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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

week ending Nov 24

 Morgan Stanley- We Sense A Shift In Tone From The Fed -  Persistent volatility and its impact on tightening financial conditions tend to focus markets’ attention on the central banks. Investors go on high alert, parsing for signs of a change in rhetoric and any indications that central banks may try to soothe the markets’ anxieties.  This past week, we heard from both the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Fed, which is central to this dynamic. We think they’ve sent a consistent message: The Fed is data-dependent, but with the economy doing as well as it is today, it still anticipates a gradual hiking path. While the bar for changing course remains high, we sense a subtle shift in tone relative to a few weeks ago, putting more emphasis on data dependence and signaling some flexibility on policy management after reaching neutral.  Consider the current economic backdrop. US growth has been running above trend for a while; the unemployment rate has been running below its natural rate for the past 20 months; wage growth has accelerated, reaching a post-crisis high of 3.1%Y; core PCE inflation has stayed at target for a couple of months; private non-residential investment growth momentum has averaged ~6%Y for seven quarters; and productivity growth has picked up in the last two quarters. Households are saving more of their income (6.2%, to be precise) than in 2006-07, and household debt-to-disposable income ratios have remained low and stable. With both the strength and character of this economic expansion looking this good, it would be hard to build a fundamental case that the Fed needs to change course quickly. On the surface, recent growth data have weakened in Germany and Japan, while there are lingering concerns about the outlook for China and emerging markets in general. However, for Germany and Japan, the outright contraction in economic activity in 3Q was largely due to one-off factors – the imposition of new emission standards impacting car production in Germany and natural disasters in Japan. Moreover, survey data in both of these economies are indicating that activity probably picked up in October, suggesting that the impact is temporary. ... In aggregate, global growth, on our estimates, did decelerate to 3.4%Q in 3Q18 from a very strong 4.1%Q in 2Q, but we estimate that it will move back above trend to 3.6%Q in 4Q18.

Trump is reportedly blaming Treasury Secretary Mnuchin for the appointment of Fed Chairman Powell - President Donald Trump has expressed dissatisfaction with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, blaming him for the appointment of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Trump, who nominated Powell a year ago to succeed Janet Yellen, has repeatedly criticized the Fed chairman for increasing interest rates. Trump fears rising rates could trigger an economic downturn that would jeopardize his 2020 re-election campaign, the Journal reported. The Federal Reserve, led by Powell, has raised interest rates repeatedly and is expected to do so again in December.Later Friday, Trump responded to the report with a tweet criticizing the story and insisting that he supports Mnuchin."I am extremely happy and proud of the job being done" by Mnuchin, the president tweeted. "The FAKE NEWS likes to write stories to the contrary, quoting phony sources or jealous people, but they aren't true. They never like to ask me for a quote b/c it would kill their story."   In a statement to the Journal, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: "The president has long been clear about his views on the Fed. He has a good relationship with Secretary Mnuchin and is thankful for all the work he does on behalf of his administration and the American people."

 Ray Dalio: Losing 'Reserve Status' Would Lead To 30% Drop In The Dollar - During a live interview with Barry Ritholtz for his "Masters In Business" podcast on Monday, the Bridgewater Associates CEO once again expounded upon his "1937" markets thesis: That is, his theory that the US economy increasingly resembles the late-cycle dynamic from the 1930s where equity prices topped out as the Federal Reserve tightened monetary policy. Like the 1930s, the global economy is awash and debt, and populist politicians gaining power and influence in the West. But more interesting than Dalio's retread of his calls for a recession to begin some time during the next two years, he also repeated a claim he first made back in September, which has been getting more attention since BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said something similar earlier this month: That the US dollar's days as the dominant global reserve currency are numbered. Echoing Fink's claims, Dalio explained that widening US deficits will soon alienate foreign buyers of US Treasurys, sending yields soaring higher while causing the dollar to depreciate by as much as 30% (though at least the Fed would no longer have any trouble meeting its inflation target).  Bloomberg's Brian Chappatta reviewed Dalio's remarks in a column published Monday, where he cited previous comments by the hedge fund billionaire where Dalio said the loss of the dollar's reserve status would be America's "worst nightmare." Dalio believes other rivals to the dollar will emerge to take its place, but refused to speculate about which currencies they might be.

For The First Time In Decades, 1 Year Treasuries Yield More Than Chinese Debt - Over the weekend, we noted something unexpected: the yield differential between Chinese and US 10Y Yields had collapsed in the past month, dropping to under 30bps, the lowest level in years, as the market appeared to telegraph that China would not only be unlikely to spur inflation, but more concerningly, succumb to deflation. However, while there is still time before Chinese 10Y paper yields less than its US equivalent, a look at closer maturities reveals that for the first time in decades, one-year Treasuries yield more than short-term Chinese debt, which BMO Capital Markets said would spell further trouble for China’s currency. The recent sharp drop in 12-month Treasury bills, the result of the Fed's push to hike rates despite concerns about the slowing US economy, has sent 1 Year yields to 2.66%, rising above the 2.56% yield on matched-maturity Chinese securities for the first time since at least 2008. Putting this dramatic move in context, at the start of 2018, the Chinese 1 Year government paper yielded about 200bps more than the T-bills.   "For the first time in decades, a 12-month Treasury bill has a higher yield than one-year Chinese debt," BMO rates strategist Jon Hill wrote in a Monday note, echoing what we said a few weeks ago, namely that the collapse in the rate differential "should put further depreciation pressure on the renminbi which would serve as a disinflationary force domestically, and help to offset the taxes on imports." Meanwhile, the divergence of monetary policy between the tightening Federal and the easing PBOC means the gap is likely to keep growing, leaving the yuan increasingly vulnerable. In addition to indicating that the market is increasingly concerned about the stability of China's economy, the slumping yields and resulting yuan devaluation - which will almost certainly push the yuan below the critical "redline" level of 7.00 against the dollar - it will also further infuriate the Trump administration. As the trade war between the US and China escalates, the offshore yuan has weakened 6% against the dollar this year, making it one of the worst-performing Asian currencies and raising speculation that China has been deliberately weakening its currency amid trade tensions with the US; it also prompted repeated accusations by Trump that Beijing is purposefully devaluing its currency, resulting in threats of even harsher sanctions should China fail to address US concerns, leading to even more aggressive retaliation in the ongoing currency and trade war.

 US GDPNow Q4 estimate slips to moderate +2.5% pace -  Atlanta Fed - The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2018 is 2.5 percent on November 21, unchanged from November 20. The nowcast of fourth-quarter real nonresidential equipment investment growth declined from 11.5 percent to 10.5 percent after this morning’s advance durable manufacturing report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The nowcast of fourth-quarter real residential investment growth increased from -6.3 percent to -4.1 percent after this morning’s existing-home sales release from the National Association of Realtors.

Trump’s Defense Spending Is Out of Control, and Poised to Get Worse - Matt Taibbi - A bipartisan commission has determined that President Trump’s recent record defense bill is insufficiently massive to keep America safe, and we should spend more, while cutting “entitlements.”The National Defense Strategy Commission concluded the Department of Defense was too focused on “efficiency” and needed to accept “greater cost and risk” to search for “leap-ahead technologies” to help the U.S. maintain superiority.The panel added that Defense is “not where most of the money is.” It said Congress should be focused on “domestic entitlement programs” and “interest payments on the national debt” as sources of savings.The report even contains a graph that shows defense spending crawling sadly along the floor of the spending X-axis as mighty mandatory “entitlements” soar to great heights. This is the same Department of Defense with a serious existing accounting problem. In 2016, before Trump was elected, its Inspector General said he could not properly track $6.5 trillion in defense spending. A later academic study claimed the number was $21 trillion, looking at the years 1998-2015. Trump originally asked for over $730 billion in defense spending for Fiscal Year 2019, and last spring a budget setting spending at $716 billion passed 85-10 in the Senate. This would have meant an $82 billion spending hike, an increase that by itself was larger than the entire defense budget of every country on earth, save China. Trump later called for an across-the-board budget cut of 5 percent, leaving the amount of the defense budget in confusion. He still claims he wants $700 billion. Whatever the final amount turns out to be, it will be massive — about 10 times the size of Russia’s defense budget, and four times the size of China’s. The National Defense Strategy Commission was created as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. It’s section 942 in this bill, and it requires that the majority and minority committee chiefs for Armed Services in both the House and the Senate to each name three people to the panel. The co-chair, appointed by Democrat Adam Smith of Washington, is Admiral Gary Roughead, who was named chief of Naval operations in 2007 and now sits on the board of Northrup Grumman.

Why the security of nuclear materials should be focus of US-Russia nuclear relations - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists -- The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty following years of Russian noncompliance is the most recent upset in a series of escalating tensions between the two superpowers. The political status of Ukraine and Crimea, Russian disinformation campaigns in the 2016 election cycle, and continued uncertainty surrounding the extension of New START have led many commentators—even Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev—to argue that relations between Russia and the United States are at their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War. While the Helsinki summit may have left much to be desired in terms of strategic stability and arms control, the United States and Russia need to—and can—find a balance between competition and cooperation, particularly with regard to nuclear security. The pressing need for global action on nuclear security may offer the United States and Russia a way around the generally deteriorated state of their relations. They have, after all, both historically played key roles in creating and maintaining cooperative frameworks to bolster nuclear material security—in spite of other disagreements. Indeed, Russia and the United States are still partners in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, a collective dedicated to improving the accounting and control of nuclear materials. Future cooperation on nuclear material security would build upon numerous previous joint efforts to reduce the risks posed by fissile material, typified by the recently concluded Megatons to Megawatts Program, an effort so effective that roughly one in 10 US light bulbs was powered by fissile material from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons for multiple decades.

Russia, West clash over chemical arms watchdog’s new powers - Backed by China and Iran, Russia called last-minute votes on the OPCW's budget and on setting up an "expert group" to scrutinise the OPCW's new role in pointing the finger for toxic weapons attacks. But the United States and Britain furiously accused them of trying to "turn back the clock of history", and said the work to attribute blame for attacks in Syria should start as planned early next year. The West pushed through the new powers after a string of chemical incidents in Syria, as well as a nerve agent attack on Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal in the British city of Salisbury in March. Russian envoy Alexander Shulgin said Western claims of chemical weapons use by Damascus and Moscow were "out and out lies" and an excuse for "raining down missiles" on Syria. He said the June decision was "illegitimate" and went beyond the Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1997 agreement to rid the world of toxic arms, under which the OPCW was set up. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad denied his country had ever used chemical weapons, in a fierce broadside at the western allies. "You have taught people to use chemical weapons, you have used chemical weapons in the first two world wars." he said."Where is your morality? This is sheer hypocrisy and sheer lies." US Ambassador Kenneth Ward said Russia's claims that the OPCW's new powers were illegitimate were "pungent hypocrisy", and warned against allowing a "new era of chemical weapons use to take hold". "What have they done for the last few years but to connive with their Syrian ally to bury the truth of what has happened in Syria, along with the dead killed by the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime," Ward said.

How ‘The New York Times’ Deceived the Public on North Korea - The New York Times may still have a Judith Miller problem—only now it’s a David Sanger problem. Miller, of course, is the former Times reporter who helped build the case for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq with a series of reports based on highly questionable sources bent on regime change. The newspaper eventually admitted its errors but didn’t specifically blame Miller, who left the paper soon after the mea culpa and is now a commentator on Fox News. Now, Sanger, who over the years has been the recipient of dozens of leaks from US intelligence on North Korea’s weapons program and the US attempts to stop it, has come out with his own doozy of a story that raises serious questions about his style of deep-state journalism. The article may not involve the employment of sleazy sources with an ax to grind, but it does stretch the findings of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank that is deeply integrated with the military-industrial complex and plays an instrumental role in US media coverage on Korea.  “Controversy is raging,” South Korea’s progressive Hankyoreh newspaper declared on Wednesday about the Times report, which it called “riddled with holes and errors.” Sanger’s story, which appeared on Monday underneath the ominous headline “In North Korea, Missile Bases Suggest a Great Deception,” focused on a new study from CSIS’s “Beyond Parallel” project about the Sakkanmol Missile Operating Base, one of 13 North Korean missile sites, out of a total of 20, that it has identified and analyzed from overhead imagery provided by Digital Globe, a private satellite contractor. None of the 20 sites has been officially acknowledged by Pyongyang, but the network is “long known to American intelligence agencies,” wrote Sanger.

  Trump administration hawks putting US on course for war with Iran, report warns --Donald Trump has surrounded himself with hardliners in his administration who have openly called for bombing Iran and carrying out regime change, says a new report, which also warns of the possibility of a military confrontation being engineered through provocative action. Senior members of the US administration, which has pulled out of the nuclear deal with Tehran unilaterally, have vocalised its desire to destroy the agreement and cripple the Iranian economy in the process, the document prepared by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) points out. The report holds, however, that there is a chance of averting a violent scenario following the American midterm elections, which have given the Democrats control of the House of Representatives. There are Republicans as well as Democrats who are wary of the hawkish approach of some of Mr Trump’s advisers, and a bipartisan approach may pave the way for the deal to be saved and even for Washington to rejoin it in the future.NIAC, an independent organisation which studies issues involving the US and Iran, reminds readers that the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, the other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have all said repeatedly that Tehran is living by its obligations, as have the United Nations. The Trump administration’s stance, it has pointed out, has caused a serious rift with western allies who are now taking legal and commercial measures to protect international companies from US sanctions. Re-engaging with Tehran would give the US, with the help of its western allies, the means to address issues of concern such as human rights in Iran and its activities in the region, the report stresses. The imposition of sanctions, it continues, will not only hurt the Iranian people by interrupting the provision of humanitarian supplies like medicine, but bolster anti-western reactionaries.

We’re Headed Toward Perpetual Conflict and Cataclysmic War --Maj. Danny Sjursen - American militarism has gone off the rails — and this middling career officer should have seen it coming. Earlier in this century, the U.S. military not surprisingly focused on counterinsurgency as it faced various indecisive and seemingly unending wars across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. Back in 2008, when I was still a captain newly returned from Iraq and studying at Fort Knox, Kentucky, our training scenarios generally focused on urban combat and what were called security and stabilization missions. We’d plan to assault some notional city center, destroy the enemy fighters there, and then transition to pacification and “humanitarian” operations.Of course, no one then asked about the dubious efficacy of “regime change” and “nation building,” the two activities in which our country had been so regularly engaged. That would have been frowned upon. Still, however bloody and wasteful those wars were, they now look like relics from a remarkably simpler time. The U.S. Army knew its mission then (even if it couldn’t accomplish it) and could predict what each of us young officers was about to take another crack at: counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq.Fast forward eight years — during which this author fruitlessly toiled away in Afghanistan and taught at West Point — and the U.S. military ground presence has significantly decreased in the Greater Middle East, even if its wars there remain “infinite.” The U.S. was still bombing, raiding, and “advising” away in several of those old haunts as I entered the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Nonetheless, when I first became involved in the primary staff officer training course for mid-level careerists there in 2016, it soon became apparent to me that something was indeed changing. Our training scenarios were no longer limited to counterinsurgency operations. Now, we were planning for possible deployments to — and high-intensity conventional warfare in — the Caucasus, the Baltic Sea region, and the South China Sea (think: Russia and China). We were also planning for conflicts against an Iranian-style “rogue” regime (think: well, Iran). The missions became all about projecting U.S. Army divisions into distant regions to fight major wars to “liberate” territories and bolster allies.

Killing of Khashoggi tests U.S. defense industry as backlash builds on Capitol Hill - The powerful U.S. defense industry is facing a rare challenge to its influence on Capitol Hill as support for arms sales to Saudi Arabia has rapidly eroded following the killing last month of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi government operatives.The defense industry’s typically aggressive lobby has gone quiet as gruesome details of Khashoggi’s death have leaked and American intelligence officials have laid blame at the feet of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.Even as President Trump has reiterated his support for continued sales of U.S. weapons to the kingdom, congressional opposition to those sales and to U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen has mounted in recent weeks — testing the power of an industry that has sold tens of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons systems to the kingdom since the 1950s.Growing bipartisan support for Senate legislation to cut off the arms sales marks a historic disruption in a seemingly inviolable arms-for-oil trade relationship that stretches back decades and is an unusual setback for one of the most influential lobbies in Washington.In the coming weeks, key senators are expected to push for a vote on a measure that would impose sanctions on Saudi officials responsible for Khashoggi’s death and suspend many weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until it ceases airstrikes in Yemen that have killed tens of thousands of civilians.The bill represents one of the first major breaks between congressional Republicans and the White House, which has embraced Saudi Arabia as a key Middle Eastern ally — a strategy driven by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who forged a strong personal relationship with the crown prince.

Trump Praises Saudis After CIA Blames Crown Prince for Khashoggi’s Murder — Hours after the publication of a bombshell CIA report claiming that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had almost certainly ordered the killing of Saudi dissident and former US resident Jamal Khashoggi, responses from lawmakers and senior US government officials – including the president himself – are rolling in.One of the first to respond was none other than Bob Corker, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said he believed the CIA’s conclusion that MbS ordered the killing, and demanded that the administration “do something” to hold MbS accountable and stop the kingdom from executing the five suspects who had been set up to take the fall for the murder.“Everything points to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, MbS, ordering @washingtonpost journalist Jamal #Khashoggi’s killing,” Corker said. “The Trump administration should make a credible determination of responsibility before MbS executes the men who apparently carried out his orders.” Corker also tweeted a statement about the possibility of imposing Magnitsky Act sanctions on senior Saudi officials believed to be involved with the killing. In the statement, he said the Treasury Department sanctions against 17 Saudis, including a top aide to the Crown Prince who is suspected of having organized the 15-man hit squad that carried it out, was a “significant step.” I have a lot of concerns about the trajectory that Saudi Arabia is on right now, and I think a price needs to be paid. My full statement on the Global Magnitsky sanctions against Saudi officials for the murder of #JamalKhashoggi:  — Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) November 15, 2018 President Trump, who has notably toned down his rhetoric about the killing and MbS’s potential complicity, doubled down on Saturday when he defended the US’s “spectacular” relationship with the Saudis and once again pointed to the massive number of jobs and investments he said Saudi Arabia brings to the US. “We’re taking a look at it. You know, we also have a great ally in Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “They give us a lot of jobs, they give us a lot of business, a lot of economic development. They have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.” Trump added that he had not yet been briefed about the CIA’s report, he also said that he’d be speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump speaks with CIA about Khashoggi killing - President Trump on Saturday said he had spoken with CIA Director Gina Haspel on the agency’s finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and that there will be a “very full report” on the matter by Tuesday. The Washington Post first reported Friday that the CIA had assessed with high confidence the Saudi leader’s role, based on multiple sources of intelligence. But the president had already been shown evidence of the prince’s alleged involvement in the killing, and privately he remains skeptical, Trump aides said. He has also looked for ways to avoid pinning the blame on Mohammed, the aides said. Trump spoke with Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his flight to California to tour areas damaged by the wildfires there, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One.While touring fire damage in Malibu, Trump confirmed that he had spoken with Haspel. Asked about reports that the CIA had assessed involvement by Mohammed, the president said: “They haven’t assessed anything yet. It’s too early.”“It’s a horrible thing that took place, the killing of a journalist,” he said, adding that there would be a “a report on Tuesday” that will address what “we think the overall impact was and who caused it, and who did it.” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued a statement Saturday that did not directly address the CIA’s findings about Mohammed or mention him.   “Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate,” she said. “There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts. In the meantime, we will continue to consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.” The Post and other media outlets have reported on the CIA’s assessment but have not said the U.S. government reached a conclusion about what happened to Khashoggi. The president’s skepticism has put him at odds with the findings of the CIA and senior intelligence officials. 

Trump Calls CIA Conclusion on Khashoggi Murder “Premature,” Promises Full Report — President Trump says he will be releasing a “very full report” on the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Istanbul consulate within the next two days. Trump promised the report will include “who did it.”The odds are this official report won’t implicate the Saudi crown prince, as the CIA already did that in their own assessment, leading President Trump to complain that it was “premature” for the CIA to make that conclusion.Trump has repeatedly made it clear that he doesn’t want to see the Khashoggi murder threaten US arms sales to the Saudis. He has said the Saudis assured him the crown prince didn’t do it, and seems to be sticking to that in his comments.As far as evidence to the contrary, the CIA has cited a phone call that lured Khashoggi to the consulate as a key part of the determination, as well as the reality that the crown prince is so heavily involved in everything done on behalf of the kingdom, they determined it was virtually unthinkable that he didn’t play a role.The biggest piece of evidence in the whole incident, however, is an audio recording of the murder itself. Trump addressed the tape today, saying he already knows “everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it,” and that he sees no reason to listen to it himself. He did not elaborate on what went on in the tape. This has been a recurring aspect of US treatment of the recording, with all top officials seemingly going out of their way not to hear it so they don’t have to speak to its contents publicly.

CIA holds ‘smoking gun phone call’ of Saudi Crown Prince on Khashoggi murder: Columnist - The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is in possession of a phone call recording of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which he is heard giving an instruction to “silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible,” Hürriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote on Nov. 22. According to Selvi, CIA Director Gina Haspel “signalled” during her trip to Ankara last month the existence of the wiretapped phone call between Crown Prince Mohammed and his brother Khaled bin Salman, who is Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. Citing unidentified sources, the Turkish columnist wrote that the two Saudi officials are heard in the CIA recording discussing the “discomfort” created by Khashoggi’s public criticism of the kingdom’s administration. Khashoggi, a frequent contributor to The Washington Post and a prominent critic of Prince Mohammed, was killed on Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Gruesome quotes from Khashoggi recordings published for first time After weeks of denying any involvement in the crime, Riyadh finally admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate but claimed the Saudi royal family had no prior knowledge about any murder plot. “It is said that the crown prince gave an instruction to silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible and this instruction was captured during the CIA wiretapping. The subsequent murder is the ultimate confirmation of this instruction,” Selvi added, stressing that an international investigation into the murder, if opened, “can reveal more jaw-dropping evidence, as CIA has more wiretapped phone calls at hand than the public knows about.”

‘A Truly Spectacular Ally’- Trump’s Saudi First Foreign Policy - Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility for the Khashoggi murder is getting harder and harder for Trump to deny: The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter. Despite reports that Trump has already been told this, the president remains in denial and keeps making excuses for the Saudis:  President Trump says he will be briefed today on the CIA report that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi while also calling Saudi Arabia "a truly spectacular ally." — NBC News (@NBCNews) November 17, 2018 Note that Trump’s definition of what constitutes a “truly spectacular ally” depends entirely on what he thinks the other country does for the U.S. in terms of “jobs and economic development.” That is a ridiculous way to think about alliances, but that seems to be how Trump views these relationships. In the Saudi case, it also happens to be false. He grossly exaggerates the importance of Saudi Arabia for our economy, and then considers them a “truly spectacular” ally because of the exaggerated role he has invented in his own mind. Trump routinely treats other far more valuable and powerful treaty allies with disdain because they supposedly rip us off, but he refuses to punish the reckless Saudis because he thinks they pay us enough. The truth is that Saudi Arabia isn’t our ally in any meaningful sense. There is no treaty that requires either of our governments to come to the aid of the other, and our interests and Saudi interests have been diverging for many years. The purpose of any American alliance is supposed to be advancing the security interests of the U.S., but in practice the connection with the Saudis has meant that the U.S. subordinates our interests to those of the kingdom. Support for the Saudi coalition war on Yemen is the most consequential and destructive example of this, but that is just part of a larger pattern of allowing bad client states to define U.S. interests in the region according to their preferences. The same thing led to U.S. involvement in Syria, and it is why U.S. forces are still there illegally today.

Trump says US stands with Saudi Arabia despite journalist Khashoggi's killing - President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that the U.S. stands with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In a lengthy statement — punctuated with eight exclamation points — Trump said that "we may never know all of the facts surrounding" Khashoggi's death, but "our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." Trump said that U.S. intelligence agencies are still assessing all the information surrounding the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi royal family, in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October. The Washington Post reported Friday that the CIA had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself had ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, citing people familiar with the matter. Trump told reporters Saturday that a "very full report" will be coming by Tuesday on the investigation by the U.S. But in his statement Tuesday, Trump appeared to cast doubt that the U.S. probe of the matter was complete."It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event," Trump said in the statement, though "maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"  Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement that Trump's apparent decision not to punish the Saudi crown prince "is offensive to every value the United States holds dear." Feinstein said she plans to vote against future arms sales and appropriation to Saudi Arabia, and called for sanctions against the crown prince and the removal of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

 With Statement Equal Parts 'Dangerous' and 'Imbecilic,' Trump Smears Khashoggi and Vows to Back Murderous Saudis -  In a bizarre, exclamation point-riddled statement on Tuesday that one critic said reads more "like a 6th grader's school report" than an official White House press release, President Donald Trump shrugged at the CIA's conclusion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—"maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"—and declared that the U.S. will continue to back Saudi Arabia because it is one of the world's largest oil producers, a major purchaser of American arms, and an ally in the "fight against Iran." "This is, without a doubt, the most uninformed, imbecilic, toady, poorly-written, categorically untrue statement I have ever seen from a president of the United States." —Joe Cirincione, Ploughshares FundSpeaking to reporters on the White House lawn just hours after his statement went public, Trump said Khashoggi's murder "is a very complex situation, it's a shame, but it is what it is.""It's all about America first. We're not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in [weapons] orders and let Russia, China, and everybody else have them," the president added. "Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof. I've kept them down, they've helped me keep them down."Watch:

Trump’s Amoral Saudi Statement Is a Pure Expression of Decades-Old “U.S. Values” and Foreign Policy Orthodoxies -Glenn Greenwald - Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a statement proclaiming that, notwithstanding the anger toward the Saudi Crown Prince over the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, “the United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.” To justify his decision, Trump cited the fact that “Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world” and claimed that “of the $450 billion [the Saudis plan to spend with U.S. companies], $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors.” This statement instantly and predictably produced pompous denunciations pretending that Trump’s posture was a deviation from, a grievous violation of, long-standing U.S. values and foreign policy rather than what it actually and obviously is: a perfect example – perhaps stated a little more bluntly and candidly than usual – of how the U.S. has conducted itself in the world since at least the end of World War II.  The reaction was so intense because the fairy tale about the U.S. standing up for freedom and human rights in the world is one of the most pervasive and powerful prongs of western propaganda, the one relied upon by U.S. political and media elites to convince not just the U.S. population but also themselves of their own righteousness, even as they spend decades lavishing the world’s worst tyrants and despots with weapons, money, intelligence and diplomatic protection to carry out atrocities of historic proportions. After all, if you have worked in high-level foreign policy positions in Washington, or at the think thanks and academic institutions that support those policies, how do you justify to yourself that you’re still a good person even though you arm, prop up, empower and enable the world’s worst monsters, genocides, and tyrannies? Simple: by pretending that you don’t do any of that, that such acts are contrary to your system of values, that you actually work to oppose rather than protect such atrocities, that you’re a warrior and crusader for democracy, freedom and human rights around the world.

Trump rules out further action against Saudi regime over Khashoggi’s murder -- President Donald Trump issued a statement yesterday, which declared “America First” considerations ruled out taking any further action against the Saudi Arabian regime over the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The only US response has been token sanctions imposed last week on 17 Saudi individuals, who the regime itself had implicated in the crime.Trump made his announcement following the publication of claims on November 16 in the Washington Post that the “CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination.” The crown prince is the heir to the throne and de facto head of the monarchical dictatorship that rules over the oil-rich country.Khashoggi, who had fallen out with the regime and publicly criticised it, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2 by a 15-man hit-team. His body was then dismembered and disposed of in an unknown location.Trump brushed aside the top-level Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, writing: “[I]t could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event—maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”His statement crudely spelled out that his only real concern was the “national interest” of American imperialism, which were its economic relations with the Saudi monarchy and Saudi support for US aggression in the Middle East, particularly with Syria and Iran.The Saudi regime, he declared, “had agreed to spend and invest $450 billion” in the US, including $110 billion in purchases of military equipment. If the US cancelled the contracts, “Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries.” Saudi Arabia, he went on, was “a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.” It was also the largest oil producing country after the US and had been “very responsive to my requests to keep oil prices at reasonable levels.”

Mattis- CIA Hasn't Fully Established Who Is Responsible For Khashoggi Killing -- Even as the scandal surrounding Saudi Arabia's role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi threatened one of the US's most important strategic alliances in the Middle East, Defense Secretary James Mattis remained conspicuously tight lipped about who bore responsibility for the killing, saying only that diplomatic crisis undermined stability in the region. Well, one day after President Trump declared that the CIA could still very well determine that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman didn't know anything about the killing - despite Friday's Washington Post report claiming that the agency strongly believed that the order to kill Khashoggi came directly from the prince - Mattis defended his boss during a Pentagon press conference, saying that neither the CIA nor the Saudi government have "fully established" who was behind the killing. And even if the CIA could find definitive proof, it wouldn't change the fact that it's in the US's interest to work with the Saudis. Because presidents don't always get to work with "unblemished" strategic partners, Mattis said. Furthermore, it's the president's duty to balance competing interests, and that Khashoggi's killers must be held accountable - but that the US must also work with the kingdom to end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

CIA Has Smoking Gun Phone Call Of MbS Giving Order To Silence Khashoggi- Report -  The Turks may still yet have the ultimate "smoking gun" leak up their sleeve which could put to bed the whole question over whether Saudi crown prince MbS personally ordered the October 2nd killing of Jamal Khashoggi.  The story broke on Thursday as Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving, and as President Trump spending the holidays a Mar-a-Lago took time to tell reporters at a press conference that the CIA "didn't conclude" that MbS ordered the killing while hedging that he "might have done it".Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News said on Thursday the CIA has a recording of a phone call in which the crown prince gave instructions to "silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible." The possible existence of such a tape could put Trump in an awkward position if its contents are leaked given his consistent defense of MbS amidst the scandal and growing calls for accountability.  Thus far the slow drip of Turkish leaks have proven accurate, and Hurriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi broke the news of the first recording that captured Khashoggi's death inside the Istanbul consulate, which proved accurate according to reports. Selvi wrote on Thursday, "There is talk of another recording" which involves a CIA eavesdrop of a call between MbS and his brother Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. The Turkish newspaper claimed based on its sources:The crown prince gave an instruction to silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible and this instruction was captured during [a] CIA wiretapping.Selvi also reported that during her trip to Ankara last month, CIA Director Gina Haspel "signaled" the existence of the tape.  "It is being said that CIA chief Gina Haspel indicated this during her visit to Turkey," Selvi wrote. The revelation, though not confirmed, came a day after Turkish news site Haberturk published what it said were quotes from a tape of Khashoggi's last moments as he was apprehended the moment he stepped inside the consulate.

Trump presses home his Saudi oil advantage after Khashoggi affair (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump has in effect agreed to overlook the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in return for Saudi Arabia’s help to contain oil prices and for its assistance in other areas.  The United States and Britain have seized on the vulnerability of the kingdom and its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to push harder for a partial ceasefire in Yemen and improve relations with Qatar.The kingdom will also come under heightened pressure to deliver on promises of increased arms purchases and overseas investment as well as reconstruction aid in Yemen.Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month has also given the United States leverage over the Saudi government and, by extension, the production policy pursued by the OPEC+ group of oil exporters.Oil traders have certainly made a link between the killing and oil. Khashoggi was killed on Oct. 2. Brent futures hit their highest level in the current cycle on Oct. 3 and have since fallen by more than $23 a barrel ( Several other factors, too, have weighed on oil prices since the end of September.These include rising production by OPEC and its allies, surging U.S. shale output, more generous than expected waivers for Iran’s exports, a deteriorating economic outlook and hedge fund selling. But there is little doubt the Khashoggi killing has weakened the kingdom’s international position and made it more anxious to maintain support from the White House, which has included delivering higher oil output and lower prices. The White House itself has drawn an explicit link between the killing and Saudi Arabia’s posture on oil prices (“Statement from President Donald J Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia”, White House, Nov. 20). Explaining why the president continues to give his full support to the kingdom, the White House cited its help in confronting Iran, agreeing to invest in the United States and arms sales. The official statement also highlighted Saudi Arabia’s importance as one of the world’s largest oil producers and praised the kingdom for working closely with the president to keep a lid on prices.

Keeping Bin Salman In Place Will Hurt Trump’s Middle East Policies - Against the advise from his intelligence services U.S. President Trump decided to leave the effective Saudi ruler, clown prince Mohammad bin Salman, in place. That move is unlikely to help with his larger policy plans.Bruce Riedel, a (former) high level CIA analyst, long warned of betting on Mohammad bin Salman. Even before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Riedel wrote that Saudi Arabia is at its least stable in 50 years (also here):  Riedel warned that the Trump administration, by betting on Mohammad bin Salman, put everything on one dubious card. MbS is unstable and made himself many internal enemies. If King Salman suddenly dies there will probably be a leadership crisis. Saudi Arabia could end up in chaos. U.S. Middle East policy, largely build around MbS, would then fall apart.The CIA disliked MbS since he replaced Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince. MbN is a longtime U.S. asset with a proven record of cooperation. MbS came from nowhere and the CIA has no control over him. That he is indeed impulsive and reckless only adds to that. That the CIA feared that MbS meant trouble even before the Khashoggi disaster, explains why it sabotaged Trump's attempts to exculpate MbS over the murder of Khashoggi. While Riedel was writing about the Saudi danger, Jamal Khashoggi, a longtime Saudi intelligence agent who had aligned himself with the wrong prince, went to Istanbul to build the public relation infrastructure for regime change in Saudi Arabia: Jamal Khashoggi, a prolific writer and commentator, was working quietly with intellectuals, reformists and Islamists to launch a group called Democracy for the Arab World Now. He wanted to set up a media watch organization to keep track of press freedom.  He also planned to launch an economic-focused website to translate international reports into Arabic to bring sobering realities to a population often hungry for real news, not propaganda. Khashoggi's projects were allegedly financed by Qatar but probably also had CIA support. MbS got wind thereof. He told his private office chief Bader Al Asaker to send his bodyguards to kill Khashoggi. They did so on October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But it was a much too large and too complicate mission. They Saudi agents made too many mistakes. They also underestimated the Turkish intelligence service.

A Vicious Place --The world according to Trump — notice a trend here?

  • Reporter: “Who should be held accountable?” [for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder]  Trump: “Maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place.” — November 22, 2018.
  • “The world is a vicious and brutal place. We think we’re civilized. In truth, it’s a cruel world and people are ruthless. They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you.” Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and in Life, Donald Trump & Bill Zanker, 2007, p. 71.
  • “Life is not easy. The world is a vicious, brutal place. It’s a place where people are looking to kill you, if not physically, then mentally. In the world that we live in every day it is usually the mental kill. People are looking to put you down, especially if you are on top. When I watched Westerns as a kid, I noticed the cowboys were always trying to kill the fastest gun. As a kid, I never understood it. Why would anyone want to go after the fastest gun?“This is the way it is in real life. Everyone wants to kill the fastest gun. In real estate, I am the fastest gun, and everyone wants to kill me. You have to know how to defend yourself. People will be nasty and try to kill you just for sport. Even your friends are out to get you!” Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and in Life, Donald Trump & Bill Zanker, 2007, p. 139.
  • “Well, not all people. But it’s a vicious place. The world is a vicious place. You know, the lions and tigers, they hunt for food, we hunt for sport. So, it can be a very vicious place. You turn on the television and you look at what’s happening.” Interview with John Barton, Golf Digest, October 13, 2014.
  • “This is the most deceptive, vicious world. It is vicious, it’s full of lies, deceit and deception. You make a deal with somebody and it’s like making a deal with– that table.” Interview with Lesley Stahl, CBS 60 Minutes, October 15, 2018.
  • “This is a r– this is a vicious place. Washington DC is a vicious, vicious place. The attacks, the– the bad mouthing, the speaking behind your back. –but– you know, and in my way, I feel very comfortable here.”   Interview with Lesley Stahl, CBS 60 Minutes, October 15, 2018.

White House Official Involved In Saudi Sanctions Resigns - Just in case the conspicuously divergent responses from President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence weren't enough of a clue, the Trump Administration has been struggling with how to respond to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and, more specifically, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's suspected involvement in ordering the hit. Hours after Trump defended the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and specified that he hadn't been briefed on the CIA's purported report assigning guilt to MbS, the State Department issued a statement claiming that the report was "inaccurate" without offering any new details."There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts," said department spokeswoman (and rumored future UN ambassador) Heather Nauert. "In the meantime, we will continue to consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi."If that wasn't vague enough, the New York Times reported Saturday night that Kirsten Fontenrose, a National Security Council official, has resigned under murky circumstances - possibly because she advocated a harder line against the Saudis than the administration was comfortable with. The paper credited Fontenrose with helping to mastermind the sanctions against the 17 Saudis earlier this week, but noted that one senior Saudi intelligence official believed to have been involved with the plot (an official who is also a close associated of MbS) was spared. The exact circumstances of her departure are murky, and it is unclear whether her advocacy for a hawkish response to the killing angered some in the White House. When she returned to Washington, according to the two people, she had a dispute with her bosses at the National Security Council, where she had served as the director for the Persian Gulf region.

 Dirty Work: Buying Votes at the UN Security Council --Countries that vote with the US when serving on the UN Security Council also receive more financial assistance. This column uses voting records in the Council to show that when these countries were US allies, they received more in US aid, but when the countries were not natural allies, they received more financial assistance from US-dominated international institutions instead.On 18 December 2017, the US vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that had called for the withdrawal of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution was supported by all remaining 14 members of the Council. Two days after the vote, Trump threatened to cut foreign aid to countries that voted against the US at the UN. “These nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council … We’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot,” he said. The Trump administration is not the first to pay attention to these votes. When Hillary Clinton, at that time the US Secretary of State, paid a visit to Togo in 2012, the press questioned her choice of destination. Clinton explained that, “[n]o secretary of state had ever been to Togo before. Togo happens to be on the UN Security Council. Going there, making the personal investment, has a real strategic purpose … When you look at … the voting dynamics in key international institutions, you start to understand the value of paying attention to these places.”

Who Says Economic Sanctions Work? Scott Ritter - The imposition of new, more stringent sanctions targeting Iranian oil sales by the Trump administration has once again raised the question: is this even a viable policy? The Council on Foreign Relations defines sanctions as “a lower-cost, lower-risk, middle course of action between diplomacy and war.” In short, sanctions do not represent policy per se, but rather the absence of policy, little more than a stop-gap measure to be used while other options are considered and/or developed.  Not surprising, sanctions have rarely—if ever—succeeded in obtaining their desired results. The poster child for successful sanctions as a vehicle for change—divestment in South Africa during the 1980s in opposition to the Apartheid regime—is in reality a red herring. The South Africa sanctions were in fact counterproductive, in so far as they prompted even harsher policies from the South African government. The demise of Apartheid came about largely because the Soviet Union collapsed, meaning the South African government was no longer needed in the fight against communism.. Since 1994, the U.S. has promulgated non-proliferation sanctions under the guise of executive orders signed by the president or statutes passed by Congress. But there is no evidence that sanctions implemented under these authorities have meaningfully altered the behaviors that they target.

Xi Jinping, Mike Pence trade barbs over trade war at Apec summit while selling visions for regional cooperation Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice-President Mike Pence traded barbs at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea on Saturday, with each laying the blame for the trade war and growing geopolitical rivalry at the other’s doorstep, while also seeking to sell their vision of a regional development strategy. In a speech lasting almost 40 minutes, Xi urged the business and political leaders gathered in Port Moresby to uphold free trade and promote a multilateral system.“Unilateralism and protectionism will not solve problems but add uncertainty to the world economy,” he said. “History has shown that confrontation, whether in the form of a cold war, a hot war or a trade war, produces no winners.” When it was his turn to take to the podium, Pence was equally fervent but far more direct in his criticism.“We have great respect for President Xi and China, but as we all know, China has taken advantage of the United States for many, many years and those days are over,” he said.He then levelled a number of accusations at Beijing, including its insistence on forced technology transfers and intellectual property theft.“The US will not change course until China changes its ways,” Pence said, adding that there was still room for the White House to introduce new tariffs on Chinese goods. Since July, Washington has imposed tariffs on US$250 billion worth of Chinese imports, while Beijing has slapped similar duties on US$110 billion worth of goods it imports from the US. In September, US President Donald Trump threatened to extend the tariffs to all of the products it imports from China. Neither Xi nor Pence listened to the other’s speech, both of which were delivered from a conference room on a cruise ship moored in Port Moresby harbour.

US vice president steps up confrontation with China at APEC summit - US Vice President Mike Pence effectively sabotaged the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea (PNG) last weekend with an aggressive attack on China across a broad range of issues from trade, to the South China Sea, to Beijing’s signature infrastructure project—the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).For the first time in APEC’s 29-year history, the summit did not issue a final communique after the United States and China failed to agree on its wording. According to PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, talks broke down over the language concerning the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which the Trump administration has condemned for treating China as a market economy. “There were two big giants in the room, what can I say,” O’Neill declared, in announcing the failure to reach agreement.In his speech on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned of the catastrophic consequences of rapidly sharpening tensions with the US and the dangers of war. “Mankind has once again reached a crossroads,” he said. “Which direction should we choose? Cooperation or confrontation? Openness or closing doors?”Referring to conflict between the US and Japan, Xi declared that the bloody battles of the Pacific War in the 1940s “plunged mankind into calamity not far from where we are.” To avoid a repetition of that tragedy, he said, the international community needed to support globalisation and “reject arrogance and prejudice”—a thinly veiled reference to the United States.“Unilateralism and protectionism will not solve problems but add uncertainty to the world economy,” Xi said. “History has shown that confrontation, whether in the form of a cold war, a hot war or a trade war, produces no winners.” US Vice President Pence, however, ignored Xi’s appeal and launched a frontal assault on China and its growing influence in the Asia-Pacific. Pence foreshadowed the determination of the Trump administration to ratchet up the US confrontation with China in a bellicose speech last month, in which he accused Beijing of military provocations in the South China Sea, stealing US intellectual property and interfering politically in the US mid-term elections.

“It Will Be a Cold War”: Summit Ends in Unprecedented Chaos After US-China Showdown — One day after vice president Mike Pence and China’s president Xi Jinping clashed after exchanging sharply worded barbs in a showdown between the two superpowers, on Sunday the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit ended in unprecedented chaos and disarray, without agreement on a joint communique for the first time in its history as the escalating rivalry between the United States and China dominated proceedings and reflected escalating trade tensions.Competition between the United States and China over the Pacific was also thrown into focus with the United States and its Western allies launching a coordinated response to China’s Belt and Road program, Reuters added.One diplomat told Reuters tension between the U.S. and China, bubbling all week, erupted when the Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, objected during a leaders’ retreat to two paragraphs in a draft document seen by Reuters. One mentioned opposing “unfair trade practices” and reforming the WTO, while another concerned sustainable development.“These two countries were pushing each other so much that the chair couldn’t see an option to bridge them,” said the unnamed diplomat. “China was angered that the reference to WTO blamed a country for unfair trade practices.”Sunday’s dramatic conclusion was foreshadowed by accusations that Chinese officials had attempted to strong-arm officials in Papua New Guinea, which was hosting the event, into issuing a statement that fitted what Beijing wanted. The Chinese vigorously denied the claims. When asked about the impasse, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was quoted by the South China Morning Post saying: “You know the two big giants in the room, so what can I say?”Instead of issuing a document that all 21 participants could agree O’Neill, said he would issue a “chair’s statement” reflecting the issues the participants did agree upon. The prime minister said the main area of disagreement was the insistence by one country — believed to be the US — that the communique would reflect the need for reform at the World Trade Organization.

China blames 'excuses' for APEC discord, as U.S. ties sour again (Reuters) - A major Asia-Pacific summit’s failure to agree on a communique resulted from certain countries “excusing” protectionism, a top Chinese diplomat said, in a veiled criticism of Washington that further sours the tone of China-U.S. ties ahead of a G20 meet. After months of bickering over a damaging trade war, the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan, the two nations’ presidents took a step back from the edge with an ice-breaking telephone call early this month. While both U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed optimism about resolving their trade war ahead of a planned meeting at the G20 meeting in Argentina at the end of next week, relations have since faltered again.The weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Port Moresby was one of open disagreement, topped by disputes between the U.S. and China over trade, security and which would be the better investment partner for the region. For the first time, the gathered leaders failed to agree to a joint communique, against the backdrop of the bitter trade war. The inability to reach a communique was “by no means accidental,” the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said in comments on the foreign ministry’s website late on Monday. “It is mainly that individual economies insisted on imposing their own texts on other parties, excusing protectionism and unilateralism, and not accepting reasonable revisions from the Chinese and other parties,” the ministry cited Wang as saying, without naming any country, in an oblique reference to the United States. “This practice caused dissatisfaction among many economies, including China, and it is obviously not in line with the consensus principle adhered to by APEC.” Consensus is where the value lies in APEC, Wang added. “It is in the joint interests of all parties and cannot be ignored and abandoned.” On Monday, China’s foreign ministry said the United States, whose delegation at the summit was led by Vice President Mike Pence, attended APEC in a “blaze of anger”, and that China had not gone to “get into a boxing ring”. Pence said the United States would not back down from the trade dispute, and might even double tariffs, unless Beijing bowed to U.S. demands. 

U.S. Busts APEC Summit With Tariff Demands – New York Times Blames China - A New York Times report about last weekend's summit in Asia demonstrates how U.S. media misinform their readers about international events. The recent summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Papua New Guinea failed to come up with a joint statement. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea, who hosted the summit, promised to issue a "chair's statement" instead. None can be found so far on the APEC website. This was the first time since 1989 that no joined 'Leaders' Declaration' was issued. The reason was a spat between the U.S. and China about a clause the U.S. tried to insert into the joint declaration. But as the Times tells the story, the failure of the summit was solely China's fault:  At a major international gathering in Papua New Guinea over the weekend, the United States wanted to end with a group statement emphasizing free trade. China objected. But instead of working out the disagreement through dialogue, Chinese officials barged uninvited into the office of the host country’s foreign minister demanding changes in the official communiqué. ...“China doesn’t care if it looks like a boor. If you are a tough guy, you don’t care what others think,” said Hugh White, a former military strategist for the Australian government and author of “The China Choice.” Such behavior was only surprising because it had been more than 30 years since the world had witnessed such edginess, Mr. White said. The Chinese deny that the APEC incident happened at all. Mr. White seems to have missed the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks during which the U.S. president and his secretary of state boorishly busted a meeting, held by China, Brazil, India and others, they were not invited to joinAccording to Clinton, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confronted a Chinese guard. "In the commotion the president slipped through the door and yelled, 'Mr Premier!' really loudly, which got everyone's attention. The Chinese guards put their arms up against the door again, but I ducked under and made it through," Clinton wrote.

US vice president beats war drums in Asia - US Vice President Mike Pence used Asian summit meetings over the past week to set out an ultimatum to China that accelerates the drive to war. Either China bows to the demands of American imperialism and accepts a subservient, semi-colonial status, or it will confront the full force of US diplomatic, economic and ultimately military weight.  Speaking at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Pence accused China of taking “advantage of the United States for many, many years” and declared “those days are over.” He bluntly warned that “the US will not change course until China changes its ways” and warned that the US could “more than double” the existing massive tariffs on Chinese goods.  Pence effectively ruled out any deal between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Argentina later this month. He told the Washington Post en route to Singapore that Xi had to come to the summit with “concrete proposals” not just on the US trade deficit with China, but across a broad range of issues—political and military as well as economic. Pence insisted that China had to “change its ways” on alleged “intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, restricted access to Chinese markets, disrespect for international rules and norms, efforts to limit freedom of navigation in international waters and Chinese Communist Party interference in the politics of Western countries.”  The vice president’s comments reprise the belligerent anti-China speech that he delivered in October that has set the tone of the Trump administration’s intensifying confrontation with China. In effect, Washington is insisting that Beijing abandon plans to develop hi-tech industries to compete with US companies, further open up China to American corporate exploitation, bow to the “international rules-based system” determined by the US, and halt any efforts to counter increasingly aggressive anti-Chinese propaganda. Pence also sabotaged the APEC summit, which for the first time in its 29 years did not issue a final communiqué, after the US insisted on wording that implied changes to the World Trade Organisation that would undermine China.

