 10 years -- in addition to prospective acquisitions,” Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said. In total, Nasser outlined $500 billion in spending plans. Long-term oil demand is looking increasingly fragile, but the petrochemical sector is where most demand growth will be concentrated, according to the IEA.  Saudi Arabia is clearly itching for a production cut at the OPEC+ meeting next week, but Russia is much more hesitant. Russian oil firms are opposed to curtailing output, and the Russian economy does not benefit as much from higher prices than the Saudi economy does. Still, President Vladimir Putin has strategic reasons to keep up the partnership with Saudi Arabia. But after the production increases in June backfired, Moscow and Riyadh are not exactly on the same page anymore.

Oil prices- Saudi Arabia isn't hurting from the crash yet - Oil prices have crashed 30% in a matter of weeks but Saudi Arabia isn't hurting just yet. The OPEC kingpin and world's leading oil exporter would like a higher price, and has suggested it will back a production cut when the cartel meets next week. But in hard economic terms Saudi Arabia could bear even lower prices, and that would keep its key ally — President Donald Trump — happy at a time when the kingdom really needs its friends. US crude oil is now trading at $51 a barrel, off a peak of $76 a barrel in early October, while Brent crude has plunged to $60 from above $86.  "Even if [Brent] prices fall further to $40-$50 a barrel, immediate balance of payments strains are unlikely to emerge," Capital Economics said in a report this week about the impact of the slump on Gulf countries. "That said, these economies are by no means out of the woods," it added. Prices could even drop to $30 a barrel and Saudi Arabia would still be able to finance the gap between its export and imports "from their foreign exchange savings for at least a decade," Capital Economics said.  A fall of that magnitude would cause budget pressure, however. Analysts estimate the Saudi government's budget for 2018 is based on a conservative price of $50-$55 a barrel. The cost of pumping a barrel of oil in Saudi was less than $10 in 2015, and is unlikely to have changed much since.  Saudi Arabia would like higher prices to fuel its economy, which contracted in 2017 and is projected to grow by just a little over 2% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

WTI Extends Rebound Despite 10th Weekly Crude Build In A Row -- WTI rebounded strongly intraday, after testing down to cycle lows near $50 during the morning, pushing $52 ahead of the API report that was expected to show a 10th weekly crude build in a row.“In this trading environment where all the moves that we see are exacerbated, the idea that the oil market has found a bottom doesn’t seem to be taking hold yet," said Gene McGillian, senior analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.API:

  • Crude +3.453mm (+700k exp)
  • Cushing +1.302mm
  • Gasoline -2.602mm
  • Distillates +1.185mm

Last week's tiny 116k barrel draw at Cushing broke its build streak (no up 10 of 11 weeks) but Crude saw its 10th consecutive weekly build (and Distillates broke the 9 week draw streak with a 1.185m build)... WTI was drifting higher ahead of the API print and kneejerked above $52 after the print...

Oil prices steady near year lows ahead of G-20 and OPEC - Oil prices steadied on Tuesday, depressed by record Saudi production but supported by expectations that oil exporters would agree to cut output at an OPEC meeting next week.Brent crude oil was up 11 cents a barrel at $60.59, hovering above a 13-month low of $58.41 reached on Friday. U.S. light crude rose 6 cents to $51.69.Oil prices have lost almost a third of their value since early October, weighed down by an emerging supply overhang and widespread financial market weakness."The oil price correction has become a rout of historic proportions," U.S. investment bank Jefferies said in a note."The negative price reaction is as severe as the 2008 financial crisis and the aftermath of the November 2015 OPEC meeting, when the group decided not to act in the face of a very over-supplied market," the bank said. Saudi Arabia raised oil production to an all-time high in November, an industry source said on Monday, pumping 11.1 million to 11.3 million barrels per day (bpd).But the kingdom has been pushing for a collective production cut by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, indicating it may reduce supply by 500,000 bpd. Norbert Ruecker, head of commodity research at Swiss bank Julius Baer, said oil had buckled after "a surprisingly swift and pronounced change in the market mood from shortage fears to glut concerns" while the world economy was also slowing down.

 Oil prices fall more than 1 percent ahead of G20, OPEC meeting (Reuters) - Oil prices dipped on Tuesday, weighed down by uncertainty over the U.S.-China trade war and signs of increased global crude production, but losses were limited by expectations that crude exporters would agree to cut output at an upcoming OPEC meeting. Brent crude LCOc1 futures fell 27 cents to settle at $60.21 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures fell 7 cents to settle at $51.56 a barrel. Prices fell to their lowest since October 2017 last week - Brent at $58.41 and WTI at $50.15. Both crude benchmarks are down more than 30 percent since early October, depressed by an emerging supply overhang and widespread financial market weakness. Market participants looked ahead to a meeting of leaders of the Group of 20 nations (G20), the world’s biggest economies, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, with the trade war between Washington and Beijing top of the agenda. U.S. President Donald Trump is open to a trade deal with China but is prepared to hike tariffs on Chinese imports if there is no breakthrough on longstanding trade irritants during a Saturday night dinner with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Tuesday. The White House sees the dinner as an opportunity to “turn the page” on a trade war with China. But he said the White House has been disappointed so far in the Chinese response to trade issues. “The current tariffs have already hurt the global economy and the looming escalation only dampens the petroleum demand outlook further,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York. (Graphic: Brent crude oil price slumps of 2008, 2014/2015 & 2018 in percent - tmsnrt.rs/2RiWkJ1) The top three crude producers, Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia, will be at the G20 Summit, raising expectations that oil policy will be discussed. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will meet on Dec. 6 in Vienna to discuss output policy with some non-OPEC producers, including Russia. Saudi Arabia raised oil production to a record high in November, an industry source said on Monday, pumping 11.1 million to 11.3 million barrels per day (bpd). But the kingdom has been pushing for a collective production cut and is discussing a proposal to curb output by OPEC and its allies by as much as 1.4 million bpd, sources close to the discussions told Reuters this month.

US Crude Oil Inventories Up A Whopping 3.6 Million Bbls; Now Over 7% Of The Five-Year Average -- Link here.

  • US crude oil inventories: increased by another whopping 3.6 million bbls
  • inventories now stand at 450.5 million bbls -- breaking through 450 million bbls -- wow
  • inventories now 7% above the five-year average for this time of the year -- wow
  • WTI, right now, holds steady, drops about 50 cents; barely holding above $51
  • refinery operating capacity at: 95.6% -- fairly high, considering
  • both gasoline and distillate fuel production slightly higher than their 10.0 and 5.0 - million benchmark
  • imports slightly more than same time last year -- refineries need heavy oil to balance light oil; California needs imported oil
  • jet fuel produced: up 4.1% compared with same time last year
  • by the way, that "five-year average" continues to increase. One needs to look at the historical "norm" -- which for me is 350 million bbls -- 450 is 28.5% greater than the 350-million benchmark

WTI Tumbles After 10th Consecutive Weekly Crude Build -  After an initially confusing bounce in WTI (after API reported a bigger than expected crude build), oil prices have resumed their drop overnight ahead of this morning's DOE data.Notably, Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Energy Analyst Vince Piazza points out that today's inventory data should have limited sway over sentiment, as the market looks ahead to talks between Saudi Arabia and Russia as well as broader discussions among OPEC members next month. We're less than convinced that cuts of about 1 million barrels a day will stabilize crude benchmarks, even though recent harsh price weakness is unsustainable and is approaching extremes. Russia is incentivized to maintain output close to current levels to manage gasoline prices. DOE:

  • Crude +3.58mm (+2.53mm exp) - 10th weekly build in a row
  • Cushing +1.177mm
  • Gasoline -764k
  • Distillates +2.61mm

DOE confirmed API's 10th consecutive weekly crude build (bigger than expected) but a big build in distillates broke the nine-week draw streak. US Crude production continues at a record pace - outstripping Russia and Saudi... “A significant production cut on the part of OPEC and its allied non-OPEC producers at their meeting next week in Vienna will thus be needed to re-balance the oil market next year and ensure that stocks do not rise any further,” said Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. WTI is tumbling after the crude and distillates build...

Crude Oil Slips but Gas Surges - At one point Wednesday, the January West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price was just seven cents above the $50 mark. After making a slight recovery, however, the WTI settled at $50.29 a barrel – a $1.27 day-on-day decline. The WTI peaked at $52.56 during the midweek session. Also losing ground Wednesday was the January Brent futures price, which fell by $1.45 to settle at $58.76 a barrel. “The weekly chart for WTI crude oil shows the market breaking our major support levels earlier this month,” said Jerry Rafferty, president and CEO of Rockville Center, N.Y.-based Rafferty Commodities Group, Inc. “The close below the 6400 area was significant and had caused us to turn bearish.” Shortly after the sub-6400 close, Rafferty on Nov. 7 told Rigzone “it would not surprise us to see the WTI market retest the 5450 level which was the original breakout area.” “There was a bounce from the 5450 area up to the 5800 area, and prices have since tumbled to the 5000 area where we have listed major support,” Rafferty said Wednesday. “We like buying against the 5000 area for January WTI and selling as the market approaches our resistance at 5461. If prices close below the 5000 level, there is plenty of room on the downside for prices to head lower.” Like crude oil, reformulated gasoline (RBOB) declined Wednesday. The December RBOB contract price lost two cents to settle just under $1.40 a gallon. December Henry Hub natural gas futures, meanwhile, posted an impressive double-digit gain. The benchmark surged 45 cents Wednesday to settle at $4.715. Rafferty told Rigzone that his firm’s daily continuation chart for natural gas shows the series of breakouts above major resistance levels that have propelled the market to levels not seen in four years.

Oil prices fall on rising US crude stockpiles, OPEC uncertainty -- Oil prices fell on Wednesday, pressured by a 10th consecutive rise in U.S. crude inventories and doubts over whether agreement on an OPEC-led output cut will be achieved next week. U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 3.6 million barrels in the week through Nov. 23, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. That compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 769,000 barrels in a Reuters poll. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was down 73 cents, or 1.2 percent, at $59.48 a barrel by 10:43 a.m. ET (1543 GMT), after trading as high as $61.27. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 42 cents to $51.14.Stockpiles at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery hub for WTI crude rose by 1.2 million barrels, EIA said.Gasoline stocks fell by 764,000 barrels, compared with analysts' expectations for a 640,000-barrel gain. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 2.6 million barrels, versus expectations for a 857,000-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.Saudi Arabia also dampened hopes of production cuts by OPEC and its allies by saying on Wednesday that it would not act alone and Nigeria stopped short of committing to a new push to curb supplies.The outcome of next week's OPEC meeting "remains clouded by uncertainty,"  "Elsewhere, a glut of stored oil in the U.S. shows no sign of waning."The price of Brent has slumped by more than 30 percent from a four-year high above $86 in early October, pressured by concerns that supply will exceed demand in 2019 as economic growth slows. OPEC plus Russia and other allies meet on Dec. 6-7. Producers are discussing a supply curb of 1 million to 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) and possibly more, OPEC delegates have told Reuters.