US-China trade conflict leads to Wall Street sell-off - A fall in US equity markets yesterday, in the wake of the escalation of the trade war between the US and China at the Asia Pacific Economic Community (APEC) summit at the weekend, has wiped out all the limited gains made earlier this month, following a sell-off in October.  The APEC meeting, held in Papua New Guinea, broke up in acrimony, with no final communiqué able to be issued, after US Vice President Mike Pence launched a broadside against China’s trade and economic policies deliberately aimed at sabotaging the meeting. The reaction in US markets was immediate. The Dow fell 395 points, a drop of 1.56 percent after dropping by more than 500 points in the course of the day, the S&P 500 index was off by 1.7 percent and the tech-heavy NASDAQ index dropped by 3 percent. The sell-off was led by high-tech stocks which are sensitive to heightened trade war tensions because of the impact on their global supply chains and fears that trade conflicts will lessen demand for their products. Markets had risen earlier this month on the back of a resumption of talks between Washington and Beijing and statements by Trump of the prospect of a deal when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the end of the month. This was taken as indicating there was a possibility that the escalation by the US of tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent at the start of next year could be put on hold. That now seems highly unlikely. In his speech to the APEC meeting, Pence repeated Trump’s threat to impose the tariff hike and said the US “will not change course until China changes its ways.” China has indicated that it is willing to increase its imports of US goods, in the areas of agriculture and energy, in order to reduce the US trade deficit as well as making other concessions. But this has been ruled out as insufficient by Washington. The key US demand is that China undertake a fundamental shift in its economy by essentially scrapping its “Made in China 2025” economic program for the advancement of hi-tech industries as the next stage in its economic development.

U.S. Accuses China of Continuing IP Theft Amid Trade War - The U.S. accused China of continuing a state-backed campaign of intellectual property and technology theft as the World Trade Organization said it would establish a dispute panel to rule on the complaint.The new accusations came in a detailed 53-page report released by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s office just 10 days before President Donald Trump is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a Nov. 30-Dec. 1 Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. The timing of the report’s release appeared to be a move by some of the more hawkish members of Trump’s administration, such as Lighthizer, to bolster their case ahead of the summit and as other cabinet members such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin push for a resumption of negotiations.“China fundamentally has not altered its acts, policies, and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation, and indeed appears to have taken further unreasonable actions in recent months,” the report said.Separately, the WTO agreed on Wednesday to launch a dispute investigation into the U.S. allegations. The Geneva-based trade organization will task a panel of three experts to determine whether China’s policies violate WTO terms. A decision could be rendered as soon as next year.In the USTR report the U.S. accused China of continuing a state-backed campaign of cyber-attacks on American companies that were both intensifying and growing in sophistication. In response to questions about the report, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday said U.S. officials should read a white paper published by the government in September that claims China ‘firmly protects’ intellectual property rights.

Expect Trump to double down on the trade war with China --Asia spent the last 22 months fearing Donald Trump’s angry Twitter feed. Turns out, it’s the United States president’s hologram that poses the biggest risk to the most dynamic economic region. The three-dimensional projection in question is Mike Pence, Trump’s vice-president. In two speeches spread 44 days apart, Pence gave up America’s Asia game plan for 2019. And it won’t be pretty for policymakers, markets or investors in the most dynamic economic region. On October 4 in Washington and October 17 in Papua New Guinea, Pence channeled “teleprompter Trump,” those rare moments when his boss sticks to script and spells out a specific policy. Divining one on China trade has been near impossible. When Trump talks of China, Japan and Southeast Asia, it’s a word salad of resentment, fantasy and paranoia that drives translators batty. Teleprompter Trump sounds like something approaching a traditional American leader. Pence played that role well enough at recent summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. What can Asia investors now conclude? Three things.   One is that US$505 billion worth of tariffs are coming. Trump has been teasing the idea of doubling the $250 billion worth of levies on Chinese goods.   Then, there is the second issue – China will retaliate. So far, Xi’s team has pulled punches in its responses. As Xi put it on November 17, “confrontation, whether in the form of a hot war, cold war or trade war, will produce no winners.” Yet as Trump digs in for greater confrontation, Xi is under pressure to return fire. And Beijing has a rich selection of weapons.China could start dumping its $1.2 trillion of Treasury debt holdings, slamming the dollar and sending US interest rates skyrocketing. Sure, it would be a Pyrrhic victory. Any step that reduces the spending power of US consumers is bad for China’s ability to grow at 6.5%. It would surely get Trump’s attention, though.Finally, there is issue number three – Asia picking sides could roil markets.At last week’s ASEAN summit, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked the question on the mind of every Asian leader: What to do when they’re forced to choose between Trump’s America and Xi’s China? This is, after all, a when, not an if, and 2019 is the year decisions are due.

  EU and China break ultimate trade taboo to hit back at Trump -Anger over U.S. President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs is pushing Europe and China to rip up one of the most sacrosanct unwritten rules in international trade policy: Don’t question national security.Brussels and Beijing on Wednesday launched explosive cases at the World Trade Organization, in which they will argue that Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed in May, cannot be justified on grounds of national security, as the White House claims. The EU and China were joined in their protest by Mexico, Norway, Russia and Canada. The six-fold attack on Trump is a landmark departure from the orthodoxy of trade diplomacy as countries have traditionally shied away from challenging restrictions justified by national security concerns, for fear that such a case could blow up the entire global trading system.Whichever way the WTO rules, Pandora’s box has been opened. If it rules that national security can justify tariffs, the decision could inspire other countries to play the security card. On the other hand, if Washington finds itself backed into a corner, it could simply quit the WTO.“Permitting an unlimited national security exception is a fundamental risk to the trading system, but so is stringent judicial control over national security. To force a panel to decide risks opening Pandora’s box,” said Holger Hestermeyer, an expert in trade law at King’s College London. In comments last month on why the U.S. opposed the creation of the panels, U.S. Ambassador Dennis Shea warned that the case would “undermine … the viability of the WTO as a whole.” In short, Trump could just walk.

Peter Navarro Said To Be "Excluded" From Trump-Xi Summit; Stocks Hit Session High - While the earlier trial balloon from MNI that the Fed may end rate hikes in the spring did little to push futures higher, perhaps because even the algos quickly saw through its sheer market-moving propaganda which flies in the face of the Fed's dot plot which shows 3 hikes in 2019, futures did jump on a report from SCMP that Trump trade advisor and notorious China hawk, Peter Navarro, has been excluded from the guest list when US President Donald Trump meets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires on December 1.  "Navarro will not attend the summit," an unnamed source told the South China Morning Post, adding that Beijing and Washington were still in the process of finalizing the list of advisers taking part in the key diplomatic event that is expected to influence trade and economic relations between the world’s two biggest economies. The Post reported earlier that Beijing and Washington are in intense preparatory talks for the summit – a dinner meeting at which each president is likely to be accompanied by six aides.While the report has yet to be confirmed or denied by the White House, the Trump administration’s decision to exclude Navarro – the key figure behind the trade war with China – from the Argentina dinner was instantly interpreted by the market as favorable to the potential outcome of next week's summit, and comes amid signs from both sides that they want to make progress on the dispute at the summit, with futures promptly hitting session highs on the report.In setting the stage for the upcoming meeting, White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in an interview with Fox Business News on Tuesday that Trump was trying to “inject a note of optimism” into trade talks with China.

How the Midterm Election Affects the Fate of NAFTA Renegotiations  - Lori Wallach, Public Citizen - A lot of corporate lobbyists and congressional Republicans were downright scornful of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s efforts to engage on NAFTA renegotiation with the congressional Democrats and unions that have opposed past trade deals. Now his approach appears prescient: After this election, only trade deals that can earn Democratic support will get through Congress.Regardless of the change in control of the House, there is a path to creating a final NAFTA package that could achieve broad support.In response to publication of the NAFTA 2.0 text, congressional Democrats that have opposed past pacts did not launch a campaign against it, but rather identified where progress was made and where more work is essential, including the labor standards enforcement that is necessary to counter NAFTA’s job outsourcing incentives and downward pressure on wages. This election has increased the number of House members whose support of any trade deal will be premised on such improvements. If trade officials are willing to work with congressional Democrats, unions and other groups on the improvements needed to stop NAFTA’s ongoing job outsourcing and raise wages, there clearly is a policy path to a renegotiated NAFTA that could gain wide support next year. Of course, who knows what lunatic things unrelated to trade that Donald Trump might do in the meantime to derail that prospect?

The Trump administration seems to like what unions do - Last week the United Steelworkers union voted to ratify a new contract with US Steel. The contract guarantees a 14 per cent raise over the next four years for about 16,000 workers, without any cuts to retirement or health benefits. Naturally the president is pleased, and tweeted out that the raise was “not seen in many years.” Wilbur Ross, the US Secretary of Commerce (and a former investor in distressed steel assets) piled on, describing the contract as a “vision for the economy we should all support.”It's a beautiful vision. Without the union, it's a mess.The administration's tariffs have improved earnings for domestic steel manufacturers. But tariffs alone don't create raises. That took some fists-up negotiation from United Steelworkers, which even authorised a strike to get what it wanted. Further, the new contract requires US Steel to invest $2.5 billion to improve its plants. That is: labour didn't just secure an increase in pay. They secured a promise from capital to expand its own productive capacity, rather than take profits.Trump and Ross's vision for the economy isn't that different from Paul Ryan's or George W Bush's: 1) increase the after-tax earnings of the people who hold capital, and they'll pay it back as 2) higher wages and 3) new productive capacity. Step one is easy. Every industry loves low taxes and protected markets. Step two and maybe even three don't happen, however, unless workers have the power to make them happen. To start with, the President is right. It's been a while since America's steelworkers got a raise:

Trump likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents (Reuters) - President Donald Trump is likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents stationed along the U.S. border with Mexico if they come under threat from migrants seeking to cross into the United States, a U.S. official said on Monday. Ahead of U.S. congressional elections earlier this month, Trump denounced the approach of a caravan of migrants as an “invasion” that threatened American national security, and he sent thousands of U.S. troops to the border to help secure it. Currently, the troops do not have authority to protect U.S. Customs and Border Patrol personnel. The new authority could be announced on Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. U.S. officials briefly closed the busiest border crossing from Mexico early on Monday to add concrete barricades and razor wire amid concerns some of the thousands of Central American migrants at the border could try to rush the crossing. Northbound lanes at the San Ysidro crossing from Tijuana to San Diego, California, were temporarily closed “to position additional port hardening materials,” a U.S. CBP spokesperson said. A Department of Homeland Security official, who requested anonymity, told reporters on a conference call that U.S. officials had heard reports some migrants were intending to run through border crossings into California. The closing was rare for the station, which is one of the busiest border crossings in the world with tens of thousands Mexicans heading every day into the United States to work or study.

Judge bars US from enforcing Trump asylum ban — A judge has ordered the U.S. government not to enforce a ban on asylum for people who cross the southern border illegally, another court setback for the Trump administration’s efforts to impose new immigration restrictions without congressional approval. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar agreed Monday with legal groups that immediately sued after President Donald Trump issued a Nov. 9 proclamation saying anyone who crossed the southern border between official ports of entry would be ineligible for asylum. The administration argued that caravans of migrants approaching the southern border made the new restrictions immediately necessary. “Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” said Tigar, a nominee of former President Barack Obama. Trump stopped family separations at the border earlier this year after a global outcry, but it was a federal judge who ruled the administration had to reunify the families. Another judge rejected the administration’s request to try to detain migrant families in long-term facilities. Monday’s ruling remains in effect for one month, barring an appeal. In limiting asylum, Trump used the same powers he used to impose a travel ban — the third try was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court. A joint statement by Homeland Security and the Justice Department said the Supreme Court had already shown the president had the legal right to restrict asylum. “Our asylum system is broken, and it is being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year,” the departments said. “We look forward to continuing to defend the Executive Branch’s legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border.” 

 Feds Suddenly Halt San Diego Port Of Entry Traffic As Migrant Caravan Nears; Drivers Stuck For Hours - Northbound commuters from Mexico trying to pass through the busiest land border crossing in the United States found themselves stuck in line for hours after US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials halted traffic in order to reinforce the border amid an arriving Central American migrant caravan, reports Fox5 San Diego. The San Ysidro Port of Entry could be seen blocked off at approximately 3:30 a.m. "[We] have temporarily suspended vehicle processing for northbound travelers at the San Ysidro port of entry Monday morning to position additional port hardening materials," said border officials. "After the materials are in position, CBP will resume processing northbound vehicle traffic in select lanes at the border crossing." Armados hasta los dientes... Militares y policías estadounidenses, con equipo antimotines, colocan más barreras y alambradas en las garitas de de San Ysidro y Mesa de Otay en #Tijuana. El cierre de los cruces fronterizos es indefinido. By 6:30, around 10 lanes were reopened while the rest remain closed. Northbound pedestrian traffic is still suspended, according to NBC San Diego

Troops Deployed To Southwest Border Begin Withdrawal As Migrant Caravan Arrives - Some of the 5,800 US troops deployed to the southern US border right before the midterm election may be withdrawn as early as this week, however Trump administration officials concerned about ending the mission too soon are set on delaying their departure, according to the Los Angeles Times.  The first stage of troop withdrawal would primarily consist of engineering units which have finished their task of installing razor wire and physical obstacles at border crossing points - while the original scope of the mission had authorized a deployment until December 15, unless the Department of Homeland Security requested an extension. In a visit last Wednesday to the Texas border town of Donna, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said that troops would be finished installing barriers and other initial tasks within a week to 10 days, although he said additional requests for help from the Department of Homeland Security were expected. -LA TimesThat said, if an extension is approved, officials told The Times "the goal is to have all the troops home by Christmas." According to a defense official, officials are discussing whether to grant troops authority to use "proportional" force to protect Border Patrol personnel in the event of violence from the migrants, according to CNN. Troops at the border are currently prohibited from using force except for self-protection. A decision to permit troops to provide security to the Border Patrol would represent a significant expansion of their mission. It could also raise questions about whether the mission is in compliance with a U.S. law that prohibits active troops from engaging in domestic law enforcement functions.

White House approves use of force, some law enforcement roles for border troops - The Trump administration this week moved allow troops to act in law-enforcement capacities, including using lethal force, along the US-Mexico border in an order that may represent a move toward longstanding practice. The White House late Tuesday signed a memo allowing troops stationed at the border to engage in some law enforcement roles and use lethal force, if necessary — a move that legal experts have cautioned may run afoul of the Posse Comitatus Act. The new “Cabinet order” was signed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, not President Donald Trump. It allows “Department of Defense military personnel” to “perform those military protective activities that the Secretary of Defense determines are reasonably necessary” to protect border agents, including “a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention. and cursory search.”  However an earlier “decision memo” that came to the same recommendations that were contained in the “cabinet memo” was signed by President Trump, according to documents obtained by Newsweek. There are approximately 5,900 active-duty troops and 2,100 National Guard forces deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border.Some of those activities, including crowd control and detention, may run into potential conflict with the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act. If crossed, the erosion of the act’s limitations could represent a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. military is used, legal experts said.The Congressional Research Service, the non-partisan research agency for Congress, has found that “case law indicates that ‘execution of the law’ in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act occurs (a) when the Armed Forces perform tasks assigned to an organ of civil government, or (b) when the Armed Forces perform tasks assigned to them solely for purposes of civilian government.” However, the law also allows the president “to use military force to suppress insurrection or to enforce federal authority,” CRS has found.

Trump's New Remain In Mexico Policy Will Force Migrants To Wait In Mexico While Awaiting Asylum -Central Americans arriving at the US-Mexico border will have to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed under a series of new immigration measures the Trump administration is preparing to implement as early as Friday, reports the Washington Post. Under the new rules according to DHS memos obtained by the Post, if asylum seekers cannot establish a "reasonable fear" of persecution in Mexico, they will not be allowed to enter the United States while their applications are processed, and would be turned around at the border.  The plan, called “Remain in Mexico,” amounts to a major break with current screening procedures, which generally allow those who establish a fear of return to their home countries to avoid immediate deportation and remain in the United States until they can get a hearing with an immigration judge. Trump despises this system, which he calls “catch and release,” and has vowed to end it. -WaPoThousands of Central American migrants set out for the United States in October with the expectation that those who applied for asylum would be allowed to remain in the US until their cases are processed through immigration courts.  White House senior adviser Stephen Miller has advocated for immediate implementation of the Remain in Mexico plan, however other senior officials have reportedly expressed concern over implementing it while the United States is in "sensitive negotiations with the Mexico Government," according to two DHS officials and a White House adviser who apparently isn't a big fan of the idea.   To cross into the United States, asylum seekers would have to meet a relatively higher bar in the screening procedure to establish that their fears of being in Mexico are enough to require immediate admission, the documents say. –WaPo

“Tough on Crime” Trump Comes Out for Sentencing Reform --  Since the summer, the White House has been negotiating with members of Congress to come up with a compromise that would be voted on following the midterm elections. It would incorporate some changes in sentencing law to satisfy Grassley and Senate Democrats, but without going so far as to drive away too many other Republicans. It’s a narrow path that has taken months to navigate, but advocates realize the odds look brighter for passage in a lame-duck session than they would in the new year, when the liberal position will likely be strengthened by expected Democratic gains in the House, throwing off the issue’s delicate bipartisan balance. “We believe they really want to get this done,” a House aide told The American Conservative. “The hope is everybody gets to yes, because everyone knows it will be harder in the next Congress.”   There’s a very low price to pay in Washington for doing nothing. But an idea that has support from across the political spectrum—and one that has become a domestic priority, at least in general terms, for the president—can’t be written off entirely. The fact that most of the complaints are about what’s not in the legislation, rather than what’s in it, is actually promising. The percentage of adults supervised by some sort of correctional system in the U.S. (incarceration, probation, or parole) has dropped for nine straight years. In 2016, it was lower than it had been since 1993. The violent crime rate has fallen by just under half over that same period. Out of 1.5 million incarcerated individuals, about 190,000 are in federal custody. With states responsible for most prisoners and a majority of them having enacted some type of criminal justice reform, some say that the outcome in Washington ultimately doesn’t matter much. But that isn’t hindering momentum on Capitol Hill. Grassley has also joined with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah to address the issue of mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”). In essence, they are worried about people who have been convicted of crimes they had no intent to commit. Their legislation would identify criminal statutes that lack a mens rea standard, giving agencies six years to issue rules clarifying when—and how much—intent is needed for enforcement. “There are more than 4,500 criminal laws on the books and more regulatory crimes than the Congressional Research Service was able to count,” Hatch and Grassley wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed. “And when many of these crimes are drafted without clear criminal intent requirements, it becomes increasingly easy for unsuspecting Americans to be sent to jail for conduct they had no idea was against the law.”

Trump Starts to Fix Clinton’s Catastrophic Crime Bill Mess - Nearly 25 years ago, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton led a robust campaign for tougher sentencing laws that would become the 1994 crime bill. At the time, the NAACP called it a “crime against the American people.”The next quarter century would prove the NAACP right.“Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history,” human rights advocate Michelle Alexander reminded Hillary Clinton supporters in 2016. “By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow,” said Alexander, who wrote a book on the subject, The New Jim Crow.“It is difficult to overstate the damage that’s been done,” she lamented.Senator Rand Paul’s wife put a number on that damage. The Clintons’ harsh sentencing laws had “resulted in a 500 percent increase in the number of people behind bars in this country,” she claimed in a television interview.Kelley Paul—who, along with her husband, has been a major advocate for criminal justice reform—reminded Fox & Friends viewers that a major purpose of the current Senate legislation was to “enact prison reforms and sentencing reforms to correct some of the terrible effects of the 1994 Clinton crime bill.” A few hours after Mrs. Paul said this on Wednesday, President Trump announced his support for the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform bill supported by Republican senators Paul, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, and Chuck Grassley, and many Democrats too.

Sentencing Reform: Real Change Or Placebo? Willy Horton. the parolee who almost singlehandedly torpedoed the 1988 presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts government Michael Dukakis, was an African-American man serving a life sentence for murder. He was given a weekend furlough thanks to a government rehabilitation program, but never returned. Ten months later, Horton was arrested for new crimes — armed robbery, rape, assault. He became the poster child for how soft the Democrats were on crime and why prison reform was unworkable. The incident caused all sorts of prison programs — education, drug rehab, even basketball — to be curtailed or defunded. People were sentenced to longer sentences with little thought on how such incarceration would impact their children or the communities from which the inmates came. Now, 30 years later, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction. Rather than the put-’em-in-jail-and-throwaway-the-key 80s, we’ve reached a new, more enlightened age. Research organizations like the VERA Institute of Social Justice have documented what now seems obvious — prison makes no one better. It costs more to incarcerate people than to educate them. To stop recidivism, inmates need work training, drug rehabilitation, and transitional mental health services. Instead of “tough on crime,” it’s time for “smart on crime.” People from all ranges of the political spectrum agree that mass incarceration has cut a swath into the landscape of whole communities, mostly communities of color, and has created a residual negative impact on generations to follow.  A bipartisan group of senators last week pushed forward a bill that mandates much-needed prison reform and that, it appears, the president will sign.  But is it too little, too late?

Senate barrels toward showdown over Trump’s court picks - The Senate is bracing for an end-of-the-year brawl over President Trump's judicial nominations. Republicans view filling the lifetime court seats as their top priority and are expected to confirm as many nominees as possible before the Senate adjourns for the year, infuriating Democrats and their allies who are powerless to stop Trump’s picks. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is already teeing up votes for two nominations — Jonathan Kobes to be an 8th Circuit Court judge and Thomas Farr to be a district court judge — for when senators return from their Thanksgiving recess. And Republicans expect McConnell to barrel through more nominations before Dec. 14, the chamber’s target date to wrap up their work for the year. “That’s Sen. McConnell’s No. 1 priority is to continue to move judges,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the second-ranking Republican. There are 35 judicial nominees available for votes on the Senate calendar, leaving more nominations than days left in the Senate’s work schedule to confirm the picks. McConnell has pledged that he will move each of Trump’s nominees who are out of committee by the end of the year. If he's going to make good on that plan, he'll either need a final nominations package or keep the Senate in session through the holidays. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said McConnell has pledged he won’t leave any court nominees behind, adding that it was up to Democrats to determine when they wanted to leave town. “It’s really up to them whether they want to confirm those on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, or whether they want to confirm them earlier in December by yielding back the time,” Cotton told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

 Roberts, Trump spar in extraordinary scrap over judges (AP) — President Donald Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts clashed Wednesday in an extraordinary public dispute over the independence of America’s judiciary, with Roberts bluntly rebuking the president for denouncing a judge who rejected his migrant asylum policy as an “Obama judge.” There’s no such thing, Roberts declared in a strongly worded statement contradicting Trump and defending judicial independence. Never silent for long, Trump defended his own comment, tweeting defiantly, “Sorry Justice Roberts.” The pre-Thanksgiving dustup was the first time that Roberts, the Republican-appointed leader of the federal judiciary, has offered even a hint of criticism of Trump, who has several times blasted federal judges who have ruled against him. Before now, it has been highly unusual for a president to single out judges for personal criticism. And a chief justice’s challenge to a president’s comments is downright unprecedented in modern times. It seemed a fight that Trump would relish but one that Roberts has taken pains to avoid. But with Roberts’ court feeling the heat over the president’s appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Roberts and several of his colleagues have gone out of their way to rebut perceptions of the court as a political institution divided between five conservative Republicans and four liberal Democrats. Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have themselves spurred charges that the courts are becoming more politicized. As the justice widely seen as closest to the court’s middle, Roberts could determine the outcome of high-profile cases that split the court. The new drama began with remarks Trump made Tuesday in which went after a judge who ruled against his migrant asylum order. The president claimed, not for the first time, that the federal appeals court based in San Francisco was biased against him. Roberts had refused to comment on Trump’s earlier attacks on judges, including the chief justice himself. But on Wednesday, after a query by The Associated Press, he spoke up for the independence of the federal judiciary and rejected the notion that judges are loyal to the presidents who appoint them. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, 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,” Roberts said. 

Senate Dems sue to block Whitaker from serving as attorney general - Senate Democrats filed a lawsuit Monday challenging President Trump’s decision to name Matthew Whitaker acting attorney general. The lawsuit brought by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia marks the latest challenge in what’s been a flurry of litigation fighting the interim appointment. The Democrats — all member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — argue in the 17-page complaint that Whitaker’s appointment violated the appointments clause of the constitution, which requires principal federal officers be appointed only with the Senate’s advice and consent. Trump named Whitaker to the acting role earlier this month after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions submitted his resignation at the president’s request. Whitaker had been Sessions’s chief of staff, a role that does not require Senate confirmation. “The U.S. Senate has not consented to Mr. Whitaker serving in any office within the federal government, let alone the highest office of the [Department of Justice],” the Democrats said. “Indeed, before deciding whether to give their consent to Mr. Whitaker serving in such a role, Plaintiffs and other members of the Senate would have the opportunity to consider his espoused legal views, his affiliation with a company that is under criminal investigation for defrauding consumers, and his public comments criticizing and proposing to curtail ongoing DOJ investigations that implicate the President.” Maryland was first to challenge the appointment in an existing lawsuit to protect provisions of the Affordable Care Act that cover people with pre-existing conditions. On Wednesday, attorneys in an immigration case before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals asked the court to issue a temporary order that to block the government from moving forward in the case with Whitaker serving as acting attorney general.

Filings Show Trump's DOJ Chief Still Working for 14 Companies - President Trump’s controversial new appointee for Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, is still listed as a registered agent representing 14 different private companies, Iowa state records show. The companies, all based in Iowa — Whitaker’s home state — span a strikingly diverse array of industries, from road racing event management to childcare. All have active business filings that continue to list Whitaker as their registered agent, according to records reviewed by TYT. Whitaker’s former law partner and some of the business owners TYT contacted said that Whitaker is no longer involved and that the filings are not up to date. An Iowa state official said companies must report any change in registered agents. Whitaker’s business dealings have drawn attention from congressional Democrats, who arechallenging Whitaker’s appointment in court. The Justice Department on Tuesday released Whitaker’s most recent financial-disclosure form after the legal deadline for doing so, and amid mounting public pressure.Some of the companies that list Whitaker as a registered agent appear on his new federal disclosure forms, but most do not. The forms only require listing sources of income above $5,000.Iowa state law requires companies based there to file a statement including the name of their registered agent, Cory Brown, an official with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Business Services Division told TYT. Whitaker’s name appears on 14 active flings TYT found. If the filings are accurate, Whitaker’s continued involvement with the companies may run afoul of ethics guidelines. The Justice Department’s ethics office states, “No employee may engage in the practice of law unless it is uncompensated and in the nature of community service, or unless it is on behalf of himself, his parents, spouse or children.”

Whitaker is Unfit to be Attorney General, Acting or Otherwise - Matthew Whitaker is unfit to serve as acting U.S. attorney .general. The Appointments Clause of Article II, section 2, clause 2 prohibits his appointment by President Donald Trump without Senate confirmation.  Therefore, every action taken by Mr. Whitaker sits under a legal cloud, including domestic and foreign electronic surveillance warrants.Mr. Whitaker’s appointment exemplifies life imitating art. Prior to his meteoric ascent to Acting Attorney General at age 49, Mr. Whitaker owned a daycare center, a concrete supply business, and a trailer manufacturer. He spearheaded an endeavor to build affordable housing in Des Moines with government subsidies.  The infinitude of legal ignorance Mr. Whitaker brings to his position is disqualifying. He deplores the power of judicial review as proclaimed by Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison (1803), i.e., the authority of the United States Supreme Court in adjudicating concrete cases or controversies to invalidate actions of Congress, the Executive Branch, or the States for violating the Constitution.In a question and answer interview when he sought the nomination of Senator in Iowa in 2014, Mr. Whitaker asserted: “There are so many ‘bad [Supreme Court] rulings. I would start with the idea of Marbury v. Madison. That’s a good place to start….”Judicial review is to the rule of law what the Ten Commandments are to Judaism or Christianity. Without it, Congress, the President, and the States would decide the lawfulness of their own acts. They would be judges in their own cases.  The consequence of his role as AG, acting or otherwise, would be alarming to both liberals and conservatives. Flag burning or criticizing government would be a crime. The individual right to bear arms would be toothless. Separate but equal would flourish. Indeed, the protections of the Bill of Rights would depend on the outcome of elections. President Richard Nixon would have destroyed the tapes that proved obstruction justice and occasioned his resignation. President William Jefferson Clinton would have refused depositions in the Paula Jones litigation and the Ken Starr investigation, which triggered his impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. Without judicial review, the law would be no more than a jumble of political calculations with ulterior motives.

Mueller: Whitaker appointment has 'no effect' on ongoing legal challenge -- President Trump’s decision to tap Matthew Whitaker as Acting attorney general has “no effect” on an ongoing legal challenge to Robert Mueller’s authority, prosecutors working for the special counsel said in a court filing on Monday. Mueller’s team addressed Whitaker’s appointment in a supplemental brief filed in the case involving Andrew Miller, an associate of longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. Miller is currently fighting a subpoena to testify before the grand jury in the special counsel’s Russia investigation. Trump announced in early November that Whitaker would replace Jeff Sessions in an acting capacity after Sessions resigned as attorney general at the president’s request. Some of Trump’s critics have warned that Trump could be laying the groundwork to interfere in the Mueller investigation. Whitaker, who worked as Sessions’s chief of staff, has in the past been critical of the probe. A federal appeals court in D.C. had asked Mueller’s team and Miller to each file briefs addressing what impact, if any, Whitaker’s appointment would have on the ongoing legal battle. Both argued in separate filings that the appointment has no impact on the legal arguments in the case. “Acting Attorney General Whitaker’s designation neither alters the Special Counsel’s authority to represent the United States nor raises any jurisdictional issue,” Mueller’s team wrote in the filing on Monday. “The Special Counsel continues to exercise the same authority, and the jurisdiction of the district court and this Court is intact.” Miller is challenging the constitutionality of Mueller’s appointment, arguing that he should have been appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate as a “principal officer,” or otherwise should have been appointed as an “inferior officer” by Sessions — not by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing the probe up until Whitaker took the helm of the department earlier this month.

Trump submits answers to Mueller's Russia inquiry – BBC -- US President Donald Trump has submitted his written answers to the special counsel over alleged Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said some of the questions posed by special counsel Robert Mueller had gone "beyond the scope of a legitimate inquiry". Last week Mr Trump said he had answered the questions "very easily". The US president strongly denies any collusion with Russia, calling Mr Mueller's investigation "a witch hunt". On Tuesday, Mr Giuliani confirmed that Mr Trump's answers had been handed over to investigators, adding that the president had provided "unprecedented co-operation" and that it was time to "bring this inquiry to a conclusion". In an interview published with Axios on Wednesday, Mr Giuliani revealed the questions were not regarding obstruction of justice - something observers have suggested Mr Trump could be accused of with his interactions with the former FBI director James Comey. Mr Giuliani expressed confidence about his client's legal position, and also said he did not think there was any way Mr Mueller could compel testimony from the president under subpoena, because of Mr Trump's "executive privilege". "I don't think they have any evidence of collusion of any kind. I think their obstruction case, as a legal matter, doesn't exist," the lawyer said. 

Trump Wanted to Order Justice Dept. to Prosecute Comey and Clinton — President Trump told the White House counsel in the spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his political adversaries: his 2016 challenger, Hillary Clinton, and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with the conversation. The lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, rebuffed the president, saying that he had no authority to order a prosecution. Mr. McGahn said that while he could request an investigation, that too could prompt accusations of abuse of power. To underscore his point, Mr. McGahn had White House lawyers write a memo for Mr. Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences, including possible impeachment. The encounter was one of the most blatant examples yet of how Mr. Trump views the typically independent Justice Department as a tool to be wielded against his political enemies. It took on additional significance in recent weeks when Mr. McGahn left the White House and Mr. Trump appointed a relatively inexperienced political loyalist, Matthew G. Whitaker, as the acting attorney general. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump read Mr. McGahn’s memo or whether he pursued the prosecutions further. But the president has continued to privately discuss the matter, including the possible appointment of a second special counsel to investigate both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Comey, according to two people who have spoken to Mr. Trump about the issue. He has also repeatedly expressed disappointment in the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, for failing to more aggressively investigate Mrs. Clinton, calling him weak, one of the people said.

House GOP 'Working With Whistleblowers' In Clinton Foundation Probe -- House Republicans will hear testimony on December 5 from the prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation, according to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). Meadows - chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations, told The Hill that it's time to "circle back" to former Utah Attorney General John Huber's probe with the Justice Department into whether the Clinton Foundation engaged in improper activities, reports The Hill. "Mr. [John] Huber with the Department of Justice and the FBI has been having an investigation – at least part of his task was to look at the Clinton Foundation and what may or may not have happened as it relates to improper activity with that charitable foundation, so we’ve set a hearing date for December the 5th.," Meadows told Hill.TV on Wednesday. Meadows says the questions will include whether any tax-exempt proceeds were used for personal gain and whether the Foundation adhered to IRS laws. Sessions appointed Huber last year to work in tandem with the Justice Department to look into conservative claims of misconduct at the FBI and review several issues surrounding the Clintons. This includes Hillary Clinton’s ties to a Russian nuclear agency and concerns about the Clinton Foundation.Huber’s work has remained shrouded in mystery. The White House has released little information about Huber’s assignment other than Session’s address to Congress saying his appointed should address concerns raised by Republicans. -The HillAccording to a report by the Dallas Observer last November,  the Clinton Foundation has been under investigation by the IRS since July, 2016. Meadows says that it's time for Huber to update Congress concerning his findings, and "expects him to be one of the witnesses at the hearing," per The Hill. Additionally Meadows said that his committee is trying to secure testimonies from whistleblowers who can provide more information about potential wrongdoing surrounding the Clinton Foundation.

House Democrats To Probe Ivanka Trump's Use Of Personal Email -  Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will look into Ivanka Trump's use of a personal email account "to continue our investigation of the presidential records act and federal records act," reports The Hill.  The panel, now under Democratic leadership, will seek to determine "if Ivanka complied with the law," according to ta Democratic aide. The Democratic aide noted that the committee had started a bipartisan investigation last year on whether White House officials were in compliance with the Presidential Records Act under then-committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who has since retired from Congress. That probe has since been dropped. -The HillOn Monday the Washington Post reported that the president's daughter sent "hundreds" of emails in 2017 to White House aides, assistants and Cabinet officials. That said Ivanka reportedly discussed government policies "less than 100 times" - and none of the content was classified.   In a statement to Fox News, Trump ethics lawyer Abbe Lowell's spokesman, Peter Mirijanian, emphasized the differences between the Hillary Clinton email scandal and Ivanka's use of private email, after many on the left quickly jumped on the Post report in an attempt to equate the two.  "To address misinformation being peddled about Ms. Trump’s personal email, she did not create a private server in her house or office, there was never classified information transmitted, the account was never transferred or housed at Trump Organization, no emails were ever deleted, and the emails have been retained in the official account in conformity with records preservation laws and rules," Mirijanian said.He added: "When concerns were raised in the press 14 months ago, Ms. Trump reviewed and verified her email use with White House Counsel and explained the issue to congressional leaders." Mirijanian told the Post that Trump had used a personal account prior to being briefed on ethics rules.

New York state judge rejects Trump claim that he can't be sued because he's president - A New York judge on Friday denied a request from President Donald Trump and his family members to dismiss a lawsuit against them and the Trump Foundation alleging that the charitable foundation violated state and federal laws for "more than a decade."In her ruling, Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the New York state Supreme Court shot down an argument from the Trump family's attorneys that the case should be dismissed because the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution suggests "a sitting president may not be sued."Scarpulla also rejected Trump's argument that the state court lacked jurisdiction over the president in this case. While the Constitution prohibits state courts from exercising "direct control" in a way that interferes with federal officers' duties, Scaruplla wrote: "Here, the allegations raised in the Petition do not involve any action taken by Mr. Trump as president and any potential remedy would not affect Mr. Trump's official federal duties."Scarpulla noted that the defendants "have failed to cite a single case in which any court has dismissed a civil action against a sitting president on Supremacy Clause grounds, where, as here, the action is based on the president's unofficial acts." "I find that I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump and deny Respondents' motion to dismiss the petition against him on jurisdictional grounds," she wrote.

 Trump Is Attacking Free Press “in a Way We Haven’t Seen in Modern American History”  — Speaking from his years of experience being pursued by the Obama Justice Department for simply practicing journalism and refusing to reveal his confidential sources, Intercept reporter James Risen told The Hill on Monday that President Donald Trump is building on his predecessor’s war on the free press by “demagoguing” the media “in a way we haven’t seen in modern American history.”“Obama tried to put me in jail for seven years… A lot of conservatives try to point to me as an example of Obama on press freedom and I fully agree with the view that he had a terrible record on press freedom,” Risen said. “The difference with Trump is that he is demagoguing the issue in a way we haven’t seen in modern American history.”Asked if, given his history, he believes the Trump White House is a greater threat to press freedom than the Obama White House was, Risen said, “I didn’t think I would get to the point where I would say that, but I do believe that now.”Risen’s assessment of Trump’s attacks on the press throughout his first two years in office came just after the White House on Monday threatened to revoke CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s credentials as soon as the emergency restraining order imposed by a federal judge expires in two weeks.In a statement, CNN said Trump is continuing to violate the First and Fifth Amendments and that the administration’s “actions threaten all journalists and news organizations.” Risen echoed this sentiment in his interview with The Hill, arguing that Trump’s attack on Acosta is a “symbol” of his broader war on journalism.

The Case Against WikiLeaks Is a Crisis for the First Amendment - The Justice Department has prepared criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and is working behind the scenes to have him extradited to the United States. Press freedom and the right to dissent may hang in the balance.The criminal charges were accidentally revealed last week when Assange’s name was found on thecourt filing of an unrelated case, suggesting that prosecutors had copied a boilerplate text and forgotten to change the defendant’s name.Barry Pollack, a U.S. lawyer on Assange’s team, told the New York Times: “The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed.” Pollack continued, “The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take.”Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, after seeking protection against sexual assault allegations in Sweden. While the initial arrest warrant has since been revoked, if Assange leaves the embassy he runs the risk of being apprehended by UK authorities and extradited to the United States, a process greatly facilitated by the recent criminal charges. The U.S. government has targeted WikiLeaks and Assange for years. A confidential U.S. Army document from 2008 recommends “legal actions” and attacks on the livelihood and reputation of “current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers” connected to WikiLeaks in order to “damage or destroy” its “trust as a center of gravity.”WikiLeaks enjoyed a brief heyday among Republicans when it released hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails during the 2016 presidential election. Then-candidate Donald Trump mentioned WikiLeaks over 160 times during the final month of the campaign, calling it “amazing” and saying “We love Wikileaks. Wikileaks. They have revealed a lot.” During the campaign, Trump adviser Roger Stone often boasted about being connected to WikiLeaks, even claiming to have had dinner with Assange.  Donald Trump Jr. was in repeated contact with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election, and then-Congress member Mike Pompeo openly encouraged his social media followers to visit the WikiLeaks site for “proof” of various claims against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But it’s one thing to reveal information about the DNC and another thing entirely to expose a CIA hacking program with domestic spying implications — which is exactly what WikiLeaks did in March 2017 with its Vault 7 release. Just a month later, reports surfaced that U.S. authorities were preparing charges against Assange, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling his arrest a “priority.”

Wireless throttling- Senators ask four major carriers about video slowdowns - Three US Senate Democrats today asked the four major wireless carriers about allegations they've been throttling video services and—in the case of Sprint—the senators asked about alleged throttling of Skype video calls.Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent the letters to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, noting that recent research using the Wehe testing platform found indications of throttling by all four carriers. "All online traffic should be treated equally, and Internet service providers should not discriminate against particular content or applications for competitive advantage purposes or otherwise," the senators wrote.Specifically, the Wehe tests "indicated throttling on AT&T for YouTube, Netflix, and NBC Sports... throttling on Verizon for Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Netflix... throttling on Sprint for YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Skype Video calls... [and] delayed throttling, or boosting, on T-Mobile for Netflix, NBC Sports, and Amazon Prime by providing un-throttled streaming at the beginning of the connection, and then subsequently throttling the connection," the senators' letters said.  Much of the throttling can be explained by carriers' policies of limiting video throughput, particularly on lower-cost wireless plans, a practice that wouldn't necessarily have violated the net neutrality rules repealed by the Federal Communications Commission. Current FCC rules don't ban throttling or blocking, but the FCC still requires carriers to disclose throttling and other forms of network management.

 Ajit Pai isn’t saying whether ISPs deliver the broadband speeds you pay for - In 2011, the Obama-era FCC began measuring broadband speeds in nearly 7,000 consumer homes as part of the then-new Measuring Broadband America program. Each year from 2011 to 2016, the FCC released an annual report comparing the actual speeds customers received to the advertised speeds customers were promised by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, and other large ISPs. But the FCC hasn't released any new Measuring Broadband America reports since Republican Ajit Pai became the commission chairman in January 2017.  For more than three months, Ars has been trying to find out whether the FCC is still analyzing Measuring Broadband America data and whether the FCC plans to release any more measurement reports. SamKnows, the measurement company used by the FCC for this program, told Ars that Measuring Broadband America is still active and that a new report is forthcoming, hopefully next month. But whether the report is released is up to the FCC, and Chairman Pai's public relations office has ignored our questions about the program. Because of Pai's office's silence, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request on August 13 for internal emails about the Measuring Broadband America program and for broadband speed measurement data since January 2017. By law, the FCC and other federal agencies have The FCC responded to us but denied our request for "expedited processing." We had argued that expedited processing was warranted because the broadband measuring data is out of date, depriving American consumers of crucial information when they purchase broadband access. FCC staff told us they needed more time because they were still "reviewing documents to determine if they are responsive to your request." The FCC, which has an annual budget of $450 million, asked us on October 4 to narrow the scope of our public-records request, telling us that searching for the documents would be "a pretty significant burden and would take a long time to process." We agreed to narrow the request to exclude testing data and to include only emails that relate directly to whether the FCC will release future versions of the Measuring Broadband America report and to whether testing has been discontinued.

Facebook Admits To Targeting Soros In PR Attack - Late on Wednesday, with markets closed and much of America stuck in traffic headed to their Thanksgiving venue of choice, Facebook admitted to paying a Republican PR firm to cast liberal critics as operatives for liberal financier George Soros, following a shocking exposé in the New York Times last week which shed light on a wide scope of questionable damage control techniques employed by the social media giant in the wake of several scandals.We hired Definers in 2017 as part of our efforts to diversify our DC advisors after the election. Like many companies, we needed to broaden our outreach. We also faced growing pressure from competitors in tech, telcos and media companies that want government to regulate us.This pressure became particularly acute in September 2017 after we released details of Russian interference on our service. We hired firms associated with both Republicans and Democrats — Definers was one of the Republican-affiliated firms. -Elliot SchrageThe admissions come from the company's outgoing Head of Communications and Policy, Elliot Schrage, who appears to be the company's chosen scapegoat.  In the Wednesday release, Facebook admitted that it used the Washington, DC PR fiirm Definers for several purposes, which included the Soros smear.

Big Pharma Bankrolled Pro-Trump Group As Trump Pushed Pharma Tax Cut  - Sirota - The major dark money group supporting President Donald Trump’s political and economic agenda raked in millions of dollars directly from the pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group — at the same time Trump backed off his position on a major drug issue and promoted a tax plan that was a windfall for the industry.The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave $2.5 million to America First Policies in 2017, according to IRS documents. America First Policies was formed by former Trump advisers in 2017 and proudly touts itself as a pro-Trump organization. The PhRMA money represented more than 10 percent of America First Policies’ revenues in 2017, according to the group’s own IRS filings.  The IRS documents were obtained by MapLight, a nonpartisan group that tracks the influence of money in politics.While campaigning for president, Trump pledged to take action to generally reduce drug prices and to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription medications. He then appointed a former pharmaceutical executive to run the Department of Health and Human Services, and slammed the Medicare negotiation concept after a meeting with pharmaceutical executives. “I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market,” Trump said. “That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare.”While Trump has moved to allow limited negotiation in some parts of Medicare, he has rejected the larger policy he campaigned on, leaving it out of his prescription drug proposal released earlier this year. Trump also passed a tax cut that benefited the pharmaceutical industry, but that has not corresponded with a drop in prescription drug prices. America First Policies launched an ad campaign to promote those tax cuts, and spent the end of the 2018 campaign promoting them. PhRMA also gave $1.5 million to the American Action Network, which aired an ad campaign in support of the tax-cut legislation.

 Paul Krugman explains why single-payer health care is entirely achievable in the U.S. — and how to get there -  Though it will likely remain out of reach for the foreseeable future, Medicare-for-All — and progressive dream for an expansive health insurance system run by the government — has become a central goal for left-wing of the Democratic Party.Critics of the idea, which includes one-time advocate of government-run health insurance President Donald Trump, still warn that the project will bankrupt the country and destroy the American health care system. But as economist Paul Krugman pointed out Monday in a q-and-a with Quora, this fear-mongering about single-payer health careis completely baseless."Single payer has always been economically feasible!" he wrote. "Lots of countries do it; we do it for everyone 65 and older. It’s really quite weird that we talk as if single-payer would be a huge, radical departure from American practice when so many people are on Medicare and Medicaid."He continued: "In fact, the government pays a significantly higher share of health bills than private insurers do, even in America. If we went to government provision of all insurance, we’d pay more in taxes but less in premiums, and the overall burden of health spending would probably fall, because single-payer systems tend to be cheaper than market-based."In the United States, unlike most other wealthy countries that have managed to create superior health care systems, one major political party is committed to opposing the expansion of health care access.And because we've persisted so long in a hybrid mix of a government-funded and market-based insurance system, interests have become entrenched that will fight any attempt to overhaul the status quo. Krugman continued:The question instead is political feasibility: are the votes there to completely replace private insurance through employers? Remember, employer-based coverage still works well for most people and creates a huge stake for major interest groups. I don’t see it being eliminated in one fell swoop. What’s more likely is a limited move toward greater public involvement: allowing buy-in to Medicare, maybe moving the lower age limit down to 55 or lower, expanding Medicaid further. We’re probably going to move incrementally toward public provision, not in one big bang. Even these smaller steps will be hard to achieve because the GOP's grip on power in the Senate — especially with a 60-vote majority needed to pass major legislation — severely limits the ability for progressive legislation to gain traction. But, as we've learned from the Obamacare saga, once health care access is expanded, it is incredibly difficult to roll it back.

 The IRS hired private debt collectors who are squeezing poor people and hurricane victims - An IRS program using private debt collectors to handle delinquent tax bills is improperly demanding payment from hurricane victims and squeezing some of the poorest Americans—all the while turning a profit far below industry standards. Since April 2017, four debt collection companies have been assigned half a million delinquent taxpayers to contact. So far, they’ve brought in less than 1% of what Congress hopes the program will ultimately generate. Meanwhile, tax experts and the IRS’ own oversight board fear that the targeted taxpayers are being pressured to empty out their savings and take on unnecessary financial risk. The National Taxpayer Advocate, an independent office within the IRS that ensures “every taxpayer is treated fairly,” calls the program ”a serious threat to taxpayer rights.” Two US senators pushed the IRS to outsource its debt collection to private companies through this program: Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York who has hailed the initiative for bringing jobs to one of the poorest parts of his state. As if by coincidence, three of the four debt-collecting companies contracted by the IRS are based in Iowa and New York. They declined to comment on the program.  The IRS normally brings in $4 for every $1 put into its budget. But the private collectors don’t appear to be as effective as their government counterparts. From Oct. 2017 to Sept. 2018, the program’s most profitable 12 months, collection companies Pioneer Credit Recovery, ConServe Debt Recovery, Performant Recovery, and CBE Group collected just $2.64 for every $1 the government spent on the program.

Too Rich to Jail - Maureen Dowd, NYT --When I was in Reykjavik in August, Icelanders were bragging about putting the corrupt bankers who ravaged their economy in prison. In America, it works somewhat differently.We let the corrupt bankers who ravaged our economy roam free with bigger bonuses, more lavish Hamptons houses and fresh risky schemes. The big banks are bigger than ever and prosecution of white-collar crimes is at a 20-year low. And, cherry on the gilded cake, we put white-collar criminals in charge of the country — elevating epic grifters to the presidency and powerful cabinet posts.Reading all the recent stories about the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis, it’s easy to see the neon line leading from Barack Obama’s failure to punish Wall Street scammers to the fact that Republican scammers are now infecting the entire infrastructure of government.“The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street rose up as opposite expressions of anti-establishment rage, nourished by the sense that colluding elites in government and business had got away with a crime,” George Packerwrote in The New Yorker. “The game was rigged — that became the consensus of the alienated.” President Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. made a terrible mistake by letting the miscreant bankers off the hook rather than saying, as F.D.R. did, “I welcome their hatred.” In his 2016 book, “Listen, Liberal,” Thomas Frank wrote that “the hope drained out of the Obama movement” at the meeting between the fledgling president and Wall Street C.E.O.s in March 2009: “After warning them about ‘the pitchforks’ of an angry public, Obama reassured the frightened bankers that they could count on him to protect them; that he had no intention of restructuring their industry or changing the economic direction of the nation.” (After he left the White House, Obama followed Hillary’s lead, buckraking on Wall Street.) Trump’s administration, The Times reported, “has presided over a sharp decline in financial penalties against banks and big companies accused of malfeasance,” sparing corporate wrongdoers billions in fines.Asked about The Times’s scorching investigation last month on how “self-made” Trump received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through tax dodges, Kellyanne Conway shrugged it off, saying, “Haven’t they learned that the president always gets the last laugh?”