Oil settles at lowest in over a year, with U.S. prices sliding toward $50 - Oil futures dropped Wednesday to settle at their lowest in more than a year, sending U.S. prices sliding toward $50 a barrel on the back of a 10th straight weekly rise in U.S. crude stockpiles. Trading was volatile Wednesday, with prices down ahead of the supply data, then moving higher as remarks from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell appeared to imply fewer future interest-rate hikes, putting pressure on the U.S. dollar. West Texas Intermediate crude for January delivery lost $1.27, or 2.5%, to settle at $50.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. January Brent crude the global benchmark, declined $1.45, or 2.4%, to $58.76 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. Both benchmarks marked their lowest finish for a front-month contract since October 2017, according to Dow Jones Market Data. Oil had seen earlier gains, with the benchmark ICE U.S. Dollar Index trading 0.6% lower after Powell used a softer tone to describe where interest-rate policy presently stood. Commodities priced in dollars often trade inversely with the dollar. Early Wednesday, however, the Energy Information Administration reported that domestic crude supplies rose by 3.6 million barrels for the week ended Nov. 23. That followed weekly increases over each of the past nine weeks. The string of 10 increases is the longest run since autumn 2015. The data was expected to show a 500,000 barrel increase in crude stocks, according to a poll of analysts and traders conducted by The Wall Street Journal, though analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts had forecast a decline of 430,000 barrels. The American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday reported a rise of roughly 3.5 million barrels.   At 450.5 million barrels, U.S. oil inventories are at their highest since Thanksgiving week in 2017 and “have climbed by more than 56 million barrels since mid-September,” he said. Oil prices are also “nearly 30 percent lower since oil inventories started their ascent 10 weeks ago.” Gasoline stockpiles fell by 800,000 barrels last week, while distillate stockpiles rose by 2.6 million barrels, according to the EIA. S&P Global Platts survey had shown expectations for a supply rise of 141,000 barrels in gasoline, but forecast a fall of 315,000 barrels in distillate inventories. On Nymex, December gasoline fell 12.6% to $1.398 a gallon, while December heating oil lost 2.5% to $1.838 a gallon.

 Oil strengthens ahead of G20 meeting, but supply rise caps gains -- Oil reversed course and rose on Thursday, after industry sources said Russia had accepted the need to cut production, together with OPEC. The price is still set for its biggest one-month fall in November since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008, having lost more than 22 percent so far. Brent crude futures were last up 71 cents, or 1.2 percent, at $59.47 a barrel, off an earlier session low of $57.50. U.S. crude futures rose 81 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $51.10, after earlier dropping below $50 for the first time in over a year. OPEC and non-OPEC producers meet in Vienna next week to discuss a new round of supply cuts of 1 million to 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) and possibly more to prop up prices. The Russian Energy Ministry held a meeting with the heads of domestic oil producers on Tuesday. "The idea at the meeting was that Russia needs to reduce. The key question is how quickly and by how much," said one source familiar with the talks between Russian oil firms and the ministry. Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is the world's second biggest oil producer, said on Wednesday he was in touch with OPEC and ready to continue cooperation on supply if needed, but he was satisfied with an oil price of $60. U.S. crude inventories have hit their highest in a year, and are now only 80 million barrels below March 2017's record 535 million barrels, according to the Energy Information Administration. "WTI oil is now trading right around the $50 per barrel level, a price last seen well over a year ago, as the current oversupply situation has now manifested itself in 10 consecutive weekly increases in U.S. oil inventories," said William O'Loughlin, investment analyst at Australia's Rivkin Securities.

 WTI oil price slides under $50 per barrel- One of the world's major oil contracts, New York's WTI, slumped under $50 per barrel on Thursday, reaching the lowest level in nearly 14 months. WTI and Brent North Sea crude, another benchmark contract, have been tumbling for weeks on fears of a supply glut -- despite oil kingpin Saudi Arabia planning an output cut and urging other producer nations to follow suit. WTI hit as low as $49.41 per barrel, the lowest point since October last year. Around 1025 GMT and after a slight recovery, WTI stood at $49.83, down 46 cents compared with Wednesday's close. Brent was down 63 cents at $58.13.

Oil Falls Below $50 for First Time in Over a Year - -- Oil crashed below $50 a barrel for the first time in more than a year as Russia signaled little urgency to commit to supply cuts, while U.S. crude stockpiles continue to grow. Futures tumbled as much as 1.8 percent in New York, after sliding 2.6 percent in the previous two sessions. Just days before talks on oil policy with Saudi Arabia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said current prices are “absolutely fine”, while Saudi energy minister said the kingdom is confident OPEC and its partners can reach a deal to stabilize the market. U.S. crude inventories rose for a 10th week, government data show. Crude has crashed into a bear market after America’s surprise sanctions waivers for Iranian oil fueled concern over a supply glut. As prices plunged, traders’ focus turned to G20 summit this week in Argentina where Russian leader and Saudi crown prince are expected to discuss production. The market is flirting with expectations that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied producers may agree on output curbs at their gathering next week in Vienna. “Putin’s comments raised speculation that Russia may not join its fellow producers in curbing production,” Sungchil Will Yun, Seoul-based commodity analyst at HI Investment & Futures, said by phone. “At the same time, we have expanding American crude stockpiles and they are unlikely to shrink in the near future.” West Texas Intermediate for January delivery fell as low as $49.41 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the least since Oct. 9, 2017. The contract declined 2.5 percent to settle at $50.29 on Wednesday, the lowest close since October 2017. Total volume traded was 84 percent above the 100-day average. Brent for January settlement, which expires Friday, fell as much as 2.1 percent to $57.50 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange. The global benchmark traded at an $8.26 premium to WTI. The more-active February contract lost 1.3 percent. While Putin praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and said Moscow is ready to cooperate further, he said crude around $60 a barrel is “balanced and fair” and well above the level needed to keep his government’s budget in surplus.

 Oil falls as high inventories outweigh likely OPEC cuts -- Oil prices fell further on Friday as swelling inventories depressed sentiment, despite widespread expectations that OPEC and Russia would agree some form of production cut next week. The two global oil benchmarks, North Sea Brent and U.S. light crude, have had their weakest month for more than 10 years in November, losing more than 20 percent as global supply has outstripped demand. Brent was down 77 cents, or 1.3 percent, at $58.74 a barrel, having bounced from a session low of $58.25. U.S. West Texas Intermediate was down 23 cents, or half a percent, at $51.22, after earlier falling as low as $49.65. Surging oil production in the United States, Russia and by members of the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has helped fill global inventories and create a glut in some markets. A slowdown in oil demand growth is compounding the emerging oversupply. "Near-term oversupply has gutted Brent prices," said Jason Gammel, analyst at U.S. investment bank Jefferies, adding that there was "an increasing urgency to move crude into storage." This move is visible in the Brent forward price curve, which now has prices for future delivery above those for immediate dispatch, a structure known as "contango", which can make it attractive to put oil into storage for later sale. To rein in the glut, OPEC and its main partner Russia are discussing supply cuts and are due to meet in Vienna on Dec. 6 and 7 to agree production strategy. "The next OPEC meeting is going to prove a pivotal moment for the direction of oil prices in 2019," BNP Paribas strategist Harry Tchilinguirian told Reuters Global Oil Forum. "A decision will have to be made against a background of strong U.S. shale oil supply growth, and for now, weaker expectations on global oil demand growth."

Oil Prices Fall On Demand Worries - Oil prices resumed declines on Friday amid worries about falling demand after China reported its weakest factory growth in more than two years. Global benchmark Brent crude dropped 0.88 percent to $59.38 per barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 1.46 percent at $50.70 per barrel. China's manufacturing PMI stood at 50.0 in November, missing expectations for a score of 50.2, which would have been unchanged from the October reading. The non-manufacturing PMI came in with a score of 53.4 - also shy of expectations for 53.8 and down from 53.9 in the previous month, adding to signs of slowing growth in the world's second-largest economy. Amid deep divisions between the U.S. and China over international trade, analysts expect little progress on trade on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend. U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday that he was close to doing something on trade with China but is not sure if he wanted to do it. Traders also await the outcome of OPEC meeting in Vienna next week amid expectations that OPEC and Russia would agree some form of production cuts in view of an emerging supply glut.

Crude Oil Avoids Massive Sell-off for Week -  Rigzone - The January West Texas Intermediate (WTI) contract price lost 52 cents Friday to settle at $50.93 a barrel. The benchmark bottomed out at $49.65 and peaked at $51.79 during the end-of-week session. The price of a barrel of Brent crude oil for January delivery remained flat Friday, settling at $59.51. “WTI and Brent continued trading lower for the eight straight week this week after last Friday’s plunge,” said Tom Seng, Assistant Professor of Energy Business with the University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business. “Brent breached critical support of $60 then and failed to rise back above that level this week. Both oil markets were somewhat range-bound this week, but WTI fell below the critical $50 support level twice. A massive sell-off was avoided, however, as prices managed to rally back over $50 late.” The Brent last traded at similar levels in Oct. 2017 and the WTI in Sept. 2017, Seng added. He also noted that both benchmarks have lost more than 30 percent of their value since peaking in early October. Moreover, he said that the collapse in prices has contracted the WTI-Brent spread to approximately $7.50. “Fundamentally, the market view is still one of oversupply coupled with declining global demand,” Seng explained. “The ‘back-and-forth’ news coming out of the OPEC+ (OPEC and Russia) has only added to the market’s volatility.” Jason Feer, global head of business intelligence with Poten & Partners, noted that oil prices remain in a “holding pattern” pending the decision by OPEC members and Russia on whether to curb output. “Signals from Saudi Arabia and Russia indicate that some sort of reduction in output is likely but there are concerns that the cuts may be too small to provide significant support to prices,” Feer said. “An OPEC committee has recommended a reduction of 1.3 million barrels per day (MMbpd), but there are fears that rising U.S. production could offset much of that. Despite falling oil prices, U.S. production reached nearly 11.5 MMbpd in September and October is expected to be higher still when the final numbers are tallied.” 