Blankfein Met Privately With Fugitive At Center Of 1MDB Fraud In Goldman's HQ - Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has said he has "no recollection" of meeting corrupt Malaysian financier Jho Low. Maybe this will jog his memory.. Following reports published earlier this month that Blankfein attended two meetings with Low -  an "introductory meeting" in 2009 and another meeting at the Mandarin Hotel in New York in 2013 with about 20 other Goldman bankers (now-jailed ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak also attended these meetings) - the New York Times on Thursday published a report revealing that Blankfein's involvement in securing 1MDB's business for the bank was even deeper than previously believed. Back in December 2012, when the bank was still struggling with the legal fallout from its predatory sales of mortgage-backed securities during the run-up to the financial crisis, Blankfein met privately with Low at Goldman's headquarters in Lower Manhattan, according to three anonymous sources purportedly familiar with the details of the meeting, the NYT reported. The meeting occurred after the bank's compliance department had already objected to involving Low in any of its business dealings. Of course, nearly six years later, Low is now international fugitive, accused of being the mastermind in a multibillion-dollar fraud involving a Malaysian government investment fund. Needless to say, this is problematic for the recently retired Blankfein, who left the bank on Oct. 1, coincidentally just one month before the DOJ started handing down indictments to Goldman bankers, one of whom has agreed to cooperate against the bank). Why? Because it undercuts the bank's PR line that the bribes paid in furtherance of a massive money laundering scheme were the work of a handful of "rogue employees." The meeting was described as a "one-on-one" sitdown between Blankfein and the corrupt Malaysian banker, who reportedly played a central role in bribing officials in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.Prosecutors in Malaysia and the US are looking to indict Low for his involvement in the fraud. The banker is currently on the run, living in an undisclosed location while he wages an expensive PR campaign to clear his name.

Whistleblower Implicates Deutsche Bank In $150 Billion Money Laundering Scandal - Just when Deutsche Bank probably thought the worst of its legal troubles (over the Libor scandal, sales of shoddy mortgage-backed securities, FX and precious metal rigging which collective resulted in tens of billions in legal fines) were behind it, the struggling German lender is being drawn deeper into the biggest money laundering scandal in European history. Following reports over the weekend that Deutsche, JPM and Bank of America had been approached by federal investigators about their correspondent banking business's involvement in clearing transactions for Danske Bank's Estonian branch, the whistleblower who helped blow the lid off Danske's $234 billion money laundering scandal said during testimony to the Danish Parliament that $150 billion of the money had been cleared by a large European lender, stopping short of naming Deutsche, likely to respect confidentiality rules governing the whistleblower's work at Danske. Incidentally, as Bloomberg adds citing a "person familiar", the unnamed bank is Deutsche Bank. Deutsche continued to clear transactions for Danske's Estonia branch until 2015, two years after JPM had ended its correspondent banking relationship with Danske's Estonia branch over AML concerns. The suspicious funds flowed through Danske between 2007 and 2015 before Denmark's largest lender closed its non-resident portfolio over AML concerns. In an internal audit released earlier this year, Danske admitted that most of the $234 billion in non-resident cash came from suspicious sources in Russia, Azerbaijan and Moldova. With the help of its dollar-clearing correspondent banks, Danske converted the rubles and other foreign currency into dollars and moved it into the Western financial system. Roughly $8 billion of the money was converted via legal-though-shady "Mirror Trades", where a client buys and sells a security in two different currencies, typically to help launder their money into dollars and euros.

As CECL anxiety mounts, FASB is in no rush to consider alternative -The Financial Accounting Standards Board plans to consider a plan offered by a group of regional banks to blunt the hit capital levels are expected to take from the Current Expected Credit Loss accounting standard. However, FASB officials are unlikely to do so as soon as many institutions would like. The board expects to address the plan, which it received in a Nov. 5 letter, “in the first part of 2019,” spokeswoman Christine Klimek said Tuesday. Given the upcoming holidays and the press of year-end reporting issues, it could be two months before the issue works its way onto the FASB’s agenda, according to accounting experts. With conversion to CECL from the present incurred-loss model set to begin Jan. 1, 2020, a growing sense of anxiety within the financial services industry has prompted a series of proposals aimed at delaying the new standard — or at least softening the expected blow.  In addition to the regional banks’ plan, the American Bankers Association called on regulators to undertake a quantitative impact study to assess CECL’s impact on community banks. The Bank Policy Institute, a think tank organized recently by the nation’s largest banks, urged an outright delay to address concerns CECL would result in a procyclical trend, where allowances peak at the deepest point of a downturn.  If the quantitative impact study the ABA is seeking does come to pass, it would almost certainly trigger a delay in CECL’s implementation, Michael L. Gullette, the group’s senior vice president for tax and accounting, said Wednesday. “We’re calling on FASB to take what that quantitative impact study" would say "and then … make some tweaks or at least do a pause and try to figure out what the best alternative would be,” Gullette said. The industry's odds of winning a delay are uncertain. Banking regulators have yet to come to a consensus on how to approach CECL, while the FASB appears intent on pushing forward.

Regulatory rollbacks could threaten banks' debt ratings: Fitch -- A debt ratings agency said it will monitor regional banks for potential downgrades as a result of the rollback of two major regulations. Despite improvements in bank profitability during the fourth quarter, the lighter touch from banking regulators could threaten the debt ratings of banks with between $100 billion and $250 billion of assets, Fitch Ratings said in a Monday news release. The ratings agency said that rollbacks of stress-test comparisons and liquidity coverage ratio requirements for this class banks should be a concern to investors. “As regulatory rules are further relaxed, bifurcation of regulatory relief between Global Systemically Important Banks and smaller peers will grow,” Christopher Wolfe, analytical head for North American banks, said in the release. “All else equal, Fitch views these regulatory changes as negative for U.S. large regional banks, specifically the loss of both the annual public stress test comparability and the LCR requirement.” Fitch will not immediately lower debt ratings for regional banks as a direct result of these regulatory rollbacks, Wolfe said. “Instead, Fitch will assess individual bank response to these changes when they take effect,” Wolfe said. Fitch Ratings did not identify specific banks in the news release. Calls and emails to Fitch were not immediately returned. The Federal Reserve has issued a proposal to differentiate rules for banks holding between $100 billion and $250 billion of assets, and banks with more than $250 billion of assets. Though Congress approved regulatory relief for regional banks when it passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act this past spring, it is up to the Fed to write the specific rules. Under the proposed plan, regional banks in this asset range would move from a yearly stress test to a biannual stress test, according to the Fed’s proposal. It would also remove the LCR requirement for banks with between $100 billion and $250 billion of assets, and some industry analysts have said the rollback would remove an important protection to ensure that this asset class of banks has enough liquid assets to meet cash demands under stressed conditions. Banks in this size range include the $216 billion-asset BB&T in Winston-Salem, N.C.; the $206 billion-asset SunTrust Banks in Atlanta; and the $137 billion-asset KeyCorp in Cleveland.

 These Banks Now Have A $41 Billion Problem With GE --Three weeks ago we reported that in the first nail to its investment grade coffin, GE had found itself completely shut out of the Commercial Paper market when Moody's downgraded its senior unsecured rating to Baa1, from A2, and downgraded the short-term rating to P-2, from P-1, making future sales of CP impossible. So, in lieu of CP access, GE said it would replace that funding with a net $40.8 billion of available credit facilities committed from banks. Or, as we explained "GE will now use its revolver, which carries a higher interest rate, to fund what it previously achieved using CP."This transition in GE's reliance from commercial paper to revolver is not just a problem for GE, however, which now faces higher funding costs and encumbered assets: with the industrial conglomerate's business and operations deteriorating rapidly, GE has become a major headache for America's largest banks almost overnight.As Bloomberg reports, the five biggest Wall Street firms have committed to lending at least $3.5 billion each to GE even as the industrial giant is facing rising concerns about its viability and the sustainability of its debt. As we reported on Halloween, GE has almost $41 billion in credit lines it can draw from, and according to Bloomberg, when fully tapped, GE's two main credit facilities would rank as the largest loans to any U.S. company that go beyond next year. The good news for GE, is that so far it has only used about $2 billion of the available credit by the end of the third quarter, leaving itself ample room to pull more if necessary. That's also the bad news for the big banks who are contractually obligated to provide GE with an additional $39 billion in liquidity.Indeed, companies typically draw down heavily on their credit lines when facing funding shortfalls. Earlier this month, investment grade-rated, yet extremely troubled California utility PG&E fully used its credit facility, sending its stock plunging even as its investors worried the company might lose its investment-grade credit rating or face liability related to wildfires ravaging the state. Bloomberg notes as much, saying that from GE’s perspective, the unused credit is a crucial backstop as analysts voice concerns about the risk of a funding shortage.

 As bitcoin nosedives, regulators said to be investigating whether it was propped up illegally - As bitcoin continued its downward slide Tuesday, U.S. regulators are reportedly looking into whether its record-breaking rally last year was the result of market manipulation. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether traders used tether, a controversial cryptocurrency that founders say is backed 1:1 by a U.S. dollar, to prop up bitcoin, according to a report from Bloomberg News, which cited three people familiar with the matter. Tether and Bitfinex did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.  Federal prosecutors launched a criminal probe into the cryptocurrencies earlier this year, Bloomberg reported. But they now suspect that traders on crypto exchange Bitfinex might have been using tether to coordinate bitcoin's price moves illegally, Bloomberg reported. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission also subpoenaed tether and Bitfinex, who share many of the same executives, in December in part to prove that these tokens are actually backed by a reserve of U.S. dollars. The potential market tricks include "spoofing," or placing fake orders until the price hits a certain level, then pulling those orders. Other U.S. agencies have cracked down on certain aspects of cryptocurrency in recent weeks. On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced its first civil penalties against cryptocurrency founders as part of a wide regulatory and legal crackdown on abuses in the industry. University of Texas finance professor John Griffin, who has a 10-year track record of spotting financial fraud, and graduate student Amin Shams published a study in June that said at least least half of the jump in bitcoin was due to coordinated price manipulation. In the 66-page paper, the authors explained that tether was used to buy bitcoin at key moments when it was declining, which helped "stabilize and manipulate" the cryptocurrency's price.

What's Happening Now - Crypto Devastation Forces Miners To Literally Dump Mining Rigs - Cryptocurrencies have lost about $60 billion in less than a week following the collapse of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Ether, and XRP, which hit their lowest levels since 2017. Bitcoin tumbled to $4,237, a 13-month low, before regaining some support in the late afternoon session. If $4,207 support is breached, Bitcoin could crash even more to the weekly 200sma at $3,130.  After months of low volatility and declining volume, everything has been flipped upside down, and cryptocurrency bulls are left scrambling after a 30% liquidity gap opened up in the last several weeks.According to, digital assets have lost approximately $700 billion of market value since the crypto-mania peak in December 2017. Since the peak, Bitcoin has sustained 87% declines as hash rates have also taken a dip.According to eToro senior analyst Mati Greenspan, Bitcoin hash rates have fallen to the lowest levels since August, and this has led some crypto miners to shut down their rigs. Hash rates have been sliding since October, and the last time the Bitcoin hash rate printed 45,000,000 was in mid-August.  Greenspan pointed out that the Bitcoin hash rate might still be up from the start of the year, but the trend is now starting to reverse. Meanwhile, the 2018 bear crypto market is forcing many miners to operate at a loss, "now it’s more economic to turn it off and take it off from the rack to reduce cost on electricity and opex," tweeted Dovey Wan. Wan shows alleged footage of a massive mining operation in China having difficult mining Bitcoin with depresses hash rates. The video below shows a worker at one facility wheelbarrowing dozens of Avalon 741 7.3TH/s Asic Bitcoin Miners out of the building into a massive junk pile. Now, with the drop in Bitcoin hash rates, the difficulty to mine is also spreading to medium and small miners. They are now flooding their rigs on eBay as the crypto bubble collapses.

SEC sends a message: ICOs are securities offerings  - Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced it had settled charges against two companies that sold digital tokens in an initial coin offering: Airfox, which raised $15 million to develop blockchain technology for ad targeting, and Paragon, which raised $12 million to develop blockchain for the cannabis industry. Airfox and Paragon must offer investors their money back, register their tokens as securities and file quarterly reports, and pay a $250,000 fine. The public disclosure of the action against Airfox and Paragon is new territory for the SEC. Prior to this, in the small handful of cases where the agency has publicly announced action against ICOs, the violation has always been some form of fraud in the way the company marketed its ICO. Last year, the SEC shut down the $15 million ICO of Munchee because Munchee promised its token would go up in value; in January the SEC shut down the $600 million ICO of AriseBank for falsely stating it had bought an FDIC-insured bank; in April the SEC shut down the $32 million ICO of Centra for using “misleading marketing” and “paid celebrities” to make false claims.  This time, as the SEC explains in its own press release, “These are the Commission’s first cases imposing civil penalties solely for ICO securities offering registration violations… Neither Airfox nor Paragon registered their ICOs pursuant to the federal securities laws, nor did they qualify for an exemption to the registration requirements.”  Translation: The SEC thinks almost all token sales are securities offerings, and need to be registered accordingly or qualify for an exemption. (The exemptions include selling only to investors outside the U.S., or selling only to accredited investors, which are people with income higher than $200,000 or a minimum net worth of $1 million.)

Bankrupt Sears wants to give executives $25 million in bonuses - Sears is seeking court approval to pay executives as much as $25 million in annual bonuses while the company struggles to restructure in bankruptcy.  Three top executives could get nearly $1 million each if the company goes out of business. If Sears remains in business, they could get nearly $500,000 each for hitting the top performance targets.  Sears filed two different types of bonus plans in bankruptcy court Thursday. The first is for the top 18 "key" executives, who would collectively get as much as $2.1 million per quarter up to a maximum of $8.5 million. The bonuses would only be paid in full if Sears reaches its cash-flow targets. Sears Holdings, which includes both Sears and Kmart, has been burning through cash at a rate of about $125 million a month. A second retention bonus plan was designed to encourage 322 other unnamed executives to stay put during Sears' reorganization. They would collectively get $16.9 million over the course of a year, which works out to an average of about $52,000 annually per executive. No executive could receive more the $150,000 in bonuses for staying with the company during the bankruptcy process.A judge's approval is needed before the bonuses could be paid. A hearing on the plans is set for December 20. The company wants to retain as many executives as it can, but Sears is laying off employees who staffed hundreds of stores it is closing. Many hourly workers claim they will not be paid severance.

Sears Bankruptcy Engineered to Benefit Executives and Stiff Workers -- naked capitalism, Yves here. In this Real News Network segment, Bill Black describes the executive “heads I win, tails you lose” formula in the Sears bankruptcy. (video & transcript)

 Worst Day of an Awful Year Leaves No Corner of Market Unscathed - One of the toughest years for financial markets in half a century got appreciably worse Tuesday, with simmering weakness across assets boiling over to leave investors with virtually nowhere to hide. Stocks buckled for a second day, sending the S&P 500 careening toward a correction. Oil plumbed depths last seen a year ago, while credit markets -- recently impervious -- showed signs of shaking apart. Bitcoin is in a freefall, while traditional havens like Treasuries, gold and the yen stood still. Add it all up -- the 2 percent drop in equities, oil’s 6 percent plunge, the downdraft in corporate bonds -- and markets ended up doling out one of the worst single-session losses since 2015. The S&P 500 erased its gain for 2018, oil tumbled to a one-year low and and an ETF tracking junk bonds capped its worst streak of declines since 2014. “While there’s still no ‘panic in the streets,’ most traders are unconvinced that the selling will slow down anytime soon,” said Larry Weiss, head of trading for Instinet LLC in New York. “The flight to quality is now a flight to cash. It’s tough to convince anyone that now is the time to put money to work.” Behind the harmonizing losses is dread for the future. Corporate earnings, the fuel for the longest bull market ever recorded in U.S. stocks, appear to have peaked, and President Donald Trump’s trade war shows no sign of abating. As grim as the message from markets has been, Jerome Powell’s Federal Reserve still appears set to raise interest rates again in December, a headache for holders of some $5 trillion in corporate bonds that have been sold by S&P 500 companies in the past decade.

438 Stocks on the NYSE Have Already Plunged 40%-94% from 52-Week Highs --Wolf Richter - It’s barely a correction, technically speaking, with the S&P 500 down 9.9% from its all-time closing high, the Dow down 9.2%, the Nasdaq down 14%, and the Russell 2000 small-caps index down 15%. But beneath the surface, there has been some serious bloodletting for many stocks.For example, 438 stocks among the 2,051 or so stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) have plunged between 40% and 94% from their 52-week highs.This does not include any stocks traded on the Nasdaq. They have their own blacklist.Those 438 plungers on the NYSE include a bunch of foreign companies trading on the NYSE (some are trading as ADRs). They include lots of companies in the oil-and-gas sector, homebuilders, gold miners, retailers, aluminum and steel makers, a weed company (other NYSE-listed weed companies are only down 30% to 40% and didn’t make this blacklist), financial services firms and banks, including some of the biggest in the world. Here is a brief rundown. Below is the complete list. Note that some of these stocks – such as GE, which is also on this blacklist – have plunged far more from their all-time highs established in prior years.

If He's So Good, Why Is This Happening- - Trump Reportedly Blames Mnuchin For Market Carnage - President Trump's volatile temper and readiness to blame members of his cabinet for defying him or making decisions that hurt the president's image has been well-documented. And as a handful of Trump's cabinet members are reportedly facing the possibility of being fired or otherwise ousted before the end of the year - and Jeff Sessions has already been fired - we can now add yet another name to that list: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. According to the Wall Street Journal, President Trump has been "expressing dissatisfaction" with Mnuchin, as the falling stock market has helped sour the president's attitude toward a key member of his administration who has previously been seen as relatively secure in his standing. The upshot of the report is that Trump is blaming Mnuchin for picking Jerome Powell to lead the Federal Reserve. Powell isn't very popular in the West Wing right now, as Trump has made abundantly clear with his repeated attacks on the Fed. Trump has blamed Powell for insisting on raising interest rates, and even hinted at times that he could be open to making a change at the central bank, something that has evoked nothing short of abject horror on Wall Street. It's also worth noting that Trump had said earlier in his term that he would prefer the dollar to weaken; instead, it has strengthened, driven by the same expectations about higher interest rates that are rattling stocks. Mnuchin's early resistance to Trump's trade war also reportedly helped sour their relationship (though Trump's repeated attempts to foil Mnuchin-led talks with the Chinese have only contributed to the market's dyspepsia over the past few months).In conversations with his advisors, Trump has reportedly expressed regrets about picking Mnuchin and mused about whether he should have tapped some one else, possibly Jamie Dimon, which is surprising considering some of Dimon's more recent comments. Of course, as WSJ makes clear, just because Trump is frustrated with Mnuchin right now doesn't mean that Mnuchin will be fired

A risky natural gas bet gone awry leads to weepy YouTube confessional video  --Volatile commodity markets often lead to colossal failures, as the founder of a Tampa, Florida-based options firm acknowledged in a bizarre, 10-minute YouTube confession in recent days.In the video, a money manager named James Cordier tells his 290 clients that he couldn't navigate a "rogue wave" that hit as oil and natural gas markets gyrated severely. His voice shaky and halting at times, Cordier delivered the rambling message while sitting at an uncluttered desk, wearing Wall Street's standard-issue suit, cuff links and wristwatch."You are my family and I'm sorry that this rogue wave capsized our boat," he says in the video, making a string of nautical references. "I am so sorry for not managing our ship and keeping her afloat."But an Ohio lawyer who has talked to several customers of Cordier's firm,, said the trader had piled into a risky position in natural gas derivatives and that he did so without hedging to prevent steep losses. The position was complicated but, in essence, a sharp increase in natural gas prices would mean investment losses for Cordier. And that's what happened. Natural gas spiked 18 percent on Nov. 14.

Cash Rules Everything Around the Bond Markets - The easiest and safest investment has long been a loser in the post-crisis era. But with just about a month until the end of the year, cash and cash-like assets are pretty much the only area of the U.S. fixed-income markets set to deliver positive returns in a period that could end up being the worst for the broad market since 1994. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index is down almost 2 percent in 2018, while short-term debt ranging from one month to one year has climbed by 1.7 percent. Equities haven’t fared much better, especially as of late: The S&P 500 Index at one point on Tuesday slid 10 percent below its record close as a rout in technology shares deepened. It’s not as if the appeal of cash came out of nowhere. The Federal Reserve has been steadily raising interest rates for almost two years now. In June, Iwrote about how U.S. investors were flocking to money-market funds not in a flight to quality but because they were paying more than they have in years. At that time, the rate on three-month Treasury bills was 1.92 percent. On Tuesday, it reached 2.38 percent, the highest since January 2008. For some bond investors, the increase in yields across the curve has been a painful experience. But for those buying the shortest-dated maturities, the slow-but-steady climb is ideal because portfolio managers consistently reinvest at ever-higher rates. It’s similar to buying U.S. floating-rate notes, which have paid out greater amounts during the Fed’s tightening cycle and have gained about 2 percent year-to-date. Given this performance, Wall Street is starting to take a second look at cash, which only recently has steadily paid enough to keep pace with inflation. Goldman strategists led by David Kostin wrote in a report on Monday that “cash will represent a competitive asset class to stocks for the first time in many years” given that they expect the S&P 500 will provide “a modest single-digit absolute return” next year. JPMorgan strategists led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou wrote:  This asset repricing driven by higher USD cash yields is not only confined to fixed income. It appears to be spreading to equities also … Unless USD cash yields stop rising this repricing seems likely to continue.”

Apple’s Tim Cook says tech regulation ‘inevitable’ because free market isn’t working - Regulation of tech companies is coming, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook says, because the free market “is not working.” “I’m a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here. I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation.” “Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of regulation,” Cook told Axios in an interview for “Axios on HBO,” airing Sunday night, but “I think the Congress and the administration at some point will pass something,” And Cook said tech companies should not be afraid of regulations. “This is not a matter of privacy versus profits, or privacy versus technical innovation. That’s a false choice,” he said. Cook told Axios that while he believes technology is not inherently good or bad, companies must be aware that their products can be misused. He also said that while Silicon Valley has embraced diversity in general, it “has missed it” when it comes to closing the gender gap.

FDIC unveils long-awaited community bank leverage ratio — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Tuesday voted to release a proposal that is designed to provide a simpler capital regime for small banks, a long-anticipated product of the regulatory relief law enacted earlier this year. The plan would create a community bank leverage ratio for institutions with less than $10 billion of assets which smaller banks could comply with in lieu of more complicated Basel risk-based capital standards. Under the proposal, the ratio was set at 9% of tangible equity to total assets, striking a middle ground from the 8% and 10% that regulators were considering. The FDIC estimated that more than 80% of the country's 5,400 community banks could qualify for the simplified leverage ratio. “This was a key priority in designing the proposal — to ensure that the simple ratio would be available broadly,” said FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams in remarks Friday at a banking conference prior to the proposal’s release. But the plan immediately drew criticism from some bank groups, which said the 9% threshold is too high. “ICBA is disappointed that regulators have proposed capital standards that are higher than necessary for main street community banks,” said Rebeca Romero Rainey, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, in a press release. Rob Nichols, the head of the American Bankers Association, agreed. “Unfortunately, the 9% leverage ratio proposed by regulators will still leave too many well-capitalized community banks forced to follow capital rules always intended for more complex institutions," he said in a press release. In a briefing with reporters after the meeting, McWilliams said the FDIC decided to set the ratio at 9% as a “compromise” because an 8% threshold would have more requirements to qualify and the max 10%. “Here is the bottom line: you could potentially set it at 8%, 9% or 10% but each of those would have caveats where we feel the community banks would have to be,” McWilliams said. “So it seemed to be the right approach to give us some flexibility moving forward. Most of the community banks are well above that.”

Bank regulators propose expanding exemption for residential appraisals — Three federal bank regulators are proposing to raise the threshold for residential real estate transactions that require an appraisal from $250,000 to $400,000 in order to ease regulatory burdens and keep pace with home prices. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency announced the proposal Tuesday. The third agency, the Federal Reserve Board, is expected to finish its consideration of the notice soon. In separate press releases, the FDIC and OCC said increasing the threshold by $150,000 would make appraisal requirements less burdensome without threatening the safety and soundness of financial institutions. If adopted, the proposal would require lenders involved in residential real estate sales under $400,000 to obtain an evaluation “consistent with safe and sound banking practices” instead of an appraisal. Evaluations, which are less costly than appraisals, have been mandatory for real estate sales exempted from the appraisal requirement since the 1990s. “Evaluations provide an estimate of the market value of real estate but could be less burdensome than appraisals because the FDIC’s appraisal regulations do not require evaluations to be prepared by state licensed or certified appraisers,” the agency said in a release. The proposal would also incorporate the rural residential appraisal exemption outlined in the regulatory relief bill President Trump signed in May. The proposal was developed in response to comments submitted to the agencies under the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act. The 1996 law requires the agencies to undertake a review every 10 years to identify outdated or unnecessary rules.

  MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased Slightly in Latest Weekly Survey -- From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease Slightly in Latest MBA Weekly Survey  Mortgage applications decreased 0.1 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending November 16, 2018. This week’s results do not include an adjustment for the Veterans’ Day holiday. ... The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week to its lowest level since December 2000. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 3 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 5 percent lower than the same week one year ago. ..“Treasury rates declined last week, as equity markets continued to see large swings amidst investor concerns over global economic growth. As a result, mortgage rates inched back across most loan types, including the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, 5/1 ARM, and 30-year jumbo mortgage rate. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage also declined, stopping a run of six straight weekly increases,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Mortgage applications saw mixed results last week. Purchase applications increased to their highest level in five weeks, but despite the pause in rates, refinance activity dropped again and remained at its lowest level since 2000.”..The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) decreased to 5.16 percent from 5.17 percent, with points decreasing to 0.48 from 0.55 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Mortgage applications decrease as refi activity hits 18-year low - Mortgage application activity decreased 0.1% from one week earlier as refinance volume tanked, although interest rates fell, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The MBA's Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending Nov. 16 found that the refinance index decreased 5% from the previous week to its lowest level since December 2000. This week's results do not include an adjustment for the Veterans' Day holiday.  "Purchase applications increased to their highest level in five weeks, but despite the pause in rates, refinance activity dropped again and remained at its lowest level since 2000." The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 38.5% of total applications from 39.4% the previous week. The seasonally adjusted purchase index increased 3% from one week earlier, while the unadjusted purchase index decreased 1% compared with the previous week and was 5% lower than the same week one year ago. "Treasury rates declined last week, as equity markets continued to see large swings amidst investor concerns over global economic growth," said Kan. "As a result, mortgage rates inched back across most loan types, including the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, 5/1 ARM and 30-year jumbo mortgage rate. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage also declined, stopping a run of six straight weekly increases." Adjustable-rate loan activity decreased to 7.3% from 7.7% of total applications, while the share of Federal Housing Administration-guaranteed loans increased to 10.7% from 10.6% the week prior. The share of applications for Veterans Affairs-guaranteed loans increased to 10.6% from 10.1% and the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Rural Development share remained unchanged at 0.7% from the week prior.

 Average mortgage rates fall by the most in three years --- Falling oil prices and continued volatility in the stock market resulted in the largest week-to-week decline in mortgage rates in over three years, according to Freddie Mac. For the week ending Nov. 21, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.81%, a 13-basis-point decline from the prior week. This week's survey was released a day early because of Thanksgiving. At this time last year, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.92%. "The downward spiral in oil prices and a volatile equities market caused mortgage rates to decline 13 basis points, the largest weekly drop since January 2015," said Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater in a press release. "Mortgage rates are the lowest since early October and the dip offers a window of opportunity for would-be buyers that have been on the fence waiting for a drop in mortgage rates." The 10-year Treasury yield, which is a benchmark for pricing 30-year mortgages, fell from 3.13% on the afternoon of Nov. 14 to 3.04% during the morning of Nov. 20, before rebounding to 3.08% the following morning. International trade tensions were also a contributing factor to the drop in rates,   "Despite a slew of strong economic releases over the past few months, especially in the labor market, investors appear to be growing increasingly wary of the global economy's ability to maintain recent growth and are resetting their expectations accordingly,"   "For now, however, rates remain near their highest levels since 2011 and a December rate increase is all but inevitable."  The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.24%, down 12 basis points from last week's average of 4.36%, Freddie Mac said. A year ago at this time, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.92%. The five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 4.09%, a decline of 5 basis points, with an average 0.3 point, unchanged from last week. A year ago at this time, the five-year adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.22%. Subscribe Now

Existing-Home Sales Up in October After 6 Months of Declines -- This morning's release of the October Existing-Home Sales was down from the previous month's revised figure to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.22 million units. The consensus was for 5.30 million. The latest number represents a 3.4% decrease from the previous month and a 4.1% decrease year-over-year.Here is an excerpt from today's report from the National Association of Realtors. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, says increasing housing inventory has brought more buyers to the market. “After six consecutive months of decline, buyers are finally stepping back into the housing market,” he said. “Gains in the Northeast, South and West – a reversal from last month’s steep decline or plateau in all regions – helped overall sales activity rise for the first time since March 2018.” [Full Report] For a longer-term perspective, here is a snapshot of the data series, which comes from the National Association of Realtors. The data since January 1999 was previously available in the St. Louis Fed's FRED repository and is now only available from January 2018. It can be found here.

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 5.22 million in October - From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increase for the First Time in Six MonthsExisting-home sales increased in October after six straight months of decreases, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Three of four major U.S. regions saw gains in sales activity last month. Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 1.4 percent from September to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.22 million in October. Sales are now down 5.1 percent from a year ago (5.5 million in October 2017)....Total housing inventory at the end of October decreased from 1.88 million in September to 1.85 million existing homes available for sale, but that represents an increase from 1.80 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.3-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.4 last month and up from 3.9 months a year ago. This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in October (5.2 million SAAR) were up 1.4% from last month, but were 5.1% below the October 2017 rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory decreased to 1.85 million in October from 1.88 million in September. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory. Year-over-year Inventory Inventory was up 2.8% year-over-year in October compared to October 2017. Months of supply was at 4.3 months in October. For existing home sales, a key number is inventory - and inventory is still low, but appears to have bottomed. ...

Realtors Urge Fed To Stop Hiking As Existing Home Sales Slump Most Since 2014 --Despite a modestly better than expected 1.4% MoM rise (after September's 3.4% slump), existing home sales slumped 5.1% year-over-year - the biggest drop since 2014. A blip higher in SAAR... Regionally, The West is suffering the most...

  • Existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 1.5% to an annual rate of 690,000, 6.8% below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $280,900, up 3.0% from October 2017.
  • In the Midwest, existing-home sales declined 0.8% from last month to an annual rate of 1.27 million in October, down 3.1% from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $197,000, up 2.4% from last year.
  • Existing-home sales in the South rose 1.9% to an annual rate of 2.15 million in October, down 2.3% from last year. The median price was $221,600, up 3.8% from a year ago.
  • Existing-home sales in the West grew 2.8% to an annual rate of 1.11 million in October, 11.2% below a year ago. The median price in the West was $382,900, up 1.9% from October 2017.

The median existing-home price for all housing types in October was $255,400, up 3.8 percent from October 2017 ($246,000). October’s price increase marks the 80th straight month of year-over-year gains.  And NAR agrees with President Trump in asking for rate cuts:“Rising interest rates and increasing home prices continue to suppress the rate of first-time homebuyers. Home sales could further decline before stabilizing. The Federal Reserve should, therefore, re-evaluate its monetary policy of tightening credit, especially in light of softening inflationary pressures, to help ease the financial burden on potential first-time buyers and assure a slump in the market causes no lasting damage to the economy,” says Yun.

Comments on October Existing Home Sales --Bill Mcbride - Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 5.22 million in October. Two key points:
1) The key for the housing - and the overall economy - is new home sales, single family housing starts and overall residential investment. Overall this is a reasonable level for existing home sales, and the recent weakness is no surprise given the increase in mortgage rates.
2) Inventory is still low, but was up 2.8% year-over-year (YoY) in October. This was the third consecutive year-over-year increase in inventory, and the largest YoY increase since late 2014.
The current slight YoY increase in inventory is nothing like what happened in 2005 and 2006. In 2005 (see red arrow), inventory kept increasing all year, and that was a sign the bubble was ending. Although I expect inventory to increase YoY in 2018, I expect inventory to follow the normal seasonal pattern (not keep increasing all year). Also inventory levels remains low, and could increase much more and still be at normal levels. No worries. Existing Home Sales NSAThe second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA). Sales NSA in October (446,000, red column) were below sales in October 2017 (458,000, NSA), but were the second highest since the housing bubble. Sales NSA through October (first ten months) are down about 2.1% from the same period in 2017. This is a small YoY decline in sales to-date - it is likely that higher mortgage rates are impacting sales, and it is possible there has been an impact from the changes to the tax law (eliminating property taxes write-off, etc).

Housing Starts Increased to 1.228 Million Annual Rate in October -- From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions Privately‐owned housing starts in October were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,228,000. This is 1.5 percent above the revised September estimate of 1,210,000, but is 2.9 percent below the October 2017 rate of 1,265,000. Single‐family housing starts in October were at a rate of 865,000; this is 1.8 percent below the revised September figure of 881,000. The October rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 343,000. Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in October were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,263,000. This is 0.6 percent below the revised September rate of 1,270,000 and is 6.0 percent below the October 2017 rate of 1,343,000. Single‐family authorizations in October were at a rate of 849,000; this is 0.6 percent below the revised September figure of 854,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 376,000 in October.The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years.Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) increased  in October compared to September.   Multi-family starts were down year-over-year in October.Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and  has been mostly moving sideways the last few years.Single-family starts (blue) decreased in October, and were down 2.6% year-over-year. The second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then - after moving sideways for a couple of years - housing is now recovering (but still historically fairly low). Total housing starts in October were slightly below expectations, however starts for August and September were revised up..

October housing permits and starts flat vs. trend --This morning's report on housing permits and starts will do nothing to stop the now-received wisdom that higher interest rates, higher prices, (and the impact of the cap on the mortgage tax deduction) has caused this most important cyclical market to cool. On the other hand, they aren't evidence of any intensifying downturn.  While we wait for FRED, here's the Census Bureau's graphic representation of permits, starts, and completions:Here are the basic important numbers:

  • single family permits  down -0.6% m/m -0.6% YoY
  • total permits -0.5% m/m -6.0% YoY
  • total starts -+1.5% m/m -2.9% YoY
  • 3 month average of total starts +1.0% m/m +3.2% YoY

As usual, let's start with single family permits, which are the least volatile of all the leading housing indicators. These last made a new high 8 months ago, and for the first time since April 2014 they are down YoY. Before that, the last time they were down YoY was in 2011 after the expiration of the stimulus tax credit. They are also down about -4.1% from their peak. While negative, this is not a decline that is consistent with a recession.Total permits are off -7.6% from their peak, which due to revisions is now ever so slightly May rather than March. This isn't recession watch territory either.The 3 month average of housing starts smooths out this much more volatile series. They are down -6.1% from their March peak.

Comments on October Housing Starts --Earlier: Housing Starts Increased to 1.228 Million Annual Rate in October  Housing starts in October were slightly below expectations,  however starts for August and September were revised up.  Overall this was close to expectations. The housing starts report released this morning showed starts were up 1.5% in October compared to September (September starts were revised up), and starts were down 2.9% year-over-year compared to October 2017.Single family starts were down 2.6% year-over-year.This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2017 (blue) and 2018 (red). Starts were down 2.9% in October compared to October 2017. Through nine months, starts are up 5.6% year-to-date compared to the same period in 2017. That is a decent increase. Note that 2017 finished strong, so the year-over-year comparisons are difficult in Q4. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions.

Experts: Housing starts signal trouble ahead - In October, growth in housing starts was propelled by development in the multifamily sector, but some experts are warning that there could be trouble ahead for the housing market.According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s report, housing starts increased 1.5% in October, coming in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.228 million.While the increase showed improvement, it was still 2.9% below the annual rate of 1.265 million from October 2017. Single-family housing starts took a hit, dipping 1.8% and standing at a rate of 865,000. Despite this, the multifamily sector climbed to 343,000, an increase from last month’s 324,000.Experts indicate that affordability concerns and lacking inventory are creating a slowdown in the homebuilding sector.“If you're looking for a new, single-family home, the news this morning wasn't good,”Navy Federal Credit Union Corporate Economist Robert Frick said. “While housing starts picked up in a bit, the increase is because of more starts in multi-family housing, meaning apartments, attached homes and townhouses. And prospects for an increase in future building sagged – as permits fell 0.6% to a $1.26 annual rate.”"Those prospects dovetailed with yesterday's dramatic drop in home builder confidence, foreshadowing that builders are seeing a turn in the market for new homes, and are less likely to build.” The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo latest Housing Market Index revealed affordability concerns contributed to homebuilder confidence falling eight points to 60 in November.

Secular Trends in Residential Building Permits and Housing Starts - This morning, we reported separately on the latest residential building permits and housing starts in the government's monthly report, courtesy of the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite the fact that both are monthly SAAR series (seasonally adjusted annualized rate), they are exceptionally volatile and subject to extensive revisions. Thus it is unwise to assign much credibility to a single month. Over the long haul, however, the two offer a compelling study of trends in residential real estate, especially when we adjust the Permits and Starts for population growth. Here is an overlay of the two series since the 1959 inception of the Starts data and the 1960 inception of the Permits data. The monthly data points are preserved as faint dots. The trends are illustrated with 6-month moving averages of data divided by the Census Bureau's mid-month population estimates. Here is a closer look at the overlay since 1990.

 NAHB: Builder Confidence Declines in November -- The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 60 in November, down from 68 in October. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.  From NAHB: Builder Confidence Drops as Housing Affordability Issues Rise Growing affordability concerns resulted in builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes falling eight points to 60 in November on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). Despite the sharp drop, builder sentiment still remains in positive territory. “Builders report that they continue to see signs of consumer demand for new homes but that customers are taking a pause due to concerns over rising interest rates and home prices,” “ All of the major HMI indices posted declines. The index measuring current sales conditions fell seven points to 67, the component gauging expectations in the next six months dropped 10 points to 65 and the metric charting buyer traffic registered an eight-point drop to 45. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast rose two points to 58. The Midwest edged one point lower to 57, the South declined two points to 68 and the West dropped three points to 71.

US Tourism Bust- Summer Hotel Occupancy Saw Second-Largest Drop Since Recession - For the first time since Q3 2016, growth in quarterly demand for hotel rooms in the US has dropped; in fact, posting the second largest decline since the 2008 financial crisis, alarm bells are going off across their leisure and hospitality industry.To be sure, some of  the decline in Q3 2018 occupancy can be explained by unfavorable comps to Q3 2017 when hurricanes struck markets in Florida and Texas, according to data from real estate investment firm CBRE.Houston, which experienced a devastating strike by Hurricane Harvey in 3Q 2017, had the most significant occupancy drop (11%) of any US city, according to CBRE. However, the data revealed that occupancy weakness was not only centered in Texas and Florida, but there were widespread slowdowns in the Midwest and East Coast cities such as Indianapolis, Charleston, Kansas City, and Washington, DC. CBRE said some hotels had declining traffic as average daily rates for these cities cratered year-over-year. Revenue per available room also dropped in 18 of the 60 markets CBRE monitors, almost doubled from Q2 2018.In a separate report, top US hotel groups reported weaker than expected 3Q 2018 US growth in revenue per available room (RevPAR), causing some concern that a domestic slowdown is imminent. Marriott International posted North American RevPAR growth of just 0.6% for 3Q 2018. By comparison, Marriott saw RevPAR grow 1.9% worldwide over the same period."The surprise and disappointment for us in the third quarter was purely about U.S. RevPAR performance in September," which was down 1% for the month, said Marriott president and CEO Arne Sorenson. "It had an impact on third-quarter RevPAR [in North America], and it does affect our expectations for the fourth quarter."Hyatt Hotels reported a 1.1% decline in RevPAR in the US for 3Q 2018 but said globally - RevPAR jumped 2.8%.

 Michigan Consumer Sentiment: November Final Down Slightly from October - The University of Michigan Final Consumer Sentiment for November came in at 97.5, down 1.1 from the October Final reading. had forecast 98.4. Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments: Consumer sentiment has remained largely unchanged at very favorable levels during 2018, with the November reading nearly at the center of the eleven month range from 95.7 to 101.4. Although the data recorded a decline of 2.8 Index points following the election, the drop was related more to income than political party: among those with incomes in the bottom third, the Sentiment Index rose by 10.4 points and fell by 6.6 points among those in the top third of the income distribution. In contrast, the Sentiment Index remained unchanged among Democrats and Republicans prior to and following the election. [More...] See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

 Headline Durable Goods Orders Down 4.4% in October - The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders:New orders for manufactured durable goods in October decreased $11.5 billion or 4.4 percent to $248.5 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This decrease, down three of the last four months, followed a 0.1 percent September decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.1 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 1.2 percent. Transportation equipment, down following two consecutive monthly increases, drove the decrease, $11.7 billion or 12.2 percent to $84.7 billion. Download full PDF   The latest new orders number at -4.4% month-over-month (MoM) was worse than the consensus of -2.2%. The series is up 6.7% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods came in at 0.1% MoM, which was worse than the Investing.comconsensus of 0.4%. The core measure is up 4.4% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is unchanged MoM and up 3.4% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is down 1.5% MoM and down 0.9% YoY.  For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

Durable Goods Orders Plunge As Defense Spending Plummets, Capex Weak - After beating expectations of a decline in September (thanks to a 118.7% MoM spike in defense aircraft spending), October was also pegged for a notable decline and Durable Goods delivered a crushing blow, plunging 4.4% MoM (against expectations of a 2.6% decline). Thanks in large part to a 59.3% MoM collapse in Defense aircraft spending... (defense capital goods plunged 16.6% MoM and non-defense aircraft also dropped 21.4% MoM) This is the biggest dollar drop in defense aircraft spending since 9/11/2001... Year-over-year durable goods growth slowed notably to +6.65%... Perhaps worst of all, a proxy for business spending, Cap Goods Orders non-defense were unchanged in October (after a downward revised 0.5% MoM drop in September) missing expectations of a 0.2% rise... Certainly not the 'hot economy' that The Fed seems so scare of.

 Apple Co-Founder Claims Self-driving Isn’t Realistic, Sick of Lies -- Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak may no longer work for the company in any official capacity, but he has stayed on as a tech advisor and sounding board. When the Woz says something it usually isn’t without merit, which is why it was interesting to learn he thinks self-driving vehicles aren’t going to happen. Previously, Apple was said to have hundreds of employees working on an electrified, autonomous vehicle as part of Project Titan. Despite having the necessary testing permits, the company shifted toward developing software for self-driving applications in 2016. CEO Tim Cook confirmed that was the firm’s new focus in 2017 but analysts and industry insiders have continued to claim the Apple Car is still quietly in development. Maybe someone should tell that to Wozniak because he seems to think the entire idea is bogus. Confessing that he purchased a Tesla because he initially believed in its autonomous vision, Wozniak told CNBC he gradually became disenfranchised with the idea. “I wanted to be part of this lead in to autonomous driving,” he explained on Fast Money Halftime Report last week. “I wanted to be a part of that crowd and I kept upgrading my Tesla to one that would have a camera and radar. And then one that would have eight cameras and a radar, because the first one would never do it. And then I gave up and I said it’s really not going to happen.” While Wozniak praised Tesla’s ability to produce effective electric vehicles and complement its vehicles having the foresight to establish a charging infrastructure beyond city centers, he said he was fed up with the industry lying about autonomous vehicles. However, he did claim to support advancements in “assistive driving” technology that can allow cars to “spot red lights, and stop signs and avoid some of the accidents today.” This came with the same warning we like to issue, though. Wozniak said motorists shouldn’t presume driving aids are bulletproof and urged individuals “not to lose sight of the fact you’re not going to get a car that drives itself.” It may only be one man’s hot take on the issue but Steve is a tech icon and likely someone others will listen to, despite his not being an expert on autonomous systems. It’s also further evidence that many are becoming disillusioned with the concept of self-driving and all of the lofty promises being made by automakers and technology firms. Although, the brunt of Wozniak’s ire seemed to be targeted at Tesla’s AV program.

Why falling oil prices are now a net drag on the U.S. economy - President Donald Trump on Wednesday touted falling oil prices as a “tax cut for America and the world,” but economists say the shale revolution, which has turned the U.S. back into a major oil producer, means that declining crude prices are now a small headwind for the economy.“The key point to remember here is that the lower oil prices are now a net drag on the U.S. economy, because the [capital-expenditure] cutbacks triggered in the shale oil business outweigh the gains to consumers’ spending from cheaper gas prices,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a Monday note. The drag isn’t large, but the phenomenon is a “huge break from the past,” Shepherdson noted, and it’s become visible only recently.  Shale output has risen sharply over the past decade, pushing U.S. oil production to a record above 10 million barrels a day in 2018.  Oil on Tuesday extended a rout that’s already pushed futures on the U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate crude CLF9, -1.08% , and the global benchmark, Brent crude LCOF9, -1.51% into bear markets this month. January WTI futures and Brent both dropped nearly 7% in Tuesday’s session. Oil bounced higher on Wednesday, while stocks also attempted to recover from an extended rout that took the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.00% and the S&P 500SPX, +0.30% into negative territory for the year. Oil’s plunge doesn’t spell doom for the U.S. economy, which was already expected to slow as the boost from tax cuts faded, Shepherdson said, but the slide “will make a difference, at the margin.” He pointed to the oil selloff that began in mid-2014, taking crude from around $107 a barrel to a low near $26 in early 2016 — a move that was accompanied by a sharp slowdown in U.S. gross-domestic-product growth and an outright contraction in manufacturing activity, triggered by a 60% peak-to-trough collapse in mining capital expenditures.

 Job Market Euphoria- Companies Are Now Hiring Sight Unseen - The euphoria-induced tactic of just buying any stock sight unseen over the last decade has now been adopted by hiring managers nationwide. A recent Wall Street Journal article points out that many employers looking to hire people are doing just that – without ever meeting the prospective candidate in person.In what has become the tightest job market since 1969, employers have reached the point of hiring some candidates as quickly as after just one phone interview, worried someone else may snatch the job prospect. While the practice was once the most common for seasonal hiring, it is now reportedly spreading to roles like engineers and IT professionals. The Journal highlights several examples of this practice occurring nationwide. Take 22-year-old Jamari Powell, who was hired by Macy’s for $12.25 an hour after just a 25 minute interview and was contacted back just 12 hours after submitting his online application. Macy’s reportedly fills more than 33% of its in-store jobs within just 48 hours and is in the process of looking to expand its phone interview hiring process, according to a spokeswoman from the company. They call it "a fast and easy hiring process”. In another example, Ashley Jurak, a 19-year-old student at Baylor University offered to drive in for a personal interview to her local Bath and Body Works, but the company told her not to worry about it because she had clinched the job over the phone. Upon arriving for her first day of work, the manager there told her that she "looked just like her picture".Another example is Tamia Howze, a 21-year-old hospitality and tourism major, who got a job at a catering company after just one phone interview that lasted 30 minutes. The pay for the job was $13 an hour plus tips. She told the Journal: “I was kind of shocked. I’m like, you know, should I be worried that I got hired?”

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 224,000 The DOL reported: In the week ending November 17, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 224,000, an increase of 3,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 5,000 from 216,000 to 221,000. The 4-week moving average was 218,500, an increase of 2,000 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 1,250 from 215,250 to 216,500. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Philly Fed: State Coincident Indexes increased in 42 states in October -- From the Philly Fed: The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for October 2018. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 43 states, decreased in four states, and remained stable in three, for a three-month diffusion index of 78. In the past month, the indexes increased in 42 states, decreased in five states, and remained stable in three, for a one-month diffusion index of 74. Note: These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed:  The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing by production workers, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP.

After 20,000 workers walked out, Google said it got the message. The workers disagree. - On Nov. 1, 20,000 Google employees and contractors walked out of the company’s offices around the world, one week after the New York Times reported that Google had protected three executives accused of sexual misconduct, including Android founder Andy Rubin.But the protests were about more than just how Google handles harassment. On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, six of the walkout organizers — Erica Anderson, Claire Stapleton, Meredith Whittaker, Stephanie Parker, Cecilia O’Neil-Hart and Amr Gaber — explained that employees’ grievances included a history of pay discrimination, systemic racism and the unequal treatment of contract workers.And Google executives have neglected to even talk about some of the five demands that the workers presented in conjunction with the walkouts.“They did not ever address, acknowledge, the list of demands, nor did they adequately provide solutions to all the five,” said Stapleton, a marketing manager at YouTube who has been at Google for more than 11 years. “They did drop forced arbitration, but for sexual harassment only, not discrimination, which was a key omission. Nothing was addressed regarding TVCs [contract workers] ... I think we didn’t see accountability in action.” “You don’t have 20,000 people in the streets planned in three days if there isn’t something deeply, structurally wrong,” added Whittaker, the founder of Google’s Open Research group.