US crude plunges 22% in November, settling at $50.93, for weakest month in over 10 years -- Oil prices fell further on Friday as swelling inventories depressed sentiment despite widespread expectations that OPEC and Russia would agree some form of production cut next week. The two global oil benchmarks, North Sea Brent and U.S. light crude, have had their weakest month for more than 10 years in November, losing more than 20 percent as global supply has outstripped demand. U.S. West Texas Intermediate was down 52 cents, or 1 percent, at $50.93, after earlier falling as low as $49.65 Brent was down 76 cents, or 1.3 percent, at $58.75 a barrel by 2:28 p.m. ET, having bounced from a session low of $58.25. Prices pared losses from session lows after Bloomberg reported OPEC's advisory committee suggested decreasing production by 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) from last month's levels, traders said. "Oil prices bounced back late in the day on Friday on reports that the OPEC committee had suggested a 1.3 million barrel per day cut from the October level,"  "The pressure has certainly been building as prices continued to fall amid ongoing concerns over excessive supply and lower demand growth ... If no action is taken, oil prices could certainly drop further, while a production cut should lead to a sizeable rebound for these severely oversold levels." OPEC and its main partner Russia are due to meet in Vienna on Dec. 6 and 7 to agree production strategy. Before the OPEC meeting, the world's top three producers — the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia — will be part of a meeting this weekend of the Group of 20 industrialized nations in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Russia's energy minister Alexander Novak will meet his Saudi counterpart at the G20 summit in Argentina and discuss an oil output reduction in 2019, RIA news agency cited Novak as saying on Friday. He was also reported to have said that Russia's 2019 oil output is expected at the same level as this year but could be adjusted, depending on a deal between OPEC and non-OPEC members.

Saudi Arabia wants united front on oil output; Russia and Nigeria hold out (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia will not cut oil output on its own to stabilize the market, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Wednesday as Nigeria and Russia said it is too early to signal whether they would join any production curbs. Oil producer group OPEC and its allies, led by Russia, meet in Vienna next week against the backdrop of concerns over a slowing global economy and rising oil supplies from the United States, which is not involved in an existing agreement to restrain output. The negative economic outlook helped to push oil LCOc1 below $60 a barrel this week from as high as $85 in October, prompting Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), to suggest significant production cuts. Riyadh, however, has come under renewed pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump, who asked the kingdom to refrain from output reductions and help to lower oil prices further. Possibly complicating any decision on oil output is the crisis around the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month. Trump has backed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite calls from many U.S. politicians to impose stiff sanctions on Riyadh. Falih was in Abuja to meet his Nigerian counterpart Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu. The Saudi minister said signals from fellow OPEC members Iraq, Nigeria and Libya were positive ahead of the group’s Dec. 6 talks because all ministers want to restore oil market stability. “We are going to ... do whatever is necessary, but only if we act together as a group of 25,” Falih told reporters, referring to OPEC and its allies. “As Saudi Arabia we cannot do it alone, we will not do it alone. “Everybody is longing (to) reach a decision that brings stability back to the market ... I think people know that leaving the market to its own devices with no clarity and no collective decision to balance the market is not helping.”

Saudi Arabia Squeezed As OPEC Meeting Nears - Oil prices dipped in early trading, but the next few days will be volatile. First, any news from the G20 summit on the Trump-Xi meeting regarding the trade war could have ramifications for the global economy and oil demand heading into 2019. But much of next week will be characterized by whatever jawboning or rumors come out of upcoming OPEC meeting. For now, oil is downbeat but awaiting direction. . Saudi Arabia is aiming to cut oil production in order to boost prices, but the recent vote by the U.S. Senate to end the war in Yemen, even if it doesn’t become law, heightens the pressure on Riyadh to assuage American concerns. That gives President Trump more leverage as he demands lower oil prices from Saudi officials. Riyadh faces a choice between accepting painfully low oil prices or defying Washington by cutting production. Reports suggest they are going to try to thread the needle, opting for modest cuts that at least put a floor beneath crude prices. “President Trump has effectively put a ceiling on oil prices -- arguably this ceiling is about $70 a barrel Brent, maximum $75,” Thibaut Remoundos, founder of Commodities Trading Corporation Ltd., told Bloomberg. “It will be interesting to see if Saudi-Russia can keep the floor in place.” . Many members of the OPEC+ coalition want Saudi Arabia to do all of the heavy lifting when it comes to production cuts. After all, they argue, Saudi Arabia was the one that added 1 million barrels per day of fresh supply since May. The Saudis “made this mess. They need to clean it up,” a Middle Eastern oil official told the Wall Street Journal. On Wednesday, Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih indicated that Saudi Arabia would not cut alone.. The Trump administration is taking an early but critical step that could pave the way to oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. According to Bloomberg, the National Marine Fisheries Service could allow seismic surveying by five companies in the Atlantic, a precursor to exploration. Seismic testing is essential to exploration, but is highly controversial because of its effect on marine animals such as whales and dolphins.

Why a critical OPEC meeting may end with confusion and lower oil prices - When OPEC reached a deal with Russia and other producers in 2016 to end a two-year oil price slump, it was a relatively straightforward affair. The alliance announced it was slashing output, each country agreed to a specific production quota and international oil prices rallied about $7 a barrel. Heading into next week's OPEC meeting, few analysts anticipate such decisive action or so clear-cut an outcome — even with the oil market near the bottom of the worst price plunge since the 2008 financial crisis. To be sure, top OPEC producer Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are widely expected to orchestrate another output cut when producers meet in Vienna on Thursday. The signals are clear: Forecasters think the oil market will be oversupplied next year, the cost of crude has tumbled more than 30 percent in just eight weeks, and most OPEC members don't stand a chance of balancing their budgets at current price levels. But the group is dealing with a very different set of challenges than it faced in 2016, including a U.S. president who is fiercely opposed to price-boosting production cuts. Analysts now expect the meeting to culminate with an official statement that leaves the market scratching its head over just how many barrels OPEC intends to take off the market. "I do think there will be OPEC math," said Tamar Essner, director of energy and utilities at Nasdaq Corporate Solutions. "You'll have to figure out the cuts from baseline levels. I don't think it will be necessarily all that clear based on the statements." That could result in a repeat of OPEC's June meeting. With oil prices rising rapidly, the group agreed to reverse course and hike output but offered little in the way of a blueprint. The OPEC alliance agreed two years ago to keep 1.8 million barrels per day off the market, but by this last April, the group's output had fallen by about 2.7 million bpd. Instead of clearly stating they would correct by restoring about 1 million bpd, producers vowed to return to 100 percent compliance. The group also failed to release revised quotas for each nation. Markets responded to OPEC's ambiguity by pushing oil prices higher, the opposite of what the cartel intended. In the following months, U.S. crude rallied to a nearly four-year high at $76.90 a barrel, driven by fears of oil shortages ahead of U.S. sanctions on Iran. The price has since tumbled 35 percent over the last eight weeks, hitting a 13-month low at $49.41 on Thursday. John Kilduff, founding partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital, says traders may punish oil prices if the OPEC statement once again disappoints the market. "If this OPEC meeting falls apart, you could see prices rapidly fall down to potential support down to $42,"

 Saudi energy minister goes to OPEC with a weak hand- Kemp (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, must play a bad hand of cards as well as he can at next week’s meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers in Vienna. Falih’s challenge is to get other countries on board with output cuts to avert another crash in oil prices next year while disguising the kingdom’s diminishing leverage in the oil market. Front-month Brent futures have fallen by a third since the start of October while the six-month calendar spread is in contango, indicating most traders expect the market to be oversupplied in 2019. The market outlook is strikingly similar to 2014, with production from U.S. shale surging while consumption growth slows as the global economy falters (https://tmsnrt.rs/2RjBrxq ). But in one respect the situation is even more uncomfortable because Saudi Arabia’s official foreign reserves are down to just over $500 billion, from almost $750 billion in June 2014. The kingdom probably needs to keep several hundred billion dollars’ worth of reserve assets on hand to maintain confidence in its fixed exchange-rate peg to the U.S. dollar and prevent a run on the currency. The kingdom can ill-afford another slump in oil revenues so soon after the last one, which suggests it will have to cut production, while trying to cajole other OPEC and non-OPEC countries to share the burden. At the same time, any cuts must avoid provoking a political reaction from the United States, where the president has continued to press for even lower oil prices.

Saudi Bond Yields Surge As Crude Crashes -  In the current environment of rising interest rates, international bonds are likely to outperform U.S. bonds. At first glance, that might seem counterintuitive given that many international bonds offer lower yields than U.S. bonds with some even providing negative yields. Yet, rising yields usually lead to a fall in bond prices that’s usually more than enough to counteract higher yields thus leading to lower overall returns. Case in point: the Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (BNDX) sports higher total returns compared to the U.S.-focused Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND). One such class of international bonds is Saudi bonds, which have been roiled by a sharp fall in oil prices as well as the ongoing outrage over the murder of international journalist and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia is extremely reliant on oil, with oil revenue accounting for 90 percent of the nation’s export earnings and 42 percent to GDP. Oil prices have declined sharply, with WTI falling from mid-70s per barrel to mid-50s in less than two months, partly due to the U.S. granting surprise waivers for sanctioned Iran crude. Meanwhile, international outrage on the role played by the Saudi government in the murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey seemed to increase the risk that the U.S. would impose stiff penalties on the country. The confluence of these factors has led to Saudi bonds falling quite dramatically with yields climbing. Saudi Arabia’s $5 billion bonds due 2028 have recorded a sharp rise in yield during the last week. The bonds now yield 4.6 percent - significantly higher than the U.S. 3 percent yield for 10-year notes.

The Khashoggi killing had roots in a cutthroat Saudi family feud - Behind the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi lies a power struggle within the Saudi royal family that helped feed the paranoia and recklessness of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Eventually, this rage in the royal court led to the death and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist. According to a Saudi who was at the hospital as King Abdullah lay on his deathbed, Abdullah’s sons and courtiers briefly delayed informing his successor, King Salman, that the monarch had passed — perhaps hoping to control the court’s stash of money and sustain powerful positions for Abdullah’s wing of the family. The cutthroat scheming within the House of Saud over the following years matches anything in the fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” The fallout extended to the United States, China, Switzerland and other countries, as the two most powerful clans of the royal family jockeyed for power. As the tension increased, the royal court around Mohammed bin Salman, the new king’s favorite son, even dared to try to kidnap a member of the Abdullah faction in Beijing in a brazen operation in August 2016 that reads like a chapter in a spy thriller. MBS, as Salman’s son is known, became increasingly anxious and aggressive toward those he considered enemies. Starting in the spring of 2017, a team of Saudi intelligence operatives, under the control of the royal court, began organizing kidnappings of dissidents abroad and at home, according to U.S. and Saudi experts. Detainees were held at covert sites. The Saudis used harsh enhanced interrogation techniques, a euphemism for torture, to make the captives talk. They were forced to sign oaths that if they disclosed any of what happened, they would pay a severe price. This real-life drama was described to me in a series of interviews by prominent Saudis and U.S. and European experts, in the United States and abroad, in the weeks since Khashoggi’s death. These sources had firsthand knowledge of events but asked not to be identified because they involve sensitive international matters. The information was checked with knowledgeable U.S. sources to confirm its accuracy. It helps explain the vortex of rage and lawlessness that ultimately sucked in Khashoggi, a Post Global Opinions columnist, when he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. 

AP Interview: Saudi royal says crown prince is here to stay (AP) — A prominent Saudi royal said Saturday that whether or not heads of state gathered in Argentina next week for the Group of 20 summit warmly engage with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he is someone “that they have to deal with.” Prince Turki al-Faisal told The Associated Press the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last month is “an unacceptable incident that tars and mars the long record of Saudi Arabia’s own standing in the world.” “We will have to bear that. It’s not something that should not be faced. And we do face it,” he said. Intelligence officials and analysts say the operation to kill Khashoggi, who wrote critically of the crown prince for The Washington Post, could not have happened without Prince Mohammed’s knowledge. The kingdom, which has offered several conflicting accounts of the killing, denies the crown prince had any involvement. The crown prince embarked late Thursday on his first foreign tour since the Oct. 2 killing with a visit to the United Arab Emirates. He’s expected to visit other Mideast countries before going to Buenos Aires Nov. 30 for the start of the two-day G-20 summit, where he’ll come face to face with world leaders. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has kept international pressure mounting on the kingdom, are among those expected to attend. “Whether the leaders in that summit will warmly engage with the crown prince or not, I think all of them recognize that the kingdom as a country and King Salman and the crown prince are people that they have to deal with,” the prince said.

'I am worried' Macron's chat with Saudi prince captured - The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, suspected of ordering the murder of the dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi and accused of war crimes in the Yemen conflict, has told the French president, Emmanuel Macron, “Don’t worry” at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. The two leaders were having an informal conversation on the sidelines of the summit, standing close together and apparently unaware their conversation was being recorded. The subject of the snatched conversation was not immediately clear but a French presidential aide said afterwards that the Khashoggi murder and the Yemen conflict were the two key topics of the short exchange. According to a Guardian analysis of their only partly audible conversation, Macron replies to the crown prince’s assurances: “I do worry. I am worried … I told you.” “Yes, you told me,” the prince says. “Thank you very much.” “You never listen to me,” Macron says. “No, I listen, of course,” replied Prince Mohammed, smiling broadly after apparently becoming aware of a television camera. “Because I told you. It was more important for you,” Macron says, and gives a tight smile, before turning away from the camera to speak further to the prince. Macron then says something inaudible, to which the Saudi leader says: “It’s OK. I can deal with it.” After another indecipherable segment of conversation, Macron says: “I am a man of my word.” The Élysée Palace said the two leaders had a five-minute exchange on the sidelines of the summit in which Macron conveyed a “very firm” message to the prince over the killing and the need to find a political solution for the situation in Yemen. 

With Peace Talks on the Horizon, Saudis Defy Truce to Redouble Deadly Strikes on Yemen’s Civilians — In a remote area in Mustaba, Hajjah, southwestern Yemen, two volunteers push through the rubble of a partially collapsed home hit by an airstrike. Onlookers shield their mouths and noses from the dust and stench of corpses of those who perished beneath. A rescue worker pulls out the skeletons of children and women from under the rubble. A relentless payload of bombs was dropped on Mustaba in just a few hours on Saturday night, killing six civilians and injuring three. A woman and four children were among the victims of the Saudi airstrikes, which targeted homes in Ram district of the Mustaba region, dozens of kilometers away from the war’s closest frontlines. Upon the departure of United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths from Yemeni capital Sana’a on Friday, the Saudi-led coalition stepped up its campaign of airstrikes, as warplanes bombed residential areas in Hajjah, Hodeida, Sadaa and Sana’a — carrying out over 120 airstrikes, which resulted in a high number of civilian casualties. Griffiths was in Sana’a to meet Ansar Allah (Houthi) leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi and other high-level officials to discuss the group’s attendance in planned peace talks to be held in Sweden next month. The Houthis have agreed to negotiate a United Nations role in managing the vital port-city of Hodeida. Ahmed Suheil, an activist who lives in the Mustaba district, said he woke up to the sounds of bombing raids. “At 11 p.m., they attacked a home in our neighboring village four times. It’s far from my house, but it was so horrible to wake up to that sound,” Suheil recounted. “Everything was shaking.” “They do not respect their covenants” shouts Mohammed Jumaie, who led the village’s emergency response team. “We are in a truce. Why should civilians pay with their lives for this dirty aggression?” Recovery efforts were slowed by a lack of heavy machinery needed to access the bodies, as locals gathered around the site hoping their loved ones weren’t among the victims. One man could be heard crying: “Please, there are children under the rubble. My brother’s children. Maybe at least just one of them is still alive!”

Argentina Opens War Crimes Inquiry on Saudi Crown Prince for Role in Yemen War (MEE) — Argentina has opened up an inquiry on whether to press criminal charges against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, for his role in leading the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday.The inquiry was opened after HRW and an Argentine federal prosecutor lodged a complaint against the kingdom for violating international war crimes laws, according to a New York Times report.The investigation comes ahead of the crown prince’s visit to Argentina for the upcoming G-20 summit later this week, but officials in the South American country have said bin Salman’s arrest is “extremely unlikely,” the New York Times report said.“Mohammed bin Salman should know that he may face a criminal probe if he ventures to Argentina,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in a statement.Argentina’s laws promote the idea of universal jurisdiction, where severe human rights violations are subject to persecution regardless of sovereign boundaries.The country changed its legal code towards universal jurisdiction in the first half of the 2000s to address the tens of thousands of Argentinians who disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s during the days of military rule, when the government rounded up families, including children, to prisons and camps. The investigation comes at a time when the crown prince is taking heat for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate, but the Argentine inquiry is primarily focused on Riyadh’s role in Yemen.

UN Chief Ready to Meet Saudi Crown Prince to Discuss Yemen War — The head of the United Nations said he is willing to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the war in Yemen, as the UN continues to push for an end to the devastating conflict.UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Wednesday that the international body is “close to [creating] the conditions for the possibility for [Yemen] peace talks to start”.“And of course Saudi Arabia is absolutely crucial for that purpose, and I’m ready to discuss it with the crown prince or with any other Saudi officials because I believe it is a very important objective at the present moment,” Guterres said.The UN chief’s comments come amid growing criticism of Saudi Arabia over its role in the war in Yemen and a pending US Senate vote on ending Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition.That coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates, launched a military offensive in Yemen in 2015 to root out Houthi rebels, who had deposed Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and taken over the capital, Sanaa.   The ongoing conflict has pushed millions of Yemeni civilians to the brink of famine.

Ambulances in Syria deliberately and repeatedly targeted as part of war tactics - Half of the ambulances targeted sustained serious damage and/or had to be withdrawn from service, the findings show. Now in its eighth year, the Syrian conflict has taken a heavy toll on medical facilities and health professionals from airstrikes, bombings, shootings, kidnappings and lootings. This is despite the fact that healthcare facilities and the ambulances servicing them are protected under International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions, and the UN resolution 2286, passed in 2016, condemning attacks on medical facilities and staff.To try and quantify the extent of the damage inflicted on the country's ambulance service, the researchers analyzed data from individual reports submitted to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) throughout 2016 and 2017 and reviewed published research on attacks on ambulances since the start of the war in 2011.  Analysis of the SNHR data showed that there were 204 individual attacks involving 243 ambulances in 2016 and 2017. Half (52%) of the vehicles were deliberately targeted.  Most attacks occurred in areas with large factions of opposition forces: Aleppo, Idlib, and Damascus. Only 1-2 per cent of the attacks occurred in pro-government areas. Half of the vehicles (49%) were either heavily damaged or had to be withdrawn from service. Only 12 per cent of vehicles sustained mild damage.

Massive Al-Qaeda Gas Attack On Pro-Government Aleppo Leaves Over 100 Hospitalized - Over 100 civilians were hospitalized, including dozens of women and children, after anti-Assad militants unleashed a wave of mortars filled with poison gas on government controlled Aleppo Saturday evening.  Syrian state-run SANA published multiple photos and video of victims in the city's hospitals being treated for what's reported to be chlorine gas exposure. Though it's not the first time that 'rebels' seeking to topple the Assad government have conducted a chemical attack on pro-government areas according to United Nations findings, it is the first time that mainstream American outlets like CNN and Reuters have featured coverage of such events. Crucially, pro-rebel media has now confirmed the poison gas attack, specially the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which western media have long relied upon as a go-to source of anti-Assad opposition reporting. According to Reuters:In Aleppo city which the government controls, the shells had spread a strong stench and caused breathing problems, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said.In total official Syrian government sources reported 107 people were injured, a sizable portion of them children, after al-Qaeda terrorists linked to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance (HTS, the main al-Qaeda group that controls Idlib) attacked three Aleppo districts with poison filled projectiles. Initially the death toll approached 12 according to early reports, however, it now appears there were no fatalities resulting from gas exposure, though many remain in the hospital in what international reports say is the highest casualty toll since the Syrian Army liberated Aleppo two years ago. “The explosive (shells) contain toxic gases that led to choking among civilians,” Aleppo police chief Issam al-Shilli told SANA.

In Syria’s Idlib, Islamists see classrooms as a new front - In Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, temporarily shielded from assault by a Turkey and Russia-backed buffer zone, schools have become the latest target of Islamist militants. Parents and teachers interviewed by Asia Times say boys and girls who once attended class together are increasingly segregated into separate classrooms, with male teachers discouraged from teaching girls, and vice versa. “After the children have passed the third grade of primary school, the girls are isolated from the boys and are forced to wear sharia-compliant dress (abaya). There are patrols of women affiliated with the Guardians of Religion group at the school gates to inspect clothing on a daily basis. “Any girl who does not wear the abaya must return home immediately,” said one mother in the city of Jisr al-Shughour. “These rituals or beliefs seem very harsh for children of this age, but we are afraid to speak about this for fear of arrest or abduction,” she said. “Sometimes my children ask me, why do we play with our sisters at home but we are separated in school? As a mother, I cannot find an explanation or answer to these questions.” The so-called Guardians of Religion group was formed in February 2018, bringing together hardline militants who opposed a decision by Idlib’s most powerful armed group – Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – to leave Al-Qaeda. This splinter group, made up of mainly Asian foreign fighters numbering more than 1,500, also opposes any capitulation to agreements made by neighboring Turkey, Russia and Iran through the Astana process. The Guardians are not at odds with the hardline group they split from, sharing the same puritanical ideology and close coordination in controlling Idlib city and many of its surrounding areas. Despite an acute shortage of teachers, the Guardians of Religion have been pushing to forbid men from teaching girls, and vice versa, sometimes resulting in students being deprived of subjects.