 New York City subway and bus services have entered ‘death spiral’, experts say - New York City’s subway and bus service is already in crisis. It could be getting worse. And more expensive. Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) warned last week that without a major infusion of cash, they will have to drastically cut service or increase fares on the system that carries millions of New Yorkers around the city. Andy Byford – the transit expert and veteran of the London Underground who was brought in almost a year ago to rescue the subway from a state many commuters considered rock bottom – instead had to grapple with bad news. The system’s financial straits have gotten worse in part because it has fewer riders, and is collecting less money in fares. Expected passenger revenue over a five-year period has dropped by $485m since July. “They’ve entered this death spiral,” said Benjamin Kabak, who runs the transit website Second Avenue Sagas. “The subway service and the bus service has become unreliable enough for people to stop using it. If people aren’t using it, there’s less money, and they have to keep raising fares without delivering better service.” The authority is proposing a fare hike that would take effect in March. One option would raise the basic fare for a ride to $3 from the current $2.75. Another option would leave the base fare the same but increase the cost of monthly passes and eliminate bonuses for riders. They are also proposing $41m a year in service cuts, mainly increasing the time between trains and buses on some routes. And, if approved, the plan would delay the launch of faster bus routes. Those changes will still leave the MTA with massive deficits, expected to hit nearly $1bn a year by 2022. To tackle those deficits, officials say they would have to cut service more drastically, or raise fares by an additional 15%.

 4-Year-Old Girl Left in Freezing Van Overnight After Cops Arrested Her Mom, Impounded Van - — A family is speaking out this week after the arrest of a mother nearly led to the death of a 4-year-old little girl. Monday night, police arrested the girl’s mother and seized her van, when they impounded the van, they left the little girl inside—in freezing temperatures, overnight. It was an “unfortunate situation,” Milwaukee city engineer Jeff Polenske said at a news conference. “Apparently the girl was very upset and crying, something that none of us would like to have happen to any of our children.”Indeed, it could have been far more “unfortunate” had the girl not survived the frigid temperatures.As FOX 2 reports, the National Weather Service reported temperatures at Mitchell International Airport were around 25 degrees around midnight — with a wind chill of 14 degrees. The temperature dropped to as low as 19 degrees with a wind chill of five degrees around 7 a.m. When the girl was found, the temperature had edged up to 22 degrees with a wind chill of nine degrees.According to police, the girl’s mother was pulled over around 12:30 a.m. because officers suspected her of driving under the influence. During the stop, the mother was arrested on suspicion of DUI charges. A 10-month-old baby was also in the car and was taken into custody by police, but the 4-year-old was left sleeping in the back seat. The exact circumstances of the arrest are unclear and so is the reason for police not searching the vehicle after arresting the driver.

 More than 14,000 Children in Custody, a Record  — The number of undocumented immigrant children in government custody has topped 14,000 for the first time, a rise that shows no signs of slowing as the Trump administration enforces policies that are keeping them in government facilities longer. There were 14,056 unaccompanied immigrant minors in Department of Health and Human Services custody on Friday, according to a government source familiar with the number. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that the total had reached approximately 14,000. That number tops records set just two months ago, putting further strain on an already overburdened system. The issue of immigrant children in government custody gained widespread attention in the spring and summer when the Trump administration separated thousands of families at the southern border. Almost all those separated children have since left Health and Human Services care, but the total number of children in the system has steadily grown. The reason is that children who arrive unaccompanied in the U.S. are spending more time in holding facilities before they can be released to suitable adults, often family members. One change that has especially slowed that down is an agreement Health and Human Services signed earlier this year for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to do background checks on potential sponsors. ICE confirmed in September that it had used that information to arrest undocumented adults who came forward to take custody of children.

Sandra Parks: Anti-gun student, 13, killed by stray bullet - "We are in a state of chaos. In the city in which I live, I hear and see examples of chaos almost every day. Little children are victims of senseless gun violence..." Two years ago, 11-year-old Milwaukee schoolgirl Sandra Parks wrote these words in an award-winning essay about the murders in her city.On Monday night, aged 13, she was shot by a stray bullet fired into her home. Her frantic family called 911, but Sandra died at the scene. The girl's mother, Bernice Parks, told police she had gone to bed early while her children watched TV. She woke to the sound of gunshots shortly before 20:00, and found her daughter bleeding on the floor. "She said, 'Momma, I'm shot. Call the police,'" Ms Parks told TV station WITI. "I looked at her. She didn't cry. She wasn't hollering. She was just so peaceful... She didn't deserve to leave this world like that." Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett described the situation as "insanity", telling reporters: "Tragically, her death was caused by someone who just decided they were going to shoot bullets into her house, and she's dead. A 13-year-old, on Thanksgiving week, on a school night, in her bedroom, and she died."

California’s expensive race for schools chief is over as Tony Thurmond defeats Marshall Tuck --Tony Thurmond, a Bay Area Democrat who served in the state Assembly and as a local school board member, declared victory on Saturday in the bitterly contested and expensive race for California superintendent of public instruction.Thurmond’s opponent, charter school executive Marshall Tuck, conceded the race after several days of late vote counting continued to widen the gap between the two candidates. Tuck had been ahead in early returns on election night but lost the lead last weekend. The race was easily the most expensive in history for the relatively obscure post of schools superintendent, who shares oversight of education policy with the State Board of Education. Independent political action committees spent some $53.8 million on the race, the lion’s share of which came from pro-charter school groups that supported Tuck. Thurmond, the first African American elected to statewide office in four decades, was strongly backed by the California Teachers Assn. The race was largely a proxy war between supporters and critics of the state’s charter schools, with Thurmond advocating for additional scrutiny of the schools and their track record.

Little Rock, Arkansas teachers’ union relinquishes due process rights --After weeks of rousing protests and overwhelming community support for a scheduled teacher strike, the Little Rock Education Association (LREA) in Arkansas accepted a contract last Tuesday, which violates the main demand of educators—protection of due process rights. The far-reaching attack, pushed by the pro-privatization powerhouse, the Walton Family Foundation, is part of a series of bipartisan policy changes aimed at eviscerating public sector employment rights on a national level.The union-endorsed agreement will open the door to modification of the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (ATFDA), enacted more than three decades ago, and streamline the ability of the Little Rock School District to fire educators.The one-year contract deal came just a day before it was set to expire. It was ratified by a snap membership meeting. The state board of education may meet as early as December 13 to grant waivers allowing administrators to ignore the ATFDA in “failing” Little Rock School District (LRSD) schools, those assigned D and F rankings based on standardized tests. Last month, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, a pro-privatization official appointed by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, rejected a tentative agreement because the contract did not include language for a waiver from the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act. The ATFDA, passed in 1983, covers all school employees required to hold a teaching certificate throughout the state and requires a series of steps including hearings, counseling and improvement policies before an educational professional can be dismissed. Following the well-worn pretext utilized by privatization forces throughout the US, the high-poverty Little Rock School District was placed under state control in 2015 citing “low test scores.” Instead of increasing funding and offering free tutoring and other educational enrichment opportunities, state and federal policies—designed by Wall Street interests and implemented by Democrats and Republicans alike—have mandated firing staff, imposing lucrative business “professional development” schemes, charterizing schools and/or shuttering them.

Set Up to Fail? How High Schools Aren’t Preparing Kids for College - Students in small schools or schools with high concentrations of poverty are less likely to be offered the kinds of higher-level classes that prepare them for college, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).As the share of poor students in schools rises, the prevalence of advanced math and science courses drops. Small schools and charter schools, regardless of the socioeconomic makeup of the student body, are also less likely to offer those types of classes, the report found.The condensed course offerings are just one way that students in poorer schools are disadvantaged. "High-poverty schools may not offer rigorous courses, such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses, due to lack of resources or teaching staff," the report reads. "Students in high-poverty schools also face other stressors that can make going to college challenging, [including] homelessness, hunger and trauma."  In many ways, says one education policy observer, the report's findings are merely the effects of historic school segregation along racial and class lines. "If our schools were truly integrated by race, class and ethnicity, you couldn’t ask whether the course offerings were equal."  According to a separate report from Education Week in 2016, 40 percent of the nation’s high schools didn’t offer physics. But in Alaska and Oklahoma, states with an especially high number of small rural schools, 70 percent of the high schools didn’t offer physics. Across the country, the schools that didn't offer physics classes had an average student population of 270; those that did offer physics had, on average, 880 students. Many of the smaller schools had a single science teacher who taught both high school and middle school classes. Urban schools face a different set of challenges. Their funding is also tight, but Welner says the driving force behind the disparity in course offerings in those schools is the demographic makeup of the students. They're more likely to have more black and Latino children, and according to Welner, "educators don’t hold high expectations for minority students, and that often permeates course offerings at the school."

Professors Warned NOT TO FRIGHTEN UNIVERSITY STUDENTS By Using All-Caps -  DOES THIS SCARE YOU? According to “leading research” in the UK, using all-caps in university instructions could “frighten students into failure.” The staff at Leeds’ Trinity School was given a handful of instructions to help the future journalists of the United Kingdom succeed. Do keep in mind that these suggestions are no more outrageous than the ones here in the United States of Safe Spaces. It would be difficult to be surprised by this.After all, we live in a world in which clapping has been banned and replaced with “jazz hands” to avoid the potential of anxiety for students. We live in a world with coloring books, puppies, and safe spaces for college students who require respite from a world with President Trump.  We live in a world where a prof at Harvard Law – HARVARD FREAKING LAW (oh sorry – all caps, are you okay?) is dealing with law students who believe that rape law should not be taught. We live in a world in which practically everything must be prefaced with a trigger warning.We live in a world in which anything that goes against the official rhetoric of the Big Tech gods is immediately censored out. All of this coddling comes at a high price for mental health.The mental health of young people is truly suffering and it isn’t because of words written in all-caps. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt of The Atlantic wrote about harm being caused by the politcal correctness epidemic: …it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse…

Hungry to Learn - Chronicle of Higher Education - They barely make enough money to pay for college. Sometimes they have to choose between buying a textbook or buying food. Making rent, finding food, paying bills, raising a child, and dealing with abusive partners— these are some of the roadblocks many students face as they work toward earning their degrees.“College leaders are often embarrassed to admit that there is a problem on their campus,” says the researcher Sara Goldrick-Rab. As the founder of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, a research and advocacy institute at Temple University, Goldrick-Rab says colleges need to stop thinking about such challenges only as personal issues that services like food banks alone can solve. It takes community involvement and systemic changes to solve the problems of financial instability.Below are interviews with five students who have all experienced food or housing insecurity – or both. The interviews were conducted in September during a Goldrick-Rab-organized event, “#RealCollege: A National Convening on Food and Housing Insecurity,” held at Temple University.

Student Groups Slam Thanksgiving As A Celebration Of Genocide - Student groups at the University of Oregon are hosting an event this week to “decolonize” Thanksgiving.The UO’s Native American Law Students Association and the Native American Student Union are hosting an event, titled, “Thanks But No Thanks-giving: Decolonizing an American Holiday.”  The event will focus on how people can continue to give thanks, while at the same time “raising [their] critical consciousness and identifying ways to decolonize the holiday.”“Millions of families gather together every year to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. Many Americans do not grow up thinking much of the history behind the holiday," the event description states."The main messages are that of gratitude, food, and family; however, Thanksgiving is, foundationally speaking, a celebration of the ongoing genocide against native peoples and cultures across the globe.” Several departments at the university are sponsoring the event, including the Division of Student Life, University Counseling Center, Division of Equity and Inclusion, and Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence.

Gov’t questions unfair student loan practices (AP) — One of the nation’s largest student loan servicing companies may have driven tens of thousands of borrowers struggling with their debts into higher-cost repayment plans.That’s the finding of a Department of Education audit of practices at Navient Corp., the nation’s third-largest student loan servicing company.The conclusions of the 2017 audit, which until now have been kept from the public and were obtained by The Associated Press, appear to support federal and state lawsuits that accuse Navient of boosting its profits by steering some borrowers into the high-cost plans without discussing options that would have been less costly in the long run.The education department has not shared the audit’s findings with the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. In fact, even while knowing of its conclusions, the department repeatedly argued that state and other federal authorities do not have jurisdiction over Navient’s business practices.“The existence of this audit makes the Department of Education’s position all the more disturbing,” said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, who worked for the Department of Education under President Barack Obama.The AP received a copy of the audit and other documents from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who has been a vocal critic of Navient and has publicly supported the lawsuits against the company as well as questioning the policies of the Department of Education, currently run by President Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Warren is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2020. Navient disputed the audit’s conclusions in its response to the Department of Education and has denied the allegations in the lawsuits. One point the company makes in its defense is that its contract with the education department doesn’t require its customer service representatives to mention all options available to the borrower.

Warren lays into Navient CEO over Education Dept. audit — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has accused Navient's chief executive of false statements related to allegations of improper practices facing the student loan servicer. In a letter to Navient CEO Jack Remondi, Warren claims that he denied the merits of a lawsuit by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleging that Navient had steered struggling borrowers into expensive loan forbearance programs. But at the time, Warren said, Navient was being audited by the Department of Education. The Department of Education audit, performed in 2017, was disclosed Tuesday in reporting by The Associated Press. "It appears that, while the company was publicly stating that there was no truth to the allegations about Navient's misbehavior by CFPB, the company had received an official Education Department audit that revealed your company was not meeting federal standards or adequately servicing student loan borrowers," Warren said in the letter, dated Nov. 13. "You made these same denials to me privately — compounding the problem by denying the existence of any third party audit that identified Navient's failures." But in a direct response to Warren and a separate shareholder letter, Remondi stood by his earlier statements and took issue with Warren's interpretation of the government audit. “I stand by my responses to your questions in our meeting in June. I continue to be unaware of any reviews or audits that support the claims that Navient somehow systematically steered borrowers into forbearance," Remondi said in a letter to Warren, dated Nov. 15. "This particular Federal Student Aid review, when viewed as a whole, as well as a dozen of other audits and reviews, show that Navient overwhelmingly performs in accordance with program rules while consistently helping borrowers choose the right options for their circumstances.” Warren said the audit has "bolstered the allegations" against Navient and "found the company was not adequately servicing student borrowers.” “Navient needs to explain the appalling findings of this audit and why the company denied that it existed,” she wrote.

Eliminating All Student Debt Isn’t Progressive - Democrats won’t be able to do much policymaking over the next two years, because of President Trump and the Republican Senate. But they can still hold hearings and pass bills that make clear their party’s vision for 2020 and beyond. They can figure out which ideas have the potential both to improve people’s lives and to win over voters. One idea that’s started making the rounds is the elimination of all student debt. Major publications have published columns promoting the idea. Almost 20 House Democrats have signed on to a bill — written by Jared Polis, Colorado’s governor-elect — that would cancel all debt. It’s also a priority for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile incoming House member from the Bronx. But it’s actually a bad idea. It is the sort of proposal — alluring but counterproductive — that Democrats should avoid as they build an agenda.  The fatal flaw of universal student-debt cancellation is that it’s not, in fact, progressive. It mostly benefits the upper middle class. “Education debt,” as Sandy Baum and Victoria Lee of the Urban Institute have written, “is disproportionately concentrated among the well-off.” The highest-earning quarter of the population holds about half of all student debt, according to Baum and Lee. Which means that universal student debt cancellation would be a giant welfare program for the bourgeoisie.  To be clear, student debt is a real problem. But it’s a complicated problem. Most people struggling to pay off their debts are not graduates of four-year colleges. They are instead non-graduates — people who attended college (often a for-profit college) but never received a degree. They have the worst of both worlds: debt and no degree. Most graduates of four-year colleges, by contrast, are doing just fine. I know you’ve probably read stories about liberal-arts college graduates who ran up enormous debts and now can’t find decent work. But they are the rare exceptions.

Why Free Public Higher Education Is Not a Sop to the Upper Middle Class - Lots of bad op-ed stuff gets published in the New York Times and other mass circulation outlets, so I usually give it a pass, but today’s attack on free higher education by David Leonhardt is about my day job, so I have to make an exception.  He repeats the utterly bs line that, since most college students are from the upper half of the income spectrum, using public funds to pay their way is regressive.No, no no! First, why is the college student population so skewed to the higher brackets?  There are many reasons, but the financial burden of attending—not only tuition, but also the opportunity cost of not working—is a big factor.  The problem with free higher ed is that, the way it’s usually framed, it doesn’t go far enough.  As in European countries and elsewhere that take this issue seriously, students should not only get free tuition but a stipend.  We can afford and should demand the same.Second, what Leonhardt doesn’t mention is the student-worker phenomenon, the crushing workload on college students holding down part time and even full time jobs.  Evergreen State College, where I work, just released the results from its survey of incoming students, and more than half expected to work to support themselves while attending classes, most of them more than 20 hours per week.  I see this reality every day in the classroom, where students struggle with not enough time to keep up with assignments, sometimes even nodding out to recover from a late night shift, or the emails apologizing for being absent because of a work schedule change. College is hard.  It should be enough for students to commit to doing the academic work to the best of their ability; we shouldn’t ask anything more.

Young People Are Having Less Sex -- The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription. If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normalPolyamory is a household word. Shame-laden terms like perversion have given way to cheerful-sounding ones like kink. Anal sex has gone from final taboo to “fifth base”—Teen Vogue (yes, Teen Vogue) even ran a guide to it. With the exception of perhaps incest and bestiality—and of course nonconsensual sex more generally—our culture has never been more tolerant of sex in just about every permutation. But despite all this, American teenagers and young adults are having less sex.To the relief of many parents, educators, and clergy members who care about the health and well-being of young people, teens are launching their sex lives later. From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent. In other words, in the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t. (And no, they aren’t having oral sex instead—that rate hasn’t changed much.) Meanwhile, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate has plummeted to a third of its modern high. When this decline started, in the 1990s, it was widely and rightly embraced. But now some observers are beginning to wonder whether an unambiguously good thing might have roots in less salubrious developments. Signs are gathering that the delay in teen sex may have been the first indication of a broader withdrawal from physical intimacy that extends well into adulthood.

Federal Ban on Female Genital Mutilation Ruled Unconstitutional by Judge - More than two decades ago, Congress adopted a sweeping law that outlawed female genital mutilation, an ancient practice that 200 million women and girls around the world have undergone. But a federal court considering the first legal challenge to the statute found the law unconstitutional on Tuesday, greatly diminishing the chances of it being used by federal prosecutors around the country. A federal judge in Michigan issued the ruling in a case that involved two doctors and four parents, among others, who had been criminally charged last year with participating in or enabling the ritual genital cutting of girls. Their families belong to a small Shiite Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, that is originally from western India. The case, the first to be brought under the 1996 law that criminalized female genital mutilation, has been closely followed by human rights advocates and communities where cutting is still practiced and whose members have moved in growing numbers to the United States and other western countries. On Tuesday, Judge Bernard Friedman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that Congress did not have the authority to pass the law against female genital mutilation and he dismissed key charges filed against the doctors and removed four of the eight defendants from the case. “As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be,” he wrote, prosecutors failed to show that the federal government had the authority to bring the charges, and he noted that regulating practices like this is essentially a state responsibility.

Insulin shortage could affect 40 million people with type 2 diabetes -About 40 million people who will need insulin to manage their type 2 diabetes in 12 years’ time will not get it unless access to the drug is significantly improved, according to new research. Diagnoses of type 2 diabetes are soaring worldwide, linked to the obesity epidemic. Not all of those diagnosed will need insulin, which is essential to keep people with type 1 diabetes alive, including UK prime minister Theresa May. But a study in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal shows that 79 million people with type 2 will need it by 2030 and that half of them will not be able to get it. About 33 million people who need insulin currently do not have access to the drug.“These estimates suggest that current levels of insulin access are highly inadequate compared to projected need, particularly in Africa and Asia, and more efforts should be devoted to overcoming this looming health challenge,” said Dr Sanjay Basu from Stanford University in the US, who led the research.“Despite the UN’s commitment to treat non-communicable diseases and ensure universal access to drugs for diabetes, across much of the world insulin is scarce and unnecessarily difficult for patients to access. The number of adults with type 2 diabetes is expected to rise over the next 12 years due to ageing, urbanisation, and associated changes in diet and physical activity. Unless governments begin initiatives to make insulin available and affordable, then its use is always going to be far from optimal.” The scientists predict the need for insulin will rise by 20% in the next 13 years. The drug reduces the risk of complications such as blindness, amputation, kidney failure and stroke.

Sackler family members face mass litigation, criminal investigations over opioids crisis - Members of the multibillionaire philanthropic Sackler family that owns the maker of prescription painkiller OxyContin are facing mass litigation and likely criminal investigation over the opioids crisis still ravaging America. Some of the Sacklers wholly own Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, the company that created and sells the legal narcotic OxyContin, a drug at the center of the opioid epidemic that now kills almost 200 people a day across the US. Suffolk county on Long Island, New York, recently sued several family members personally over the overdose deaths and painkiller addiction blighting local communities. Now lawyers warn that action will be a catalyst for hundreds of other US cities, counties and states to follow suit. At the same time, prosecutors in Connecticut and New York are understood to be considering criminal fraud and racketeering charges against leading family members over the way OxyContin has allegedly been dangerously overprescribed and deceptively marketed to doctors and the public over the years, legal sources told the Guardian last week. “This is essentially a crime family … drug dealers in nice suits and dresses,” said Paul Hanly, a New York city lawyer who represents Suffolk county and is also a lead attorney in a huge civil action playing out in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, involving opioid manufacturers and distributors. The Sacklers are a wealthy but feuding clan. The Sackler name is prominently attached to prestigious cultural and academic institutions that have accepted millions donated by the family in the US and the UK. It is now inscribed on a lawsuit alleging members of the family “actively participated in conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive”. 

India’s plan to tackle antibiotic resistance is toothless without a strong public health system The world is on the verge of entering a dangerous post-antibiotics era where common infections may become untreatable and antimicrobial resistance or AMR may become the leading cause of premature deaths. While an estimated 7,00,000 people die annually due to AMR, reports suggest that the number of deaths may reach up to 10 million by 2050.  On April 19, 2017, the ‘Inter-Ministerial Consultation on AMR containment’ led by India’s health ministry announced the finalisation of India’s comprehensive and multi-sectoral National Action Plan. India’s plan is robust and involves different ministries to tackle the problem under the one health agenda. It can show results if properly implemented. But is there a danger of this document becoming another Indian plan that is excellent on paper but useless without political and financial commitment towards implementation?  In the absence of a proper regulatory environment, the higher dependence on the private health sector is associated with increased AMR due to frequent overuse of antibiotics. In Brazil, an emerging economy similar to India, the higher density of private health clinics is associated with higher antimicrobial consumption despite stronger restrictions of over-the-counter sales that have curtailed misuse of antibiotics available over the counter. But overuse of antibiotics is only one of many factors contributing to AMR. Global AMR maps show greater resistance in low- and middle-income countries, especially India, despite the fact that their per capita antibiotic use is not as much as the high income countries. Recently published research in the Lancet has uncovered underlying reasons. An analysis of 73 countries showed that the reduction of antibiotic consumption alone will not be enough to control AMR. AMR was found increase with lower health expenditure, worse infrastructure – especially sanitation infrastructure – and even poorer governance that allows corruption.  India’s public health budget including both centre and state expenditure is a measly 1.3% and massive out of pocket spending results in millions getting poorer every year. Despite its much-publicised Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, India has the biggest urban sanitation crisis with most open defecators at 41 million people.

CDC Task Force Assembled To Address Polio-Like Disease; Hundreds Stricken - The CDC has assembled a task force to address a rare polio-like disease which has affected hundreds of children across 29 states.   A total of 106 cases of Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) have been confirmed by the CDC, out of 273 reports of the affliction which, according to the Daily Mail, has emerged as a major public health threat every other year since 2014.  The rare disease affects the nervous system, "specifically the area of the spinal cord called gray matter, which causes the muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak," according to the CDC. Symptoms include a facial droop, arm or leg weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids and difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech. It appears to start off like a common cold, before victims eventually progress to paralysis. "We have not been able to find the cause of the majority of AFM cases...and we're frustrated that we haven't been able to identify the cause of illness," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC's director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The states Daily Mail Online is currently aware of with confirmed cases includes: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Washington. A press officer for the CDC told Daily Mail Online last week that the agency would not be naming the additional states where cases have been confirmed due to 'privacy issues'.While the pattern of AFM most resembles an infectious disease, much remains unknown about the condition. -Daily Mail  In response, the CDC task force will investigate the driving forces behind AFM, possible treatments, and to establish post-AFM aftercare.

Romaine lettuce is not safe to eat, CDC warns U.S. consumers  -Romaine lettuce is unsafe to eat in any form, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday in a food safety alert in response to a new outbreak of illnesses caused by a particularly dangerous type of E. coli bacteria.The CDC told consumers to throw away any romaine lettuce they may already have purchased. Restaurants should not serve it, stores should not sell it, and people should not buy it, no matter where or when the lettuce was grown. It doesn’t matter if it is chopped, whole head or part of a mix.The unusually broad warning, issued just two days before Americans sit down for their Thanksgiving dinners, reflects the uncertainties about the origin and extent of the bacterial contamination. The CDC is not claiming that all romaine contains the dangerous bacteria — something the millions of people who have eaten the popular lettuce recently should bear in mind — but investigators don’t know precisely where, when or how the contamination happened.  Thus all romaine is suspect.The CDC reported that 32 people in 11 states have become sick from eating contaminated romaine. Of those, 13 have been hospitalized, with one patient suffering from a form of kidney failure. The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported that 18 people have been infected with the same strain of E. coli. in Ontario and Quebec.No deaths have been reported. “Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the CDC said in the Food Safety Alert issued Tuesday afternoon. “This advice includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad,” the CDC said. “If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.” The agency also advised consumers to wash and sanitize drawers and shelves where the lettuce was stored. People usually become sick within three or four days of consuming lettuce contaminated with the E. coli, according to the CDC.

Anti-vaccination stronghold in N.C. hit with state’s worst chickenpox outbreak in 2 decades - Chickenpox has taken hold of a school in North Carolina where many families claim religious exemption from vaccines.Cases of chickenpox have been multiplying at the Asheville Waldorf School, which serves children from nursery school to sixth grade in Asheville, N.C. About a dozen infections grew to 28 at the beginning of the month. By Friday, there were 36, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.The outbreak ranks as the state’s worst since the chickenpox vaccine became available more than 20 years ago. Since then, the two-dose course has succeeded in limiting the highly contagious disease that once affected 90 percent of Americans — a public health breakthrough.The school is a symbol of the small but strong movement against the most effective means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The percentage of children under 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Like the Disneyland measles outbreak in 2015, the flare-up demonstrates the real-life consequences of a shadowy debate fueled by junk science and fomented by the same sort of Twitter bots and trolls that spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential election. And it shows how a seemingly fringe view can gain currency in a place like Asheville, a funky, year-round resort town nestled between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. “The school follows immunization requirements put in place by the state board of education, but also recognizes that a parent’s decision to immunize their children happens before they enter school,” the school explained in a statement to Blue Ridge Public Radio.

The mystery viruses far worse than flu - The first sign was a feeling of general apprehension, which soon led to shivers, pains, and headaches. Then the perspiration set in. The victims would be swamped by a torrent of sweat, which led to insatiable thirst and delirium. Finally, they’d feel an overwhelming urge to sleep. If they succumbed, they’d likely end up dead. The fatality rate was up to 50%.  Here was a disease that could strike out of nowhere, often leading to death in a matter of hours; one chronicler wrote that you could be “merry at dinner and dedde [sic] at supper”.   To this day, no one has any clear idea what caused the mysterious English Sweat. But the leading theory is that this mega-outbreak wasn’t caused by the flu, Ebola, or any of the infamous diseases we often hear about.Instead, the culprit was a type of hantavirus – a rare family of viruses that typically infect rodents.Not all pandemics are caused by the obvious suspects. Though the media have us whipped up into a frenzy over a select cast of superstar pathogens, the villain in the next global drama may be lurking in the unlikeliest of places; perhaps it hasn’t even been discovered yet.“I think the chances that the next pandemic will be caused by a novel virus are quite good,” says Kevin Olival, a disease ecologist from the EcoHealth Alliance, a US-based organisation that studies the links between human and environmental health. “If you look at Sars, which was the first pandemic of the 21st Century, that was a previously unknown virus before it jumped into people and spread round the world. So there’s a precedent there – there are many, many viruses out there in the families that we’re concerned with.” Olival is not alone. Earlier this year, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates warned that the next pandemic could be something we’ve never seen before. He suggested that we prepare for its emergence as we would for a war. Meanwhile, the WHO is so firmly convinced that they have updated their list of pathogens most likely to cause a massive, deadly outbreak to include “Disease X” – a mystery microorganism which hasn’t yet entered our radar.

A vaccine that could block mosquitoes from transmitting malaria - Is it possible to eradicate malaria? It is a question with which many researchers have grappled, and many ideas have been proposed. The reason malaria has garnered so much attention is that it is one of the deadliest diseases, infecting 200 million people and killing more than 500,000 annually, with infants in Africa suffering the majority of fatalities. The disease is a huge burden for humanity, damaging economies and social development. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, malaria treatments cost Africa nearly US$12 billion per year. Reports have shown that nearly 1,700 cases are diagnosed annually in the United States, usually in people who have recently traveled to regions of Asia and Africa where the disease is endemic. For some decades, researchers have being working on a novel idea called a “transmission-blocking vaccine.” This vaccine is different from traditional vaccines that protect the recipient from getting the disease. Here, the vaccine blocks the transmission of the parasite that causes malaria from an infected human host to mosquitoes. When a human receives such a vaccine, specific antibodies are generated in the blood. When a mosquito bites and ingests the blood of an infected human, both the parasite and antibody are taken up into the mosquito’s stomach. Once inside the mosquito, the antibody attaches to the parasite and inhibits its development. This prevents the mosquito from transmitting the disease to another person. The concept is bold but has not yet been tested in large-scale trials. 

United Nations considers a test ban on evolution-warping gene drives - The billionaire Bill Gates wants to end malaria, and so he’s particularly “energized” about gene drives, a technology that could wipe out the mosquitoes that spread the disease. Gates calls the new approach a “breakthrough,” but some environmental groups say gene drives are too dangerous to ever use.Now the sides are headed for a showdown.In a letter circulated today, scientists funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others are raising the alarm over what they say is an attempt to use a United Nations biodiversity meeting this week in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, to introduce a global ban on field tests of the technology.At issue is a draft resolution by diplomats updating the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which—if adopted—would call on governments to “refrain from” any release of organisms containing engineered gene drives, even as part of experiments.The proposal for a global gene-drive moratorium has been pushed by environmental groups that are also opposed to genetically modified soybeans and corn. They have likened the gene-drive technique to the atom bomb.In response, the Gates Foundation, based in Seattle, has been funding a counter-campaign, hiring public relations agencies to preempt restrictive legislation and to distribute today’s letter. Many of its signatories are directly funded by the foundation. “This is a lobbying game on both sides, to put it bluntly,” says Todd Kuiken, who studies gene-drive policy at North Carolina State University. (He says he was asked to sign the Gates letter but declined because he is a technical advisor to the UN.)

Samsung Electronics Says Sorry To Staff Who Got Cancer After Working At Its Factories - Samsung Electronics apologised Friday to workers who developed cancer after working at its semiconductor factories, finally ending a decade-long dispute at the world's top chipmaker. "We sincerely apologise to the workers who suffered from illness and their families," said the firm's co-president Kim Ki-nam. "We have failed to properly manage health risks at our semiconductor and LCD factories." Samsung Electronics is the world's biggest mobile phone manufacturer and chipmaker and the flagship subsidiary of the Samsung Group, by far the biggest of the family-controlled conglomerates that dominate the South's economy. It has played a key part in the South's rise to become the world's 11th-largest economy, but has also faced accusations of murky political connections. Its de facto leader Lee Jae-yong was found guilty of bribing former president Park Geun-hye as part of the corruption scandal that brought her down and spent almost a year in prison before most of his convictions were overturned on appeal and he was released. Campaign groups say that about 240 people have suffered from work-related illnesses after working at Samsung semiconductor and display factories, with around 80 of them dying. Under a deal announced earlier this month, Samsung Electronics will pay the group's employees compensation of up to 150 million won ($133,000) per case. It covers 16 types of cancer, some other rare illnesses, miscarriages and congenital diseases suffered by the workers' children. Claimants can have worked at plants as far back as 1984. 

We’re getting taller and heavier. That’s not good news for food security or the planet - Humans aren’t just growing in number; we’re also getting taller and heavier–and these physical changes are set to threaten food security and make a bigger impact on the planet as our enlarging bodies require more food. These are the findings of a recent Sustainability study, which makes the case that it’s not enough to consider the planetary impact of a growing population, alone. We should also recognise that increases in humanity’s height and weight are directly correlated with increases in the amount of food we consume–and thus, influence global food security and our environmental footprint, too.The study found that between 1975 and 2014, human mass across the planet increased by 146%. On average, individual humans grew 14% heavier, and 1.3% taller. Overall, the growth of the planet’s population and its increasing mass over this 40-year period resulted in a 129% rise in global food demand. “From a global perspective, the effect of this additional demand is equivalent to the food energy needs of 286 million adults today,” the researchers write. For perspective, that surge in consumption is equivalent to the amount of food that would be needed to feed double the current population of Brazil. The researchers explain that the majority of this 129% increase could be explained simply by the effects of more people on the planet. But when the impact of physical traits like weight and height were isolated, they found that these accounted for a striking 15% of the surge in food demand since 1975. This was offset slightly by a globally aging population: because older people tend to consume less food, that reduced demand–but only by 2%. So ultimately, 13% of the increase in food demand over the past four decades is attributable solely to humanity’s increasing height and weight.

Australia's drought, climate change and the future of food --There's a reason that few people are thinking about world grain supplies. Last year saw record worldwide production of grains and record stocks of grains left over.  But this year worldwide production slipped about 2 percent, owing in large part to the plunge in Australia's production caused by an ongoing severe drought. Production is expected to fall 23 percent. Fortunately, in our globalized grain markets, this hasn't affected overall supplies or prices very much as grain stocks are high and supplies are mobile and shipped all over the world as needed.  But Australia is the world's fifth largest wheat exporter, accounting for nearly 9 percent of the total in 2016 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In fact, the top five wheat exporting countries account for 56 percent of world wheat exports.  But it's not just wheat. For rice the numbers are even more striking. The top five rice exporting countries supplied nearly 80 percent of total world exports. For corn (called maize in most countries) the number is a bit higher. The top five corn exporting countries supplied almost 81 percent of all exports. Why is this important? First, about 80 percent of all calories consumed come from grains, either through direct consumption (46 percent) or indirectly through livestock in the form of meat, milk, eggs and other animal products (33 percent). Second, as climate change begins to scorch the major grain growing areas of the world, the large exporters may find themselves with much less to export or even begin competing for imports. One major study forecasts that wheat, soybean and corn production in the United States—the world's largest exporter of soybeans and corn and the second largest exporter of wheat—could drop between 22 and 49 percent by the end of the century. By 2030 combined rice, corn and wheat harvests in China could drop by 8 percent. China is, of course, a major consumer of grains and the world's 13th largest rice exporter. Perhaps most worrying of all is the possibility that there will be a rising likelihood of simultaneous crop failures in several major growing areas. This all comes in the face of world population projections of 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100 compared to 7.7 billion today.

Water crisis puts trade war into perspective for China - China’s trade war with the United States has tended to dominate the news agenda in the past year. But a bigger challenge for Beijing could be the threat of a water crisis which would submerge the world’s second-largest economy and wash away growth.Two reports by Greenpeace East Asia and, an independent, non-profit organization, have highlighted the risks that President Xi Jinping’s administration faces because of climate change and homegrown pollution.Earlier this week, Greenpeace released research showing that glaciers in the western China provinces of Qinghai and Gansu, as well as the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, are rapidly melting, causing natural disasters and reducing the drinking-water supply.“This is a wake-up call for China and the world,” Liu Junyan, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia, said. “It is critical that we speed up the transition away from coal and other fossil fuels.”Glaciers in the country’s western regions are the source of a network of rivers which supply drinking water to an estimated 1.8 billion people.Known as “Asia’s Water Tower,” Greenpeace pointed out, it is the largest concentration of freshwater outside the polar regions. “Almost one-fifth of glacier area in China is already gone,” the study entitled “China Glacier and Climate Change Impact Project,” stated. “These glaciers are the source of many of Asia’s largest rivers, which flow as far as Afghanistan, Vietnam and southern India. They comprise more than half of ‘Asia’s Water Tower’,’” it added.

Cape Town warns world to follow its lead as it prepares for fresh drought - As Cape Town prepares for another summer on the brink of an environmental disaster, with fresh restrictions on water usage already in place, the head of South African tourism has called on the city to become a blueprint for water-scarce cities around the world.  The popular South African city narrowly avoided running out of water earlier this year, thanks to stringent rules governing water consumption and a major campaign encouraging tourists to “save like a local”. At one point the city was weeks away from “day zero”, when street-corner water rationing would be enforced.  Cape Town’s “Big Six” dams have been restored somewhat by rainfall over the winter months, but an October heatwave has already put authorities on alert. The dams are, on average, at just over 70 per cent full, with levels much higher than this time last year.  Last summer’s crisis had a negative impact on tourism numbers, but Sisa Ntshona, chief executive of South African Tourism, says the city will not shy away from its difficult relationship with water.  “Drought is not a matter of ‘if’, it is a matter of ‘when’ in major cities around the world,” he said. “We want to give them the playbook as to how resilient cities like Cape Town overcame the water shortage.”  Ntshona said that what happened in Cape Town is happening in major cities around the world, but that the Western Cape drought became global news after authorities decided to introduce a “day zero” deadline. “A journalist told me it was too sexy not to use. It conjures up armageddon,” he said. "It was a dramatic campaign targeted at Capetonians." According to figures from the World Wildlife Fund, Cape Town does not even rank in the 20 most water-stressed cities in the world. Chennai, Istanbul, Tehran, Hyderabad and Kolkata make up the top five.  Los Angeles, in sixth, was one of the cities Cape Town contacted at the height of the drought for advice. Now, after successfully navigating the crisis in one of the world’s famous tourist destinations, cities have been in touch with them, including Sao Paulo and Sydney.  He says that water usage is undergoing a similar overhaul in perceptions as single-use plastic has the past 12 months: “Never underestimate the enthusiasm of the tourist to do the right thing if they are informed with the right information.

Ukraine at risk to lose its system of centralized water supply - A man can survive for a couple of weeks without food, but only for a couple of days without water.  This is the reason why humans, throughout their history, have tended to cluster their settlements around rivers and lakes.  And the reason why Drought has always been a threat, and a curse, to mankind, and why humans have taken so many precautions, throughout history, to foresee and prevent it.  Unfortunately, humans are getting dumber with every generation, and much of that ancient know-how has been lost.  The Russian people, enjoying a halfway-decent government, continue to enjoy the legacy of Aqua-Technology (and all the other technologies) left behind by their Soviet Overlords.  Unfortunately, the system in neighboring Ukraine is not so rosy.  In earlier posts, we discussed how the Ukraine’s crumbling infrastructure has placed the supply of HOT water at risk, not to mention the natural-gas supplied central heating system.  Now we come to learn that the situation is even more dire than that:  The Ukrainian people, especially those living in urban areas, face the prospect of losing their supply of drinking water.  The day may come soon when Ivan Q Public of Kiev gets up in the morning, turns on the tap, and nothing comes out.  Not even cold water!  And that might be the moment when Ivan Q realizes that his support for the Maidan junta was probably not a good idea after all.

 Is a New Toxic Danger Threatening California? - There are many well-documented threats to California’s drinking water resources, but the latest has sprung to prominence only relatively recently, and has regulators and lawmakers scrambling for a response.The potential “magnitude of the problem” is why the state must act more urgently “to try to understand this quicker and better,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), potentially toxic chemicals found with increasing frequency in drinking water systems across California and the nation.“I have half a million constituents in my district, and the majority use a water system with less than 10,000 connections,” added Garcia. The bulk of the drinking water monitoring for PFAS chemicals thus far has targeted large systems serving 10,000 or more people. What’s more, many are concerned about the possible impact on poor communities already disproportionately affected by unsafe drinking water. Garcia’s suburban Los Angeles district is comprised of mostly blue-collar Latino communities.PFAS compounds are a class of chemical found in a long list of everyday items, including clothing, carpeting, furniture, food packaging, non-stick cooking products and fire-fighting foams. They’re persistent, meaning they biodegrade extremely slowly, hence their nickname, “forever chemicals.” And they’ve been linked in humans to cancers and hormonal disruption, as well as developmental, reproductive and immune system problems. PFAS compounds have been detected in water sources throughout California, including, Capital & Main has learned through background sources, the groundwater at Los Angeles International Airport. A recent Union of Concerned Scientists report also identified 21 different California military sites where PFAS compounds have been detected in the drinking water or groundwater, sometimes at levels more than 100-times the safe limit advised by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). At the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, Kern County, the maximum detection of PFAS variants in groundwater was eight million parts per trillion (ppt) – 727,273 times what is considered a safe exposure level. “The hard part is getting it out of the groundwater,”

 Fast-growing African cities at 'extreme risk' from climate change - analysts - Africa's rapidly expanding cities face huge threats from climate change over the next 30 years, which could bring knock-on effects such as higher crime rates and civil unrest, risk analysts said on Wednesday.Researchers at UK-based Verisk Maplecroft found 84 of the world's 100 fastest-growing cities are at "extreme risk" from the impacts of a warming planet, including 79 in Africa.That group contains 15 of the continent's capital cities and many of its commercial hubs, including Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria's most populous city Lagos, Tanzanian business hub Dar es Salaam and Angola's capital, Luanda.The Verisk Maplecroft analysis combined its own annual index of vulnerability to climate change with U.N. projections on urban population growth to 2035.Fast-rising populations act as "a risk multiplier in lower-income cities with poor public infrastructure and inadequate disaster response mechanisms", with more people putting strain on limited resources, the study said.Kinshasa, for instance, is now home to about 13 million people, but that figure is set to double by 2035.The city is exposed to shocks from extreme weather, including flooding, as well as slower climate pressures such as drought in surrounding areas, which could drive poor farmers into the city while disrupting food and water supplies, the analysis noted.It and other African cities at extreme risk are grappling with high poverty levels, expanding slums, weak governance and limited ability to adapt to climate shifts, researchers said.Niall Smith, an environmental analyst with Verisk Maplecroft, warned wilder weather and rising sea levels could "underpin a whole host of secondary impacts and social issues" such as poverty, violence and resource insecurity.  "That is something we would foresee as getting much worse in these high and extreme risk locations," he added.

October 2018: Earth's 2nd Warmest October on Record - Jeff Masters -October 2018 was the planet's second-warmest October since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Tuesday. The only warmer October came in 2015. NASA also rated October 2018 as the second-warmest October on record behind 2015. Minor differences in rankings between NASA and NOAA can arise because of how they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic, where few surface weather stations exist.Global ocean temperatures during October 2018 were the second warmest on record, and land temperatures were also the second warmest on record, according to NOAA. Satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the 9th and 4th warmest in the 40-year record, respectively, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and RSS.  The year-to-date period of January – October now ranks as the fourth warmest on record, and it is increasingly likely that the five warmest years on record globally will be 2014 through 2018. If an El Niño event develops this winter, as predicted, 2019 will have a very good chance of giving us six straight years that are each among the top six warmest years on record, barring a massive climate-cooling volcanic eruption in the tropics. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) kept an El Niño Watch in place in its November 8 monthly advisory. Over the past week, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) were about 0.5°C above average. Temperatures of at least 0.5°C above average are needed to be classified as an El Niño event, with the 3-month average temperature staying more than 0.5°C above average for five consecutive months. Oceanic conditions have been above the weak El Niño threshold for nearly two months, but the atmosphere has not yet responded, leading NOAA to classify the current state of the atmosphere as neutral.

 Coldest Thanksgiving In 150 Years As Northeast Hit By Siberian Temperatures - Most of the Northeastern United States feels like Siberia right now due to a blast of Arctic air that is pushing temperatures 15 to 25 degrees colder below trend. As a result, people spending time outdoors during Thanksgiving Day into Black Friday may face some of the coldest conditions on record in the northeastern United States for late NovemberThe cold weather will be supplied by a burst of arctic air that produced locally blinding snow squalls across parts of the interior Northeast on Wednesday. The squalls diminished to spotty flurries south and east of the Appalachians."Anomalously cold weather will impact the I-95 corridor Thursday and Friday. Record low temperatures have already been broken Thursday morning across New England, and record low maximum temperatures are expected in many cities Thursday. This combined with winds gusting 15-30 mph will make it feel below zero at times through Friday morning," said Ed Vallee, head meteorologist at Vallee Weather Consulting.Temperatures during Thanksgiving morning started off near zero Fahrenheit in northern New England and near 30 in southeastern Virginia. Highs are forecast to range from the teens in the northern tier of Maine to the upper 30s in the lower Chesapeake Bay region. However, AccuWeather RealFeel Temperatures throughout the Northeast will be 10 to 20 degrees lower than the actual temperature which will put levels well below zero at times across the north and in the single digits and teens in Virginia. "Nov. 30, 1871, holds the record for the coldest Thanksgiving Day on record in New York City with a low of 15 and a high of 22,"  Farther south, in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas, this may be the coldest Thanksgiving since 1996.

In Brazil, termites have built a sprawling megacity the size of Britain - In northeastern Brazil, in a forest so dry that the trees blanch bone-white, termites have been busy at work for millennia. The only external signs of their labour are dirt mounds, garbage dumps from their underground excavations. Dirt and garbage normally inspire as much awe as toenail clippings – but these are truly marvellous slag piles. The conical mounds, each about 2.5 metres (8 feet) tall and 9 metres (30 feet) wide, erupt from the ground at regular intervals, spaced about 20 metres from each of six neighbours. From the air, the pattern evokes a checkerboard or the hexagonal combs in a beehive. A satellite map, via Google Earth, indicates the mounds cover more than 230,000 sq km (88,000 square miles), almost as large as Britain, “Imagine it being a city,” said Stephen J. Martin, an entomologist and expert in social insects at Britain’s University of Salford. “We’ve never built a city that big.” And the centimetre-long termites, Syntermes dirus, did it grain by grain. In total, the earth excavated by termites equals the volume of 4,000 Pyramids of Giza, as Martin and his co-authors report in a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology. They collected samples from the centres of 11 mounds, and by measuring radiation in the mineral grains, determined the oldest mound tested is about 3,800 years old. Perhaps others are older. Based on satellite images and spot checks across thousands of kilometres, the scientists estimate 200 million mounds dot the landscape. If the forest cover vanished, exposing the mounds in all their splendour, this place would be celebrated as a natural “wonder of the Earth,” Martin said. Yet tucked under trees and thorny brush, the mounds can be hard to spot. Martin failed to notice them at first. He’d travelled to the Brazilian dry forest, called the caatinga, in pursuit of honeybees. Only after miles of driving, where the road sliced through the trees to reveal the mounds’ gumdrop shape, did he see them. 

13 Pounds of Plastic Found in Dead Sperm Whale - Yet another whale has suffered from plastic pollution. A sperm whale that washed up dead in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 13 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials told the Associated Press. Researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the park's conservation academy uncovered more than 1,000 other pieces of plastic, including 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, 2 flip-flops and a nylon sack. WWF-Indonesia posted disturbing photos of the beached whale on social media. The carcass of the 31-foot marine mammal—found late Monday near Kapota Island in Wakatobi National Park—contained "hard plastic (19 pieces, 140g), plastic bottles (4 pieces, 150g), plastic bags (25 pieces, 260g), flip-flops (2 pieces, 270g), pieces of string (3.26kg) & plastic cups (115 pieces, 750g)," the conservation group tweeted.It's not clear if plastic was the direct cause of the whale's death since it was in an advanced state of decay when it was found, Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF-Indonesia, explained to the Associated Press."Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," she said. Wakatobi park plans to bury the whale on Tuesday and its remains will be used for study by the local marine academy, Reuters reported.