Israeli Company Sold iPhone Spyware To Saudis Knowing Riyadh Would Purge Dissidents -- Weeks ago NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was the first to reveal that Saudi Arabia used Israeli spyware to target murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, accusing a Tel Aviv-based compmany called NSO Group of “selling a digital burglary tool,” adding it “is not just being used for catching criminals and stopping terrorist attacks, not just for saving lives, but for making money… such a level of recklessness... actually starts costing lives.” This has now been confirmed in detail by a new bombshell investigative report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which outlines how NSO Group representatives met with Saudi intelligence officials in Vienna in 2017 in order to demonstrate the powerful and easy hacking capability of its advanced Pagasus 3 system, which using a mere SIM card number can turn a person's phone into an all-purpose spying device sweeping up the user's voice conversations, camera, messages, and social media usage.  Among the first requests the Saudi delegation made of NSO while negotiating a $55 million deal to procure the technology was that the company help Riyadh uncover the true identities behind dissident Saudi Twitter accounts. The June 2017 deal for the hacking tool came just months before crown prince Mohammed bin Salman's infamous purge which would see multiple dozens of princes and top officials rounded up and imprisoned in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel the following November, which also involved the days-long detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.These latest revelations originated in a complaint to Israeli police now under investigation involving at least one company-linked whistleblower who thinks the Saudis used NSO's hacking tool to track down and ultimately murder dissidents. Haaretz confirmed the secret deal with Saudi intelligence "based on testimony and photos, as well as travel and legal documents". This comes at a sensitive moment when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become increasingly vocal over his desire to deepen ties with Gulf states, especially by supplying advanced Israeli technology.

Israel demolishes 30 Palestinian buildings in Jerusalem this month alone - Israel has demolished 30 commercial and residential Palestinian-owned properties in occupied Jerusalem since the start of November, a report from the Palestine Liberation Organisation revealed on Saturday. The report was issued by the Negotiations Department of the PLO. The Israeli occupation authorities apparently demolished 17 commercial facilities on 21 November in Shuafat. According to Al Jazeera, the shops used to serve 23,000 Palestinian refugees in the refugee camp.The Palestinian owners, said the PLO, received evacuation and demolition orders just 12 hours prior to the buildings being destroyed. As a result, there was simply not enough time to remove all of the goods inside, most of which were lost. The occupation authorities have also imposed a travel ban on the Palestinian Authority governor of East Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, and a member of the Fatah Executive Committee, Adnan Al-Husseini. Numerous other orders have been issued by Israel to restrict the movement of Palestinians in the occupied holy city. The PLO report included statistics about Israeli violations in Jerusalem since the start of this year. Five Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces in the city, with 120 wounded and more than 1,100 others arrested. Many cases have been documented of illegal Jewish settlers inciting hatred and violence against Palestinians.

US Airstrike in Afghanistan Kills at Least 30 Civilians, Including 16 Children  — Officials in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and international media are reporting at least 30 civilians, including 16 children, were killed in the latest US air strike targeting Taliban militants.Reuters reports the latest US mass casualty bombing in Afghanistan came amid a surge in aerial operations aimed at forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table after more than 17 years of US-led war there. Officials said Afghan government advisers and US troops were attacked late on Tuesday by Taliban fighters based in a compound in Garsmir district, south of Marjah, in southern Helmand. The militants attacked the Afghans and Americans with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the NATO-led Resolute Support forces.Provincial governor Mohammad Yasin Khan said Afghan troops called in air strikes, with US warplanes responding with attacks that killed both Taliban fighters and local civilians. A local resident told Reuters that “foreign forces bombed the area and the bombs hit my brother’s house.” He said the victims included women and 16 children. Another local resident, Feda Mohammad, said more victims remained buried beneath the rubble of the compound.The NATO-led coalition said it was unaware of any civilians in the area of the air strikes.“At the time of the strike, the ground force was unaware of any civilians in or around the compound; they only knew that the Taliban was using the building as a fighting position,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.US air strikes in Afghanistan have sharply increased in recent months, part of a strategy meant to drive the Taliban into talks aimed at ending the longest war in US history. A spike in civilian casualties has accompanied this surge; last month a United Nations report revealed that the number of Afghan civilians — mostly women and children — killed or injured by NATO and Afghan air strikes has risen 39 percent in 2018. The UN report said 313 civilians had been killed and another 336 injured from January 1 through September 30, more casualties than in all of 2017. While the spike in innocent deaths is alarming, the 649 casualties represent just 8 percent of all Afghan civilian casualties for 2018. Ground engagements, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide attacks accounted for nearly three quarters of civilian casualties this year.

Why are separatist militants violently targeting Chinese in Pakistan? Separatist militants who oppose Chinese investment in western Pakistan have claimed responsibility for the attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi on Friday. At least four people were killed when three gunman belonging to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) tried to enter the consulate at about 9.30am local time. No consulate staff were harmed in the attack, and all three militants were shot dead by police. BLA is one of a number of militant groups formed in the mid 1970s among the Baloch people, an ethnic group found in parts of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Its leadership and areas of influence have evolved with the passage of time. Most analysts insist that the BLA is currently led by Harbiyar Marri, son of the late Khair Bakhsh Marri. Harbiyar, who lives in London, has denied leading the group. Other prominent Baloch militant groups include the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), led by Allah Nazar, and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), led by Brahumdagh Bugti, the grandson of Akbar Bugti, who was killed during a military operation in 2006. The exact numerical strength of the BLA is not known. Most analysts agree that the group comprises several hundred members who operate in the province of Balochistan as well as neighbouring Afghanistan. Until now, the group’s biggest targets have been the Pakistani military and workers hailing from other provinces, mostly Punjabis. Pakistani authorities have routinely blamed India for supporting the BLA and other Baloch militant groups, which New Delhi has denied.

AP Explains- China’s megaprojects fuel unease in Pakistan - The assault on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi was the latest in a series of attacks on China’s growing influence in Pakistan, where Beijing is financing tens of billions of dollars’ worth of megaprojects that critics fear will plunder the country’s resources and leave it with crippling debt. Friday’s attack, which killed two police and two Pakistani civilians, was claimed by ethnic Baluch separatists who have long accused the federal government of unfairly exploiting the oil and mineral-rich Baluchistan region. But concern about China’s growing involvement in Pakistan is more widespread. The relationship has come to be defined by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, a sprawling package that includes everything from road construction and power plants to agriculture — and has an estimated cost of up to $75 billion. The largest component is a 3,200-kilometer (2,000-mile) road linking China to Pakistan’s deep-water port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, a highway running directly through Baluchistan. In Pakistan, it has been billed as a massive development program that will bring new prosperity to the South Asian nation, where the average citizen lives on just $125 a month. Chinese firms have been contracted to build a number of coal-fired and hydro-electric power plants, as well as wind and solar projects. Other firms will be building new road and rail links between Pakistani cities and mass transit systems within them. China is also helping to expand and develop the Gwadar port. In addition to the big-budget items, China is also installing cross-border fiber-optic cables, an early warning system for the Pakistan Meteorological Department and experimental agricultural projects. The full cost of all the projects, and the exact terms of the Chinese loans, have never been made public. A

China Blue-Collar Wave Strengthens Xi’s G-20 Hand - In most countries, a slowing economy and a sinking stock market would put some heat on politicians. Not in China. A working class that numbers more than 400 million has President Xi’s back.Under his presidency, China’s economic policies are favoring workers more than at any other time in recent decades. One doesn’t need to look far for evidence. Since 2015, the People’s Bank of China has showered 3.3 trillion yuan ($475 billion) of helicopter money on shanty-town redevelopments. As much as 60 percent of that money went as cash settlements to poorer households. By now, loans to policy banks for shanty-town projects have ballooned to two-thirds the size of the PBOC’s medium-term lending facilities, its primary vehicle for injecting liquidity into the broader economy. Since mid-2015, the People's Bank of China handed out over 3 trillion yuan to the poor via shanty-town redevelopments Flush with handouts, the first thing China’s working class did was to improve their housing situation. Last year, government cash payouts accounted for 23 percent of property sales by value in tier 3 to 5 cities (the smallest and least affluent), Nomura Research estimates.   As of 2017, about 115 million migrants were working in tier 1 to 3 cities, almost all of whom had residency rights only in their rural home towns and villages. Adding the 318 million people who live in tier 4 to 5 cities, the number eligible for helicopter money is at least 430 million strong. That is Xi’s core constituency.  Blue-collar employees barely notice the stock market slump. Only 7 percent have invested in stocks and 12 percent in bank-issued wealth management products, compared with 35 percent and 47 percent of middle-class consumers, according to a survey by CLSA Ltd. But 90 percent of workers own their own homes. As long as property prices continue to hold up, Xi’s fans won’t feel their wealth is being eroded.

How Cheap Labor Drives China’s A.I. Ambitions - NYT - Some of the most critical work in advancing China’s technology goals takes place in a former cement factory in the middle of the country’s heartland, far from the aspiring Silicon Valleys of Beijing and Shenzhen. An idled concrete mixer still stands in the middle of the courtyard. Boxes of melamine dinnerware are stacked in a warehouse next door.Inside, Hou Xiameng runs a company that helps artificial intelligence make sense of the world. Two dozen young people go through photos and videos, labeling just about everything they see. That’s a car. That’s a traffic light. That’s bread, that’s milk, that’s chocolate. That’s what it looks like when a person walks.“I used to think the machines are geniuses,” Ms. Hou, 24, said. “Now I know we’re the reason for their genius.”In China, long the world’s factory floor, a new generation of low-wage workers is assembling the foundations of the future. Start-ups in smaller, cheaper cities have sprung up to apply labels to China’s huge trove of images and surveillance footage. If China is the Saudi Arabia of data, as one expert says, these businesses are the refineries, turning raw data into the fuel that can power China’s A.I. ambitions. Conventional wisdom says that China and the United States are competing for A.I. supremacy and that China has certain advantages. The Chinese government broadly supports A.I. companies, financially and politically. Chinese start-ups made up one third of the global computer vision market in 2017, surpassing the United States. Chineseacademic papers are cited more often in research papers. In a key policy announcement last year, the China government said that it expected the country to become the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030.Most importantly, this thinking goes, the Chinese government and companies enjoy access to mountains of data, thanks to weak privacy laws and enforcement. Beyond what Facebook, Google and Amazon have amassed, Chinese internet companies can get more because people there so heavily use their mobile phones to shop, pay for meals and buy movie tickets. But the ability to tag that data may be China’s true A.I. strength, the only one that the United States may not be able to match. In China, this new industry offers a glimpse of a future that the government has long promised: an economy built on technology rather than manufacturing.