After 140 Million Years, Chinese Sturgeons May Soon Be Extinct - More than 16 feet long and weighing up to 1,100 pounds, Chinese sturgeons are among the world's largest freshwater fish. They're big and they're ancient. According to fossil records, they've been swimming China's Yangtze, Qiantang, Minjiang and Pearl Rivers since the time of the dinosaurs. And now they're on the brink of oblivion, having disappeared from all of their former range except for small portions of the Yangtze. Over the millennia, humans have sought out these freshwater leviathans not so much for their flesh as for the thousands of tiny black pearls that can be found within the adult females—in other words, caviar. China began regulating sturgeon fishing in the 1970s, when the full breeding population had been whittled down to just 10,000 individuals. The move saved the species from extinction, but alas, in recent decades an even more existential threat has cropped up. Dams. So many dams. Chinese sturgeons are what's known as anadromous fish. Like salmon, they spend part of the year in the ocean and part of the year plying freshwater rivers and streams on the way to their ancestral breeding grounds. But unlike salmon, Chinese sturgeon don't die after spawning. Instead, after they mix up their DNA through an exchange of sperm and eggs in shallow waters upriver, they beat fin back to the sea. Under normal conditions, a Chinese sturgeon can live up to 20 years—spawning again and again and again. Now, imagine you're a huge fish that's been swimming up a river for a decade and change, just like your anfishestors have for millions of years, and one day you run into a concrete wall. That's what happened to Chinese sturgeon in 1981 when the Gezhouba Dam began operating on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. The dam shortened the sturgeon's annual migration by 730 miles.But the sturgeon swam on, making do with their new, shortened home range, since scientists at the time decided there was no good reason to install a device that would allow for fish passage.Then in 2003, the Three Gorges Dam was stretched across the Yangtze, again with no fish passage device. And then in 2012, the Xiangjiaba Dam went up, followed by the Xiluodu Dam the very next year.As each new structure divided the river into ever smaller sections, the Chinese sturgeon population flatlined. Their current annual rate of reproduction is now estimated at between 4.5 percent and zero.

Dead Chinese sturgeons halt China eco resort construction - Construction at a Chinese eco tourism zone is believed to have caused the death of 6,000 critically endangered Chinese sturgeon. A bridge in Hubei province was being built close to a farm on the Yangtze river which was breeding the long-living fish. A Chinese news site said the deaths were "directly linked to the shocks, noises and changes of water sources". All work has been halted while investigations are carried out. The Chinese sturgeon species dates back more than 140 million years. Individual fish can grow to up to 5m (16ft) in length and can live for up to 60 years, but will only spawn a few times during their life. Image copyright Getty Images The species is on the brink of extinction in the wild because of pollution, overfishing - for their meat and roe, sold as caviar - and environmental changes like the vast hydroelectric dams which span the Yangtze, blocking access to their spawning sites. China launched a breeding programme in the 1970s to save the species and there are now thought to be about 1,000 adult fish in the country. The Hengshang aquafarm near Jingzhou was a vital part of that programme. But since the start of the year, more than 6,000 baby sturgeon have been reported dead there along with 36 fish aged 20 years or more. 

Regulators close Maine’s shrimp fishery for next 3 years (AP)— Regulators voted Friday to close the Gulf of Maine winter shrimp season for another three years, raising fears that the fishery decimated by rising water temperatures may never bounce back. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has been taking a year-to-year approach to determining whether to allow a winter season, but the panel decided to shut it down for 2019, 2020 and 2021 after receiving a dismal report on the depleted fishery. The fishery has been shut down since in 2013 in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. “The stock has shown very little signs of recovery. It’s considered a depleted resource,” said Tina Berger, spokeswoman for the agency. Fishermen, the bulk of them from Maine, used to catch millions of pounds of the shrimp every winter. But the warming ocean and predation have decimated the shrimp fishery. The shrimp are especially sensitive to changes in water temperature, Berger said. Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher supported another one-year moratorium on the fishery but voted against closing it down for three years. He offered successful motions to create a team to adjust the management strategy to account for climate changes and made a motion to evaluate the effectiveness of the summer shrimp survey, both in hopes of having the best information for future decision-making. “Climate change is driving the decline in this fishery. He’s trying his best to put forward ideas for change and improvement in the science and in the management, to provide the best opportunity for a fishery in the future,” said Jeff Nichols, spokesman for the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The shrimp, called Maine shrimp or northern shrimp, are small and pink, and prized by New Englanders. They have been mostly unavailable to U.S. consumers since the shutdown, though they are also harvested by Canadian fishermen.

Next generation ‘may never see the glory of coral reefs’ - Children born today may be the last generation to see coral reefs in all their glory, according to a marine biologist who is coordinating efforts to monitor the decline of the world’s most colourful ecosystem. Global heating and ocean acidification have already severely bleached 16 to 33% of all warm-water reefs, but the remainder are vulnerable to even a fraction of a degree more warming, said David Obura, chair of the Coral Specialist Group in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.“It will be like lots of lights blinking off,” he told the Observer. “It won’t happen immediately but it will be death by 1,000 blows. Between now and 2 degrees Celsius, we will see more reefs dropping off the map.”  Obura added: “Children born today may be the last generation to see coral reefs in all their glory. Today’s reefs have a history going back 25 million to 50 million years and have survived tectonic collisions, such as that of Africa into Europe, and India into Asia. Yet in five decades we have undermined the global climate so fundamentally that in the next generation we will lose the globally connected reef system that has survived tens of millions of years.” Corals are often described as undersea forests, but they are declining far more quickly than the Amazon. Along with the Arctic and high-mountain landscapes, the reefs – which have evolved over hundreds of millions of years – are likely to be among the first ecosystems to be wiped out by the climate crisis. A temperature rise of just 1 to 2C can trigger an evacuation of the algae upon which corals depend, draining them of colour and making the structure more brittle. These bleaching events can be temporary if waters cool, but the more frequent they are and the longer they last, the greater the risk of irreparable damage.But that is exactly what is happening. Bleaching was first observed in 1983. It was seen on a global level in 1998, then 2010, then for three consecutive years from 2015 to 2017.“Coral bleaching events are growing so severe and so frequent around the planet that reef systems are fragmenting into isolated pockets,” said Obura. “Some of these will undoubtedly survive this century, but the highest scientific evidence tells us that, unless we do everything to limit warming to 1.5C, we will lose 99% of the world’s coral reefs in coming decades.”

California fire: What started as a tiny brush fire became the state’s deadliest wildfire. Here’s how - LA Times - On the morning of Nov. 8, as the sun rose over the isolated mountains in the Sierra Nevada, gale-force winds tore through the canyon. A fire outpost on the Feather River recorded blasts of 52 mph — a bad omen in a national forest that hadn’t had a satisfying rain since May. From his station bunk at the head of Jarbo Gap, Capt. Matt McKenzie of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection woke to the sound of pine needles pelting the roof. At 6:15 a.m., a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. high-voltage line near the Poe Dam generating station six miles away malfunctioned. A report of fire came at 6:29. Fifteen minutes later, McKenzie stood at the dam looking helplessly across the river canyon at a 10-acre fire on the rock slope above. He had no way to reach it. Its unpaved access route, Camp Creek Road, clung to the mountain so precariously that rock slides threatened to erase it. The last time he put a heavy wildland engine on the crumbling grade, it took an hour to creep a mile, mirrors folded in, a man walking beside each wheel to watch for collapse. It would be a death sentence to send a crew out there in a fire. McKenzie understood the immense capability of this little fire. It was the disaster he had trained for. “This has got potential for a major incident,” he radioed. “Still working on access.” He called for an evacuation of the nearby community of Pulga and ordered a slew of engines, water tankers, bulldozers and strike teams. The wind was faster. Already, it lofted a blizzard of embers toward nearby towns. McKenzie appealed for “early up” of the helicopters and air tankers that could attack the fire from above. He was told he’d have to wait. Cal Fire planes don’t fly before light or if the wind is too fierce, and both the time and weather conspired with the growing fire on Camp Creek Road. People were trapped and dying in the mountain enclave of Concow and homes were burning at the top of the ridge in Paradise before a fleet of helicopters and tankers could lift off. By sunset, the fire had swept 19 miles over an entire mountain, surprising, trapping, terrifying and killing — the most destructive and deadliest in California history. Concow and the city of Paradise are largely gone, adjoining mountain towns devastated.

Search on for 1,276 now missing after California’s deadliest wildfire (Reuters) - The number of people missing after California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire jumped on Saturday to 1,276, despite authorities locating hundreds of people who scattered when the Camp Fire tore through the mountain town of Paradise. Forensic recovery teams sifting through the charred wreckage recovered the remains of five more victims, bringing the death toll to at least 76, authorities said. Sixty-three of them have been tentatively identified, pending DNA confirmation. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said much of the increase in the number of missing was due to his office’s efforts to comb through a backlog of emergency calls that came in during the first hours of the fire on Nov. 8. He said officials were sifting through the list of missing persons for duplications and people who fled. Some 380 people had been located and taken off the list since Friday, he said. “A lot of progress is being made with regard to that, but this is still raw data,” Honea told a news conference. The sheriff spoke after President Donald Trump visited Paradise, the small community that was home to nearly 27,000 people in the Sierra foothills, 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, before being all but consumed by the blaze. “This is very sad to see. As far as the lives are concerned, nobody knows quite yet,” Trump said. “Right now we want to take care of the people who have been so badly hurt.” Trump has blamed the recent spate of fires on forest mismanagement, and he said he discussed the issue with Brown and Newsom on the ride into Paradise. Asked whether the scenes of devastation had changed his view on climate change, Trump said: “No. I have a strong opinion. I want great climate and we’re going to have that and we’re going to have forests that are very safe.” Authorities attribute the high death toll from the blaze - dubbed “Camp Fire” - partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town with little warning, driven by howling winds and fueled by drought-desiccated scrub and trees. More than a week later, firefighters have managed to carve containment lines around 55 percent of the blaze’s perimeter. 

Death toll from California fires likely to soar, with nearly 1,300 people still missing --The death toll from wildfires in California could rise to more than 1,000, which would make it one of the deadliest and most horrific disasters in modern American history. While the official number of dead from the Camp Fire in Northern California rose to 76 over the weekend, nearly 1,300 are listed as missing, many of them elderly.Confirmed fatalities have only been added at around eight each day, as investigators meticulously comb through the destruction. Given the nearly 10,000 homes destroyed and the chaos of the evacuation, the final number killed will almost certainly be much higher. To this must be added the untold health consequences from the extreme air pollution that has spread throughout Northern California.Due to the intensity of the fire, in many cases the only remains recovered are teeth or a human bone—making it difficult to identify victims. Many residents of the small California town of Paradise faced the last moments of their lives in the most horrific manner, as flames engulfed their homes or senior living facilities when they were still in bed. “There was no kind of warning or anything like that.” As for the death toll, she said, “I think it’s going to be with a comma”—that is, over 1,000. Although high winds and low humidity drove the rapid spread of the fire, there is nothing natural about the disaster. The human toll is the product of decisions by elected officials, government regulators and private utilities to maximize profits by risking the lives and property of ordinary workers.

A Disaster of Our Own Making - There was no horizon in Oakland on Saturday, and the air smells dirty. It’s not like fresh smoke. It’s a staleness. If you stay outside too long you get a little headache. The newest numbers say 71 people have died, more than a thousand missing, and 12,000 buildings burned in the Camp Fire. You’d have to drive well over three hours from here, if the roads were open, to get to anything that’s still on fire, but the smoke makes it feel like it’s happening a couple towns away. The smoke, made of forests and houses and people’s bodies, sinks in. Neighbors and coworkers are passing around lists of who has respirators in stock, collaborative scratch pads with links to donation programs for the homeless encampments, posts about how refusing to wear a mask is internalized ableism, and instructions on taping a hepa filter to a house fan. It’s hard to know what to call this. It’s not a disaster. It’s not your house burning down and your neighbors dying. But it’s not just another November, either. It’s schools closing, reminders to stay inside, and a lot of pulmonary and cardiovascular stress that will only be understood in retrospective statistics. It’s a crisis without a moment of crisis. It’s what it looks like: a slightly caustic, minimally dramatic haze over everything.  Even some Californians have internalized a suspicion that we shouldn’t live here. Three times during the 2012–18 drought, I heard other people living in the Bay Area say versions of “In a sense, it’s our fault for living in the desert.” But the Bay Area is by not by any standard a desert; it isn’t even semi-arid. If people don’t belong in this climate, they also don’t belong in the South of France. And yet, there’s a vague, half-internalized sense that we are somehow a place of disasters.  But which disasters count as disasters? About 15 years ago, there was an event that killed roughly a thousand times as many people as these fires have.  It was a natural disaster that killed more than 70,000 people in one of the richest, safest, most connected places. It was the 2003 European heat wave. It killed 10 times more than have died in all California’s recorded earthquakes and fires combined. Yet we don’t think of Europe as a borderline overambitious place for human lives to take root, a zone where nature rejects us, because it isn’t. It’s mostly very hospitable. Like California.

A Norovirus Outbreak Spreads Among California Wildfire Shelters - As first responders continue to fight the Northern California Camp Fire — the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history — displaced residents are facing another fight: a virus spreading among shelters. On Thursday, November 15, the Butte County Public Health Department reported that 145 people in four shelters have become sick with Norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness. “The number of sick people is increasing every day,” the department’s statement said, noting 25 people have been treated in hospitals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus spreads quickly (via contaminated food, water, and surfaces and direct contact with an infected person) and is common in settings such as schools, child care centers, and health care facilities; and while outbreaks happen year-round, they mostly occur between November and April. Most infected people develop symptoms — including diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain — 12 to 48 hours after being exposed, and recover within one to three days. There is no treatment for norovirus, but it can cause severe dehydration, so the CDC recommends drinking lots of liquids to replace any fluids lost.   The Butte County Public Health Department also notes the importance of staying home when sick — including for two days after symptoms dissipate, as it’s possible to still be infected with and spread the virus at that point. Of course, in the case of the California shelters, people don’t have homes to retreat to — and the fear of getting sick is leading some displaced residents to avoid the shelters altogether. The Butte County Public Health Department said it’s working with the Red Cross and other partners to minimize the outbreak. The officials are adding medical staff at affected shelters, providing separate hand-washing and bathroom areas for those infected, monitoring residents for symptoms, and using cleaning supplies that are effective against Norovirus, among other actions.

Zinke blames ‘environmental radicals’ for deadly California fires - Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed “environmental radicals” for the California wildfires that have killed at least 77 people, saying they stop forest management practices that could have prevented the fires.Days after touring the damage of the Camp fire, the deadliest in California’s history, Zinke went on Breitbart News Sunday and declared “it’s not the time for finger-pointing” on the causes of the fires.But minutes later, he put the blame squarely on environmentalists, contending that they stood in the way of clearing brush, doing prescribed burns and other actions.“I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them,” Zinke said. “We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices,” he continued. “But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it’s not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged.”The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental group, criticized Zinke for his remarks, saying he should instead focus on recovery and the victims of the fires.“Perhaps it’s the numerous investigations, the potential criminal charges eating at him, or the fact that he still doesn’t even know what department the Forest Service is under, but Ryan Zinke would best be served by focusing on the people rather than making disgusting and dangerous accusations,” Athan Manuel, the group’s public lands director, said in a statement. Zinke’s interview aired the day after President Trump visited the firefighting and recovery. Trump said other countries, like Finland,prevent and mitigate fires by better managing the forests. "You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know, the floors of the forest, very important,” he told reporters. “I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different — we're a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things,” he said. “And they don't have any problem.”

Relentless California wildfires leave 82 dead, almost 700 unaccounted for - The number of people who remain missing in the wake of a pair of ferocious wildfires that have been blazing across both ends of California remains close to 1,000 as of early this morning.   The two monstrous blazes, which both ignited last week, have claimed a total of 82 lives while laying waste to a total area of nearly 400 square miles, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Officials said that 64 of the remains have been positively identified so far.  The vast majority of the deaths -- 79 total -- were due to the Camp Fire in Northern California's Butte County, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildland fire in the state's history.  The number of people missing or unaccounted for in Butte County was 1,202 as of Sunday but decreased to 699 on Monday evening, according to Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.  Meanwhile, the smoke from the flames has descended across the Golden State and choked the air in major cities, including San Francisco. Officials have advised residents in the affected areas to remain indoors and wear a protective mask outside.  The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for California through Sunday as humidity drops and wind gusts could get up to 40 mph in the Camp Fire zone.  The Camp Fire ignited Nov. 8 near Pulga, a tiny community in Butte County nestled in the Plumas National Forest. The blaze exploded as strong winds fanned the flames southwest, enveloping the town of Paradise, a bucolic community of 27,000 people in the Sierra Nevada foothills.  The fire has virtually decimated the entire town.  Melissa Schuster, a Paradise town council member, said her house was among those leveled by the Camp Fire.  "Our entire five-member council is homeless," Schuster said in a Nov. 13 interview on ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. "All of our houses have been destroyed."

'He can kiss my red ass': California fire evacuees give Trump visit short shrift -   As Donald Trump landed in northern California on Saturday morning, hundreds of evacuees at a Walmart in Chico were frantically trying to figure out their next steps – which shelter they would go to, and if they should stay close to what’s left of their homes in the fire-ravaged town of Paradise. At the giant box store, which has become a refugee camp for those forced to flee their homes when the worst blaze in state history incinerated their town, people ate lunch and packed their belongings and worried about the future. There was little talk of Trump, even though his motorcade was just miles away. Trump was criticized for his initial response to the fire and threat to withhold funding, after he tweeted: “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” When asked about the president’s visit to the area, Kirk Ellsworth, whose adult children lost their homes in the fire, shook his head in disgust. “My kids lost everything. I voted for him – and now? He can kiss my red ass,” Ellsworth said. “What he said was ridiculous. It hurts my heart. A lot of us voted for him and he [talks] down to us?” Still, the hope for many evacuees was that Trump’s visit might draw attention to their plight and bring help for those who need it most. Nearly 10,000 homes were lost in the fire, which has killed 71, razed Paradise and caused severe damage to the smaller communities of Magalia and Stirling City. “The president of the United States to come here and meet the most vulnerable – that’s important whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Tammy Mezera said. “[He] has a responsibility to do that.” 

California wildfire smoke spreads to New York, 3,000 miles away -  The US east coast has been provided a firsthand reminder of the deadly California wildfires after smoke swept across the country and caused a haze to envelop the eastern seaboard, including Washington DC and New York City. Hazy skies were reported in several places on the east coast from smoke wafting from 3,000 miles further west, where wildfires in California have killed more than 80 people and razed more than 15,000 homes and other structures.  This smoky pall is still nothing compared with the situation on the west coast, where there have been shortages of protective masks in some places. Schools and sporting events have been shut down due to the dire air quality, although San Francisco’s famed tram network has now reopened. The air is still considered to be unhealthy but is expected to improve this week, with rain forecast for Wednesday. The Camp fire in northern California is the deadliest blaze in the state’s history, with 83 confirmed deaths and 563 people still unaccounted for since it broke out earlier this month

Walmart Asks California Fire Evacuees To Vacate Its Property --  Hundreds of evacuees from the deadly Camp Fire in California have been asked by Walmart to leave its property in Chico, citing health and well-being issues for those displaced by the inferno that's responsible for at least 81 deaths.The make-shift shanty town dubbed Wallywoood — a name formed from combining Walmart and Hollywood — sprung up with evacuees sleeping in tents on a grassy area of the company's property. On Tuesday, Walmart employees began posting signs that asked the evacuees to leave, shortly before rain began to fall. By Wednesday morning, many of the evacuees left, but around 50 tents remained and many Wallywood residents sill lurked, braving the elements. “I’d rather be out here and catch a cold than be in a shelter and catch something worse,” Billy Elgen, an evacuee from Magalia, told the Sacramento Bee.Though sanctioned shelters have been designated for survivors at churches and the local fairgrounds, many evacuees refused these shelters because of reports that 140 people have contacted norovirus, a highly-contagious virus that causes fever, body aches, diarrhea, vomiting and other stomach and intestinal problems.Walmart finds itself in a conundrum between sheltering evacuees and looking forward to Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year. Still, the big box retail giant insists that asking evacuees to seek other shelters is more about safety. “We continue to be concerned about the health, safety and well-being of the individuals remaining on our property and have been working cooperatively with city, county and state officials and local non-profits to increase capacity at local shelters and help create good temporary housing options,” Walmart spokesperson Delia Garcia told The Sacramento Bee Tuesday night. Garcia said the company has donated more than $500,000 to relief organizations."

Rainstorm ends California wildfires, but threatens to cause flash flooding - A statewide rainstorm which began Tuesday night has brought an end to the wildfire season in California and almost fully extinguished the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history. The rainstorm comes as a mixed blessing, as it both ends the wildfires and air pollution plaguing the state, while preparing the conditions for debris flows that could compound the dire situation facing homeless evacuees. Further, the rain will make it far more difficult to find the remains of those that died in the Camp Fire and will likely cause significant environmental damage throughout the region. The most recent press release Thursday morning listed the Camp Fire at 153,336 acres and 90 percent contained. It noted: “Precipitation has minimized fire activity and all fire lines continue to hold.” As of this writing, there have been 83 confirmed deaths, while 563 people are still listed as missing, a number that is constantly changing due to the haphazard character of the evacuation. Over 18,000 buildings were destroyed by the fire, including 13,631 single residence buildings. As of Thursday, dozens of evacuees remain camped in tents outside the Chico Walmart, where they have faced near-freezing temperatures at night and are now at risk of flooding from the rains. Hundreds more remain at evacuation centers across Butte County, where an outbreak of the non-fatal norovirus has infected at least 145 people and hospitalized dozens.

California wildfires: Finland bemused by Trump raking comment - Finns have been baffled by US President Donald Trump's comments praising the country for managing its vast forests by raking. Citing a conversation with his Finnish counterpart, Mr Trump said they spend "a lot of time on raking and cleaning". But President Sauli Niinisto told a Finnish daily he could not remember talking about raking when the two met. Firefighters in California are currently battling the deadliest blaze in the state's history. Nearly 1,000 people remain on a list of people reported as missing, authorities say. The number of believed missing fell 283 late on Sunday, down from 1,276 people, they say, but gave no other details. Heavy rain is forecast in the coming days and could complicate efforts to find victims' remains, but will bring relief to firefighters on the front lines. Surveying the damage on Saturday, Mr Trump revisited his claim that poor forest management was to blame. "You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it's a whole different story," he said. "I was with the president of Finland, and he said: 'We have a much different [sic]..., we're a forest nation.' And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem," he added. But Sauli Niinisto told the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper raking had not come up when they talked. "I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," he said. The forestry director of the Finnish Forest Association, Heikki Savolainen, told the newspaper that raking was not usually a forest-management measure. 

Rain will bring much-needed relief to California fires, but also new dangers -- For the first time since the Camp Fire started its deadly rampage 11 days ago, rain will stifle some of the flames. The 4 to 6 inches expected later this week will help suppress an inferno that has already killed at least 79 people. It will also finally improve the heavily polluted and unhealthy air smothering Northern California. But there's a catch: With more than 151,000 acres of newly scorched earth, there's little vegetation to soak up the rain. That means the region is now at risk of mudslides, which could be especially dangerous for firefighters battling the inferno. "They're having to fight this fire right now in the mountainous areas -- the ravines, the canyons, very steep, rugged terrain," said Scott McLean, deputy chief for Cal Fire, the state's forestry and fire protection agency. "They're back there on dirt roads, dirt trails, trying to fight this fire. Now it's going to turn into mud, which will be another hazard for them to contend with." Along with mudslides comes the risk of debris flow gushing from the Camp Fire's charred rubble.  "Recently burned areas could see ash flow ... and even have the potential for debris flow if rain intensity is high enough," the National Weather Service's Sacramento office said. Since the Camp Fire broke out November 8, it'sdestroyed more than 11,700 homes and torched an area the size of Chicago. Even worse: Fire officials predict the Camp Fire is only halfway done burning. According to Cal Fire, the blaze might not be fully contained until November 30.

These Prisoners Are Paid a Dollar an Hour to Battle California Fires - This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As California continues to fight the deadliest wildfire in state history and the death toll from the Camp Fire rises to 77, we begin today’s show with the hidden heroes on the frontlines of California’s raging climate-fueled wildfires–prisoner firefighters. Fifteen-hundred of the 9,400 firefighters battling fires in California are incarcerated. They make one dollar an hour, but are rarely eligible to get jobs as firefighters after their release. According to some estimates, California saves up to $100 million a year by using prison labor to fight its biggest environmental problem. Cal Fire reports two prisoner firefighters were injured during Northern California’s wildfire in the first 24 hours. Prisoner firefighters are more than four times as likely to be injured than other firefighters, this according to Time magazine, which reports that more than 1,000 prisoner firefighters required hospital care between June 2013 and August 2018. Incarcerated firefighters live in 44 low-security field camps throughout California, including three camps for women prisoners and one for juvenile detainees. In 2017, prisoner firefighters spent four million hours on active fires. In September, the Democracy Now! team traveled to the Delta Conservation Camp, about an hour north of San Francisco, to a low-security prison where more than 100 men are imprisoned. We interviewed incarcerated firefighters who had just returned from a 24-hour shift fighting the Snell Fire in Napa County at the time. We spoke to them under the close surveillance of prison administrators. I began by talking to some of the officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

California needs to reinvent its fire policies, or the death and destruction will go on - There is no single or simple strategy that will prevent more of these tragedies. But a number of changes in practices and policies could lessen the dangers.  States, cities, developers, and residents need to reconsider whether to construct or expand communities on the edges of California’s forests and hot-burning shrub lands. And towns need building codes more suitable to the fire zone. “We’re building in the wildland-urban interface at unprecedented rates,” “And we don’t yet have buildings codes that adequately protect us against the types of fires we’re seeing.”The wood shake roofs and wooden decks popular for homes nestled in forest settings are effectively kindling, says Malcolm North, a research scientist with the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station. And all it takes is one highly flammable structure to generate the embers and heat that could take down a neighborhood of homes. To lessen the dangers, state or local governments could require fire-resistant building materials, like stone, brick, and cement; prevent development or further expansion into these areas; discourage rebuilding in places that have burned repeatedly; force residents to maintain trees and other vegetation on their property; and ensure there are adequate escape routes, and points from which to combat fires, in the event of fast-moving blazes.The growing severity of fires deep within forests is an entirely separate problem that requires an entirely different response.The long-standing US policy has been to put out fires and otherwise minimally manage most federal and state forest lands. That’s created a dangerous buildup of fuel, setting the stage for fires that spread farther and are harder to combat.Both the US Forest Service and the state of California have been slowly changing those approaches, removing some trees and brush and conducting limited prescribed burns.Utilities like PG&E can harden transmission systems by trimming vegetation more aggressively, monitoring more frequently, installing more durable equipment, or improving “broken-line-detection and control” systems. But various factors limit the ultimate effectiveness of these measures, like the simple fact that many trees at risk of knocking down lines lie outside the utility’s easements.

Wildfires rage in Lapland, more threaten Finland from the east - Firefighters are working round-the-clock to extinguish several wildfires in Finnish Lapland, while similar fires in Russia are within kilometers of the Finnish-Russian border. On Saturday morning, Lapland Rescue Services said the situation in the eastern border municipality of Salla had worsened overnight. "A quite strong fire in Salla's Kotala area is less than a kilometre away from the border. Sparks could ignite the Finnish side at any time," said Ari Soppela, the Lapland rescue unit's communications director. A wildfire that crossed the border already at Raja-Jooseppi in Inari caused the border crossing between Finland and Russia to be shutdown Friday evening. The Border Guard has joined rescue services in the effort to put out the blaze, contributing a helicopter, several units and a band of conscripts. Russia has informed the Finns that the fire has crossed the road connecting the cities of Lotta and Murmansk on the eastern side of the border, temporarily prohibiting traffic on the eastern side of the border crossing. "We have several units that we have gathered from around Lapland working there, but we are trying to recruit even more people to help," Soppela said, mentioning the Oulu-Koillismaa rescue services and the Defence Forces specifically. 

Government Agency Warning- Space Storms Could Cause Mass Blackouts - The Met Office has told United Kingdom ministers that space storms could cause massive blackouts and destroy computers. According to the government agency’s study, a space storm could bring down the internet and all communications. According to The Sunday Times, a new report is claiming that huge solar flares can generate such intense magnetic fields over Earth which in a flash could burn out delicate electronics and even set them on fire. The report, co-authored with scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and Cambridge University said the UK should construct an early warning system because of their risk. Great Britain is at a major risk of being crippled by huge electrical disturbances caused by solar storms in space unless a satellite network is built that can detect them coming. (And if you guessed the taxpayers are going to foot the bill, you’d be correct.)“We find that for a one-in-100-year event, with no space weather forecasting capability, the gross domestic product loss to the United Kingdom could be as high as £15.9bn,” The Met Office study said.“With existing satellites nearing the end of their life, forecasting capability will decrease in coming years, so if no further investment takes place, critical infrastructure will become more vulnerable to space weather.” It’s not like solar storms of this magnitude have never occurred either. According to Fox News, in 1859 a giant solar flare doubled the sun’s brightness for a few minutes, followed by a surge in magnetism that caused powerful electrical currents in telegraph wires across Europe igniting widespread fires. Another such solar event in 1989 struck Quebec in Canada and burned out power cables led to a blackout. Researchers fear another such event would burn out high-voltage cables and substations across the United Kingdom.

Residents Evacuate As Guatemala's Fuego Volcano Erupts Again - Approximately 4,000 residents living near the Fuego volcano in Guatemala have been evacuated as the firey mountain began spewing hot ash and red-hot lava. The “Vulcán de Fuego” or “Volcano of Fire” has erupted five times already this year. The Fuego volcano is one of the most active in Central America. An eruption back in June of this year killed 194 people when pyroclastic clouds rolled down its slopes.  Fuego began violently erupting overnight, the country’s disaster agency Conred said, according to Reuters. June’s eruption was incredibly deadly and the nation’s president Jimmy Morales issued a three day national mourning period for those who lost their lives in the deadly blast.Sergio Cabañas, head of the country’s National Disaster Management Agency (Conred), said the town of El Rodeo had been “buried”. Other towns affected include Alotenango and San Miguel los Lotes. Rescuers are still trying to reach a number of villages.  “Where we live the lava was coming down an alleyway… we ran to a hillside. If there are people buried, the lava came over the plots of land and streets.” – The volcano spewed out dangerous flows of fast-moving clouds of hot ash, lava, and gas early Monday morning and more than 2,000 people had taken refuge in shelters so far, officials from the agency told reporters. There were no immediate reports of injuries during this eruption. Juan Pablo Oliva, the head of the country’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh said that more dangerous flows of hot ash and lava could be expelled during this current eruption. This is the fifth eruption so far this year of the 3,763-meter (12,346-feet) volcano, one of the most active in Central America, about 19 miles (30 km) south of Guatemala City.

Policies of China, Russia and Canada threaten 5C climate change, study finds --China, Russia and Canada’s current climate policies would drive the world above a catastrophic 5C of warming by the end of the century, according to a study that ranks the climate goals of different countries.The US and Australia are only slightly behind with both pushing the global temperature rise dangerously over 4C above pre-industrial levels says the paper, while even the EU, which is usually seen as a climate leader, is on course to more than double the 1.5C that scientists say is a moderately safe level of heating.The study, published on Friday in the journal Nature Communications, assesses the relationship between each nation’s ambition to cut emissions and the temperature rise that would result if the world followed their example.The aim of the paper is to inform climate negotiators as they begin a two-year process of ratcheting up climate commitments, which currently fall far short of the 1.5-to-2C goal set in France three years ago. The related website also serves as a guide to how nations are sharing the burden of responding to the greatest environmental threat humankind has ever faced.

Sunrise Movement and AOC Push Pelosi for a Green New Deal, Highlighting Job Creation - naked capitalism - Jerri-Lynn here: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has floated the eminently sensible albeit extremely modest suggestion that  the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives create a a Select Committee on a Green New Deal.That’s there’s any debate about this proposal at all – given the crisis we face – is further testament to how broken the US political system is, and how deeply corrupted are most of our politicians.As California Congressman Ro Khanna notes (according to Common Dreams):“Pelosi should not only create this committee, but also appoint ⁦@Ocasio2018⁩ as Chair,” Khannatweeted. “That is the boldness voters want. We need to shake up Congress & give the millennial generation a chance to lead. They have the most at stake re climate change.”And AOC has gone even further. Not content with forcing Pelosi to honor her pledge to create the select committee, AOC is part of a group pressing her to back a plan to move to 100% renewable energy in a decade (see this account in Politico,  Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Green New Deal’ becomes flash point for Pelosi). We’ll see. Given what I know about how the campaign finance system works – which I first started to learn beginning in the spring of 1980 as a student of Tom Ferguson– and the amount of fossil fuel money sloshing around both sides of the aisle, I understand why even the modest select committee proposal isn’t a slam-dunk- despite Pelosi’s pledge (for more details, see this Politico piece, Veteran Democrats wary of climate push by Ocasio-Cortez and her allies, also see the informative first chart in this recent Ferguson et al INET post, Big Money—Not Political Tribalism—Drives US Elections, and note that only Mitch McConnell is more dependent on big money interests than is Pelosi).

Veteran Democrats wary of climate push by Ocasio-Cortez and her allies - Veteran Democratic lawmakers are closing ranks against new members pushing the party to the left on climate change. Incoming chairmen say they want to address climate change, but they are bristling at the tactics of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other newly elected Democrats who say the party needs to come up with a "Green New Deal" that would decarbonize the economy within a decade.  “The idea that in five years or 10 years we’re not going to consume any more fossil fuels is technologically impossible,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), whose in line to lead the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told POLITICO. “We can have grand goals but let’s be realistic about how we get there.”Ocasio-Cortez is working with other liberal members and youth climate activists to expand the scope of a select committee on climate change that Nancy Pelosi wants to relaunch if elected speaker. But several older members say they think even creating a new panel would be a distraction and could delay action by the existing committees with jurisdiction over the issue.  Incoming Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) slammed the creation of a new committee during a closed-door meeting of Democrats Thursday, drawing pushback from Ocasio-Cortez and Rep.-elect Joe Neguse (D-Colo.).  Liberal environmental advocates torched Pallone for his opposition to the revival of the climate select committee. “Frank Pallone is concerned about holding onto his power and title, not about the future of our generation or human civilization,” said the Sunrise Movement, which organized the protest at Pelosi’s office earlier this week. “If he were serious about stopping climate change, he would give back his money from fossil fuel PACs and support the Select Committee for a Green New Deal, the only policy in history that rises to the scale of this crisis.”

U.S. to Release Damning Climate Report as Trump Ignores Science - The U.S. government will release a major climate report on Friday afternoon that could be very inconvenient for President Trump, who seems as clueless as ever about the global phenomenon and continues to push coal and other planet-warming fossil fuels.But environmentalists, climate experts and others have pointed out that the critical warning from 13 federal agencies will be softened by the country's post-Thanksgiving haze and Black Friday shopping rush."It's an absolute disgrace to bury the truth about climate impacts in a year that saw hundreds of Americans die during devastating climate-fueled megafires, hurricanes, floods, and algal blooms," National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Collin O'Mara said in a press release.  "Releasing the National Climate Assessment on Black Friday," he continued, "won't obscure the fact that authorities are still identifying bodies in California's unprecedented megafires, Florida is still dealing with toxic algae outbreaks fueled by warmer water, and Americans are still picking up the pieces from Hurricanes Florence and Michael and Typhoon Yutu that were worsened by climate change."Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4)—a congressionally mandated report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program—will warn about the threat that climate change poses to the economy,Reuters reported.The assessment, titled "Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States," lays out climate change-related impacts, risks and adaptation, and will help decision-makers better identify risks that could be avoided or reduced, according to the report's authors. The report was compiled by representatives of 13 federal departments and agencies that research global change and its impacts on society.

Dire warning on US climate change impacts - Unchecked climate change will cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars and damage human health and quality of life, a US government report warns."Future risks from climate change depend... on decisions made today," the 4th National Climate Assessment says.The report says climate change is "presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth".The warning is at odds with the Trump administration's fossil fuels agenda. During a blast of icy weather in Washington this week, Donald Trump tweeted, "whatever happened to global warming?"Now, without mentioning the president, his own scientists have answered their boss' question in comprehensive detail.Global warming is here in the US, they say - now. It is already deadly serious and without urgent, dramatic change, it will be catastrophic. This report is striking for two reasons. First, it is not abstract. It gives many specific examples - overwhelmed dams in South Carolina; failing crops in the parched Great Plains; a rise in insect-borne disease in Florida.And, secondly, it majors on the economic impact, in effect challenging the White House's insistence on prioritising economic growth over environmental regulation.With warnings about the effects on crumbling infrastructure, falling crop yields and decreasing labour productivity, the report sounds an alarm that climate change will soon cascade into every corner of American life.The White House said the report - compiled with help from numerous US government agencies and departments - was inaccurate. Spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it 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".

Why Publish a Dire Federal Climate Report on Black Friday- On Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, the federal government published a massive and dire new report on climate change. The report warns, repeatedly and directly, that climate change could soon imperil the American way of life, transforming every region of the country, imposing frustrating costs on the economy, and harming the health of virtually every citizen.Most significantly, the National Climate Assessment—which is endorsed bynasa, noaa, the Department of Defense, and 10 other federal scientific agencies—contradicts nearly every position taken on the issue by President Donald Trump. Where the president has insisted that fighting global warming will harm the economy, the report responds: Climate change, if left unchecked, could eventually cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year, and kill thousands of Americans to boot. Where the president has said that the climate will “probably” “change back,” the report replies: Many consequences of climate change will last for millennia, and some (such as the extinction of plant and animal species) will be permanent. The report is a huge achievement for American science. It represents cumulative decades of work from more than 300 authors. Since 2015, scientists from across the U.S. government, state universities, and businesses have read thousands of studies, summarizing and collating them into this document. By law, a National Climate Assessment like this must be published every four years.It may seem like a funny report to dump on the public on Black Friday, when most Americans care more about recovering from Thanksgiving dinner than they do about adapting to the grave conclusions of climate science. Indeed, who ordered the report to come out today? It’s a good question with no obvious answer.

Brazil's new foreign minister believes climate change is a Marxist plot - Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has chosen a new foreign minister who believes climate change is part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to stifle western economies and promote the growth of China.Ernesto Araújo – until recently a mid-ranking official who blogs about the “criminalisation” of red meat, oil and heterosexual sex – will become the top diplomat of South America’s biggest nation, representing 200 million people and the greatest and most biodiverse forest on Earth, the Amazon.His appointment, confirmed by Bolsonaro on Wednesday, is likely to send a chill through the global climate movement. Brazil was where the international community first came together in 1992 to discuss reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Its diplomats have played a crucial role in bridging the gap between rich and poor nations, particularly during the forging of the Paris agreement in 2015.  But when the new government takes power in January, the foreign ministry that leads that work will be headed by a man who claims climate science is merely “dogma”. In his blog, Araújo states his goal is to “help Brazil and the world liberate themselves from globalist ideology”, which he sees as anti-Christian. The 51-year-old diplomat – who has never served as an overseas ambassador – claims unnamed leftist politicians have hijacked environmentalism to serve as a tool for global domination. “This dogma has been used to justify increasing the regulatory power of states over the economy and the power of international institutions on the nation states and their populations, as well as to stifle economic growth in democratic capitalist countries and to promote the growth of China,” he wrote in a post last month. In another, he claimed the centre-left Workers party in Brazil was “criminalising sex and reproduction, saying that all heterosexual intercourse is rape and every baby is a risk to the planet as it will increase carbon emissions”. He then went on to accuse the party of criminalising red meat, oil, air conditioners and Disney movies.

Stop Eco-Apartheid: The Left’s Challenge in Bolsonaro’s Brazil - --The horrors threatened by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president, are compounded by the global climate stakes of a potential war on the Amazon. Roberto Schaeffer, a leading energy and environment scholar based in Rio de Janeiro, told me over Skype, “It could not be worse. Donald Trump would be a blessing for Brazil right now.” Bolsonaro has promised an orgy of destructive new development in the embattled Amazon rainforest, potentially releasing gigatons of heat-trapping carbon. But the backlash has already begun. Brazilian social movements are mobilizing, and even key pro-Bolsonaro business leaders are telling him to back off on deforestation. This combined economic and environmental battle isn’t a sideshow—it’s the new center stage.  Nothing will affect the future of the left in the Americas more than climate change, both in its already inevitable effects, and in the Herculean, fifty-year effort we must make to keep those impacts remotely bearable. Every left-wing political party, indigenous nation, labor union, community group, racial and gender and housing justice movement will take part in this. The pan-American left’s chief task is to lead, by aligning its longstanding agenda of social equality with breakneck struggles to decarbonize the economy and cope with extreme weather. This imperative includes building a vast new clean energy sector, overhauling agriculture toward sustainable methods, reversing deforestation, and reorganizing urban life. Such a transformation isn’t on Bolsonaro’s (or Trump’s) agenda, but setting the terms for a transition away from carbon is increasingly a preoccupation for the global economic elite. A massive global investment in climate-related infrastructure is coming. It is through an epic battle over how, and how quickly, the built environment is transformed that the left will rediscover itself. The results of this struggle will be democracy or eco-apartheid.

UN environment chief Erik Solheim quits amid expenses row - UN environment chief Erik Solheim has resigned amid a row over his travel expenses. A recent draft internal audit, obtained by Britain's Guardian newspaper and seen by the BBC, said he had incurred costs of $488,518 (£382,111) while travelling for 529 out of 668 days. It said this harmed the reputation of UN Environment - a body that highlights green issues and sustainability. There was "no oversight or accountability" to monitor this travel. Mr Solheim, a Norwegian former environment minister, says he has paid back the money where "instances of oversight" occurred. On Tuesday, Mr Solheim himself confirmed his resignation, Norway's NRK broadcaster reported. A formal UN announcement is expected shortly. Climate change jet-setter Once news leaked about Erik Solheim's flights and expenses, he was on borrowed time at the UN. It wasn't solely because of the large sums involved - there was also an image problem. At a time when awareness of climate change has never been greater, the sight of the man dedicated to fighting global warming endlessly jet-setting around the world risked reputational damage to the UN. The auditor's report had also upset some European countries to such an extent that they had threatened to withhold millions of dollars in funding if he continued in post. While many in UN circles will be glad to see him go, some will miss the energy and greater visibility he brought to a once-lacklustre branch of the organisation. 

UN Environment Chief Resigns After Racking Up Huge Carbon Footprint - Members of the United Nations recoiled in horror last year when President Trump slashed the US's UN budget by nearly $300 million after the international agency rebuked the US over its decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Looks like the jokes on them. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has accepted the resignation of UN Environmental Chief Erik Solheim, a veteran Norwegian diplomat, after an internal audit by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services criticized the environment agency for "a culture of scant regard for internal controls and existing rules" on the use of public funds. This "misuse" included Solheim racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal flights to Paris (sound familiar?), according to the New York Times. Unfortunately for Solheim, those flights had nothing to do with the agency's work on the Paris Accords. What's even more embarrassing for the agency, the alleged overspending happened at a time when resources for combating climate change were shrinking. Some of the agency's biggest donors even decided to withhold funds pending the final results of the audit.

Debunking One “Global Cooling” Argument -- Numerous websites have claimed that a new scientific paper by a high-level NASA scientist proves that the Earth is entering into a planetary cooling period. Specifically, the paper says that reduced solar activity will likely lead to a substantial cooling in the Earth’s thermosphere … a layer of the atmosphere high above the Earth.Should run out and buy warmer clothes? Even though I studied environmental science at a good university as an undergraduate, I had no idea whether a cooling thermosphere would mean:

  • (1) It will get cooler down here on the surface of the Earth (the bottom portion of the atmospheric layer called the “troposphere”)
  • (2) There is no correlation   or
  • (3) As one wannabe “expert” proclaimed on the Internet, a cooler thermosphere will lead to a warmer climate on the surface

So Washington’s Blog asked one of the co-authors of the study, Dr. James Russell to help us understand what the study means …  Russell is a Professor of Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Co-Director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University in Virginia. He received his PhD in “aeronomy” – the physics and chemistry of the upper atmosphere of planets – from the University of Michigan, and served as head of the Chemistry and Dynamics Branch and the Theoretical Studies Branch in the NASA Langley Atmospheric Sciences Division.  Dr. Russell told us:  My short answer is the cooling effects we are seeing in Earth’s thermosphere are a result of the current solar minimum conditions. The thermosphere is the layer of Earth’s atmosphere 65 miles above Earth’s surface and is highly sensitive to solar activity. There is no relationship between the natural cycle of cooling and warming in the thermosphere and the weather/climate at Earth’s surface.  I hope this helps clear up this serious misunderstanding. The recently published findings from analysis of SABER data by Mlynczak et al. (2018) do not imply there is a problem with global warming observations at the earth surface. There is no connection between the thermospheric and ground level observational results.

Controversial spraying method aims to curb global warming A fleet of 100 planes making 4,000 worldwide missions per year could help save the world from climate change. Also, it may be relatively cheap. That's the conclusion of a new peer-reviewed study in Environmental Research Letters. . Planes spraying tiny sulphate particulates into the lower stratosphere, around 60,000 feet up. The idea is to help shield the Earth from just enough sunlight to help keep temperatures low.The researchers examined how practical and costly a hypothetical solar geoengineering project would be beginning 15 years from now. The aim would be to half the temperature increase caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases.This method would mimic what large volcanoes do. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. It was the second largest eruption of the 20th century, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). In total, the eruption injected 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide aerosols into the stratosphere. USGS said the Earth's lower atmosphere temperature dropped by approximately 1-degree Fahrenheit. The effect only lasted a couple of years because the sulfates eventually fell to Earth. Although controversial, some think that trying to mimic the impacts of a volcano eruption is a viable way to control global warming. This proposed type of climate geoengineering is called stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI). Theoretically if done at scale — and sustained — the impact can be large. The 1-degree temperature drop which accompanied Mount Pinatubo's eruption is equal to about half of the human-caused warming Earth has experienced since the Industrial Revolution began.

Solar geoengineering could be ‘remarkably inexpensive’ – report - Cooling the Earth by injecting sun-blocking particles into the stratosphere could be “remarkably inexpensive”, according to the most detailed engineering analysis to date. The fear of a rogue nation or military force unilaterally taking control of the global climate is unfounded, the researchers added, as the many thousands of high-altitude flights needed to affect global temperatures could not escape detection. The new research estimated the technology costs of putting millions of tonnes of sulphate particles high into the atmosphere. This form of geoengineering mimics major volcanic eruptions, which have significantly reduced global temperatures in the past. “We show that a hypothetical deployment programme, while both highly uncertain and ambitious, would be technically possible,” said Gernot Wagner from Harvard University. “It would also be remarkably inexpensive, at an average of around $2bn to $2.5bn per year.” About $500bn (£388bn) a year is currently invested in green technologies. The idea of geoengineering is controversial, with opponents arguing it could seem like an easy solution to global warming and weaken efforts to cut the root cause of emissions. Others warn it risks serious unintended consequences, such as droughts and damage to crops. In October, more than 100 civil society groups condemned geoengineering as “dangerous, unnecessary and unjust”. However, many scientists say not conducting geoengineering research would be even more dangerous, because climate change may become so bad that governments feel compelled to deploy it despite not knowing its full consequences.

Inside geoengineers’ risky plan to block out the sun  - We have only 12 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent, according to an October report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The feat, it admits, would require “rapid, far-reaching” societal transformation. If we fail, coastal cities will be inundated, food will run short and the damage will cost $54 trillion by 2040, when babies born this year will be old enough to graduate from college.  The clear path to curbing these catastrophes involves rapidly phasing out carbon intensive fuels, which requires changes on a scale for which “There is no documented historic precedent,” the report’s authors note.  But more dramatic approaches have crept into policy discussions, like solar radiation management, known as SRM. First imagined by scientists during the Cold War, SRM promises a comparatively cheap, quick fix: the continuous dispersal of aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect and absorb sunlight, cooling the planet. In effect, SRM means dimming the sun.  For proof of concept, advocates look to volcanic eruptions, which spew out plumes of aerosols. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, for example, reportedly lowered global temperatures by 1 degree Celsius. The best modeling suggests SRM, too, would work like a charm.  Like a volcano, however, SRM is enormously risky. Side effects could include decreasing crop yields, melting the ozone layer or irreparably altering the water cycle, flooding some parts of the world while causing prolonged droughts in others—and those are just the few we are able to model. If starting SRM is risky, so is stopping once we’ve started: Stanching the flow of aerosols would risk the Earth rapidly warming by several degrees within a decade, known as a “termination shock.” This sudden heating would do more damage than the current, more gradual warming, disrupting the climate while giving species and ecosystems little time to adapt. But given the stakes, many SRM boosters say the benefits seem to outweigh the risk. After all, what choice do we have?

 The government aims to boost ethanol without evidence that it saves money or helps the environment - President Donald Trump has promised his supporters in Iowa that the federal government will take a step that may increase corn ethanol sales. This plant-derived fuel, which comprises about 10 percent of the 143 billion gallons of gasoline Americans buy each year, is a kind of alcohol made from corn. The industry first emerged in 1980s with government support, after interest in making the country less reliant on imported oil surged in the 1970s. It later acquired a second purpose: lowering greenhouse gas emissions.I have spent the last 24 years studying alternative fuels and fuel blends. Based on my research, and as a consumer, I can say that increasing the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline creates problems with older engines and potentially increases air pollution due to increased fuel evaporation while doing little to curb climate change. Americans have been mixing ethanol and gasoline since Henry Ford touted the potential of biofuels. Its use expanded greatly during George W. Bush’s administration, with the advent of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005. This federal program mandated that increasing amounts of renewable fuels be mixed with gasoline and diesel. The program has set a target for the domestic consumption of 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol since 2015. Most engines can safely run on a blend of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent corn ethanol, the standard formulation known as E10 that is available at most American gas stations. E15 is a blend containing 15 percent ethanol. This blend is not available in every state.And where E15 is sold, it isn’t currently available year-round. That’s because the additional 5 percent of ethanol, combined with summer heat, would increase the tendency of blended fuels to evaporate. The evaporated emissions from fuels can contribute to the formation of ozone, a major component of smog. In hotter weather, ethanol can exacerbate pollution problems in cities. Trump’s proposal would eliminate the existing summer ban on E15 sales. Removing the ban would probably boost ethanol sales, aiding farmers who grow the corn used to make the roughly 16 billion gallons of it the U.S. produced in 2017, including exports, and the ethanol industry overall. Because a higher percentage of ethanol means a lower percentage of petroleum, using more ethanol hurts petroleum refiners. It would also pose a logistical challenge. Ethanol cannot go into oil or gas pipelines because it absorbs excess water and impurities within pipelines. That means rail cars and tanker trucks transport all ethanol.

 It's Now Cheaper to Build a New Wind Farm Than to Keep a Coal Plant Running - The cost of building a new utility-scale solar or wind farm has now dropped below the cost of operating an existing coal plant, according to an analysis by the investment bank Lazard. Accounting for government tax credits and other energy incentives would bring the cost even lower."There are some scenarios, in some parts of the U.S., where it is cheaper to build and operate wind and solar than keep a coal plant running," said a Lazard banker who was involved in the report. "You have seen coal plants shutting down because of this."Every year, the investment bank analyzes the cost of different types of energy using a metric called the levelized cost of energy, or LCOE. This analysis factors in the cost of components and the cost of operations, as well as the cost of debt, to come up with the smallest dollar amount, per unit of energy, for an investor in the project to see a 12 percent return. The LCOE for coal this year is between $27 and $45 per megawatt. That figure is $29 to $56 for a wind farm and $31 to $44 for a solar farm, depending on the technology used.Wind power costs have dropped as utilities have turned to bigger and bigger turbines, which can produce more energy. The largest turbines installed today can produce double the power they could've a decade ago, according to the Energy Information Administration, dramatically increasing the amount of power a parcel of land can produce. Wind and solar installation has also gotten more competitive, driving the development of more efficient technology. Lazard also noted that wind and solar farms typically require fewer people to run than a coal or nuclear plant, further decreasing their cost.

Batteries Not Included In U.S. Renewable Fantasy Plans --The political fantasy of 100% renewable electricity is sweeping the nation. Governors and mayors, towns and cities, and whole States are vying for who can get there first. California’s 2045 target date was recently topped by Colorado’s incoming Governor’s announced target of 2040, just 21 short years from now. This 100% goal sounds so good politically that it is irresistible. Clean energy for everyone. Unfortunately, converting America to 100% renewable energy is completely unrealistic as engineering, which means we are headed for big trouble. Committing to the impossible is a truly bad plan. The problem is batteries, which we never hear about when these grand plans are announced. Batteries are not included, even though they will be needed in impossible quantities. Here are the simple facts which dare not be mentioned. While there are “utility scale” battery systems, their national total is virtually zero compared to what would be needed to achieve 100% renewable generation of electricity. Renewable generators like wind and solar only generate less than 50% of the time, sometimes a lot less, sometimes not at all. This is called the problem of intermittency. To overcome intermittency, we need to generate a lot more juice than needed when the renewable generators are working and store it to use when they are not working, which is most of the time. This can be done for a house, especially one that uses very little electricity. It does not work for a nation that uses a lot of juice per capita, far more than a house does. 

Battery Storage Investments To Reach $620 Billion By 2040 - Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) predicts that the global energy storage market will grow to a cumulative 942GW by 2040, attracting a whopping $620 billion in investments. Fall in costs of lithium-ion (LI) batteries are a key driver of increasing demands for battery storage. This makes sense, given that combined wind and solar power generation capacity is expected to eclipse that of natural gas shortly after 2040 – at least according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). And those renewable energy stations, which produce power intermittently (the sun is not always shining and the wind is not always blowing), will require adequate storage to make them economically viable. Lithium-ion is the leading battery storage technology to date, though alternatives are beginning to crop up. The price of LI batteries fell 80% between 2010 and 2017 ($/kWh) with costs projected to fall another 52% between 2018 and 2030.

New England power, natgas prices soar ahead of cold Thanksgiving holiday- (Reuters) - U.S. spot power and natural gas prices for Wednesday soared in New England to their highest since last winter, with temperatures forecast to turn frigid in the Northeast over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. When the weather turns extremely cold in New England, power and gas prices can spike quickly because most consumers use gas to heat their homes and businesses and most of the region’s electricity usually comes from gas-fired power plants. The region lacks sufficient gas pipeline capacity to supply fuel for both heat and power generation on the coldest days, so many gas-fired plants have to burn more expensive oil when temperatures drop. Next-day power prices in New England rose to $129 per megawatt hour (MWh) for Wednesday from $102 for Tuesday, their highest since January. That compares with an average of $47.86/MWh so far this year, $38.29 in calendar 2017 and a five-year average (2013-17) of $52.29. Gas prices at the New England Algonquin hub rose to $13.70 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) for Wednesday from $11.34 for Tuesday, the highest since January. That compares with an average of $4.67/mmBtu so far this year, $3.80 in calendar 2017 and a five-year average of $5.33. High temperatures in Boston, the biggest city in New England, are forecast to drop to the mid 20s Fahrenheit (-5 Celsius) on Thursday and the low 30s on Friday, from the mid 40s on Wednesday, according to AccuWeather. The normal high in Boston is 50 degrees at this time of year. So far on Wednesday, power generators were still able to get the gas they needed. The fuel mix in the morning was 51 percent gas, 27 percent nuclear, 10 percent hydro, 10 percent renewables and 1 percent coal, according to the regional power grid operator ISO New England. Pipeline companies have tried to build more pipes across New York to New England from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale fields in recent years, but some officials in New York and New England have blocked those efforts, preferring to invest more in energy efficiency and renewable sources of power.

DOE to fund 'Coal FIRST' initiative, critics say it's political not practical -The federal government is intent on supporting the coal industry. While coal plants continue to shutter and plans to save them are stalling, the Trump administration can still point to deregulation and research funding for progress. But with renewables on the rise, gas cheap and battery prices falling, can anything save coal at this point? "No one is going to build a coal plant in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Its operational characteristics aren't consistent with what utilities need," John Coequyt, Sierra Club's global climate policy director, told Utility Dive. DOE has laid out numerous traits it wants future coal plants to have, and will direct research to focus on plants that reduce water use, are capable of high ramp rates and minimum loads, have near-zero emissions, can also burn natural gas and and are at least 40% efficient.   A recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) predicts the U.S. will retire 15.4 GW of coal capacity this year, representing 44 generation units across 22 plants. By 2024, an additional 21.4 GW of coal capacity will go offline, according to IEEFA. DOE announced its inquiry into coal-plant improvements in May, aiming to make them more efficient, flexible and reliable. President Donald Trump campaigned on rebuilding the declining industry, and his administration has backed multiple research initiatives into long-term improvements. DOE expects to release a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking "conceptual design for coal-based power plants of the future and an option to conduct a preliminary front end engineering design," sometime this month. That would be followed by a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for cost-shared research and development focused on steam turbines that can be integrated into a 50 MW to 350 MW "future advanced coal plant design." In its announcement, DOE said the Coal FIRST initiative "will make coal-fired power plants in the future more adaptive to the modern electrical grid."

  China shuts door on Australian coal imports until 2019 - China has shut the door on coal imports until at least next year, creating uncertainty in the Australian market, according to one industry analyst. Limits to imports were initially put in place in the middle of this year but now Chinese authorities have stopped all imports of coal from across the globe and the ban is not expected to be lifted until early 2019. Mike Cooper from Platts Coal Report said there was an oversupply of coal in China. He said unless there was a very cold winter, further imports would not be needed for the next couple of months at least. "China has produced so much coal for the winter period the power companies have 30 days worth of consumption on their stockpiles," he said. "It's really creating tidal waves of uncertainty in the market." Thermal coal prices for delivery to China have dropped significantly as a result, falling from $90/tonne in February to $60/tonne. China takes about 25 per cent of Australia's thermal coal from the Newcastle port and Mr Cooper said finding a home for that coal would be difficult.

Why Japan finds coal hard to quit -- In Japan's port city of Kobe, a pair of 150-meter high white chimneys tower over the bay. Located just beside a residential area only 15 minutes by car from the city center, the chimneys belong to a giant 1.4-gigawatt coal-fired power plant that is about to loom even larger over residents' lives. Brushing aside protests from environmentalists and locals, plant owner Kobe Steel started construction last month on a huge expansion project that will double the size -- and the emissions -- of the Kobe Power Plant. More than 14 million tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants are expected to belch each year from the enlarged plant's chimneys by 2022 -- more than the entire CO2 emissions of the 1.5 million-strong city of Kobe. Residents are seeking an injunction against Kobe Steel to halt construction and operation of the new plant, citing the "infringement of the right to live sustainably with clean air in a healthy and peaceful environment." It is only the second lawsuit in Japan to target carbon dioxide emissions. Kobe Steel declined to comment for this article. The Kobe project is one of more than 30 new power stations being planned or built by Japan that burn coal -- the dirtiest and most polluting fossil fuel and one which is being phased out by some 30 governments around the world. "Coal goes directly against the global trend because it is the worst fuel, based on its volume of carbon dioxide emission," said Takeshi Shimamura, a professor at Kobe University who supports the residents' group. Japan is the only G-7 country still planning new coal-fired power stations. Its continued love affair with the black, sooty fuel sits ill with the green rhetoric of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government and with the country's status as host of the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which committed nearly 200 nations to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Poland expects first nuclear power plant to start in 2033 - Poland’s first nuclear power plant is expected to start operating in 2033 – if the project gets a green light from the government, the Energy Ministry said on Friday. In its draft energy strategy to 2040, a document keenly awaited by market players and analysts, the ministry said the first planned nuclear power plant will have a capacity of 1-1.5 gigawatt (GW). Ultimately the ministry expects Poland to have a total of 6-9 GW of nuclear power by 2043, which will account for around 10 percent of power generation. The Energy Ministry reaffirmed that it expects the share of coal in electricity production to fall to 60 percent in 2030 from around 80 percent now. The most polluting lignite coal will almost disappear by 2040 with a growing share of photovoltaic and wind farms.

Nuclear experts warn of Chernobyl-like disaster at Hunterston --Nuclear experts have warned of a Chernobyl-like “catastrophic accident” after more than 350 cracks were discovered in the power reactor at the Hunterston plant in North Ayrshire. This breaches the Government’s agreed safety limit and has prompted calls for a permanent shutdown. Hunterston’s operator, EDF Energy, insist the reactor is safe. Reactor three at Hunterston B nuclear power station originally started generating electricity in 1976, and is the oldest in the UK.  It was closed in March this year to allow inspectors to probe for cracks.   The reactor was initially due to restart on March 30, but the date has been repeatedly postponed as more cracks have been found. EDF is now hoping for permission from the UK government’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to fire up the reactor on 18 December. In May, EDF said that 39 cracks had been found and they were “happening at a slightly higher rate than modelled”. But yesterday, the website reported that more than 350 cracks had been discovered. According to ONR, 350 is the “operational limit” in the safety case that determines whether or not the reactor is allowed to operate.

 Did bombing during second world war cool global temperatures? - I’ve been working on the threat of nuclear winter for 35 years now. In the 1980s, using simple climate models, we discovered that global nuclear arsenals, if used on cities and industrial areas, could produce a nuclear winter and lead to global famine.Smoke from the fires would last for years in the upper atmosphere, blocking sunlight, and making it cold, dark and dry at the Earth’s surface. It would also destroy ozone, enhancing ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface.While the immediate effects of nuclear strikes might kill hundreds of thousands, the numbers that would die from starvation in the years that followed could run into billions.Normally scientists test their theories in a laboratory or with real world observations.  Fortunately, we do not have a global nuclear war to examine. So how can we test nuclear winter theory?One option is to look at the impact of forest fires. Large wildfires have been observed to pump smoke into the upper atmosphere – the stratosphere – above where rain can wash it out, and then be further lofted by solar heating. Such was the case with a massive fire in British Columbia in August 2017.  But while we don’t have a global nuclear war to study, we do have two cases where nuclear weapons were deployed – Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war.While the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – on 6 and 9 August 1945, respectively – have gone down in history as the first use of nuclear weapons in warfare, what is less well known is that they were part of a larger bombing campaign by US B-29 Superfortress bombers. Between 3 February and 9 August 1945, an area of 461sq kilometers in 69 Japanese cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was burned during these air raids – killing 800,000 civilians. The smoke produced by Hiroshima and Nagasaki made up less than 5% of the total.

Ohio Senate Bill 250: A dangerous assault on civil liberties - Athens NEWS - Ohio Senate Bill 250 is a dangerous assault on civil liberties and free speech. It is unnecessary, since trespass is already covered by Ohio law. This bill creates a new level of penalties for trespass, with draconian fines and felony charges if the trespass is against so-called “critical infrastructure,” including corporate-owned pipelines and oil and gas wells (even if they are on someone’s own property) and Homeland Security sites, meaning that citizens supporting immigrants are also vulnerable to its penalties. The legislation is clearly meant to intimidate individuals and, even more dangerously, non-profit organizations that organize people to speak out against assaults by the oil and gas industry against our communities, climate and public health. Under the bill, organizations can be held liable for others’ actions through guilt by association, with 10 times greater penalties than penalties individuals would receive. This can only be intended to squelch environmental advocacy, so essential at this time of accelerating climate chaos.  We are especially outraged that this bill is being proposed as our planet begins to experience climate catastrophe brought about by corporate greed and government collusion. This is a time when the necessity defense is actually being successfully invoked in court to defend climate civil disobedience, which brings urgent attention to the role of fossil fuels and government inaction in the crisis. It is these government and corporate activities that threaten and destroy lives and property, not the peaceful, brave and selfless acts of those who practice peaceful climate disobedience. It is especially alarming that this legislation is being introduced as our federal government moves toward fascism, which will be greatly facilitated by such state actions. Fascism is when government works hand-in-hand with corporations to end democracy, free speech and assembly, free press, and other constitutionally protected civil liberties. Also pertinent in Merriam-Webster’s definition is that fascism entails “severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of opposition.” People are very alarmed at such behavior by our state’s elected officials.

Critics say Ohio pipeline protest bill is unnecessary, maybe unconstitutional - Energy News Network - Ohio lawmakers have tweaked a bill meant to deter damage from pipeline protests, but environmental groups, civil liberties advocates and other opponents still say the bill could be unconstitutional. “From our perspective, it still has a whole lot of free speech problems,” said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.Substitute Senate Bill 250 would make it a crime to knowingly destroy or improperly tamper with a “critical infrastructure facility,” or to “otherwise knowingly impede or inhibit the facility’s operations.” In Daniels’ view, SB 250 “goes far beyond” any valid concerns about property damage or destruction “in order to limit and discourage otherwise peaceful demonstrations or the mere exercising of one’s First Amendment rights.”He and more than two dozen other civil rights advocates, environmental group members, and citizens spoke out against the bill at the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee’s meeting on Nov. 14.Opponents fear that the bill’s vague terms and penalties would have a chilling effect upon people’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly by criminalizing or imposing added liability for protests against natural gas fracking, drilling and pipelines. SB 250 is among several bills introduced last year in several states in the wake of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. “SB 250 seeks to discourage and frankly deter such activities by stepping up the penalties associated with certain types of wrongful acts,” Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, said in his sponsor testimony on the bill in March 2017. Individuals would face third-degree felony charges under the current version of the bill. And any organization found “guilty of complicity” would face a fine of ten times the maximum that could be imposed on an individual for a felony of the third degree.  Hoagland testified that there were reports of alleged tampering with valves or controls at pipeline facilities, although he acknowledged there had not been any “dangerous or catastrophic events here in Ohio due to such unscrupulous and dangerous actions.”

Y'town voters again reject anti-fracking ballot issue - Youngstown Vindicator Editorial: November 18, 2018 -- Six months after they said no to amending the Home Rule Charter to ban fracking in the city, Youngstown residents underscored that decision with an even stronger rejection in the Nov. 6 general election. Yet, proponents of this unmitigated abuse of the electoral process aren’t willing to try their hand at some other self-aggrandizing ploy dressed up as public policy. Consider this comment from Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of the Committee for the Community Bill of Rights, which backed the issue: “We’re not finished fighting the corporate state. We’re not finished exposing the corruption in campaigns with huge money pouring into this every time. We’ll continue to fight for our community.” She contends that the anti-fracking campaign is about fighting the corporate state. Really? It is noteworthy the main opposition to this charter amendment for the eight times it has been on the ballot – no, it isn’t a misprint: eight – has come from the Mahoning Valley Jobs and Growth Coalition. The coalition is made up of local businesses, labor organizations, elected and community leaders and economic development entities that are committed to rebuilding the city of Youngstown and its economy. In a statement leading up to the Nov. 6 general election, the coalition warned that “out-of-state activists pushing the job-killing ‘Youngstown Drinking Water Protection Bill of Rights’ don’t care about the hardworking families in Youngstown and their jobs.” Most residents obviously agree with the coalition’s assessment of the charter amendment. They also aren’t fooled by the grandiose name “Youngstown Drinking Water Protection Bill of Rights.”  After being rejected six times, the self-appointed paragons of environmental virtues decided to scare the people of Youngstown into thinking that they would be drinking poisonous water if they again rejected the charter amendment. But putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make it any less of a pig.   Here’s the bottom line: Out-of-state environmental activists have found easy marks in Susie Beiersdorfer and other members of the Committee for the Community Bill of Rights and so have chosen Youngstown to push their agenda.

 Rig Count Stands at 18 in Ohio's Utica – The number of oil and gas rigs in operation for last week across the Utica shale in Ohio stood at 18, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. ODNR reported that two exploration companies received a total of seven permits for horizontal wells during the week ended Nov. 17. All of the permits were issued in what is considered the “hot spot” of the oil and gas play in the state’s southeastern quadrant. Chesapeake Exploration LLC secured three permits for horizontal wells in Harrison County, while Eclipse Resources I LP received four permits for wells in Monroe County. As of Nov. 17, ODNR has issued 2,924 permits in Ohio’s Utica. Energy companies have drilled 2,457 of those wells, and 2,081 horizontal wells are in production in Ohio, according to ODNR. There were no new permits issued in the northern tier of the Utica, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. No new permits for Utica wells were issued in neighboring Lawrence or Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania during the week, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Collectively considered the Appalachian Region, the Utica shale in Ohio and the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania stand to experience a boost in oil and gas production over the next month, according to the latest projections released from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. EIA reported this week that oil production across the Appalachian Basin is expected to increase by 4,000 barrels a day in December. In November, wells in the basin are expected to produce 137,000 barrels of oil. Next month, EIA projects production to hit roughly 141,000 barrels per day. Natural gas production across the Appalachia Region is also projected to soar in December, EIA said. The agency projects that gas production next month should increase by 403 million cubic feet per day. In November, Utica and Marcellus wells produced 30 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Next month, production is expected to reach 30.4 billion cubic feet per day, according to EIA.

More radioactive fracking waste could be coming to Michigan - U.S. oil and natural gas is on the verge of transforming the world’s energy markets for a second time, further undercutting Saudi Arabia and Russia. Some Michigan landfills could take in low-level radioactive waste from oil and gas fracking at up to 10 times the radioactivity currently allowed at landfills statewide, under bills proposed in the Michigan Senate.Critics contend the proposed bills further open Michigan up to becoming the dumping ground for fracking wastes from all over the United States.At issue is waste called "technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive material," or TENORM. It includes materials whose low, naturally occurring radiation levels are increased through human activities that concentrate them. The controversial oil and gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a major generator of it.Michigan's current TENORM disposal guidelines allow the waste to go to any state landfill — those designed for hazardous or common, municipal waste — provided the radioactive elements commonly found in TENORM, radium-226 and radium-228, do not exceed 50 picocuries per gram. One picocurie is roughly equivalent to background levels of radioactivity naturally occurring in the environment.Senate Bill 1196, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson, would enshrine into law the 50-picocurie limit for TENORM going to state landfills, and add a limit for another radioactive element, lead-210, of up to 260 picocuries per gram. Casperson's bill would also allow landfills to seek state approval to take in TENORM wastes at higher radioactivity concentrations, up to 500 picocuries per gram for radium-226, radium-228 and/or lead-210, through modifications to their operating licenses. The 500-picocurie limit change matches a request US Ecology made in 2014 for an increase in allowed radioactivity in TENORM it takes in at its large Wayne Disposal hazardous waste landfill in Wayne County's Van Buren Township, north of I-94 next to the Willow Run Airport. The company withdrew the request in October 2014, following a Free Press report that August noting Wayne Disposal was preparing to take in 36 tons of low-level, radioactive fracking waste from a Pennsylvania oil and gas driller. The waste had previously been rejected by landfills in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Tri-state groups continue fight against pipeline — Local environmentalists renewed their fight to stop the gas pipeline from going underneath the Potomac River. An estimated 40 environmental group members gathered in front of the National Park Service C&O Canal headquarters in Hagerstown, Maryland, on Monday, urging NPS officials to deny a right-of-way permit to TransCanada to build a pipeline underneath the Potomac River. Including representatives from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Sierra Club, Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Water Keepers’ Eastern Panhandle Protectors and the Food & Water Watch, group leaders presented a written petition to NPS officials. The network of grassroots environmental groups have staged dozens of protests in Maryland and West Virginia in the past two years in an attempt to derail the pipeline project they say poses a threat to the area’s drinking water if a pipe fracture were to occur. They also claim the pipe is being dug through karst geology that is porous and unstable, and thus prone to collapse. “This pipeline is unnecessary and dangerous, said Brent Walls, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper. “It threatens the drinking water source for six million residents in this area, would deliver fracked natural gas not produced in Maryland and not to be used in Maryland, and would be the primary energy source for the controversial Rockwool USA insulation plant in West Virginia.” 

Century-Old West Virginia Leases Yield Paltry Gas Royalties. A Suit Could Cut Others’ Payouts to a Trickle, Too.  - Linda Stimmell gets upset every time EQT Corp.’s checks arrive in the mail. The energy giant extracts natural gas from beneath the Stimmell family’s old farm in Doddridge County, West Virginia, under the terms of a lease signed when Teddy Roosevelt was president. The royalty checks Stimmell receives from two “Bates Wells,” named for her great-great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Bates, amount to just $9 and $3 each quarter. The lease Bates signed more than a century ago with Carnegie Natural Gas Co. of Pittsburgh allowed legendary industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s company to drill for, produce and sell as much natural gas as Carnegie wanted. Because of that deal, Stimmell and the many other Bates descendants who have since inherited the gas — and that 112-year-old lease — have received tens of thousands of dollars less than they would have if the contract were negotiated today. It’s not clear how many West Virginians are stuck with old leases that pay residents a fraction of what they might otherwise get. Observers guess it’s in the thousands. But what is clear is that thousands more could find themselves getting far less in royalties, if at least one major gas company gets its way. That’s because of a recent lawsuit filed by EQT — the state’s second-largest gas producer — that threatens to put far more people in Linda Stimmell’s situation, stuck with tiny monthly payments at a time when the natural gas industry is booming. The lawsuit, filed in April, challenges a 1982 law that aimed to give gas owners a bigger share of the profits. That law applied to situations where the gas lease was an old flat-fee arrangement and the well was drilled after the law took effect. In order to get a state permit for such wells, gas companies would have to pay the gas owners at least 12.5 percent of the revenue from the gas.

Army Corps Suspends ACP Permit - Following requests from Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad) attorneys, the Norfolk, Huntington, and Pittsburgh districts of the Army Corps of Engineers have each suspended its authorization of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As a result, ACP lacks authorization to do any instream or wetland construction anywhere along its route. Appalmad has argued this action was necessary in light of a recent federal court ruling that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s reliance on Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12 was improper. The NWP was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. It allowed contractors to trench through the bottom of streams and rivers. The Corps’ decision has had the effect of forcing the ACP to temporarily suspend water crossings along the entire project until it can obtain a satisfactory permit. Appalachian Mountain Advocates represents the Sierra Cub, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Voices, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network in this action. 

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Can’t Cross Streams Until Court Case Is Resolved - The controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will carry fracked natural gas along a 600 mile route through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, has been stalled yet again. This time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended a permit allowing the pipeline to cross streams, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.This particular suspension was actually requested by one of the companies behind the pipeline, Dominion Energy, while it awaits a court ruling involving water crossings in two West Virginia counties. But the environmental groups behind the lawsuit, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates (Appalmad), welcomed the news.Appalmad represents the Sierra Club, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy,Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network in the suit against the pipeline."If the polluting corporations behind the ACP ever thought this would be easy, they know better now. There is no right way to build this dirty, dangerous pipeline and we won't stop fighting it until construction is permanently halted," Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club said in a statement reported by The News & Observer.Appalmad had won a suspension of the West Virginia water crossing permits from the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 7, and Dominion Energy decided to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to suspend all water crossing permits until the court makes its decision. It will hear arguments in January, The Associated Press reported.  "Because of that order, it is uncertain whether NWP (nationwide permit) 12 will ultimately be able to authorize work for ACP in North Carolina. Therefore as requested, the Wilmington district finds it appropriate to temporarily suspend your authorization and await clarity on this issue," Army Corps Wilmington, NC Division Chief Scott McLendon wrote in his decision, the News & Observer reported. The pipeline has faced both legal and popular opposition since it was announced. Just last week, 15 people were arrested outside North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's office after a sit-in protesting the pipeline.

Legal fight over Bayou Bridge Pipeline will go to trial - A judge on Friday (Nov. 16) cleared the way for a trial that will decide whether a private company can seize private land to finish building the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Judge Keith Comeaux of the 16th District Court in St. Mary Parish set the trial date for Nov. 27. The owners of an Atchafalaya River Basin property are challenging Energy Transfer Partner’s assertion that it has the right to take portions of private property to build the 163-mile oil pipeline. Texas-based Energy Transfer began work on the 38-acre property before claiming access to it through expropriation, commonly known as eminent domain. In September, Energy Partners filed an eminent domain lawsuit. The property’s owners and opponents of the pipeline had hoped Comeaux would toss out the Energy Transfer’s lawsuit on Friday. “We would have preferred it’d be dismissed, but now the case will go forward with a full trial,” said Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor and one of the lawyers representing the property owners in the case. The judge issued his ruling shortly after 6 p.m. Friday. St. Mary Parish landowners say the oil pipeline crossed property illegally. Eminent domain is typically used by governments to seize land for projects that benefit the public, such as highways or wastewater plants. Louisiana is one of only a few states that allow companies to take land by eminent domain. Energy Transfer did not respond to requests for comment Friday. The company has said the pipeline is 90 percent completed. It’s unclear whether Energy Transfer will restart construction before the trial.

Attorneys press company executive on disputed land ownership for Bayou Bridge Pipeline -  Attorneys pressed a company executive Friday during a pre-trial hearing in a court case to determine whether the company building the Bayou Bridge Pipeline project in the Atchafalaya Basin trespassed on private property without completing the necessary process to obtain the land.At the center of the lawsuit is a 38-acre parcel of land in St. Martin Parish on which landowners claim Energy Transfer Partners violated constitutional law in order to construct the 162-mile oil pipeline because they did not obtain the proper legal consent before doing so. The Center for Constitutional Rights is suing the company on behalf of the landowners in the basin and challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s eminent domain law for pipelines. Louisiana law allows a company to take land for a project deemed in the public interest through expropriation, which involves court filings and an agreement to pay the owner what the land is worth. Owners of some of the St. Martin Parish land in question say Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC didn't complete the process in some cases, and made insufficient effort to identify, find and contact some owners.During the hearing in St. Martin Parish Courthouse before Judge Keith Comeaux, attorneys for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline entered into evidence Friday several documents concerning the company and its business dealings with securing property upon which the pipeline is being built. Among those were environmental assessments from the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how the pipeline could increase the area’s capacity for refining crude oil, which would produce gasoline, butane and petrochemicals needed for manufacturing plastics. These documents reported that the fully-functioning pipeline would help to diversify the state’s crude oil supply and bring $471 million in economic development to Louisiana alone.

 Clean Up 14-Year Oil Spill or Face $40K Daily Fine, Feds Tell Taylor Energy - The U.S. Coast Guard has ordered Taylor Energy Co. to clean and contain a 14-year chronic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or face a fine of $40,000 a day.Environmentalists had warned about the unrelenting leak for years after the Gulf Restoration Network and the watchdog group SkyTruth discovered oil slicks via satellite imagery while investigating the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.The environmental catastrophe was brought to national attention last month when The Washington Postreported that Taylor's former production site is releasing up to 700 barrels (29,400 gallons) of oil per day into the gulf and could eventually surpass the Deepwater Horizon spill as the largest offshore disaster in U.S. history.The massive spill and ongoing oil pollution in the gulf's waters was even the subject of a recent episode of the show "Patriot Act" hosted by Hasan Minhaj. On Oct 23, a day after the Post's report was published, the U.S. Coast Guard ordered Taylor to "institute a … system to capture, contain, or remove oil" or face the $40,000-per-day penalty, the newspaper reported on Tuesday.The spill stems from a Taylor-owned production platform located 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana that was toppled by an underwater mudslide caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.Left unchecked, the discharge could continue for another 100 years or more until the oil in the underground reservoir is depleted, a government agency warns. So far, the Taylor site has spewed an estimated 1.5 million barrels to 3.5 million barrels of oil into gulf waters, which could surpass the 4 million barrels released from the BP blowout, the Post reported.  "The time to clean this up was 14 years ago,". "Taylor Energy has shown nothing but negligence all this time."

Coast Guard responds to crude oil spill into marsh near Dulac - The U.S. Coast Guard, state and federal agencies are responding to an oil spill in the marsh near Dulac, Louisiana, according to a news release. Authorities first received a report that approximately 420 gallons of crude oil had been spilled, but further investigation led those responding to learn 1,680 gallons of crude oil are “unaccounted for” and could be trapped in the marsh, the Coast Guard said. Coast Guard Sector New Orleans received a report Thursday afternoon (Nov. 15) that oil from a flow line owned by Texas Petroleum Investment Corporation was spilling into an unnamed marsh in the Lake Paige Oil and Gas Field, according to the release. The same day, a pollution response team from Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Houma, as well as contracted oil spill response personnel from Environmental Safety and Health responded to the oil spill with hard boom and sorbents. On Friday, members from the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, MSU Houma, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and a TPIC representative re-evaluated the spill and planned cleanup operations, according to the release. In-situ burning is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Monday to remove the oil.

Coast Guard orders cleanup of massive, 14-year-old oil spill - The federal government issued an ultimatum to an energy company that has failed to stop its damaged oil platform from leaking thousands of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico every day for more than 14 years. In an order issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, Taylor Energy Co. was told to “institute a . . . system to capture, contain, are remove oil” from the site or face a $40,000 per day fine for failing to comply. The order was issued Oct. 23, a day after The Washington Post reported that the spill was far greater than Interior Department estimates, themselves based on company data. Up to 700 barrels of oil have leaked from Taylor Energy’s former site 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana since the platform was destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, according to an analysis issued by the Justice Department. Each barrel contains 42 gallons. Based on reports from contractors hired by Taylor Energy, the government had previously estimated that the spill amounted to just 0 to 55 barrels per day. 

Corpus Christi LNG Export Facility Starts Production- Cheniere Energy has begun producing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its Corpus Christi Liquefaction project in Texas’ Coastal Bend region, Bechtel reported Thursday. Bechtel stated that the first Corpus Christi Liquefaction production train is the latest of six LNG trains that it has developed at two Cheniere sites on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Last week, Cheniere’s Sabine Pass Liquefaction complex in southwestern Louisiana achieved first LNG from that facility’s fifth train, the project management, engineering, procurement and construction contractor noted. “We are proud to have contributed to Cheniere’s success by collaboratively delivering these LNG trains ahead of schedule and with cost certainty through our lump sum approach,” Alasdair Cathcart, Bechtel Oil, Gas and Chemicals president, said in a written statement. Bechtel also reported that Cheniere recently awarded it the engineering, procurement and construction contract for the planned sixth train at Sabine Pass. According to Cheniere’s website, the Corpus Christi Liquefaction project is being designed for five trains with a total production capacity of up to 22.5 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of LNG. All six trains of the Sabine Pass Liquefaction facility will be capable of producing up to 27 mtpa of LNG.

Coming Up, Part 6 - New Agreements Boost Sempra-Led LNG Projects In U.S. And Mexico. - Developers are scrambling to advance the next round of liquefaction/LNG export projects, primarily along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Earlier this month, LNG marketing behemoth Total SA signed initial agreements with Sempra Energy that would support Sempra’s efforts to add more liquefaction capacity at its Cameron LNG project in southwestern Louisiana and to build a liquefaction plant at its Energía Costa Azul LNG import terminal in Mexico’s Baja California state. A few days later, Total, Mitsui & Co., and Tokyo Gas signed heads of agreements for the entire capacity of the Mexican liquefaction project, propelling that project to the fore. Sempra also continues to pursue a third project: Port Arthur LNG. Today, we continue our series on the next round of liquefaction/LNG export terminals “coming up” with a look at Phase 2 of Cameron LNG, as well as Energía Costa Azul and Port Arthur LNG. By the end of the first quarter of 2019, four large liquefaction trains with a combined capacity of nearly 19 million metric tons per annum (MMtpa) — the equivalent of 2.5 Bcf/d of natural gas — are expected to begin operating along the U.S. Gulf Coast. (The first of them, Train 1 at Cheniere Energy’s Corpus Christi Liquefaction, had its grand opening last Thursday (November 15), but while a vessel is at the dock, feedgas volumes to the facility have remained low so loading is likely not imminent.) In the 12 to 15 months after that, another five big trains are scheduled to start up, adding another 24-plus MMtpa of capacity, or 3.2 Bcf/d of incremental gas demand. But then, there will be a multi-year lull in U.S. liquefaction-capacity growth, aside from a 4.5-MMtpa bump-up sometime in 2022 when Cheniere’s third train at Corpus Christi is likely to come online.

China's Tariffs- A Headache for the Next Wave of US Natgas Export Projects? - China is the world’s second largest importer of LNG after Japan and an important customer for U.S. LNG. For example, this year between January and August, China purchased 1.6 of the 14.9 million tonnes of U.S. LNG, according to Thomson Reuters’ data, but Sept. 24 marked the start of President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and China’s retaliatory levy of 10 percent on imports of US LNG. What effect will this have on US LNG exporters in particular and LNG trade? Wholesale prices are already near their highest levels in a decade, driven by rising shipping costs, low European gas stocks and Chinese purchases to avoid a recurrence of last winter’s gas shortages. In the run-up to and during this winter, tariffs on U.S. LNG could lead Chinese purchasers to diversions and swaps with other sources of supply such as Qatar, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Russia and according to Guy Broggi of Consultant indépendant chez LNG Markets “even European re-loads.” China is expected to buy about 8 million tons of LNG in coming months on the spot market. Companies like Cheniere Energy could still benefit since they also supply the spot market for traders to swap cargoes, take advantage of price differences or shorter delivery times. How long and how far this tit-for-tat spat will go on for is anyone’s guess but on the surface, this sounds like bad news for U.S. LNG exporters. China National Petroleum Corp.’s contract with Cheniere Energy to supply 1.2 million tons of LNG a year until 2043 should be unaffected. There are five upcoming projects underway which would raise total U.S. LNG exports to 9.6 billion cubic feet a day by the end of 2019. These will have already signed up long-term customers for a large portion (if not all) of their prospective output. But for the dozen or so proposed export projects planned at existing or new terminals awaiting Final Investment Decision, the normal commercial realities will apply, including cancellation, postponement or else “projects have to find their own buyers and if not the Chinese then other markets” will have to be found, Broggi said. 

Texas Is About to Create OPEC’s Worst Nightmare -- The map lays out OPEC’s nightmare in graphic form.An infestation of dots, thousands of them, represent oil wells in the Permian basin of West Texas and a slice of New Mexico. In less than a decade, U.S. companies have drilled 114,000. Many of them would turn a profit even with crude prices as low as $30 a barrel.OPEC’s bad dream only deepens next year, when Permian producers expect to iron out distribution snags that will add three pipelines and as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day. “The Permian will continue to grow and OPEC needs to learn to live with it,’’ said Mike Loya, the top executive in the Americas for Vitol Group, the world’s largest independent oil-trading house.The U.S. energy surge presents OPEC with one of the biggest challenges of its 60-year history. If Saudi Arabia and its allies cut production when they gather Dec. 6 in Vienna, higher prices would allow shale to steal market share. But because the Saudis need higher crude prices to make money than U.S. producers, OPEC can’t afford to let prices fall. Even so, Saudi Arabia’s output swelled to a record this month, according to industry executives. That means the three biggest producers -- the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia -- are pumping at or near record levels.A similar scenario unfurled in 2016, when Saudi output rocketed just before OPEC agreed to cuts. This time the cartel’s 15 members, and allies including Russia, Mexico and Kazakhstan, will discuss the possibility of their second retreat from booming American production in three years. OPEC helped create the monster that haunts its sleep. After it flooded the market in 2014, oil prices crashed, forcing surviving U.S. shale producers to get leaner so they could thrive even with lower oil prices. As prices recovered, so did drilling.  Now growth is speeding up. In Houston, the U.S. oil capital, shale executives are trying out different superlatives to describe what’s coming. “Tsunami,’’ they call it. A “flooding of Biblical proportions’’ and “onslaught of supply’’ are phrases that get tossed around. Take the hyperbolic industry talk with a pinch of salt, but certainly the American oil industry, particularly in the Permian, has raised a buzz loud enough to keep OPEC awake.

The Wolfcamp play has been key to Permian Basin oil and natural gas production growth --Increased oil and natural gas development in the Wolfcamp play has helped drive overall crude oil and natural gas production growth in the Permian Basin during the past decade. Drilling and completion operations within the Wolfcamp play have been responsible for much of the crude oil and natural gas production growth in the Permian Basin since 2007. As of September 2018, the Wolfcamp accounted for about 1 million barrels of crude oil per day (b/d) and 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (Bcf/d). Crude oil production in the Wolfcamp accounts for nearly one-third of total Permian crude oil production and more than one-third of Permian natural gas production. Rising productivity in the Wolfcamp, like in other plays in the Permian Basin, has been driven mostly by drilling longer horizontal laterals and optimizing completions. The length of the horizontal segments, or laterals, in the Wolfcamp increased from an average of 2,500 linear feet in 2005 to more than 8,500 linear feet in 2018. Well completion efficiency has also improved, primarily by more effectively using sand, or proppant, during the hydraulic fracturing process, as well as by using zipper fracturing—the completion of two or more wells side by side.  The number of producing wells in the Wolfcamp increased from 2,200 in 2005 to 7,750 in mid-2018. Average initial daily crude oil production per well for the first six months of operation grew from 37 b/d to 515 b/d, and average natural gas production per well for the first six months of operation grew from 0.1 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) to 2.0 MMcf/d during the same period. The Wolfcamp formation extends across the Delaware Basin, Central Basin Platform, and Midland Basin—the three sub-basins that comprise the Permian Basin. The stacked formation has four intervals, called benches, which are designated from top to bottom as A, B, C, and D. Most of the current drilling activities take place in the Delaware and Midland Basins and target the Upper Wolfcamp (benches A and B), which is more oil-rich, rather than the Lower Wolfcamp (benches C and D), which is more natural gas-rich. Of the stacked shale formations that comprise the Permian Basin, the Wolfcamp is the deepest and thickest but varies significantly across the formation. Wolfcamp subsea depth varies in the Delaware Basin from 0 feet in the west to 9,500 feet in the central areas. In the Midland Basin, the subsea depth ranges from 2,000 feet in the east along the Eastern Shelf to 7,000 feet along the basin axis, near the western basin edge. Wolfcamp thickness ranges from about 800 feet to more than 7,000 feet thick in the Delaware Basin, and thickness ranges from 400 feet to more than 1,600 feet thick in the Midland Basin, varying from 200 feet to 400 feet in the adjacent Central Basin Platform.

U.S. oil drillers cut rigs for first week in three- Baker Hughes - - U.S. energy firms this week cut oil rigs for the first time in the three weeks as crude prices have fallen to their lowest in over a year. Drillers cut three oil rigs in the week to Nov. 21, bringing the total count down to 885, General Electric Co’s (GE.N) Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Wednesday. After the rig additions stalled at five during the third quarter, drillers have added 22 rigs so far this quarter. Baker Hughes released the weekly report two days early due to the U.S. Thanksgiving day holiday. The U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output, is higher than a year ago when 747 rigs were active because energy companies have spent more this year to ramp up production to capture prices that are higher in 2018 than 2017. More than half the total U.S. oil rigs are in the Permian Basin, the country’s biggest shale oil formation. Active units there held steady this week at 493, the most since January 2015. U.S. crude futures were trading above $55 a barrel on Wednesday after falling to their lowest since October 2017 earlier in the week on concerns the global market is over supplied. [O/R] Looking ahead, crude futures for calendar 2019 CLYstc1 and calendar 2020 CLYstc2 were both trading below $56 a barrel. U.S. financial services firm Cowen & Co this week said the exploration and production (E&P) companies it tracks have provided guidance indicating a 25 percent increase this year in planned capital spending. Cowen said the E&Ps it tracks expect to spend a total of $90.0 billion in 2018. That compares with projected spending of $72.2 billion in 2017. Cowen said early 2019 capital spending budgets were mixed. Analysts at Simmons & Co, energy specialists at U.S. investment bank Piper Jaffray, this week forecast the average combined oil and natural gas rig count would rise from 876 in 2017 to 1,031 in 2018, 1,092 in 2019 and 1,227 in 2020. Year-to-date, the total number of oil and gas rigs active in the United States has averaged 1,027. That keeps the total count for 2018 on track to be the highest since 2014, which averaged 1,862 rigs. Most rigs produce both oil and gas.

Trump's quest to drive down oil prices turns the screw on American drillers --President Donald Trump is rooting for oil prices to fall even further after a stunning plunge over the last seven weeks. The U.S. oil and gas industry, a pillar of Trump's political base, is likely less enthusiastic.This year's oil prices rally has swiftly collapsed as fears of potential oil shortages give way to forecasts that crude supply will swamp demand next year. The sell-off is pushing U.S. crude prices to levels that may impact drillers' spending plans and their ability to return cash to shareholders."Exxon, Chevron, BP will survive because they are so big, but some of the smaller companies might have problems as costs are rising and revenue is falling," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. U.S. crude futures tumbled from a nearly four-year high at $76.90 on Oct. 3 to a more than one-year low at $50.53 on Friday. From peak to trough, U.S. crude has lost more than a third of its value. Oil's drop below $55 earlier this week was apparently not enough for Trump. On Wednesday, the president took to Twitter to praise Saudi Arabia for hiking output and helping to cap oil prices. Trump implored the kingdom to keep at it, saying "let's go lower!" Trump sent the tweet one day after he declared his support for Saudi Arabia, shrugging off bipartisan calls to punish the kingdom after Saudi agents murdered journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi last month. The CIA has reportedly concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, but Trump has been casting doubt on that assessment throughout the week.The president's defense of Saudi Arabia comes about two weeks before a critical OPEC meeting on Dec. 6. Trump wants the Saudi-led group to keep pumping at full tilt, which would keep a lid on oil prices. In recent weeks, the 15-nation OPEC cartel and several other exporters have signaled that they will agree to a price-boosting output cut. But Trump's overtures to the Saudis could make it more difficult for the kingdom to support throttling back output.

The EPA Gave Its Website a Pro-Fracking Makeover - In January this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revamped its webpage on fracking. The page now promotes the interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of scientific knowledge and public transparency.  These edits were documented by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, a coalition that has tracked changes made to federal environmental websites during the Trump administration. The president has vowed to ease restrictions on fracking as part of his fossil fuel-heavy economic plan.  Once titled “Natural Gas Extraction – Hydraulic Fracturing,” the single page is now called “Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas Development.” It informs the public of the EPA’s role in fracking, a technique for extracting natural gas by drilling down and injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into the rock.“‘Hydraulic fracturing,’ easily gives way to the popular and colloquial ‘fracking,’  “The oil and gas industry prefers the ‘unconventional’ phrasing because it helps link fracking to conventional oil and gas drilling." Some of the most significant changes to the page emphasize the economic benefits of fracking while obscuring its known risks, such as air pollution and drinking water contamination—findings the EPA’s own scientists stressed in the months preceding President Trump’s inauguration.  The EPA removed text about air pollution standards from the page, and links to press and compliance materials. One section’s title was subtly changed from “Addressing air quality impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing activities” to “Addressing air quality impacts.”  In another section, new information was added about industry stakeholders which “represent the engine of the American economy in order to explore significant opportunities for environmental improvement.” The page also now includes letters from oil and gas associations to former EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, urging him to roll back EPA enforcement of certain oil and gas operators. One section also notably removed a sub-section called “Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Mixtures.” Previously, this page disclosed the use of chemicals used during fracking and communicated issues such as outreach, peer review, and transparency with the public.

US Shale Firms To Spend $100 Million On West Texas And New Mexico Improvements - Over a dozen top US energy firms have agreed to devote $100 million towards much needed improvements in West Texas and New Mexico, in order to help the regions cope with shortfalls in health care, education and civic infrastructure in the wake of the shale oil and gas boom, the group said on Sunday.  Chevron, EOG Resources, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell are among 17 companies backing the Permian Strategic Partnership, as the consortium is called, Don Evans, a former U.S. government official and energy executive helping launch the group, told Reuters on Saturday. -ReutersThe funds will be used to address labor and housing shortages, according to Reuters, along with traffic congestion caused by companies converging on the Permian Basin - the nation's largest oilfield, where billions of dollars' worth of oil and gas are expected to be extracted over the next several decades, according to experts. "t’s a significant amount of money, but these are huge challenges," said Evans, former US Secretary of Commerce from Midland, Texas. "We don’t have enough teachers. We don’t have enough doctors," he added. The consortium will work with regional and federal officials, as well as nonprofit groups, companies and educators in Texas and New Mexico. Evans - who became CEO of producer Tom Brown Inc. after starting his career in the Permian, joined the George W. Bush administration as Secretary of Commerce. . Companies are pouring staff and equipment into the oilfield, which is expected to pump 3.7 million barrels of oil per day by December, four times its rate in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.Reuters

US Congresswoman calls for delay in New Mexico oil case (AP) — New Mexico oil and gas regulators are being pressured to delay a decision on an application by a Texas-based company that seeks to ease restrictions on well locations in one of the nation’s oldest producing basins. U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who begins her first term as New Mexico governor in January, is among the Democrat politicians who are asking for a delay in the proceedings or to raise questions about the process. Her request on congressional letterhead was followed Friday by a similar letter from other members of the state’s delegation. Lujan Grisham wrote that more information is needed from the Bureau of Land Management and from Hilcorp Energy Co., the company seeking the state rule change. “The oil and gas industry is a cornerstone of the New Mexico economy, but it is imperative that we balance this key economic driver with health, safety and environmental considerations,” her letter reads. Lujan Grisham and the state’s Democrat-controlled Legislature will inherit a significant budget surplus for the coming year when they take office. Most of that surplus is linked to the state’s oil and natural gas sector. Environmentalists and landowners are concerned about increasing well densities in northwest New Mexico as developers look to tap more reserves in the San Juan Basin. Hilcorp has said its application does not seek to drill more wells or change the way new wells are permitted. 