China PMI Plunges To 29-Month Lows, Nears Economic Contraction - Despite stepping up fiscal and monetary support in recent months, China PMI tumbled to 50 in November - right at the cusp of economic contraction - the weakest prints since June 2016. Against expectations of an unchanged 50.2 print, China Manufacturing PMI fell to 50.0 in November (and non-manufacturing PMI slipped to 53.4 from 53.9). This weakness comes following a string of measures including personal tax cuts and plans to provide credit support for private firms to obtain equity and bond financing, and confirms early indicators signaling weakening on the external front. Among China’s major trading partners, the U.S. and Euro flash PMIs are expected to come in flat. South Korea’s export growth - a barometer for Asia’s exports - decelerated to 5.7% year on year in the first 20 days of November from 26% during the same period in October. The Composite PMI is the weakest in at least two years, tracking lower with Eurozone and US in November...

Amnesty International To Stage Worldwide Protests Against Google’s “Dystopian” Censored Search for China - Amnesty International has announced a new protest campaign calling on Google to cancel its controversial plan to launch a censored search engine in China.The human rights group on Monday launched a petition against the search engine and said that on Tuesday, it will stage demonstrations outside Google offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and Spain. Google’s plan for China would “irreparably damage internet users’ trust in the tech company,” Amnesty said in statement, and “would set a dangerous precedent for tech companies enabling rights abuses by governments.”As The Intercept first reported in August, Google secretly developed the censored search engine as part of a project code-named Dragonfly. It was designed to blacklist words and phrases such as “human rights,” “Nobel Prize,” and “student protest.” The search platform would link Chinese users’ search records to their cellphone numbers and share people’s search histories with a Chinese partner company. The search records would in turn be accessible to China’s authoritarian government, which has broad surveillance and data-seizing powers that it routinely uses to identify and arrest activists and critics. “This is a watershed moment for Google,” said Joe Westby, Amnesty International’s researcher on technology and human rights. “As the world’s No. 1 search engine, it should be fighting for an internet where information is freely accessible to everyone, not backing the Chinese government’s dystopian alternative.”

Hundreds of Google Employees Tell Bosses to Cancel Censored Search Amid Worldwide Protests - More than 240 Google employees have signed an open letter calling on the company to abandon its plan for a censored search engine in China, as protesters took to the streets in eight cities to condemn the secretive project.The letter was published Tuesday morning, signed by a group of 11 Google engineers, managers, and researchers. By early evening, a further 230 employees had added their names to the letter in an extraordinary public display of anger and frustration with Google’s management over the censored search plan, known as Dragonfly.The search engine was designed by Google to censor phrases about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, in accordance with strict censorship rules enforced by China’s authoritarian government. The search platform would link Chinese users’ search records to their cellphone numbers and share people’s search histories with a Chinese partner company — meaning that Chinese security agencies, which routinely target activists and critics, could obtain the data.The Google employees said on Tuesday that they believed the company was no longer “willing to place its values above its profits.” They wrote that the Chinese search engine would “make Google complicit in oppression and human rights abuses” and “enable censorship and government-directed disinformation.” They added: Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.

In China, your car could be talking to the government  — When Shan Junhua bought his white Tesla Model X, he knew it was a fast, beautiful car. What he didn’t know is that Tesla constantly sends information about the precise location of his car to the Chinese government.Tesla is not alone. China has called upon all electric vehicle manufacturers in China to make the same kind of reports — potentially adding to the rich kit of surveillance tools available to the Chinese government as President Xi Jinping steps up the use of technology to track Chinese citizens.“I didn’t know this,” said Shan. “Tesla could have it, but why do they transmit it to the government? Because this is about privacy.”More than 200 manufacturers, including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Mitsubishi and U.S.-listed electric vehicle start-up NIO, transmit position information and dozens of other data points to government-backed monitoring centers, The Associated Press has found. Generally, it happens without car owners’ knowledge.  The automakers say they are merely complying with local laws, which apply only to alternative energy vehicles. Chinese officials say the data is used for analytics to improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent fraud in subsidy programs.

China’s Most Popular App Is Full of Hate -  Muslim groups in China privately report a growing number of attacks by groups labeling themselves as “anti-halal,” including the smashing of windows and the reporting of minorities to the police. Abroad, much of the Islamophobia among Chinese immigrants appears to be driven by conspiracy theories and false stories that begin on the Western far-right but are being transferred into Chinese popular consciousness through WeChat, the most popular messaging app in China. Although many other WeChat accounts with political content have been shut down in the last year, the censors appear to be ignoring—if not encouraging—this poisonous vector. The WeChat page “Chinese Voice of America,” already known as a purveyor of outlandish right-wing conspiracies, regularly publishes articles such as “Muslims in California—the Sunny Cradle of Terrorism and Islamic Radicalization” and “Latest Figures: 70K Jihadists Lurking in Western Europe. Civil War Imminent.” The authors cite an extensive list of sources, including but not limited to the Gatestone Institute, a far-right anti-Muslim think tank; the blog of noted Islamophobe Pamela Geller; the now-defunct fake news outlet QPolitical; and Jihad Watch, one of the main hubs of American Islamophobia.Take this piece from the WeChat group “Home of North American Chinese” titled, “Terrifying to Think About! ‘I’m in Your Home,’ ISIS Terror Video with Shocking Manhattan Background.” The original English article traces back to Zero Hedge, a Bulgarian alt-right conspiracy website. Or look at this post on the Chinese WeChat page “Anti-Terrorism POV”: “Frightful Warning! ISIS Published New Poster to Declare War on America!” That story originated from the Sun, a British right-wing tabloid. Other pieces focus on the supposed Islamization of Europe and warn the same could happen to China.This is just a taste of the content published across a number of Chinese-language official WeChat accounts with interchangeable names: Chinese Voice of America, Home of North American Chinese, Chinese American Alliance, American Chinese Web, North American Voice of China, etc. How popular and active they are varies, but the incendiary tone and wildly exaggerated content are all but indistinguishable.Even in more objective articles, comment sections are full of “yellow Trump fans” (huangchuanfen) going after “libtards” (baizuo) for blindly adhering to political correctness. They often cite 13-year-old Marrisa Shen: Her tragic death, allegedly at the hand of a Syrian refugee, is now a favorite example of Muslim savagery and Asian vulnerability.

Godzilla’ in Buenos Aires: Asia cowers as Trump battles Xi - As Donald Trump dusts off his knuckle duster before confronting Xi Jinping at the G20 in Buenos Aires, it’s hard not to picture a “Godzilla” movie. The China-US trade brawl is the economic equivalent of giant monsters clashing and laying waste to entire cities – or nations. Asian neighbors find themselves cast in the role of unwitting bystanders, praying they don’t get trampled on as the presidents of China and the US lock talons and turn on the death rays. The daily Report Must-reads from across Asia - directly to your inbox All other Group of 20 leaders assembled in the Argentine capital can do is hope for a happy ending. The most satisfying conclusion would be a ceasefire in the tariff arms race Trump launched earlier this year. The first shots came in the form of levies on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%). Then came 25% taxes on US$250 billion of Chinese goods, followed by Beijing’s own tit-for-tat tariffs. Escalation likelier than ceasefire What comes next is anyone’s guess: Trump doubling the amount of Chinese goods he’s targeting; 25% taxes on cars and auto parts; 10% levies on iPhones; China threating to dump its $1.2 trillion of US Treasury debt; any number of yet-to-be-floated non-tariff barriers. Hence the importance of Trump and Xi making the most of their dinner date and agreeing to a truce. Sadly, the odds of such an outcome aren’t great. In the days before the Xi summit, Trump signaled he’s still keen to tax every good China sends to America. Hold your breath now: That amounts to products worth $505 billion – the amount China shipped to the US in 2017. The no-quarter trade war laying waste to Asian supply chains is, for better or worse, in Trump’s DNA.

Taiwan rebukes ruling party, emboldens China-friendly opposition (Reuters) - Voters in Taiwan have delivered a strong rebuke to the island’s pro-independence ruling party in local elections, emboldening the China-friendly opposition, one of whose main figures says he will now reach out to Beijing to forge more friendly ties. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered major elections loss on Saturday, losing two key mayoral races, while the opposition Kuomintang took or retained control of 15 cities and counties, leaving the DPP with only six. With little more than a year before presidential elections, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who has had tense relations with Beijing since her election in 2016, on Saturday took responsibility for her party’s losses and resigned as DPP chairwoman. The Kuomintang mayor-elect of the southern port city of Kaohsiung, formerly a DPP stronghold, moved swiftly on Saturday night to reach out to China, telling local media he will set up a working group on China relations and will break down barriers. “We have no walls around our hearts,” said Han Kuo-yu, who has previously described Taiwan independence as being “more scary” than syphilis. The Kuomintang has sent delegations to China since Tsai took office, where they have been warmly received. China has refused to have direct contacts with Tsai’s administration. China, which claims Taiwan as a wayward province, said the elections showed people wanted peaceful relations with Beijing. “The results reflected the strong will of the Taiwan public in hoping to continue to share the benefits of the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait, and their strong wish in hoping to improve the island’s economy and people’s wellbeing,” said a statement by China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office and carried by state media.

Why China will wait until 2030 to take back Taiwan – unless the island forces Xi Jinping’s hand  --With cross-strait relations deteriorating and the United States frequently playing the Taiwan card, there is a distinct possibility of a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan. I have said President Xi Jinping is likely to recover Taiwan in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. But I am reassessing the timetable in light of the US-China trade war.Unless something very unexpected happens, the probability of China retaking Taiwan in 2020 is basically zero for now. In the next two to three years, the Chinese economy could go through a difficult period and Xi, dealing with the internal difficulties caused by the trade war, will have no time for anything else. Also, China’s military reform will not be complete by then, and there will still be a considerable gap between Chinese and US military capabilities. Although a takeover battle would be fought in China’s near seas, Xi would have to prevent it from escalating into a full-blown war. Therefore, there could be no attack on Taiwan unless he was absolutely certain of winning, and it would take time. In my opinion, if Xi does retake Taiwan, it is most likely to be around 2030.  Retired US navy captain Jim Fanell also made this prediction at a US House of Representatives intelligence hearing this year. He said there would be increasing pressure from inside the Communist Party in the next decade to “pull the trigger” and recover Taiwan. Xi has declared he will achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, hence Fanell’s forecast that China will retake Taiwan in 2029. His reason was that the world’s leaders forgot about the June 4 incident in less than 20 years and “eagerly flocked to Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games”. So, counting backwards from 2049, China would have to recover Taiwan in 2030 at the latest. Although Fanell’s deduction about China’s timetable is somewhat far-fetched, his analysis of Beijing’s agenda – and of Xi’s ambition – is bang on. Xi is a nationalist and his Chinese dream includes complete reunification. Only by retaking Taiwan could Xi realise the dream; only by bringing off this immortal achievement could he surpass Mao Zedong in the historical narrative of the Communist Party. From this perspective, Taiwan is the most important element of Xi’s Chinese dream.

Kim Jong Un’s Puppy Diplomacy Pays Off With Railway Deal  - Kim Jong Un’s gift of two hunting dogs to South Korea in September is starting to bear more fruit, first with a litter of puppies and now with a landmark railway deal. South Korea will send trains across the border to North Korea for the first time in a decade after the United Nations Security Council granted exemptions from sanctions, Seoul said on Wednesday. The trips will be used for a study to assess what’s needed to connect one other railway that has been separated since the Korean War.The development shows that South Korean President Moon Jae-in is making steady progress toward his goal of achieving “irreversible progress” on inter-Korean relations by the end of 2018. Earlier this month, his office disclosed pictures of six puppies delivered by one of the North Korean dogs.“Six were added to the gift of two, which is great luck,” Moon said in a Nov. 12 tweet, shortly after he sent 200 tons of tangerines to Pyongyang as a gift. “I hope North and South Korean matters would be just like that.” Still, Moon can’t go too fast. U.S. President Donald Trump has insisted that sanctions stay in place until Kim’s regime completely gives up its nuclear weapons. With a second summit between Trump and Kim now in doubt, Moon has stopped openly promoting potential economic benefits of greater engagement with North Korea.

10,000 farmers in Mumbai after walking 40 km, give ‘wake up’ call to govt -- A delegation of protesting farmers met Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday to reiterate their demands for loan waiver and land rights among others, eight months after they were promised reforms by the BJP government. The state’s water resource minister Girish Mahajan accompanied the delegation from Lok Sangharsh Morcha, the organisers of the march from Thane to the state capital, to their meeting with Fadnavis at the Vidhan Bhawan. The farmers are demanding the proper implementation of the loan waiver package announced by Fadnavis last year and that of the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Commission for 50% more than the cost of their crops, land rights for tribal farmers as well as compensation for farm labourers. They have been hit by a drought as well. Thousands of farmers and tribals were back in Mumbai after walking nearly 40 kilometres to demand for the implementation of the measures promised by the Fadnavis government in March last year. Morcha’s general secretary Pratibha Shinde had said on Wednesday that the protesters, who are carrying two kilograms of rice and one kilogram of dal, will stay put in Mumbai unless their demands are met.  

'The last straw': Tens of thousands of Indian farmers protest against Modi (photos)Tens of thousands of Indian farmers and rural workers marched to the Indian Parliament in the capital, New Delhi, in a protest against soaring operating costs and plunging produce prices that have brought misery to many. The protest is one of the biggest displays of frustration with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, which faces a tough general election due by May next year. India's 263 million farmers make up an important voting bloc. "Farmers have been routinely committing suicide," said one of the protest leaders, Yogendra Yadav, as he marched in a crowd down a central Delhi thoroughfare. Low food prices, export curbs, anti-inflation policies that keep rural incomes low and a broad shift from subsidies to investment spending have all infuriated and demoralised farmers. Core inflation in India, where farming is a mainstay for nearly half the people, has hovered around 6 per cent in the past few months, but food prices have either fallen or remained stagnant. Farmers demanded that the government call a special session of parliament to discuss the crisis in the countryside.

Saudi crown prince meets India's Modi in Argentina, plans to ramp up investments (Reuters) - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and told him about plans to scale up investments in India’s tech, farm and energy sectors, an Indian official and the Saudi news agency (SPA) said on Friday. The two leaders, who are in Argentina for the G20 summit, met in the prince’s residence in Buenos Aires and discussed Saudi Arabia’s readiness to supply India with oil and petroleum products. The G20 summit in Buenos Aires is the first major international event the Saudi prince has attended since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. The Saudi prince told Modi he would soon be finalizing an initial investment in India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, a quasi-sovereign wealth fund, to help accelerate the building of ports, highways and other projects, a top Indian diplomat said. “The crown prince also referred to future projects for investments, in sectors such as tech, energy and farm,” Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who is accompanying Modi to the G20, said in a readout of the meeting. Ways in which Saudi Arabia could replace its agricultural imports from other countries with Indian agricultural produce were also discussed, the Saudi news agency said. Since he took office in 2014 at the head of a Hindu-nationalist government, Modi has sought to expand ties with Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations to deny arch foe Pakistan an advantage and to leverage India’s fast-growing economy as an attractive investment.

Leave them alone: on the Sentinelese --The death of a young American man at the hands of the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has led to dangerous lines of debate. Some have called for the Sentinelese to be convicted and punished and others have urged that they be integrated into modern society. Both these demands are misguided, and can only result in the extinction of a people. John Chau’s killing was a tragedy but his attempt to make contact with the Sentinelese, who he seemed to know something about, was foolhardy and dangerous, not only to himself but to them. There is a reason why no one — whether missionary, scholar, adventurer, U.S. citizen or Indian — is allowed to venture near North Sentinel Island without permission, which is given only in the rarest of circumstances and with meticulous precautions in place to ensure that the Sentinelese are not disturbed. Having lived in isolation in an island in the Bay of Bengal for thousands of years, the Sentinelese have no immunity or resistance to even the commonest of infections. Various degrees of protection are in place for the indigenous people of A&N Islands, but it is complete in the case of the Sentinelese. The administration enforces “an ‘eyes-on and hands-off’ policy to ensure that no poachers enter the island”. A protocol of circumnavigation of the island is in place, and the buffer maintained around the island is enforced under various laws. The Sentinelese are perhaps the most reclusive community in the world today. Their language is so far understood by no other group and they have traditionally guarded their island fiercely, attacking most intruders with spears and arrows. Arrows were fired even at a government aircraft that flew over the island after the 2004 Tsunami. Chau knowingly broke the law, as did those who took took him to the waters off North Sentinel Island. Seven persons, including five fishermen, have been arrested for facilitating this misadventure. To call for an investigation on the island, however, is to fail to see its historical and administrative uniqueness. At the heart of the issue is the survival of the Sentinelese. Chau’s death is a cautionary incident — for the danger of adventurism, and for the administration to step up oversight. But it is also an occasion for the country to embrace its human heritage in all its diversity, and to empathetically try to see the world from the eyes of its most vulnerable inhabitants.

'Mark of Shame on All Our Societies': UN Finds More Women Killed by Domestic Violence Than Any Other Crime - In a quarter of the world's countries, no laws exist protecting women and girls from what a new United Nations study says is the crime most likely to kill them: violence perpetrated by their intimate partners and family members. Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime on Sunday released a global study on homicide, focusing on gender-related killings, and revealed that out of 87,000 women who were murdered around the world in 2017, 58 percent of them were killed by family members or partners. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called violence against women "a moral affront to all women and girls, a mark of shame on all our societies and a major obstacle to inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development." "Not until the half of our population represented by women and girls can live free from fear, violence and everyday insecurity, can we truly say we live in a fair and equal world." —Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General   "At its core, violence against women and girls is the manifestation of a profound lack of respect—a failure by men to recognize the inherent equality and dignity of women," Guterres said. "It is an issue of fundamental human rights." The study examined cases of women who were killed as a result of intimate partner violence and in "honor killings" and dowry-related killings in countries in the Middle East, East Asian, and South Asian countries, as well as women who were killed in armed conflicts and other situations not related to domestic violence. According to the study, six women around the world are killed by someone they know every hour. The release of the study marked the beginning of the U.N.'s 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, in which the U.N. has urged governments and communities to help "Orange the World," bringing global attention to violence against women.

Australian regulators watching non-banks for financial stability risks: RBA  ?(Reuters) - Australian regulators are “monitoring” fast-growing non-bank lenders for possible financial stability risks, a senior central banker said on Monday. Non-banks have expanded their market share in Australia recently particularly for interest-only loans, a product category considered high-risk by policymakers. “The Reserve Bank’s liaison indicates that non-banks have been lending to some borrowers who may otherwise have obtained credit from banks in the absence of the regulatory measures,” said Christopher Kent, assistant governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) said in a speech in Sydney. Australia’s major banks have clawed back from the property market following a regulatory clampdown that forced them to slow lending to home investors. “Consistent with this, the Securitisation Dataset shows that a rising share of non-bank lending has been to investors.” The share of investor loans across all outstanding non-bank deals have increased by at least five percentage points over the past 2-1/2 years, Kent said. This is in sharp contrast to the share of total bank loans to investors, which has been declining over that period. Similarly, the share of non-bank loans that are on an interest-only basis has been stable over the past couple of years, whereas that of banks has declined significantly over the same period, Kent added. 

World Trade Outlook Indicator signals further loss of momentum in trade growth into Q4 - Trade growth is likely to slow further into the fourth quarter of 2018 according to the WTO’s latest World Trade Outlook Indicator (WTOI) released on 26 November. The most recent WTOI reading of 98.6 is the lowest since October 2016 and reflects declines in all component indices. It is below the previous value of 100.3 and falls under the baseline value of 100 for the index, signaling that trade growth in the coming months is expected to be below-trend.  The continued moderation in the overall WTOI index was driven by the steady decline in the export orders index (96.6), which remains below trend and is approaching the weakest point recorded in 2012 during the eurozone crisis. Indices for automobile production and sales (96.9), electronic components (93.9), and agricultural raw materials (97.2) have meanwhile moved from on trend to below trend. International air freight (100.0) and container port throughput (101.2) have dipped but remain on trend. The latest results are consistent with the WTO's downgraded outlook for global trade issued in September amid escalating trade tensions and tighter credit conditions in important markets. The revised forecast anticipated trade expansion to slow to 3.9% in 2018 and 3.7% in 2019 from 4.7% in 2017. Designed to provide "real time" information on the trajectory of world trade relative to recent trends, the WTOI is not intended as a short-term forecast, although it does provide an indication of trade growth in the near future. It aims to identify turning points and gauge momentum in global trade growth. As such, it complements trade statistics and forecasts from the WTO and other organizations. Readings of 100 indicate growth in line with medium-term trends; readings greater than 100 suggest above-trend growth, while those below 100 indicate the reverse.  The full World Trade Outlook Indicator is available here. Further details on the methodology are contained in the technical note here.