Questions remain a year after 400,000 gallon South Dakota oil spill - The nation’s seventh-largest onshore oil or gas spill was discovered a year ago this month when the Keystone Pipeline leaked an estimated 407,400 gallons of crude oil into a field in rural Marshall County in the northeast corner of South Dakota near the North Dakota border.  The resulting problems have been mitigated, but what cracked the pipe has yet to be determined, at least with certainty. Twelve months after the leak, Marshall County Commission Chairman Doug Medhaug realizes things could have been worse. As bad as it was, the timing was fortuitous, and the response couldn’t have gone smoother, he said. Medhaug said he doesn’t think the pipeline will leak again in the county.There’s no way to know for sure, though. “Good thing was when it happened it was cold and frozen,” Medhaug said. Had temperatures been warmer, the melting ice and thawed ground would have made the cleanup process a lot messier and more expensive, he said.As things were, the spill cost TransCanada $9.57 million, according to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “The roads were cold and didn’t get beat up,” Medhaug said.  The Keystone Pipeline carries crude oil more than 2,600 miles from eastern Alberta, Canada, to Oklahoma and Illinois. The pipeline passes through eastern North Dakota and South Dakota. There have been 14 leaks since it was commissioned in 2010, according to a federal spill database. Most have been fairly minor, including one in southeast South Dakota. TransCanada deployed hundreds of workers to the scene within a day of the Marshall County leak being confirmed. Within two weeks, the pipeline had the go-ahead to start back up after a temporary stoppage.   But a year after the leak, a final investigation report from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has yet to be released. Gary Hanson, a state utilities commissioner, questioned whether the company followed the conditions required by the state permit, but admitted it would be nearly impossible to prove violations during construction.

Why US Oil Production Won't Peak Anytime Soon - The U.S. shale oil revolution continues to defy the skeptics, and the country is now producing a record 11 million barrels per day (MMbpd) of crude. Helped by higher prices, production has been up 18 percent since the start of this year alone. Output has exploded 120 percent over the past decade to heights not dreamed about. Production was long thought to have peaked at 9.6 MMbpd back in 1970. The rush to shale has emanated from the rapid evolution and deployment of fracking and horizontal drilling technologies to extract petroleum and natural gas from shale rock. Texas and North Dakota have been at the forefront, with the former now yielding more oil than Iraq, the world’s fourth largest producer. Looking forward, given that the United States has accounted for 60 percent of new global oil supply since 2008, one of the most pressing energy concerns remains: how long can the United States continue to produce increasing amounts of oil? It’s surely a difficult question to answer. The shale bonanza itself has proven that predicting future energy production is a fickle business. Back in 2007, for instance, no forecasting body was projecting how quickly a U.S. shale oil (and natural gas) surge would not just change the U.S. outlook but also transform energy markets around the world. Despite using the most advanced forecasting techniques possible, both the Energy Information Agency’sNational Energy Modeling System and the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Model were completely blindsided. So it is clear that nobody can be fully counted on to accurately predict future U.S. crude oil production. One reason is that the benefits of higher prices augmented by the non-stop advance of evolving technologies for production cannot be properly factored into any forecasting model. After all, these factors are always in flux and therefore ultimately unknowable. We do know, however, that false pessimistic predictions regarding the future ability of U.S. companies to produce more petroleum have been around since the inception of the industry,   The record is known: “peak oil” theorists have been proven wrong every time.   The obsession with reserves (what’s currently available) instead of resources (what’s potentially available with price changes and better technologies) has made most Americans completely unaware of how much oil we have at our disposal. 

Alaska Sees Record Breaking Year For Oil And Gas Leases - Alaska is still trying to make an oil production comeback after years of declining production from maturing fields. On Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources said in a release that the state held another record-breaking oil and gas North Slope lease, netting competitive bids from investors around the world and breaking last year’s bonus bid amount and the bid per acre record.The Alaska Division of Oil and Gas received 159 bids from companies and investors seeking oil and gas leases on state lands during the division’s annual North Slope, Beaufort Sea, and North Slope Foothills area wide oil and gas lease sales, the release added. Winning bids in the three lease sales totaled nearly $28.1 million.This year’s record lease comes after last year’s North Slope lease, the third largest ever, ranked by bonus bid amount since 1998, when area wide oil and gas leasing began. By bid per acre, it was the largest sale since 1998, netting an average of $110 per acre. Yesterday’s North Slope sale shattered the bid per acre record, netting an average of $121 per acre, and edged out the 2017 sale to rank third largest by dollar amount, bringing in $27.3 million, $6.9 million more dollars than last year.In the Beaufort Sea sale, the division received 12 bids on eight tracts totaling 20,270 acres, with winning bids totaling nearly $848,197. The division did not receive any bids for lease tracts in the North Slope Foothills or for Special Alaska Lease Sale Areas (SALSA) blocks. The uptick in oil lease sales will help Alaska regain some of its oil production prominence that has seen it go from leading the country in new oil production to trailing behind shale oil producing states. Most of Alaska's crude oil production occurs on the North Slope, where improved drilling efficiencies have recently resulted in the first increase in annual production since 2002. The state's annual oil production during 2017 was the highest in three years, but output was still down to just under 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from its peak of 2 million bpd in 1988, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) most recent analysis of the state’s energy sector.  Starting in 2003, Alaska's annual oil production declined steadily as the state's oil fields matured, but it has remained one of the top five crude oil-producing states in the nation.

Trump Wants to Expand Drilling in Alaskan Oil Reserve -- The Trump administration is moving to expand the territory open for oil exploration in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, a process that could shift drilling rigs closer to herds of caribou and flocks of threatened birds. With a notice Tuesday, the Interior Department is taking the first formal step toward rewriting a five-year-old Obama administration management plan that put roughly half of the 22.1-million-acre reserve off limits. The new management plan will reflect “exciting new discoveries” and advances in technology, said Joe Balash, assistant secretary of the Interior for land and minerals management. “Some of the acreage that is probably most prospective is currently not available for leasing under the plan; we want to take a look at some of those areas,” Balash told reporters in a conference call. “We think it’s time to reevaluate some of the areas that were previously left unavailable for leasing, as well as open up avenues for infrastructure to be installed -- both pipelines and, potentially, roads.” The effort responds to complaints from oil companies and state officials that the Obama administration’s plan was overly restrictive, blocking drilling in promising areas while hampering the construction of pipelines across the reserve. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year issued a directive ordering up a new management plan that “strikes an appropriate balance” of promoting development while protecting other resources. The Interior Department now will consider options for opening new areas to oil leasing and examine current plan boundaries designed to protect ecologically sensitive habitat in the reserve. The agency said it also would weigh changes to conditions required of oil companies doing business in the reserve while developing management goals that are “environmentally responsible” and respect traditional uses of the land. Balash said it would take about a year to revise the NPR-A management plan and prepare a related environmental impact statement. Environmentalists argue the Obama administration in 2013 rightly blocked development in 11.8 million acres of the reserve home to caribou herds and polar bears -- and those protections shouldn’t be undone now. “Once we let the oil industry build roads, wells and pipelines in this special place, there’s no going back,” 

250,000 Liters of Crude Spills off Newfoundland Coast - An estimated 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of crude spilled from the SeaRose FPSO, a floating production, storage and offloading vessel, in the White Rose oil and gas field off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Husky Energy, the operator responsible, said the spill happened on Friday when the SeaRose FPSO "experienced a loss of pressure" in an oil flowline, according to the Canadian Press.The incident occurred while Husky was preparing to restart production that was halted on Thursday due to bad weather.Federal-provincial regulators said Sunday "there is no reason to believe ... that this is an ongoing spill, and it is believed to be a 'batch spill.'"However, Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady told CBC's St. John's Morning Show Monday there is no way to be sure that the leak has been contained, as poor weather conditions and rough seas have made it impossible to send remotely operated underwater vehicles to take stock of the damage."This is an ongoing situation," she said. "The consideration of how much oil has been let go and what the effects are of this spill is ongoing." The release has become the largest oil spill in Newfoundland offshore history, CBC reporter Chris O'Neill-Yates tweeted on Sunday.

250,000 litres of oil spilled into Atlantic in rig accident - A surveillance aircraft and six ships were dispatched Monday to assess a spill of 250,000 liters of oil from a drilling platform off Canada's Atlantic coast, officials said. The spill occurred on Friday when workers noticed "a loss of pressure on an underwater line" connecting the South White Rose platform and Husky Energy's Sea Rose tanker, 350 kilometers southeast of St. John's, Newfoundland, according to a government watchdog. A flight Monday morning found "no visible sheen" on the water, the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) said in a series of Twitter messages. "Four oiled seabirds" were spotted and a wildlife rehabilitation team was called into action, Husky Energy said in a statement. A remotely-operated submersible was also deployed to inspect underwater flowlines, and collect images that will be reviewed by the regulator. Observation flights and sea vessel sweeps, however, indicated that "the oil is dispersing," the company said. The regulator added that "there is no reason to believe that the spill continues." All four offshore facilities in the area were shut down temporarily as a safety precaution due to stormy weather in the area over the weekend. Production resumed Monday at one of the oil platforms, the Hebron, owned by ExxonMobil.

Bad weather hampers oil spill containment off the coast of Newfoundland-- Nasty November weather is preventing spill responders from containing an estimated 250 cubic metres of oil that leaked into the sea off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday, officials said Saturday. Husky Energy said the spill happened after the production, storage and offloading vessel SeaRose FPSO “experienced a loss of pressure” in an oil flowline to the South White Rose Drill Centre, about 350 kilometres southeast of St. John’s, N.L. An aerial surveillance flight on Friday identified two oil sheens south of the vessel, Husky Energy spokeswoman Colleen McConnell said in an email, adding that a follow-up flight is planned for Saturday. But she said high waves – between five and seven metres offshore – are hindering workers who are trying to contain the spill. “Sea states continue to prevent containment and recovery operations, but we did deploy two tracker buoys yesterday (one from Searose and the other from the Atlantic Hawk,)” she wrote. “Our spill modelling indicates there is no probability of the spill reaching land.” McConnell said Husky Energy continues to monitor the situation and will be sending additional support vessels, including Skandi Vinland, their subsea intervention vessel. The next step, she said, is to determine the exact location and nature of the problem, which would require a remotely operated underwater vehicle survey conducted by the Skandi Vinland. She said the vessel would head offshore on Saturday afternoon and will carry out the survey once conditions permit, likely on Monday. Meanwhile, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Patroleum Board said it has sought advice from Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Oil spill off Newfoundland shore can’t be cleaned up - It’s now impossible to clean up Newfoundland’s largest-ever oil spill that leaked into the ocean last week, according to the regulatory board that oversees the province’s offshore activities. The 250,000-litre spill happened on Friday morning while Husky Energy’s SeaRose platform was preparing to restart production during a fierce storm that was, at the time, the most intense in the world. Scott Tessier, chief executive of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, said no oil sheens were spotted on the water on Monday or Tuesday, meaning the oil has likely broken down to the point that it cannot be cleaned up. The board is now focused on wildlife monitoring and its investigation into the incident, southeast of St. John’s. Husky Energy said in statement Tuesday that 14 oiled seabirds have been confirmed. Rough seas blocked workers from attempting a cleanup over the weekend but a remote-operated vehicle was dispatched Monday, confirming that the spill came from a “weak link” in a subsea flowline. Operators are responsible for following their own safety and environmental plans, Tessier said. The board’s role does not cover operational decision-making, but instead it monitors activities and investigates if things go wrong. “The facility and the responsibility is really theirs to shut down (in) a safe and controlled manner as conditions allow, so in this case it would’ve been the operator’s decision to attempt the restart,” Tessier said. All operators stopped work in light of the storm, but only Husky Energy attempted to restart production. There were 81 people on board the SeaRose at the time of the spill.#160;

Impossible to clean Husky oil spill - Husky Energy has spilled an estimated 1572 barrels of oil off Canada’s Atlantic coast. CBC News reports that it is the largest ever oil spill in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador (C-NL) province. Rough weather conditions in the area initially prevented clean-up, and clean-up has now been deemed impossible. Oil spilled into the sea from the Canadian energy firm’s White Rose Field at around midday on 16 November. It occurred as Husky was resuming operations following a shut down on 15 November due to concerns over severe weather. An underwater survey confirmed that the source of the leak was a subsea flow-line connecting the White Rose Field and the company’s storage vessel, SeaRose. The Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) has launched an investigation into the incident. Operations at Husky’s field have been suspended and will remain so until a full inspection of all the facilities has been carried out and Husky receives approval from the C-NLOPB. Since the spill 18 oiled seabirds have been sighted, of which four have been recovered and transported to an onshore rehabilitation centre. One seabird has died. CBC News reported that biologists expect thousands more seabirds to be impacted. Husky, along with the C-NLOPB, and the Canadian Coast Guard are continuing to monitor the oil and the impact on wildlife. Husky said that its main focus remains “the safety of our people and the environment”. Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner as Greenpeace Canada said: “This underwater pipeline spill is an especially timely reminder of our spill clean-up limitations as the National Energy Board is looking at bringing 400 bitumen filled tankers right through the heart of endangered orca whale habitat on the west coast, by endorsing the Trans Mountain Expansion project. If we can’t deal with accidents when they happen, we shouldn’t be adding more threats to the mix.” Ongoing observation flights and sea vessel sweeps indicate that the released oil is continuing to disperse. On 22 November the C-NLOPB along with its federal and provincial partner agencies were to review Husky’s response and measures to date. Husky’s SeaRose operations were suspended earlier this year after the C-NLOPB discovered the company had not followed its own procedure when an iceberg came too close to the facility in March 2017. 

Deep Divisions Hinder Canadian Oil Patch  | Rigzone -- Amid the worst crude-price environment in its history, the Canadian oil industry is being hamstrung by internal divisions that are making it harder to rally around potential solutions. That draws a stark contrast to the U.S., where a less divided industry wields more clout. Most notable is the split between Canada’s pure producers, who are being devastated by plummeting local prices, and the large, integrated energy companies that have been mostly unscathed. There’s also a rift between oil-sands producers -- a target of climate-change activists around the world -- and the frackers and conventional drillers that have been suffering from the pipeline bottlenecks brought on by those environmental opponents. Reflecting these divisions is the industry’s two main lobbying groups: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the larger organization, which is dominated by the giant oil-sands producers; and the Explorers & Producers Association of Canada, consisting mainly of smaller firms. That split is hampering the sector’s ability to lobby the government with a consistent message. “There is definitely a lot of concern around whether it’s really appropriate that one body is representing what has become a very complex industry with varied products and interests,” said Rafi Tahmazian, who helps manage about C$1 billion ($760 million) in investments at Canoe Financial in Calgary. The Canadian divisions bubbled to a head late last month, when top executives from 15 of the nation’s top oil producers met with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and, instead of presenting a unified front and a list of demands, they were said to have sparred with each other in front of her. At issue was whether to press her government to mandate industry-wide production cuts that might help clear the province’s glut of oil. Companies that focus mostly or solely on production, including Cenovus Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Nexen Energy ULC, favor a mandated cut spread among the country’s producers that would bring supply down below pipeline shipping capacity. They argue that could clear the glut within weeks and bring prices back into a more normal range, helping their income statements as well as government coffers. But companies who have refineries that are benefiting from the cheaper crude prices -- such as Suncor Energy Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd. and Husky Energy Inc. -- opposed the push, saying the market is working to clear the glut and that companies have to live with the investment decisions they’ve made. 

 Heavy Canadian Crude Falls to Record Low -- Heavy Western Canadian Select crude fell to a record low as several oil producers shut in production and some demand the Alberta government intervene to mandate across-the-board cuts. The oil-sands benchmark fell $2.29 to $13.46 a barrel Thursday, the lowest in Bloomberg data extending back to 2008. The price broke a previous record set in early 2016, when West Texas Intermediate crude futures were trading under $30 a barrel amid a world-wide supply glut. The price collapse comes as pipeline bottlenecks in Western Canada constrain exports just as WTI experienced a record losing streak amid rising U.S. stockpiles and projections for reduced demand. Producers including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Cenovus Energy Inc. have responded to the price drop by curtailing what could amount to as much as 140,000 barrels a day or more, according to company statements. Some operators have gone further, asking that Alberta’s government mandate production cuts across the province. Western Canadian Select at Hardisty, Alberta, traded at $43-a-barrel discount to WTI Thursday, $2.50 wider than on Wednesday, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Canadian Oil Patch Plunged into Crisis-- While the U.S. oil industry has hit a speed bump with the recent $20 drop in oil prices in New York, producers in Canada are in a full-blown crisis. Heavy Canadian crude has been on a downward spiral since mid-May, with prices plummeting by more than 60 percent as an onslaught of new production from the oil-sands overwhelms the nation’s pipelines. In the past two months, the decline accelerated as many of the U.S. refineries that processed all that oil shut down for maintenance. The result is the worst pricing environment in the Canadian oil industry’s history and a disaster for a sector that accounts for about a 10th of the nation’s economy and a fifth of its exports. The crisis is threatening oil producers’ profits, causing deep divisions within the industry and putting pressure on Justin Trudeau’s government to act. Adding to the gloom is the relatively positive outlook for the U.S. energy industry is enjoying. “In my 36 years in this business, I have never seen such a wide differential in sentiment between Canada and the U.S.,” . “I’ve never seen more frustration among our customers and our competitors and in our peer-group companies than right now.” Western Canada Select crude -- the main blend sold by the nation’s prolific oil sands -- closed at $13.46 a barrel on Thursday, the lowest in Bloomberg data stretching back to 2008. The blend’s discount to U.S. benchmark crude exploded to as much as $52.40 a barrel last month, also a record. While the price has recovered somewhat in recent weeks as some U.S. refining capacity has come back online, the crisis is far from over. The nation is still producing more oil than its pipelines can handle and its storage capacity is filled to the brim. That has prompted some Canadian producers to take extraordinary steps, like shutting down some of their production, striking deals to ship oil via costlier rail and even asking Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, head of the country’s top oil-producing province, to mandate output cuts until the glut of oil is cleared.

Exclusive: Canada considering proposal to buy rail cars to move stranded crude - sources (Reuters) - The Canadian government is considering a request from Alberta to share the cost of buying rail cars to move an additional 120,000 barrels per day of crude oil from the nation’s oil-rich province, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Under the terms of the proposal submitted by the Alberta government last week, the additional rail cars would be in service by October 2019 and would run until some time in 2022, the sources added. The Alberta government estimates the one-time capital cost of adding extra rail capacity at about C$350 million ($264.6 million), with the total operating costs spread over three years estimated at about C$2.6 billion, the sources said. The 120,000 barrels per day of crude oil would cover most of the current estimated oversupply. A spokeswoman for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley would not confirm the details of the proposal, but said the premier has previously said she wanted to add 120,000 barrels per day of capacity. With a lack of pipeline capacity, Western Canadian oil producers have struggled to move oil to refineries in the United States, resulting in Canadian crude’s fetching record low prices. That has prompted the Alberta government to take urgent measures to shore up the industry, which drives its economy and accounts for the bulk of government revenues. Alberta’s finance minister, Joe Ceci, told reporters on Wednesday the province had asked Ottawa for support on capacity expansions and said he was disappointed that crude-by-rail spending was not included as an expenditure line in a fiscal update released by Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau earlier in the day. A spokesman for Morneau was not immediately available for comment. 

Lancashire fracking has stopped since small earthquakes, say locals - The shale gas firm Cuadrilla has refused to confirm whether it has halted fracking after triggering a series of minor earthquakes near Blackpool, raising questions over the operation’s future prospects. Dozens of small tremors have been registered near the company’s Preston New Road site, after it started pumping high volumes of water underground in October to explore for gas. Several signs suggest the company has not undertaken any fracking in the past fortnight. Fracking firm boss says it didn't expect to cause such serious quakes Read more One indicator is the absence of low-level seismic activity, which the firm has said is to be expected from fracking operations. A total of 37 tremors have been recorded since fracking began on 15 October, but none since 4 November. Locals have also said the company has told them no fracking took place last week. Julie Brickles, a local borough councillor, said: “Cuadrilla did confirm at the community liaison group this Monday that they hadn’t fracked for a week. They said they’d looked into the seismic data. It was very positive and they would start fracking again within days.” Campaigners who have kept up protests outside Preston New Road, in a farmer’s field halfway between Blackpool and Preston, said the site has resembled a “ghost town” for the past two weeks. They say there has been no sound of the five pumps used by Schlumberger, the oil services firm carrying out the fracking for Cuadrilla, which were heard in October. The company would not confirm whether it was fracking, saying only it was continuing to test the well. “We have been fracturing along the full length of the horizontal well using smaller volumes of water to test the micro-seismic response of the rock,” a spokesperson said.

The UK shale revolution that never was -  If I were a shareholder in Cuadrilla or any of the other companies hoping to drill in areas believed to hold shale gas such as Yorkshire or around Balcombe in West Sussex, I would be starting to think the game was not worth the candle.  The reason for scepticism is not environmental but economic. Since 2013, gas prices have fallen sharply. German import prices — the standard European benchmark — are half their 2013 level. There is no shortage of gas supplies in Europe or across the world. The British and Dutch sectors of the North Sea are certainly producing less but a range of suppliers are competing for the European market. As well as the established players — Norway, Qatar and Russia — new sources are becoming available from the US and central Asia. European demand for gas has grown much more slowly than expected: last year demand was up by 4 per cent on 2016 across the EU but it is still almost 10 per cent less than it was in 2007. Looking ahead, the position of gas in the energy mix remains threatened by increasing supplies of low-cost renewables. On the latest available authoritative figures from Lazard, the costs of unsubsidised, large-scale business utility-level solar and wind power fell in 2017, as in each of the last 10 years, and are around 50-60 per cent respectively below those of 2013. Overall, there is no longer any sense of scarcity. Energy security is protected by the diversity of supply options. This reduces the question of whether the development of shale gas in the UK is worthwhile, to one of simple economics. What matters is the unit cost of production. There are undoubtedly substantial shale resources in the north of England and elsewhere, according to studies by the British Geological Survey, but no evidence yet that the commercially recoverable volume is comparable to that produced in the US.

Big Oil digs North Sea's 'final frontier' (Reuters) - “Little hope of THIS rock ever producing oil,” BP geologist Bill Senior scribbled in 1977 on a note assessing a recent oil discovery in a distant corner of the North Sea. That same rock is today the heart of BP’s prized Clair field in the West of Shetland region, which this week started its second phase of production. The giant bridge-linked Clair Ridge platforms are among the projects that have given new life to this area of the North Sea, one of the oldest offshore basins, which was once predicted to run dry by the 2020s. Consultancy Wood Mackenzie predicts West of Shetland will be the only North Sea zone with growing output between now and 2025. With its deep waters, waves as high as 40 meters, brutal gales and thick fog, West of Shetland is hugely inhospitable. The contrast between today’s confidence and the scepticism of the 1970s is a result of big technological leaps, such as 3D seismic imaging and super-computers, and better drilling equipment that opened up new areas and gave a clearer picture of the rock lying miles under the water. BP, like rivals such as Shell, France’s Total and Norway’s Equinor, plans to invest billions in West of Shetland projects while scaling back in the mature areas of the North Sea. Forty years after its discovery, BP says Clair, which first produced oil in 2005, has another 40 years of production in it, thanks to its vast resources. The huge oil and gas deposits in the region mean that as expensive as projects are, they can still compete with those in other basins around the world like the U.S. onshore shale development, which require a much smaller initial investment and are much less complex. The Oil and Gas Authority, Britain’s industry regulator, estimates the region held 1.3 billion barrels of oil and gas equivalent in recoverable reserves as of the end of last year. 

Fracking threatens Aboriginal land rights in pristine Western Australia country - The colors of northwestern Australia are profound. In the build-up to the wet season, the deep shades of bloodwood trees (Corymbia spp.) and red-tailed black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii) take on an extra vibrancy. This place is called Yulleroo by the Yawuru people, whose ancestral lands lie in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Australia’s largest state. Micklo Corpus, a Yawuru man and Traditional Owner of this country, walks through the bush until the tussocks of spinifex grass (Triodia spp.) give way to a wire gate. Behind it lies a hydrofracturing well belonging to the Australian mining company Buru Energy.  Having lived on these lands for generations, the Yawuru people are recognised as Traditional Owners under Australian law. As such, the people have certain rights to their land and waters, as well as a responsibility to protect, promote and sustain them.“As custodians, we were put on Earth in this form to look after the land,” Corpus says. “Our people have cared for [our] country for thousands of years, and fracking is a risk to our environment, to our water.” He shakes his head. “The issue is, they won’t listen to our concerns.” The Kimberley, roughly the same size as California, encompasses the northern reaches of Western Australia. The area is internationally renowned for its intact natural landscapes and for being home to the oldest continuous culture in the world. The North Kimberley is recognised as the last mainland refuge for many mammal species, including marsupials such as the golden bandicoot (Isoodon auratus). Its coastlines are among the world’s most pristine, comparable to those of Antarctica, and it houses the largest, most unspoiled savanna on Earth. It is also extremely rich in mineral and hydrocarbon deposits.  The region sits on top of the Canning Basin, which holds Australia’s largest shale gas reserve. As the international energy market turns away from coal and oil to cleaner-burning alternatives, developers like Buru Energy have been busy acquiring mining licenses that span the Kimberley.  If the moratorium is lifted, developers will have the potential to drop 40,000 wells across the Kimberley. This would represent almost one fracking well for every person in the sparsely populated region.  Australia has tapped into its mineral reserves so comprehensively in recent years that it is currently forecast to become the world’s biggest producer of liquefied natural gas in 2019. Ironically, the country is also home to some of the world’s most expensive domestic energy prices, as much of the local production is shipped to a burgeoning Asian market hungry for energy.

Natural Gas - The Volatile Energy Beast - The price action in the natural gas futures market over the past week has been enough to make even the most seasoned trader’s head spin. I had been writing that the low level of inventories going into the season of peak demand could push prices higher as the winter approached. However, I did not expect the wild price action that would occur this past week that lifted the price of the energy commodity to the highest price since 2014 and almost $5 per MMBtu on the nearby December NYMEX natural gas futures contract. Luckily, the price move occurred so fast and so early that I hung onto some of my long positions which I liquidated at prices over the $4.50 per MMBtu level.  Since natural gas futures began trading on the NYMEX in 1990, the price range has been from a low of $1.02 to a high of $15.65 per MMBtu. While prices over $10 per MMBtu are a thing of the past because of the massive reserves discovered in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of the U.S. over recent years, the demand side of the fundamental equation has expanded at the same time. Requirements for power generations and LNG shipments around the world have caused stocks to flow into storage at a decelerated rate in 2018 despite record production levels. This past week, we witnessed the impact of low inventories and cold temperatures early in the season. The price action in the energy commodity caused massive volumes to flow into the triple-leveraged UGAZ and DGAZ ETN products which is a trend that is likely to continue over the coming weeks and months as we enter the peak season for demand and volatility in the natural gas market in 2018/2019.As the daily chart highlights, the price of natural gas gapped higher from $3.313 on November 2 to $3.471 on November 5 and broke above technical resistance at the mid-October high at $3.409 per MMBtu. The price kept on going and reached a peak of $4.929 on November 14. On November 15, gravity hit the natural gas futures market and took the price back to a low of $3.882 before settling last Friday at the $4.272 per MMBtu level. Daily historical volatility in the natural gas market rose to over 135%, its highest level in years.

NYMEX December natural gas dips 17.7 cents to settle at $4.523/MMBtu — The NYMEX December natural gas futures contract fell 17.7 cents to settle at $4.523/MMBtu Tuesday, retreating from Monday's gains. The December contract traded between $4.274/MMBtu and $4.672/MMBtu. S&P Global Platts Analytics data showed total US dry natural gas production decreased 0.5 Bcf Tuesday to 84.8 Bcf. Production is expected to remain flat over the next 14 days, averaging 84.9 Bcf/d, according to Platts Analytics data. Tuesday's production drop was primarily driven by Texas Onshore, which fell 400 MMcf day on day to 20.1 Bcf Tuesday, Platts Analytics data showed. US residential/commercial demand rose 3.1 Bcf to 41.7 Bcf Tuesday, with the Northeast and Southeast regions contributing 1.4 Bcf and 700 MMcf, respectively, of the 3.1-Bcf increase. Platts Analytics average population-weighted temperatures across the US are forecast to be 6 degrees Fahrenheit below normal at 44 degrees Tuesday. Temperatures are forecast to be above normal across the US by Saturday before decreasing to below normal again by next Tuesday. Eight to 14 days out, population-weighted temperatures are forecast to be 44 degrees, 2 degrees below norms. The recent price volatility demonstrates that the market is searching for support as it pivots into winter amid new supply/demand factors in the North American natural gas market. "Right now the market is searching for big round numbers for continued support,"  . "Where is the next big support from a technical perspective?" Levine cited $4.25/MMBtu or $4.75/MMBtu as supportive numbers, adding that the price is unlikely to remain at $4.50/MMBtu. Further out, the March contract settled at $4.125/MMBtu, losing 17 cents in trading Tuesday. The NYMEX settlement price is considered preliminary and subject to change until a final settlement price is posted at 7 pm EST (2400 GMT).

Natural Gas Sell-Off Fails --Today's December natural gas contract trading range eclipsed that of yesterday as prices continued to whipsaw around. Prices initially were strong before selling off through the day and spiking right into the settle to close only a few percent below yesterday's settle.  The January contract led the way lower today, with strong physical prices helping the December contract minimize gains relative to later contracts. The April contract also got into much of the selling after it got in on the buying action yesterday.  Today was rather surprising for us, as in our Morning Update when prices were just below $4.5 we highlighted that, "if anything we still see risk a bit higher, though prices likely stay from $4.4-$4.7" thanks to "...significant long range cold risks..."  Initially our prediction worked very well, as the December natural gas contract shot up to $4.67 this morning, though prices began selling off on some cash weakness after. However, this selling intensified through the afternoon, with $4.4 being surprisingly broken later in the day even as afternoon GEFS guidance did not seem much warmer (image courtesy of Tropical Tidbits).  In our Note of the Day for subscribers we outlined that the strip was showing some bearish signals, and crude prices were hit very hard today, so it did not appear weather was the reason for the move lower. Sure enough, then, prices spiked very significantly into the settle to move right back into the middle of the $4.4-$4.7 range we had expected for the day, verifying our market view. This came as European model guidance confirmed long-range cold, with more cold in the medium-range too per the Climate Prediction Center. . Traders were also preparing for tomorrow's early EIA print, where a very large storage build is expected to be announced. In advance of it Dominion Transmission announced their largest storage draw since the week ending March 22nd.

Triple-Digit Storage Withdrawal Predicted as Wild Ride Continues for Natural Gas Futures

  • December Nymex settles at $4.523, down 17.7 cents; January down 19.1 cents to $4.521
  • “It was another surprising volatility remains incredibly elevated,” says Bespoke
  • Recent volatility “driven by positioning, short-covering, stop-outs and the follow-through of algorithmic trading on the movements of both of the former,” says Energy Aspects
  • Top-day production estimates down slightly Tuesday to 85.2 Bcf/d, including drops in Texas, Permian and Rockies

  Natural Gas Keeps Shooting Higher On Cold Risks - It was another great day for natural gas bulls, as colder weather trends on weekend model guidance primarily in Week 2 helped the December natural gas contract shoot 10% higher on the day. After a large gap up prices did fall some on warmer overnight model trends before colder afternoon models sent prices right back up to highs. The entire winter strip was up about the same with the April contract and even the rest of the 2019 strip participating a bit more. In our Friday Pre-Close Update for subscribers we highlighted that weather models were likely to add GWDDs over the weekend, which skewed weather risk "Slightly Bullish." We started the report outlining too that "...we see upside risk winning out over downside risk..." which verified well with last evening's gap. Then this morning we noted warmer overnight weather models which would mean "bounces may be sold now" since these models were, " indication that prices will likely struggle to take out the $4.7-$4.75 resistance level they trended near last night" even though "bounces are still likely over $4.5 early in the week." All of these played out well, with sellers early then colder afternoon model guidance briefly sending prices over $4.75 before a reversal back below $4.6 post-settle. It was the colder GFS/GEFS models late this morning and early this afternoon that really got prices moving.  We also broke down expectations for Wednesday's EIA print, as well as how we see weather models likely to trend through the week, what current weather forecasts look like, and what natural gas spreads may be signifying about forward price risk. One point we have continued to emphasize is how bullish weather has been through 2018, a trend likely to continue moving forward. This will be seen on Wednesday when the EIA should announce a very large storage withdrawal.

   Natural Gas Price Skips Higher on Huge Inventory Drawdown - The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Wednesday morning that U.S. natural gas stockpiles decreased by 134 billion cubic feet for the week ending November 16.  Analysts were expecting a storage withdrawal of between 92 and 121 billion cubic feet. The five-year average for the week is a withdrawal of 25 billion cubic feet and last year’s withdrawal totaled 42 billion cubic feet. Natural gas inventories rose by 39 billion cubic feet in the week ending November 9. Natural gas futures for December delivery traded up about 4 cents in advance of the EIA’s report, at around $4.56 per million BTUs and jumped to $4.70 after the report was released. For the period between November 21 and November 27, predicts “high to very high” demand and offers the following outlook:  Cold air continues impacting the central, northern, and eastern US with snow showers, especially downwind of the Great Lakes as a reinforcing cold shot arrives. This will continue to result in strong demand as lows reach the single digits to. A milder break will set up across much of the country Sat-Sun before the next weather systems develops over the west-central US this weekend, then advancing eastward. Much needed showers will push into California the next few days with cooler conditions, while the rest of the West will see a mix of mild and cool periods. Total U.S. stockpiles decreased week over week from 14% to 16.6% below last year’s level and also fell from 14% to 18.6% below the five-year average. The EIA reported that U.S. working stocks of natural gas totaled about 3.113 trillion cubic feet at the end of last week, around 710 billion cubic feet below the five-year average of 3.823 trillion cubic feet and 620 billion cubic feet below last year’s total for the same period. Working gas in storage totaled 3.733 trillion cubic feet for the same period a year ago.

This Overnight Gas Spike Fails - The December natural gas contract shot far higher overnight, moving above $4.85 briefly before gradually moving down through the morning. A bullish EIA print then spiked prices back into resistance, only for that second bounce to also fail with prices settling down a bit over 1.5% on the day. Losses were by far the worst at the front of the strip. The overnight spike was not surprising to subscribers, as in our Afternoon Update yesterday we warned that even even after significant buying into the settle we saw further upside into $4.7-$4.75 resistance (which ended up getting briefly breached). Our Morning Update then highlighted that $4.7-$4.75 resistance, "stands a good chance of being firm" today after prices moved back below it, which verified well as it was tested off a very bullish EIA announcement that 134 bcf of gas was pulled from storage last week. This was far tighter than what we have been used to seeing. Yet after a major spike even this was sold into a bit despite afternoon GEFS weather model guidance that was a bit mixed (images courtesy of Tropical Tidbits). All week we had highlighted "bullish risks" with this EIA print, which we reiterated this morning, so it was not all that much of a surprise when it missed quite bullish to our -109 bcf estimate. Still, the magnitude was impressive, and underscores a large storage deficit that is unlikely to be fixed anytime soon. This storage deficit and fears that we may run low on gas by the end of winter explains why the March/April H/J spread has blown out so much recently. Traders now head into the holiday knowing that volatility in thin liquidity is likely to continue.

 Russia Takes Major Leap In European Gas War --On November 19th, President Putin will stand shoulder to shoulder with President Erdogan during a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the first string of Turk Stream. The subsea gas pipeline will transfer 15.75 bcm directly from mainland Russia to Turkey. The capacity will double after the second string is completed. The pipeline will be operational at the end of 2019. Despite several setbacks, mutual interests concerning security and trade have ensured the strengthening of cooperation between Russia and Turkey in the face of opposition from the West. The first string of Turk Stream, which is almost completed, is important for bilateral relations. The second string, however, will service the European market and is a sign of Gazprom’s successful strategy in the face of opposition from the EU and several European countries. Rising tensions between Russia and the West after the crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea made Moscow reconsider its massive South Stream project. The pipeline would circumvent Ukraine and transport 63 bcm of natural gas to Europe via Bulgaria. The unbundling legislation and strong opposition from both Brussels and several European countries made Gazprom ditch South Stream and opt for a smaller albeit equally important Turk Stream. The strategy has worked as European companies are scrambling to participate in the project. Pricing disputes between Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftohaz Ukrayiny in the 2000s created a need on the Russian side to decrease transit dependency. After Nord Stream’s success, South Stream would have connected consumers in southeast Europe directly with Russia’s vast gas resources. Critics point out that state-controlled Gazprom intends to increase pressure on Ukraine by depriving it of billions of dollars in transit fees and weakening its negotiating position. The latter would be achieved by reducing the country’s transit importance. Moscow, however, insists that the projects aren’t a malign plan vis-à-vis Ukraine, but have the goal of improving energy security in the region.While both the first and second string reduce transit through Ukraine, the latter is more important for political and symbolic reasons. Gazprom has yet to decide which direction the second string of Turk Stream will be heading: north into South Stream’s backyard or west into Greece and finally Italy. Bulgaria has already increased the capacity of the Trans-Balkan pipeline to 15.75 bcm in a bid to receive the entire volume of the second string. Despite Sofia not being the strongest candidate, it makes sense from a strategic point of view.

Woodside applies to build big-polluting LNG plant – with no emissions plan - Oil and gas giant Woodside Petroleum has applied for environmental approval to build one of Australia’s biggest emitting industrial developments – a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant 425km north of Broome – without a plan to reduce or offset its greenhouse gas pollution. Documents submitted to the federal government for the long-mooted $28bn Browse LNG project show the offshore part of the development alone is expected to emit up to 200m tonnes of carbon dioxide over 50 years, peaking at 7m tonnes a year. The total pollution from the Browse development could be significantly higher once processing the gas for export – usually the most emissions-intensive part of LNG projects – at an existing plant at Karratha is factored in, though Woodside has flagged it is considering running that plant on renewable energy. Browse would involve pumping gas about 900km from offshore reservoirs to the Pilbara to produce 10m tonnes of LNG a year, continuing an industry boom that has seen production triple since 2012. Government analysis expects the LNG industry is expected to reach a value of $48bn by 2020. It also shows the industry has been the main driver of the recent rise in national emissions. Researchers at Climate Analytics say the growth in LNG over the five years to 2020 is expected to effectively cancel out emissions avoided through the national renewable energy target. Woodside says it is evaluating options to manage emissions from Browse and would comply with national emissions-reporting legislation and the safeguard mechanism, under which companies can nominate their own emissions limits based on future projections. “While we are still in the early stages of the environmental approvals process, our position on offsets and emissions reductions is under consideration and will be outlined at an appropriate time,” a company spokeswoman said. Piers Verstegen, director of the Conservation Council of Western Australia, said the Browse proposal would be particularly emissions-intensive due to the inflated carbon dioxide content of the reservoir and the energy required to pump the gas. He said if the project was to go ahead it should have to offset all related emissions, both those in Australia and overseas. But he believed it was irresponsible to approve new fossil fuel developments as they were not consistent with global commitments to tackle climate change. He said offsets should be reserved for existing projects, not to enable new ones. 

South Korean shipbuilders' lock on LNG tanker market to hold for years (Reuters) - South Korean shipyards have boxed out their Japanese rivals from the market for building large ships carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG), winning all of the orders for the next three years worth more than $9 billion. Three South Korean yards - Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, Hyundai Heavy Industries and Samsung Heavy Industries - have won the more than 50 orders placed for new large-scale LNG tankers for delivery in the next three years, according to data from the companies and two tanker brokers. The bulging orderbook illustrates the dominance the South Korean yards have achieved over their competitors, especially in Japan. It is also sign of how the companies have rebounded from a sector-wide slump only two years ago and how they are positioned to command the sector in the future. “The demand for LNG carriers surged followed by increased global demand of LNG,” said Park Hyung-gun, vice president of DSME. “There is a bright outlook ahead for LNG demand and South Korean shipbuilders will be able to excel in the LNG market.” Including floating LNG storage and support vessels, ship brokerage Braemar estimates South Korean yards have bagged 78 percent of all LNG-related orders this year, with just 14 percent and 8 percent going to Japan and China, respectively. A set of data collected by another ship broker, who did not want to be identified, showed all of this year’s orders for large LNG tankers went to South Korea, at a combined value of over $9 billion. The new ships will increase the global LNG fleet by around 10 percent. Dominating this segment is key for shipyards, as gas consumption outgrows that of other fuels such as oil or coal. 

Ship master asked to clean up after oil spill near Chennai -The Coast Guard Monday said it has issued notice to the master of a cargo ship to clean up the oil spill off the coast here caused by a rupture in a hose of the vessel, failing which action will be taken as per law. Spillage of Fuel Furnace Oil occured early Sunday when 'MT Coral Stars,' an oil tanker vessel was offloading it through a 'flexible hose' in Kamarajar port, at Ennore near here. The notice, issued Sunday, tasked the ship master and the vessel's charterer -Atlantic Shipping Pvt Ltd- to clean up the spilled oil, undertake containment measures and recover the leaked oil that threatened the coastal area. "Take all other necessary action to keep the environment clean as it was prevailing before the incident....take action to prevent further spillage of oil into the sea," the notice said. Also, the Coast Guard asked the charterer and the ship master to take action to remove oil from the damaged tanks by transfer. Non-compliance of the instructions will entail Coast Guard to take action, the notice made available to the media by the Defence Public Relations office here said. The Coast Guard said it was empowered under the provisions of the Indian Merchant Shipping Act 1958 to issue notice and take action for non-compliance. It said initial assessment revealed that the port had taken a few measures to contain the oil spill. However, the "ship and her agents have not yet taken suitable measures to remove the spill of approximately one tonne of fuel furnace oil." 

Brazil Subsea Pipeline Project Goes to McDermott - Petrobras has awarded McDermott International, Inc. an engineering, procurement, construction and installation (EPCI) contract for the ultra-shallow segment of its Rota 3 natural gas export pipeline, McDermott reported Tuesday afternoon. “Rota 3 is a major pre-salt development area that is important to the future of oil and gas production for Brazil,” Richard Heo, McDermott’s senior vice president for North, Central and South America, said in a written statement emailed to Rigzone. According to McDermott, implementing the Rota 3 pipeline segment includes design and detailed EPCI of six miles (10 kilometers) of 24-inch rigid concrete-coated pipeline from the already-installed shallow water segment to the shore. In addition, the company stated that the scope includes a horizontal directional drill, tie-in spools and pre-commissioning of the six-mile segment. Petrobras’ 220-mile (355-kilometer) Rota 3 rigid pipeline project represents part of the Brazilian company’s Santos Basin pre-salt gas offloading and transportation system, McDermott stated. The Rota 3 project comprises four segments, three of which are subsea and one onshore. McDermott’s ultra-shallow subsea pipelay will link the shallow segment to the onshore segment at Maricá City 62 miles (100 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro), the company noted.

 Oil market readies for new IMO regulations: Kemp - (Reuters) - Global oil markets are adjusting to relatively strong demand for diesel and jet fuel compared to gasoline, coupled with the introduction of new bunker fuel regulations at the start of 2020. Rising diesel and jet fuel prices, at least relative to crude and gasoline, are forcing adjustments that should lessen the chance of a severe shortage at the end of next year. Futures prices for ultra-low-sulphur diesel delivered at New York Harbor have moved to a premium of more than $21 per barrel over futures prices for gasoline delivered at the same location. The diesel premium has doubled since the end of September. It is trading at the highest level since 2011 and before that 2008, both of which were years when diesel consumption was growing much faster than gasoline. Refiners have a strong incentive to maximise the production of diesel and jet fuel while minimising output of gasoline, and many are adjusting production plans in response. In the United States, for example, refiners cut gasoline yields by 1 percentage point while boosting yields of jet fuel by 0.7 point and distillate fuel oil by 0.5 point in August compared with a year earlier. U.S. refiners produced a near-record 40 barrels of middle distillates (mostly diesel and jet fuel) from every 100 barrels of crude in August, the most recent month for which data is available.

Libya's oil production could soar higher despite OPEC weighing cuts - As OPEC members weigh oil production cuts for the start of 2019 to keep prices from falling amid a potential oversupply, conflict-weary Libya is hoping for an exemption."The OPEC community has understood the difficulties we face –- Libya has withheld more than any other country from the global market," Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of the country's National Oil Corporation (NOC), told Bloomberg on Monday. "This should be factored in."The comments come on the back of months of increased production for Libya, which along with Nigeria has been exempt from OPEC cuts since January 2017 because of internal conflict.Now, with oil prices toying with bear market territory — down from a nearly four-year high in October to a 10-day fall that by last Friday became the longest losing streak for crude in 34 years — OPEC is in talks with both Libya and Nigeria about a production cut deal.  Saudi Arabia, the 15-member cartel's top exporter, has said the group needs to shave production by about 1 million barrels per day (bpd). The worry over a supply glut comes after the kingdom initially moved to bolster inventories ahead of U.S. sanctions on Iran's energy sector, which turned out to be less harsh than markets expected.Libya's output has skyrocketed in the latter half of the year to its highest level in more than five years, reaching 1.28 million barrels per day (bpd), the NOC chief reported on November 14. This is more than double its June production of 500,000 bpd, and Sanalla said in October the country is targeting an increase to 1.6 million bpd. The North African country of 6.4 million has been struggling to rebuild its energy industry since its 2011 revolution that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi and the ensuing collapse in central power. Authority is now contested between rival governments in the country's east and west, each supported by different external powers and tribal factions.

OPEC Will Struggle to Muster Friends for Oil Cuts -- OPEC will struggle to carry all of its partners from outside the group along with it as oil producing group looks to extend output cuts into a third year at meetings to be held in Vienna in early December, writes Bloomberg oil strategist Julian Lee. For key partner Russia, the decision will hinge more on President Vladimir's Putin’s assessment of its value in strengthening broader political ties with Saudi Arabia, than on any oil price impact. But Mexico, which offered up natural decline in its oil output as cuts last time around, may balk at extending its participation, as its output is forecast to grow next year. Saudi oil minister Khalid Al-Falih told reporters that the baseline for new output cuts should be a recent production level, without offering a specific suggestion. While this might not be a problem for Russia, which boosted its output to a post-Soviet high in October, it will pose more of a challenge for others. Below is a round-up of each country’s position and an assessment of its likely willingness to make further cuts for next year. The figures mentioned are for crude oil production and are from the International Energy Agency. Starting points for cuts in 2017 are October the preceding year, except for Kazakhstan, which was November.

DOJ is Said to be Reviewing Anti-OPEC Legislation-- The Department of Justice is formally reviewing antitrust legislation aimed at reining in OPEC’s power over oil markets, according to a department official. While the study is ongoing, there is an understanding that the oil cartel’s efforts to affect crude prices through production quotas has raised costs for American consumers, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. That’s traditionally the type of conduct the Justice Department would frown upon, the person said. Bipartisan, anti-OPEC bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate, though neither chamber has voted on the measures yet. The House Judiciary Committee in June approved the “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act,” or NOPEC bill, which would give the attorney general the authority to file a suit against OPEC for trying to control oil production or to affect crude prices. It would amend the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, the law used more than a century ago to break up the oil empire of John Rockefeller. A similar Senate bill hasn’t seen any action yet. Although past presidents have threatened to use their veto power to prevent similar bills from becoming law, President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the cartel over high prices. OPEC is scheduled to meet next month in Vienna amid a collapse in oil prices that’s spurred calls for the group to curb output in 2019. Saudi Arabia has already signaled it supports a deep cut and as a first step will reduce its shipments by 500,000 barrels a day in December.

Washington looking for anti-monopoly tool to kneecap OPEC oil cartel - The US Department of Justice is reportedly exploring the possibility of introducing antitrust legislation that will allow the White House to reduce the power of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).  The measure has been triggered by the oil cartel’s successful attempts to bring global prices for crude under control. OPEC members and their non-OPEC allies, led by Russia, managed to affect global oil prices by establishing production quotas. The step reportedly raised costs for US consumers, an unnamed department official told Bloomberg. “That’s traditionally the type of conduct the Justice Department would frown upon,” the media quotes the source as saying. The anti-OPEC bills, reportedly backed by both Republicans and Democrats, were introduced in the House and Senate, but neither chamber has voted on the legislation yet. However, in June, the House Judiciary Committee approved the “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act.” The legislation, known as NOPEC bill, authorizes the US attorney general to sue the oil cartel over its efforts to put oil output and crude prices under control. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed OPEC for rising oil prices, demanding that participants of the organization should increase crude production. In late 2016, the member countries along with non-OPEC producers, including Russia, made a multinational pact aimed at curbing total oil output by 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in order to support sliding prices. Back then, Russia pledged to cut 300,000 bpd out of 560,000 for total non-OPEC cuts. The agreement came into effect in early 2017, and was later extended until the end of the current year.