Greyhound axes bus service across Western Canada - Greyhound Bus Services, North America’s largest transportation provider, ceased its Western Canada services on October 31, after operating in the region without interruption for nearly a century. With the exception of the Vancouver-Seattle route, services in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, comprising some 400 communities, have shut down permanently. The principal reason for the rapid and sweeping service cuts is the company‪’‬s desire to boost profits. Senior vice president of Greyhound Stuart Kendrick claimed in a statement that “despite best efforts over several years, ridership has dropped nearly 41 percent across the country since 2010 within a changing and increasingly challenging transportation environment. Simply put, we can no longer operate unsustainable routes.” He noted that 415 people will be out of work, 2 million consumers will be affected, and most of the afflicted communities will be left without alternative transportation options‪.‬ The closures have devastated regions where no other means of inter-city transportation exists. Residents living in rural and remote areas—notably those in Northern British Columbia, where economic decline, isolation, and lack of amenities are most severe–will be left without safe and reliable transportation for day-to-day necessities such as doctors’ and hospital visits, grocery shopping, employment, and education. Indigenous communities, often located in remote and isolated areas, will be disproportionately impacted by the bus cancellation. Many women living in poverty or fleeing domestic violence will be without safe access to public services.  In the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where the majority of prisoners are indigenous adults and youth, the bus stoppage means regular family visitations will become more difficult to maintain. The elderly will also be deeply affected by the transportation cuts. Many have relied on the Greyhound bus network to access clinics and hospitals, visit friends and family, and attend funeral services.

Bank Of Canada To Start Buying Mortgage Bonds As Canadian Housing Market Cools - Ten years ago this week, the Federal Reserve announced it would start buying agency MBS. Asset purchases are now arguably a  standard non-standard monetary policy tool, as all three major central banks have since embarked in some form of asset purchases, and are currently in different stages of implementation.And on Friday, the Bank of Canada became the latest to join the parade, when it announced for the first time plans to buy government-backed mortgage bonds in an attempt to boost its balance sheet and arguably, to stabilize Canada's flagging housing market.The move, part of a decision to include government-guaranteed debt issued by federal Crown corporations, will allow Canada's central bank to offset continued growth in bank notes, the central bank said in an statement Friday. It will also give it flexibility to further reduce its participation at primary auctions of Canadian government bond "to help increase the tradeable float of those benchmark securities and hence support their secondary market liquidity."As part of this expansion, a “small portion” of its purchases will be Canada Mortgage Bonds, which are guaranteed by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.  Purchases of mortgage bonds will be conducted in the primary market starting later this year or early 2019, the central bank said. The key excerpt from Friday's statement is blow:As part of these changes the Bank plans to allocate a small portion of its balance sheet for acquiring federal government guaranteed securities by purchasing Canada Mortgage Bonds. These purchases will be conducted in the primary market, on a non-competitive basis, and are expected to commence in the latter part of 2018 or in the first half of 2019. The Bank will continue to adhere to its principles of neutrality, prudence and transparency and conduct its transactions in a manner that limits market distortions and minimizes impact on market prices.According to Bloomberg, the federal Crown corporation has an issuance limit of C$40 billion ($30 billion) for 2018."In terms of CMBs, we need a little more detail on how the BoC will be participating, but it does look to be supportive of spreads,” said Mark Chandler, head of fixed-income research at RBC Capital Markets. “I would suggest only a modest impact until we learn more."

Chinese Fetanyl Kingpins Laundered Over $5BN Through Vancouver Homes Since 2012 - A new "secret" police study has found that Chinese crime networks could have laundered over $1B through Vancouver homes in 2016 alone, and that a surge in the city's home prices are simultaneously tied to a surge in opioid deaths.The report examined over 1,200 luxury real estate purchases in British Columbia's Lower Mainland during that year, and concluded that over 10% were tied to buyers with criminal records. Crucially 95% of those transactions could be definitively traced by police intelligence back to Chinese crime networks.While the study only looked at property purchases in 2016, an analysis by Global News suggests the same extended crime network may have laundered about $5-billion in Vancouver-area homes since 2012. Fentanyl: Making a Killing   Since 2016 we've chronicled the "dark side" behind the Vancouver real estate bubble, which it turns out has long been a bubbling melange of criminal Chinese oligarch "hot money", desperate to get parked offshore in any piece of real estate, but mostly in British Columbia regardless of price.

Russia fires on and captures Ukrainian Navy ships - Early Sunday morning, Russian warships fired on and captured three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Azov Sea off the coast of Crimea. The military clash represents a major escalation of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which was triggered by the US and EU-backed far-right coup in February 2014.According to the official Russian version, three Ukrainian warships illegally entered Russian territory at 7 a.m. on Sunday. Moscow then shut down the strait.The Russian Federal Investigative Service (FSB), the Russian equivalent of the FBI, confirmed later on Sunday that Russia had seized all three Ukrainian warships. Russia asked for an emergency meeting of the United Nations.Kiev argues that it had announced the crossing of the strait by the three navy ships but had not received a response from Russia, and that the three ships were attacked by Russian warships in an act of “aggression,” claiming “Russia attacks Ukraine.” The Poroshenko regime also claimed that two Ukrainian sailors had been injured and that one Ukrainian tugboat was hit, and demanded the immediate release of both the ships and all servicemen. It has appealed for support to the EU, the US and NATO.Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko convened an emergency session of his war cabinet on Sunday. After that, he spoke to the country’s parliament, proposing to introduce martial law for sixty days. Officials of the Ukrainian foreign ministry have since been in frenzied discussions with representatives of the EU and NATO. Russian media reported that SU-24 fighter jets that are based in Crimea are now flying over the Russian bridge in the Kerch Strait, and that Ukraine had sent naval reinforcement to the area. A military escalation in the Azov Sea had been prepared over months with a series of provocations by the Ukrainian regime which enjoyed the full support of the EU and US imperialism.

Ukraine Set to Declare War on Russia — Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are once again soaring after this weekend, with reports that Russia has seized three Ukrainian navy vessels off the coast of the Crimean Peninsula. Crimea is de facto under Russian control, but Ukraine considers it part of their territory.Earlier in the day, Ukraine accused Russian ships of ramming their tugboat in the Sea of Azov and opened fire on the gunships, injuring two. Russia claims that the Ukrainian ships were illegally in Russian waters at the time, and that the Sea was closed for security reasons.Ukraine, which has been talking up war with Russia for years, is quickly escalating, with the National Security and Defense Council planning a midnight session at which they intend to declare war on Russia, and will urge parliament to impose martial law across Ukraine, a vote which will happen Monday.What this declaration of war would mean remains to be seen, as Ukraine clearly lacks the military to fight a land war with Russia. The martial law measure would likely be a pretext to launch an attack on ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The boats involved in this incident were identified as BK-02 Berdyansk and BK-03 Nikopol, two small Gyurza-M class artillery boats, and the Yany-Kapu tugboat. Ukraine has a limited navy, particularly since the Crimean secession in 2014, as most naval assets held there were given to the Russian Federation.

Ukraine Declares Martial Law as Tensions With Russia Soar  — Following up on Sunday’s maritime incident in the Sea of Azov, the Ukrainian parliament voted Monday on a declaration of martial law. They are presenting this as a “partial mobilization” of the military as officials hype the possibility of war with Russia.The martial law will formally begin on Wednesday, and last for 30 days. President Petro Poroshenko said he intends to respect the rights of individual Ukrainian citizens during this period.Importantly, Ukrainian officials are emphasizing that this move is short of a declaration of war on Russia. On Sunday, officials had said the National Security and Defense Council was meeting and intended to declare a “state of war,” though it does not appear any public declaration happened.On Sunday, three Ukrainian ships crossed into Russian territorial waters, and were seized. Russia said this area of the Sea of Azov was closed for security reasons. Ukraine is demanding the return of the ships and the sailors. Russia says they are temporarily impounded, and that the three sailors wounded in the incident have already been treated and are in no medical danger.Russian officials are downplaying the incident as a minor one, while Ukrainian officials are already identifying a series of border areas that they expect ground troops to invade. Ukraine has been predicting a Russian invasion for years. As is often the case, the US and NATO are embracing the Ukrainian narrative, and condemning Russia. Such condemnations come as a matter of course, but so far, are stopping short of any threats to escalate this militarily into a global war.

 Ukraine Deploys Reservists To 10 Border Provinces As President Warns Of Russian Invasion - Galvanizing support by warning about an imminent Russian invasion, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko managed to win approval from the Ukrainian Parliament in a midnight vote on Monday following five hours of contentious debate.Unwilling to simply accept Poroshenko's claims that he had heard reliable whispers about an imminent Russian invasion, opposition figures pressed Poroshenko on his reasoning for the emergency measures, and ultimately succeeded in forcing him to water down the proposal. But even before Poroshenko's decree won the approval of lawmakers, the Ukrainian president had already started deploying troops into the streets of his country.  Now in a state of martial law, Ukraine has called up its reservists and deployed all available troops to join the mobilization. Initially expected to last for two months, Poroshenko revised his degree to avoid accusations that he would try to interfere in the upcoming Ukrainian election. The decree passed by the Rada will leave martial law in effect for 30 days. The country has also started restricting travel for Russian nationals. NATO Commander Jens Stoltenberg told the Associated Press that Poroshenko had given his word that the order wouldn't interfere with the upcoming vote. The conflict between the Ukraine and Russia exploded into life on Sunday when Russian ships fired on two Ukrainian artillery ships and rammed a tugboat as the ships traveled toward the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea. Russia's mighty Black Sea fleet has taken the three ships and their crew into custody, and has so far ignored calls to release the soldiers by the UN, European leaders and Poroshenko himself.US officials criticized Russia for its "aggressive" defense of the Kerch Strait, which Ukraine has a right to use according to a bilateral treaty. After Nikki Haley said during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council that Russia was making it "impossible" to have normal relations with the US, Mike Pompeo said Russia's "aggressive action" was a "dangerous escalation" and also "violates international law." He also advocated for Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin to engage in direct talks.

Moscow & NATO Playing a ‘Dangerous Tit-For-Tat Game’ in the Ukraine --Yves here. This Real News Network interview with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson puts the current Russia-Ukraine spat in context.

About the latest Ukronazi provocation in the Kerch strait -  First, here is a pretty good summary of what has taken place (including videos) posted by RT:

Second, let me give you the single most important element to understand what is (and what is not) taking place: the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea are, in military terms, “Russian lakes”.  That means that Russia has the means to destroy any and all ships (or aircraft) over these two seas: on the Black Sea the life expectancy of any intruder would be measured in minutes, on the Sea of Azov in seconds.  Let me repeat here that any and all ships deployed in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are detected and tracked by Russia and they can all easily be destroyed.  The Russians know that, the Ukrainians know that and, of course, the Empire knows that.  Again, keep that in mind when trying to make sense of what happened. Third, whether the waters in which the incident happened belong to Russia or not is entirely irrelevant.  Everybody knows that Russia considers these waters are belonging to her and those disagreeing with this have plenty of options to express their disagreement and challenge the legality of the Russian position.  Trying to break through waters Russia considers her own with several armed military vessels is simply irresponsible and, frankly, plain stupid (especially considering point #2 above).  That is simply not how civilized nations behave (and there are plenty of contested waters on our planet). Fourth, one should not be too quick in dismissing Poroshenko’s latest plan to introduce martial law for the next 60 days.  Albeit Poroshenko himself declared that this mobilization does not mean that the Ukronazi regime wants war with Rus