Iraqi Dinar May Replace Dollar And Euro In Iran's 2nd Largest Export Market -- Amidst continuing talks between Iran and Iraq over how to settle payments for Iraq's natural gas imports from Iran in the face of Washington sanctions, Iranian officials are mulling over Iraq's offer to pay in Iraqi Dinars instead of the dollar or Euro, according to Iranian state media. This follows the September announcement by Iran that it planned to completely ditch the dollar as a currency used by the two countries in the trade transactions. Iraq was among countries granted a temporary exemption as energy sanctions on its eastern neighbor and regional Shia ally took effect November 5, and since then Baghdad has pushed to process payments for gas and electricity in its own currency of dinars. Iraq is I ran's second largest export market with a substantial portion of that trade in energy, which cannot cannot easily be structured outside the new sanctions regime.Baghdad has found itself in the delicate position as a partner of both Washington and Tehran largely reliant on the former for defense and on the latter for gas and power generation, keeping its economy afloat. Last summer a severe temporary electricity reduction fueled unrest across the south of Iraq. Chronic shortages and a failing Iraqi infrastructure means Tehran has been a key lifeline fueling Iraq's increasingly desperate needs. Iranian officials have also recently declared "Iraq is one of our successes" and a "strategic ally" as echoed in a weekend televised broadcast featuring the head of Iran's Islamic Shura Council, Hossein Amirabedhaleyan. However, as the head of the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce Yahya Ale-Eshagh stated before the latest round of sanctions took effect: “Resolving the banking system problem must be a priority for both Iran and Iraq, as the two countries have at least $8 billion in transactions in the worst times,” according to a September statement. 

Why The EU Can't Save Iran -The full impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran is still to be assessed, as major underlying factors remain opaque. OPEC’s current fear of an oil glut in 2019, as indicated by investment banks, IEA, EIA and others, might not materialize. Market fundamentals are still strong, especially taking into account that U.S. refineries are ramping up production after maintenance season, while Iranian floating oil will end soon as sanctions are about to hit. Still, one of Iran’s major lifelines could be the current EU approach, which is largely trying to mitigate the effects of U.S. sanctions on European companies and financial operators. The rosy future painted by EU officials however shows severe cracks, while reality on the ground is extremely bleak. European efforts to protect trade with Iran, as an answer to mitigate U.S. sanctions, are hitting a brick wall. European politicians seem to be out of touch with reality not only in the markets, but also concerning the attitude of several of its member countries. European politicians, mostly working from their shiny offices in Brussels and Strassbourg, seem to be living in an ivory tower, as no real practical support for all their measures has been shown in the respective member states.The last factor showing the weakness of the EU Iran approach is the fact that no single European country is willing to host a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) as they fear the wrath of the U.S. Washington’s influence in real politics and markets is still much larger on a global and even bilateral stage than Brussels wants to admit. Leading European powers – Great Britain, Germany and France – are currently putting pressure on minor league EU member Luxembourg to host the SPV. The latter however is already doomed, as not only is the influence of London on Luxembourg minimal, but the small EU member can hide behind the refusal of Austria to host the SPV too. Brussels is showing a brave face, but it’s likely that Eastern European and Balkan member countries will reject the SPV plans, while Italy and Spain are still in limbo. Statements made by EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova that the EU cannot accept that a foreign power takes decisions over our legitimate trade with another country, seem to be very hollow and empty.            The SPV at present is seen as the lynchpin in the EU moves to save not only their trade with Iran but also the overall JCPOA agreement. At present, Brussels and its main supporters, Paris and Berlin, are trying to keep the JCPOA agreement in place, risking a direct confrontation not only with the U.S. but with most of the Arab world. The SPV has been set up as a kind of clearing house that could be used to help match Iranian oil and gas exports against purchases of EU goods in an effective barter arrangement circumventing U.S. sanctions. The main issue European companies are facing with Iran are currently based on the position of the US dollar in international trade. Even with full EU support, the SPV, according to most analysts, will not shield EU companies and banks from US sanctions. These will be hefty, for sure much more than the current Iran-EU trade volumes could counter.

Oil market bull run ends as hedge funds square up positions: Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers have exited from all the bullish positions in crude oil and fuels they accumulated in the second half of 2017 as the bull market has unwound. Upside price potential from Iran sanctions and prospective production cuts by OPEC is matched by downside risks from rapidly rising U.S. shale production and a deteriorating economic outlook. Hedge funds and other money managers cut their combined net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by a further 74 million barrels in the week to Nov. 13. Portfolio managers have sold the equivalent of 553 million barrels of crude and fuels in the last seven weeks, the largest reduction over a comparable period since at least 2013. Funds now hold a net long position of just 547 million barrels, less than half the recent peak of 1.1 billion at the end of September, and down from a record 1.484 billion in January. Net length has been reduced to the lowest level since July 2017 essentially unwinding the petroleum bull market of 2017/18 ( Bullishness towards oil prices has evaporated and hedge funds now have the fewest outright long positions in crude and fuels since January 2016, when oil prices were hitting the bottom of the last slump. By contrast, short positions have climbed to 261 million barrels, the highest for a year, and up from a recent low of just 96 million barrels at the end of September. 

Oil prices fall as Russia maintains wait-and-see approach to output cuts -- Oil gave up overnight gains on Monday, having risen in the previous three sessions from the prospect that top exporter Saudi Arabia will push OPEC and maybe Russia to cut supply towards the year-end. Brent crude futures were down 67 cents, or 1 percent, at $66.09 a barrel by 10:27 a.m. ET (1527 GMT). The contract hit a session low at $65.27. U.S. futures fell 66 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $55.80, after dropping as low as $55.08, near last week's one-year low. The drop followed comments by Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak that the oil market alliance needs to monitor supply and demand in the coming weeks before making a decision on production levels. "Those Novak comments seemed to really catch the market's gaze all of a sudden," said John Kilduff, founding partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital. "The Russians have been consistent on this. They're not as sure as the Saudis are that we're in oversupply." OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, is pushing for the group and its partners to reduce output by 1 million to 1.4 million barrels per day to prevent a build-up of unused fuel. "It appears that the market takes a production cut for granted. We'll see if it is right after the next OPEC meeting on December 6. It is not unreasonable to anticipate stable prices until then," PVM Oil Associates strategist Tamas Varga said. Novak said on Monday that Russia, which is not an OPEC member, planned to sign a partnership agreement with the group, and that details would be discussed at OPEC's Dec. 6 meeting in Vienna.

WTI Slumps Back To $55 Handle As Russia Delays Production-Cut Decision  - Oil prices are re-tumbling this morning after weekend hopes for 'news' of production cuts to stabilize prices failed to appear.“It appears that the market takes a production cut for granted,” PVM Oil Associates analyst Tamas Varga wrote in a report. “We’ll see if it is right after the next OPEC meeting on Dec. 6. It is not unreasonable to anticipate stable prices until then.”But, Bloomberg reports that Russia held off committing to further output curbs, opening up a gap with Saudi Arabia which has called for supply cuts.Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said producers need to “better understand both the current conditions and the winter outlook” before agreeing to a supply cut. A weak demand outlook, waivers on sanctioned Iranian crude and high U.S. production has pushed oil into a bear market. To counter this, Saudi Arabia has said producers may have to cut output by 1 million barrels a day, but Novak wants them to “make a balanced decision, and so far there are no criteria for it.” Furthermore, trade tensions between the U.S. and China escalated over the weekend, adding to worries supply may overtake consumption.

Oil Advances as Capacity Warnings Counter Russia Queries - Oil prices gained ground as traders weighed countervailing signals about how much OPEC and its allies can afford to trim production. Futures in New York climbed 0.5 percent, after reversing direction multiple times Monday. The International Energy Agency noted spare output capacity in Saudi Arabia remains low. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, meanwhile, said producers need to better understand current conditions before paring supplies, leaving the strategy for major oil exporters uncertain. “You had the IEA reminding everyone that we still are fairly tight on spare capacity," said Ashley Petersen, an oil analyst at Stratas Advisors in New York. “It’s a bit of a slow news week so oil markets are going to latch onto anything they hear." While crude markets are currently well supplied, extra capacity in Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s leading producer, remains “ very thin," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said Monday at a conference in Slovakia. Longer term, “cutting the production significantly today by key oil producers may have some negative implications for the markets." Russia’s wait-and-see approach threatened to open up a gap with Saudi Arabia, its partner in orchestrating supply cuts in recent years. The Saudis said earlier this month that producers may have to reduce as much as 1 million barrels a day to resuscitate a market that’s fallen into bear territory. U.S. benchmark crude notched its sixth straight week of losses last week. OPEC ministers are scheduled to meet in Vienna on Dec. 6, with allies from outside the group joining talks the next day. In Moscow on Monday, Novak said he wants them to “make a balanced decision, and so far there are no criteria for it.” “The statements from Russia have turned the market’s attention back to worries about slowing demand growth and excess supply" 

Crude oil futures higher as markets anticipate OPEC cuts - — Crude oil futures were higher during mid-morning trade in Asia Monday as investors digested the possibility of OPEC and its allies cutting oil production in December. At 10:00 am Singapore time (0200 GMT), ICE January Brent crude futures were up 77 cents/b (1.15%) from Friday's settle at $67.51/b, while the NYMEX December light sweet crude contract was 76 cents/b (1.35%) higher at $57.22/b. OPEC and its allies are likely looking to cut oil production in 2019 to shore up what they see as a weak market ahead, according to recent statements by OPEC delegates. The group next meets December 6-7 in Vienna and discussions have already begun on those particulars, delegates say, with talk that between 1 million and 1.4 million b/d may need to be slashed. Russia, a key ally of OPEC, produced a record 11.4 million b/d of crude in October, which helped to ease concerns about the impact of US sanctions on Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin last Thursday said it was "obvious we need to cooperate with Saudi Arabia" but did not commit to any cuts, adding that he was satisfied with the current oil price. While initial price reaction to the talk of production cuts is bullish, "investors are not convinced that they will be able to mitigate the increase in output from the US, while expectations of heavy falls in Iranian exports have eased," ANZ analysts said in a note Monday.

Oil climbs 1 percent on prospect of OPEC, Russia supply cut -- (Reuters) - Crude futures rose ahead of settlement in choppy trade on Monday, supported by a reported drawdown of U.S. oil inventories, potential European Union sanctions on Iran and possible OPEC production cuts.   Brent crude settled up 3 cents at $66.79 a barrel, strengthening late in the session after earlier hitting a low of $65.27 a barrel. U.S. crude futures traded 30 cents higher at $56.76 a barrel in a session that saw swings in a $2 per barrel range. The market is struggling to find firm footing after a rout that has seen prices fall more than $20 a barrel since early October on global oversupply fears. “The market needs a steady drumbeat of negative pressure to move down further,” said Gene McGillian, director of energy research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. “We’ve seen a significant exodus of a lot of the speculative length in the market.” The market pared losses early in the U.S. trading day when energy information provider Genscape reported that crude inventories fell in the latest week, traders said. It then strengthened further into the close. EU foreign ministers endorsed a French government decision to sanction Iranian nationals accused of a bomb plot in France, diplomats said. That could take additional oil off the market from OPEC member Iran. U.S. sanctions on Iran, which were put in place in November, have taken less oil off the market than anticipated as the U.S. has granted waivers to some of Iran’s oil customers. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is pushing allied producers including Russia to join in output cuts of 1 million to 1.4 million barrels per day. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia planned to sign a partnership agreement, and that details would be discussed at OPEC’s Dec. 6 meeting in Vienna. “For a cut to be successful in supporting the market, they’re going to have to present a front that is not fractured and the chance of that is looking less and less likely as Dec. 6 approaches,”

The Saudis Are Hinting At Another U-Turn In Oil Markets -- A month after President Donald Trump announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposing sanctions on Tehran’s oil, Iran’s archrival and OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia got in June its Arab Gulf fellow cartel members and OPEC+ deal partner Russia on board to start pumping more oil to offset the expected loss of Iranian supply.Just five months later, Saudi Arabia and OPEC are hinting at a fresh oil production cut, as rising production and signs of waning demand growth point to oversupply next year.The oil market and analysts—who were questioning just two months ago the Saudi and Russian ability to offset expected steep Iranian losses—are now thinking that OPEC and its allies reacted too early to come to the rescue of global oil supply.Analysts say that President Trump, intentionally or not, ‘duped’ the Saudis into overproducing to compensate for what was expected to surely be more than 1 million bpd and even close to 2 million bpd loss from Iran.  The Saudis and Russia actually never said that they were compensating for Iran—their goal, as always, was to ensure ‘market stability’, OPEC’s favorite buzzword.All through the summer and early fall, the United States was hinting that this time around sanctions will be more severe than during the Obama administration and that the goal was to have Iranian oil exports down to ‘zero.’ In reality, few thought that Iran’s exports would be zero at the start of November, but the oil market and analysts started to fear that the Iranian loss would be much more than anticipated earlier. As a result, the market welcomed the rising production from Saudi Arabia and Russia, and even questioned whether that would be enough.  

Oil Companies Lose $1 Trillion As Prices Crash - Oil prices fell in early trading on Tuesday on persistent fears of oversupply. OPEC+ could cut output in two weeks’ time, but for now, volatility is here to stay. “The name of the game in the oil market is volatility,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said at a conference in Oslo. “And with the increasing pressure of geopolitics on oil markets that we are seeing, we believe that we are entering an unprecedented period of uncertainty.”  Major oil-producing countries in the Middle East will add 2.7 mb/d of capacity through 2025, according to Rystad Energy. Iraq will add the most at 1.5 mb/d, and an additional 1.2 mb/d will come from the UAE, Iran, and the Neutral Zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Global output from conventional fields outside the Middle East peaked in 2010, Rystad says, and will fall by another 2.3 mb/d by 2025.  The bull market has now fully unwound after hedge funds and other money managers have sold off all the bullish positions they had accumulated since the second half of 2017, according to Reuters. The last seven weeks has seen the largest liquidation of long positions since 2013. Long positions are now at their lowest level since January 2016 – a period of time that coincided with the very bottom of the oil market cycle. Fund managers now have a roughly neutral position towards the market.. The global oil and gas sector has lost $1 trillion in value over a 40-day period since October after crude prices fell by about $20 per barrel. U.S.-listed companies in the S&P 500 shed $240 billion. ExxonMobil, for instance, lost $35 billion in value. Some analysts are warning that OPEC+ will need to cut output to balance the market. “If they don’t cut, I guarantee you it’s going to be 2014 all over again,” Mike Bradley, managing director at the energy investment firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., told the Houston Chronicle.

Oil Crashes Most In 3 Years, Triggering CTA Max Short Programs -- Exactly one week after West Texas Intermediate plunged 7% on November 13, oil is being thrown out with the bathwater so to speak, plunging 7.5% on Tuesday, and sliding from $56.76 to below $53... ... the lowest price since November 2, 2017, and WTI's biggest drop since Sept. 1, 2015. While some have noted that the oil, pardon the pun, liquidation is not unique and is hitting all commodities - perhaps in response to the surge in the dollar - the sell off has also spilled over into commodity currencies, with NOK getting hammered, while the Loonie has dropped to the lowest level against the dollar in 4 months, while AUD and NZD are also getting hit. Predictably, the dollar is surging (just as virtually every bank declared the time to sell the greenback is here). Positioning is also helping the slide, as the latest CFTC data showed the seventh consecutive week of net longs positions being sharply reduced in Brent as well as the tenth straight week of managed money declines in WTI. Then there are the usual geopolitical suspects, with headlines suggesting that another OPEC output production cut in December is still up in the air, as Russia has yet to decide if it will side with Saudi Arabia. Finally, oil is also getting the "capitulatory rinse-treatment" by the algos as well, as systematic and trend-following models jump on the short side: Nomura's CTA model shows that the "-13% Short" as of Monday's close shifts to “Max Short” below $53.93, which would imply an additional -$1.3B on notional supply. And with WTI now below $53, it is likely that any additional declines will only lead to even more algos jumping on the short side and accelerating what is already a historic plunge. 

Crude Oil Down on OPEC Uncertainty  | Rigzone - January 2019 West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures declined by $3.77 Tuesday to settle at $53.43 a barrel. The WTI traded within range from $57.44 down to $52.77. Brent crude oil for January 2019 delivery also fell sharply Tuesday, losing $4.26 to end the day at $62.53. “Uncertainty about OPEC’s response to lower oil prices and ongoing concerns about weak economic growth and soft petroleum demand continued to undercut oil prices,” Jason Feer, global head of business intelligence with Poten & Partners, told Rigzone. “The fact that U.S. crude inventories are above five-year averages also contributed to a nearly seven-percent decline in January U.S. crude futures prices.” New speculation regarding relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia added another twist to the uncertainty surrounding the direction OPEC will take, added Feer. He was referring to a White House statement Tuesday expressing support for Saudi Arabia despite the controversy surrounding the recent murder of a Saudi journalist at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. “President Trump’s statement of strong support for Saudi-U.S. relations also spurred theories that Saudi Arabia would forego production cuts as the Trump administration has been working to talk down oil prices,” explained Feer. “However, if prices remain low through next week, when OPEC ministers will meet, it seems likely the organization will reduce output in a bid to support prices.” The December futures price for reformulated gasoline (RBOB) also ended the day lower. RBOB settled at just under $1.50 a gallon, representing a nearly nine-cent drop for the day. 

US crude oil dives 6% to fresh one-year low as stock market slides- Oil prices plummeted on Tuesday, snapping four days of gains and renewing a sell-off that has plunged crude futures into bear market. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $3.22, or 5.6 percent, to $53.98 per barrel by 10:33 a.m. ET (1533 GMT). The contract earlier fell more than 6 percent, hitting its lowest level going back to October 2017. Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil prices, dropped $3.13, or 4.7 percent, to $63.66 a barrel. Brent hit a fresh eight-month low on Tuesday. The renewed selling in the energy complex dovetailed with a sharp pullback in the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 550 points on Tuesday. Crude futures and equities fell in tandem during a broad market sell-off that saw investors dump risk assets last month. Since then, commodity watchers have grown more concerned that supply will outstrip demand next year. The market now expects OPEC, Russia and several other allied producers to launch a fresh round of output cuts in the coming weeks to prevent a price-crushing global crude glut. U.S. crude prices have now dropped as much as 30 percent from a four-year high last month. Brent has tumbled 27 percent from its recent high. "The same old adage applies...Too much supply, not enough demand," said Matt Stanley, a fuel broker at StarFuels in Dubai. U.S. crude oil production has soared by almost 25 percent this year, to a record 11.7 million barrels per day (bpd). Amid the uncertainty, financial traders have become wary of oil markets, seeing further price downside risks from the growth in U.S. shale production as well as the deteriorating economic outlook. Portfolio managers have sold the equivalent of 553 million barrels of crude and fuels in the last seven weeks, the largest reduction over a comparable period since at least 2013. Funds now hold a net long position of just 547 million barrels, less than half the recent peak of 1.1 billion at the end of September, and down from a record 1.484 billion in January.

Oil slumps 6 percent as equities slide feeds demand worry (Reuters) - Oil prices tumbled more than 6 percent on Tuesday in heavy trading volume, with U.S. crude diving to its lowest level in more than a year, caught in a broader Wall Street selloff fed by mounting concerns about a slowdown in global economic growth. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures ended the session down $3.77, or 6.6 percent, at $53.43 per barrel. The contract fell as much as 7.7 percent during the session to touch $52.77 a barrel, the lowest since October 2017. More than 946,000 front-month WTI contracts changed hands, exceeding the daily average over the last 10 months and the second-highest daily volume since June, according to Refinitiv data. Brent crude futures fell $4.26, or 6.4 percent, to settle at $62.53 a barrel. The international benchmark fell as much as 7.6 percent to $61.71 during the session, the lowest since December 2017. Oil’s slide has been largely unimpeded since early October when WTI prices were near four-year peaks. Since then, WTI has fallen more than 30 percent. “For the time being it’s more about risk,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates. “When the stock market comes off 8 or 9 percent, it tends to conjure up images of a weak global economy and that feeds into expectations of weaker-than-expected oil demand.” The S&P 500 index on Tuesday hit a three-week low as weak results and forecasts from big retailers fanned worries about holiday season sales, while tech stocks slid further on concerns about iPhone sales. Global stock markets have slumped in the past two months on worries about corporate earnings, rising borrowing costs, slowing global economic momentum and trade tensions. Traders see further downside risk to oil prices from growing U.S. shale production and a deteriorating economic outlook.  

Trump Claims Victory As Oil Prices Plummet -- Oil prices are now down over 20 percent from recent highs, and President Trump knows exactly where the credit for that belongs. “If you look at oil prices they’ve come down very substantially over the last couple of months,” President Trump said in a news conference last week. “That’s because of me.”The President is partially correct about that, but not for the reasons he thinks. He attributes it to his hard line on OPEC. But what has actually happened is that crude oil inventories in the U.S. have risen for seven straight weeks.As pointed out in the previous article, one reason for that is that China, in response to the ongoing trade spat, has stopped importing U.S. oil. Earlier this year China imported more than half a million barrels of day of crude oil from the U.S. Loss of this export market has contributed to the inventory growth in the U.S. — and hence to the drop in crude oil prices. (Presumably, crude oil inventories are dropping elsewhere, but possibly in countries with less transparency about their inventories).Some feel that there is also an element of fear that global demand may be slowing. But this week Reuters reported that China’s crude oil imports reached an all-time high in October. So, despite the trade war, demand in China doesn’t appear to be slowing. But China isn’t getting its oil from the U.S. now. Where is China getting its oil? Iran, for one. Another way that President Trump has helped oil prices go down is that he blinked as the deadline for sanctions on Iran’s oil exports neared. Oil prices had risen about 50 percent over the past year because of the impending sanctions that were expected to take Iran’s oil off the market. (I don’t recall him taking credit for oil prices that rose in response to sanctions).

WTI Barely Bounces After Surprise Crude Draw - After the collapse in the energy complex today amid concern OPEC’s plans to cut production won’t be enough to stem a surge in stockpiles, all eyes are on API's report to see if crude inventories rose for the ninth week in a row...12-month lows for WTI... And Oil vol has reached its highest since Feb 2016... “I think you’re going to see a risk-off type of market," Tariq Zahir, a New York-based commodity fund manager at Tyche Capital Advisors LLC, said in an interview. “It wouldn’t be surprising to see new lows being printed on oil" if U.S. inventories jump. API

  • Crude -1.545mm
  • Cushing +398k - 9th week in a row
  • Gasoline +706k
  • Distillates -1.823mm - 9th week in a row

After last week's huge DOE-reported crude inventory build, API has some catching up to do.. but it didn't - API reported a draw of 1.545mm barrels, ending the streak. WTI was hovering around $53.20 before the API print hit and kneejerked very modestly higher...

Crude oil futures rebound on bargain hunting, surprise US stock draw — Crude oil futures were higher in mid-morning trade in Asia Wednesday, rebounding from a slump in prices overnight, on bargain hunting and a report showing a surprise draw in US crude stocks. At 10:00 am Singapore time (0200 GMT), ICE January Brent crude futures were up 64 cents/b (1.02%) from Tuesday's settle at $63.17/b, while the NYMEX January light sweet crude contract was 57 cents/b (1.07%) higher at $54.00/b.US crude stocks fell 1.5 million barrels in the week ended November 16, according to American Petroleum Institute data released Tuesday; analysts surveyed Monday by S&P Global Platts had been expecting a 2.8 million-barrel build. More definitive data from the Energy Information Administration is due for release later Wednesday."The rise in prices this morning [Wednesday] is sentiment driven and probably just a correction to the over-reaction by the market following the plunge in prices overnight," Mizuho Bank senior economist Vishnu Varathan said. "Bargain hunting and production cuts previously mentioned by Saudi Arabia also definitely played a role in the higher prices this morning," Varathan added.US President Donald Trump Tuesday voiced support for OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia, highlighting its efforts to keep "oil prices at reasonable levels" by boosting production ahead of the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran, Platts reported. "The news that the US President wouldn't punish Saudi Arabia any further for the killing of [journalist] Jamal Khashoggi eased geopolitical risks. There has been concern that Saudi Arabia may tighten oil markets to push prices higher if it was severely punished by the US," ANZ said in a note.

 Oil recovers some losses after 6-percent plunge, but market remains on edge -- Oil bounced above $63 a barrel on Wednesday to claw back some of the previous day's 6 percent plunge, lifted by a report of an unexpected decline in U.S. crude inventories.The American Petroleum Institute (API) said on Tuesday that U.S. crude inventories last week fell by 1.5 million barrels, easing concerns for now that a supply glut is building up."The move yesterday was extremely sharp; after such moves you expect to have some rebound," said Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix. "The API reported a stock draw - it is not a big one but at least it's not a 10-million-barrel build."Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up 92 cents to $63.45 per barrel at 0944 GMT and traded as high as $63.67. U.S. crude gained 98 cents to $54.41. Yet Wednesday's bounce did little to reverse overall market weakness. Crude fell more than 6 percent in the previous session and world equities tumbled as investors grew more worried about economic growth prospects.Brent has fallen by more than 25 percent since reaching a 4-year high of $86.74 on Oct. 3, reflecting concern about forecasts of slowing demand in 2019 and record supply from Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States.Worried by the prospect of a new supply glut, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is talking about a U-turn just months after increasing production.OPEC, plus Russia and other non-OPEC producers, is considering a supply cut of between 1 million barrels per day (bpd) and 1.4 million bpd at a Dec. 6 meeting, sources familiar with the issue have said. Still, Saudi Arabia may find taking action to support prices harder, analysts say, given U.S. pressure to keep them low and President Donald Trump standing by the Saudi crown prince in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Oil ends higher on prospects for a global output cut - Oil futures climbed on Wednesday as expectations for a production cut at a meeting of major oil producers early next month helped prices recoup part of the previous day’s nearly 7% slump.  Prices, however, finished off the day’s best level as U.S. government data showed a ninth straight weekly rise in U.S. crude supplies.January West Texas Intermediate crude rose $1.20, or nearly 2.3%, to settle at $54.63 a barrel. It was trading at $54.34 right before the supply data. It lost 6.6% Tuesday to settle at a more than one-year low of $53.43 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. U.S. markets will be closed Thursday for the Thanksgiving Day holiday and hold an abbreviated trading session Friday.Global benchmark January Brent climbed by 95 cents, or 1.5%, to end at $63.48 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. Its finish at $62.53 Tuesday was the lowest settlement since February.Early Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration reported that domestic crude supplies rose for a ninth straight week—up 4.9 million barrels for the week ended Nov. 16. Analysts surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a rise of 1.9 million barrels, while the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesdayreported a decline of roughly 1.5 million barrels.Gasoline stockpiles fell by 1.3 million barrels last week, while distillate stockpiles edged down by 100,000 barrels, according to the EIA. The Wall Street Journal survey had shown expectations for supply declines of 400,000 barrels in gasoline and 2.3 million barrels for distillates. December gasoline rose 1% to $1.511 a gallon. December heating oil  fell 1% to $1.97 a gallon—the lowest settlement for a front-month contract since April, according to Dow Jones Market Data. Among the figures in the EIA report, the “real eye opener was distillates,” which include heating oil  The much smaller draw was “quite surprising with the cold spell that we are currently [experiencing] in the Midwest and East Coast.” Separate data from Baker Hughes released Wednesday, two days earlier than usual because of the holiday, showed the number of active U.S. oil-drilling rigs fell by 3 to 885 this week, after posting gains in each of the past two weeks.

U.S. crude stockpiles rise more than forecast in ninth weekly build: EIA (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose more than expected last week, building for the ninth consecutive week, while gasoline and distillate inventories fell, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.   Crude inventories rose 4.9 million barrels in the week to Nov. 16, compared with analysts’ expectations for an increase of 2.9 million barrels. Total inventories were 446.91 million barrels, the highest level since December 2017. The last time crude stocks grew for nine straight weeks was between Jan. 6, 2017 to March 3, 2017. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures fell by 116,000 barrels, EIA said. “The report was somewhat bearish due to the large crude oil inventory build,” Still, the drawdown in refined product inventories and jump in refinery activity could signal the end of the recent string of mostly bearish reports. “Gasoline demand remains strong, and it will only strengthen as we get into the holiday shopping season,” . Crude pulled back immediately after the report but then strengthened, with U.S. crude up nearly 3 percent and Brent futures up 1.6 percent by 11:30 EST (1630 GMT) as attention turned to more bullish data on refined products. Refinery crude runs rose by 423,000 barrels per day, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates rose by 2.6 percentage points to 92.7 percent of total capacity. 

WTI Tumbles After Ninth Consecutive Weekly Crude Build -- WTI has rallied since last night's API-reported surprise crude draw, but remains drastically lower even from yesterday's highs.  President Trump's tweet thanks Saudi Arabia for lower oil prices one day after announcing the U.S. won’t let the murder of a journalist jeopardize relations with the kingdom, slowed the momentum a little. “Another week of inventory builds would most certainly push oil prices down further, as market concerns over waning demand growth intensify,” says Cailin Birch, global economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit.   DOE:

  • Crude +4.85mm (+3.45mm exp) - 9th week in a row
  • Cushing -116k
  • Gasoline -1.295mm (+100k exp)
  • Distillates -77k - 9th week in a row

Reversing the gains from API's reported draw, DOE reported a bigger than expected crude build - the 9th weekly build in a row. Distillate inventories drewdown for the ninth week in a row and Cushing's streak of rising stocks ended.. Production was unchanged at record highs on the week.The kneejerk reaction was to erase the post-API gains...back to a $53 handle...

Shell is Wrong: Global Oil Demand Can Only Increase -  Bolstered by the U.S. shale revolution, global oil production has surged by over 20 percent in the past 15 years. The great rise has put to bed the “peak oil production” theory but it has not stopped the apparent new concern of “peak oil demand,” now portrayed as perhaps the main threat to the future of the world’s oil industry. In fact, it’s hardly just anti-oil environmental groups; many of the major producers themselves (Royal Dutch Shell plc in particular) assert that global oil consumption will soon peak and thereafter begin its terminal decline. The basis of this belief is the growth of electric vehicle sales and the need to reduce oil use to combat climate change. Yet for oil, what’s past is prologue: even with higher prices, both the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and International Energy Agency (IEA) modeling have repeatedly forecast more demand for as far as the eye can see. After all, oil is the world’s most important fuel, supplying 35 percent of all energy used. While the link between economic growth and oil use can be viewed from a variety of perspectives, the two clearly progress in tandem – a long studied link demonstrated in regression modeling and peer-reviewed studies. Indeed, as the main energy source that powers the world’s economic engine, oil is so important that demand is ever-growing: 61 million barrels per day (MMbpd) in 1980, 77 MMbpd in 2000, and 100 MMbpd this year. Over the past 33 years, annual global oil demand has only failed to increase three times, tellingly all during times of economic recession. Looking forward, with no significant substitute whatsoever, there is simply no evidence that global oil demand will peak anytime soon. Around 85 percent of the global population lives in still developing nations, such as China, India, Pakistan, and Nigeria. They have huge populations, and their future transport needs contingent on more oil are just now coming to light. These poorer countries naturally seek to become rich, and the West has shown them that the ascension from poverty begins as extensive petroleum-based transportation infrastructure gets constructed. These systems are capable of achieving massive economies of scale that provide large amounts of energy at low cost. Illustrating the high value of oil, the rich OECD nations constitute 46 percent of global use despite being just 15 percent of the population. The numbers in oil’s favor are overwhelming. The global oil-based passenger vehicle fleet is around 1.5 billion, with 95 million new ones being bought this year alone. In total, there are less than 5 million electric cars in operation, a growing niche market but nowhere near lowering oil demand in any significant way. In fact, just achieving a 20 percent market share of total global car sales by 2040 would be a huge achievement for those running on electricity—but not nearly enough to significantly reduce oil needs since more oil-requiring planes and heavy-trucks will compensate. 

Oil dips on swelling US inventories, but expected OPEC supply cut stems losses - Oil prices fell on Thursday after U.S. crude inventories swelled to their highest level since December adding to concerns about a global glut but OPEC talk of an output reduction limited losses.Benchmark Brent fell 23 cents to $63.25 a barrel by 1212 GMT, after dropping by over $1 in early European trading. U.S. WTI fell more than a $1 before easing back to trade down 39 cents at $54.24.U.S. commercial crude oil inventories climbed by 4.9 million barrels to 446.91 million barrels last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday, its highest level since December.U.S. crude oil production also stayed at a record 11.7 million barrels per day (bpd), the EIA said. . "The question is what OPEC will do in December, will they cut, and if so, by how much?" he said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is worried about the emergence of a glut that could pull down prices further. But OPEC's biggest exporter Saudi Arabia is also under U.S. pressure to prevent prices spiking higher again.

 Oil prices wobble in holiday-thinned trade - Oil prices wobbled Thursday, but clawed back losses from earlier in the session on jitters over U.S. supply data in a session thinned out by the Thanksgiving Day holiday.From a drop of over 1% at one point, January West Texas Intermediate crude fell 16 cents, or 0.3%, to $54.55 a barrel. The contract rose nearly 2.3% on Wednesday, after losing 6.6% Tuesday to settle at a more than one-year low of $53.43. For the week so far, WTI is down 3.8%.  Global benchmark January Brent LCOF9, -5.45% turned higher from a loss of over 1% earlier, gaining 14 cents, or 0.2%, to $63.59 a barrel, after closing up 1.5% on Wednesday. Its finish at $62.53 Tuesday was the lowest settlement since February. An “unexpectedly pronounced” 4.9 million-barrel rise in U.S. crude oil stocks reported Wednesday was leaving investors unsettled, said analysts at Commerzbank in a note to clients. The Energy Information Administration reported that domestic crude supplies rose for a ninth straight week, well above the 1.9 million-barrels that had been expected by analysts surveyed by the Wall Street Journal. “No end to the downswing is in sight for the foreseeable future. This would require a clear statement from OPEC that it is willing to cut production considerably” added the Commerzbank analysts.The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies signaled earlier this month that they could enact a joint production cut. The cartel has reportedly reached an initial agreement to cut output at the meeting next month, but haven’t yet agreed on the amount, according to Reuters.U.S. President Donald Trump has been pressuring the Saudis to try to push oil prices down by pumping oil into the market, and thanked the oil-producing giant on Twitter Wednesday for causing those prices to fall. And a day earlier, Trump had sided with the Saudi Arabian leadership and against his own CIA on the matter of the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime. “It therefore remains to be seen whether Saudi Arabia will cut production and thereby snub a U.S. president who is continuing to hold a protective hand over the Saudi dynasty,”

Oil plunges about 8 percent to lowest level in more than a year - Oil prices fell on Friday to their lowest levels in more than a year, deepening a rapid seven-week sell-off that has plunged crude futures deep into a bear market.Friday's declines further ramp up the pressure on OPEC ahead of a much-anticipated meeting between the influential oil cartel and its allies in Vienna on Dec. 6, when they are expected to announce that output will be curtailed.So far, the prospect of the Middle East-dominated group orchestrating a fresh round of supply cuts has done little to prop up crude futures.U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude ended Friday's session down $4.21, or 7.7 percent, at $50.42. WTI hit its weakest price since mid-October 2017 on Friday.International benchmark Brent crude dropped $3.66, or 5.9 percent, to $58.94 by 1:34 p.m. ET. The contract hit its lowest level since late October 2017. WTI has now lost 34 percent of its value from its peak on Oct. 3 to the trough on Friday. Brent has fallen as much as 32 percent. "I have to say that the speed in which the oil market has declined has surprised me even as OPEC and non-OPEC members discuss a production cut,". "The market does not think it will be enough."The latest wave of energy market selling comes amid escalating concerns about an increase in global supply and a slowdown in economic growth.Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al Falih on Thursday said the kingdom's output this month would surpass October's productionof 10.6 million barrels per day. That is near an all-time high but below the 10.7 million bpd guidance for October that Falih announced last month. Falih also said in October that November output would hit 11 million bpd. Sources told Bloomberg News this week the Saudis are currently pumping a record 10.8 million to 10.9 million bpd.

Oil prices hit a 2018 low as OPEC considers an output cut - Oil prices fell to their lowest in a year on Friday, on course for their biggest one-month decline since late 2014, even as oil producers consider cutting production to try to stem a rising global surplus.Oil supply, led by the United States, is growing more quickly than demand and to ward off a build-up of unused fuel such as the one that emerged in 2015, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is expected to start withholding output after a meeting planned for Dec. 6.But this has done little so far to prop up the price. The value of a barrel of oil has dropped by around 20 percent so far in November, in a seven-week streak of losses.Benchmark Brent crude oil futures fell $2.31 a barrel, or 3.7 percent, to a low of $60.29, its lowest since November 2017. By 1050 GMT, Brent was trading around $60.75, down $1.85.U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures lost $2.90, or 5.3 percent, at one point to touch a low of $51.73 a barrel."The question is now how much longer bears are able to keep firing. Are they going to run out of ammunition shortly or they have ample supply of bullets?" "It is reasonable to compare the current economic and supply/demand picture with the one four years ago. After all, it was in November and December 2014 when oil prices fell more or less to the same level where they are now,"

Oil price plummets to low not seen since October 2017 - The oil price has slumped to its lowest point this year, as concerns mount about a glut of crude supply and fears that economic headwinds could lessen demand.Brent crude fell as low as $59.26 a barrel on Friday, a level last seen in October 2017. Three supermarkets said on Friday they would cut petrol prices, as Asda cut its national price cap by 1p per litre for petrol and 2p per litre for diesel, with Morrisons and Sainsbury’s following suit.After reaching a high of more than $86 a barrel in early October, which prompted warnings that it would climb further to $100, the oil price has since plunged by more than 30%.But some industry observers said they expected it to recover next year if Opec took action to avoid an oversupply of crude.The price is expected to average $75.50 a barrel in 2019 compared with $73.91 this year, according to a survey of 11 oil forecasters by S&P Global Platts.The recent fall follows US waivers for eight countries to import oil despite sanctions on Iran, high output and markets worried about a drop in demand. Jefferies bank said: “The market is currently oversupplied.”Earlier this week, Donald Trump thanked Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of Opec, for pumping more and bringing down the price, but the US president said he wanted to see it lower still. The oil cartel is due to meet in Vienna in a fortnight to discuss what major producers should do next.

Oil Price crash: Crude limps to worst week in three years over glut fears - Oil notched its biggest weekly loss since the depths of the last price crash, as record Saudi output, pressure from President Donald Trump and a global stock sell-off intensified crude’s free fall.Futures slid below $60 in London on Friday and ended the week down about 12 percent, the worst showing since January 2016. Traders focused on the growing risks of a new glut of crude after Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said Thursday that production from the world’s largest exporter had climbed further this month. Oil joined a swoon in equity markets nervous about international trade and a weakening economy. Energy companies led declines.“Crude’s getting shellacked,” said Kyle Cooper, director of research at energy consultant IAF Advisors in Houston. “The equities are giving a foreboding sign for overall economic growth. I think that’s what’s disturbing people.” In the U.S., West Texas Intermediate oil prices slid toward $50 a barrel, the baseline at which many large shale explorers set their budget this year, RBC Capital Markets analyst Scott Hanold said in a note to clients. Smaller producers planned on even more, predicating budgets on WTI prices 10 to 15 percent higher, he wrote.“Outside of a few better-positioned companies, demonstrating free cash flow will be challenging at current oil prices,” Hanold said. The Saudis have signaled they will throttle back on production in December. But unless OPEC and Russia can reach a new deal to constrain output in Vienna next month, analysts see the prospect of sustained oversupply in 2019, undoing the group’s success over the last two years to drain global inventories. Crude collapsed into a bear market this month after the U.S. allowed some nations to continue buying Iranian supply. Trade tension between America and China is raising concerns over demand and Trump renewed a call for lower oil prices. Those factors pushed up oil’s volatility this week to the highest since early 2016.

7 key reasons the 'bottom is falling out' of oil prices on Black Friday - Crude-oil prices carved out fresh yearly lows early Friday, deepening carnage in a commodity that already had futures for the U.S. benchmark and the international contract falling beneath closely watched levels. Global benchmark Brent oil and West Texas Intermediate are in a bear market, usually defined as a drop of at least 20% from a recent peak. Here are a few reasons that industry experts say contributed to Friday’s tumble, which had WTI crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange shedding 7.7% to settle at $50.42 a barrel, marking the lowest finish since Oct. 9 of 2017:

  • . Holiday trading volume: Traders say that Friday’s decline can at least partly be attributed to thinner trading volumes following Thanksgiving, when commodity markets were closed. Lower trading activity can exacerbate moves in an asset, and with crude engulfed in a vicious downtrend, the tendency is lower. Moreover, the crude market finished an hour earlier at 1:30 p.m. Eastern.
  • . Oversupply: U.S. oil production topped 11 million barrels a day earlier this year, according to the Energy Information Administration, sparking fears that supplies will overwhelm demand. Major producers Russia and Saudi Arabia are also seen producing at record levels.
  • . Margin calls: Traders say that Friday’s decline also has been intensified by margin calls from hedge funds and those speculating on the price of oil. A margin call occurs when a broker demands that a client that’s lost money making leveraged bets pony up additional money to meet a minimum maintenance margin. Margin calls can result in forced selling, amplifying upside and downside moves.
  • . China demand: China’s demand for oil byproduct, gasoline, dropped to a the lowest level in 13 months, according to a Reuters report on Friday, offering further signs that the Beijing-Washington trade spat is hurting the world’s second-largest economy and one of the biggest importers of energy-related products.
  • . Trump: President Donald Trump has consistently been advocating for lower oil prices and on Wednesday issued a tweet urging even lower prices and thanking the Saudis for recent declines.
  • . Saudi Arabia in a corner: Market participants have said that the Saudi-orchestrated killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has complicated politics around oil. Trump is reluctant to sanction Riyadh because of a desire to keep fuel prices lower and preserve defense-sector deals. The oil-producing nation may feel compelled to comply with the U.S. president’s desire for lower crude prices.
  • . Dollar gains: A rising dollar also helped to create a headwind for the commodity because the dollar-priced asset becomes less attractive to buyers using other currencies when the buck strengthens.

Wells Fargo's Scott Wren: Oil prices have 'dropped like a rock' but are finally nearing bottom - Oil prices have "dropped like a rock" over the past seven weeks but are finally approaching a bottom, Wells Fargo strategist Scott Wren told CNBC on Friday."It's caught the falling knife," the senior global equity strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute said in a "Squawk on the Street" interview. However, "from our perspective oil, while it's hard to say right now exactly where the bottom is going to be, we feel it's pretty close to where we are right now."Oil prices fell Friday to their lowest levels in more than a year.West Texas Intermediate crude fell $3.41, or 6.2 percent, to $51.22 in light trading after the Thanksgiving holiday. WTI briefly slid about 7 percent to its weakest prices since Oct. 12, 2017. International benchmarkBrent crude was around $59.52 a barrel, down $3.08, or 4.9 percentThe sell-off in crude comes amid escalating concerns about an increase in global supply and a slowdown in economic growth. OPEC and non-OPEC members meeting in Vienna on Dec. 6 are expected to start curtailing output.Wren also said the latest wave of energy market selling has added to fears in the broader market of a slowdown in economic growth. Wren has previously said two things will determine the market action by the end of the year: If there is "any whiff" of anything positive on U.S.-China trade and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's decision on interest rates.

OPEC+ Drowning Under Oil Supply Glut - Brent fell below $60 per barrel during trading on Friday, a threshold not breached in over a year. WTI also saw a significant collapse, threatening to break below $50. The more oil prices fall, the more pressure OPEC+ will feel as its December 6 meeting approaches.   Saudi Arabia’s oil production hit 11 million barrels per day (mb/d) temporarily in November, although the full monthly average is expected to come in a bit lower than that. The 11 mb/d figure is a record high, but Riyadh plans to cut exports by 500,000 bpd in December.   The inauguration of new oil pipelines in 2019 could unlock another wave of supply from the Permian basin. “The Permian will continue to grow and OPEC needs to learn to live with it,’’ said Mike Loya, the head of Vitol Group’s unit in the Americas, according to Bloomberg. The U.S. shale industry proved that it could weather pipeline bottlenecks this year, and even grow production at an incredible rate, which suggests that even more growth is forthcoming. Bloomberg says that shale executives talk about a coming “tsunami” or a “flooding of Biblical proportions,” with a lot of other hyperbolic adjectives being thrown around. U.S. total liquids production (both crude and natural gas liquids) could hit 17.4 mb/d by the end of next year, according to the EIA. The New York Times explores the secret negotiations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over a nuclear power deal. The agreement would allow for the construction of nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, but Riyadh wants to control the fuel cycle, which raises questions about motivations for a weapons program. The recent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the shifting explanations for what happened, also seriously undercuts the credibility of the Saudi regime.  China’s gasoline exports in October fell to a 13-month low, a sign of an emerging glut in Asia. Inventories in Singapore are at a three-month high. At the same time, diesel exports in October jumped by 40 percent from a month earlier, as demand for middle distillates remains strong.   BP began production at the second phase of its Clair field in the West of Shetland region this week. According to Wood Mackenzie, the West of Shetland region will be the only area of the North Sea zone that will see output grow through 2025. The mature North Sea has struggled to attract new investment, but some of the oil majors see the West of Shetland region as promising.

Saudi Aramco to abandon plans to issue bonds to finance SABIC deal - Saudi Aramco has abandoned plans to issue bonds to finance a deal to buy a stake in Saudi National Petrochemical Company (SABIC), the Wall Street Journal quoted sources as saying. The sources attributed the drop to oil prices on world markets. "Aramco no longer plans to launch what would have been one of the largest bond sales to companies in the world, to finance a $ 70 billion stake in Saudi National Petrochemical Company (SABIC)," the paper said. Aramco sees "falling oil prices as a problem for bonds" and is concerned about the disclosure requirements of these bonds. The paper said that Aramco was looking instead for options that require less public disclosure, and quoted sources that SABIC - in return - may raise funding to complete the deal. The Reuters news agency quoted sources in June, that Aramco is seeking to buy a controlling stake in the company, "SABIC" may reach 70% of the company. According to Reuters at the time, Aramco was considering buying the entire public investment fund, but if not, it could end up buying a stake of more than 50% to become its majority shareholder. Reuters also said in September that Aramco was "in preliminary talks with banks on possible financing of between $ 50 billion and $ 70 billion to support its acquisition of a majority stake in SABIC." The Bloomberg network earlier commented on the deal, saying it would be a way to transfer billions of dollars from Aramco to the Public Investment Fund, which originally aspired to get those billions from Aramco's IPO, before being suspended. SABIC is the world's fourth-largest petrochemical company and is 70% owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (SIFC), the kingdom's largest sovereign fund, and the rest is listed on the Saudi bourse. Aramco is 100% state-owned. 

Trump thanks Saudis for lower oil prices amid Khashoggi criticism -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday doubled down on his defense of Saudi Arabia, thanking the kingdom for helping to keep a lid on oil prices, amid bipartisan criticism for his statement on the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.On Tuesday, Trump declared he would stand by Saudi Arabia, even though the CIA has reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing. After releasing the statement, Trump repeatedly linked his position to his desire to boost arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the kingdom's role in preventing an oil price spike.Early Wednesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to promote the recent sharp pullback in oil prices and to praise Saudi Arabia. "Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let's go lower!," Trump tweeted, giving an inaccurate account of the drop in oil prices.

Trump says breaking with Saudi Arabia would send oil prices 'through the roof' - US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman speak to the media in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 14, 2017.President Donald Trump on Tuesday linked his decision to continue backing Saudi Arabia — despite the murder of a U.S. resident by Saudi agents — to his desire to keep oil prices low."Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof," Trump told reporters on Tuesday. "I've kept them down. They've helped me keep them down."Trump issued a statement earlier on Tuesday saying the United States stands by Saudi Arabia after agents of the kingdom killed U.S. resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.The CIA has reportedly concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, an ally to the Trump administration, ordered Khashoggi's death. On Tuesday, Trump cast doubt on that assessment, saying in his statement "maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"The United States has sanctioned 17 individuals connected to the killing. U.S. lawmakers have called for the United States to suspend some arms sales to Saudi Arabia.Trump's comments on Tuesday illustrate how his administration has relied on Saudi Arabia to pump more oil and convince a group of producers to increase output in order to keep prices low. Trump's declaration of support for Saudi Arabia comes just two weeks before OPEC, Russia and several other producers meet to decide whether to reverse course and cut production next year.

Why the Khashoggi crisis could finally start to affect oil prices -The oil market has largely shrugged off the killing last month of Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi by Saudi agents. However, a new CIA assessment that reportedly links the slaying to the kingdom's crown prince could soon change that, according to a commodities strategist and former CIA analyst. The assessment concludes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing, according to the Washington Post and NBC News. The CIA is expected to present its report to President Donald Trump by Tuesday, just two weeks before major oil producers including OPEC and Russia meet in Vienna, Austria. The group has been coordinating oil policy since last year, and the members are now considering a fresh round of production cuts after a sharp pullback in the oil market.New supply caps would boost oil prices and prevent financial pain in countries dependent on fossil fuel revenue, including Saudi Arabia. The kingdom expects to its crude shipments to drop by 500,000 barrels per day in December, and its energy minister recently said OPEC and its allies may cut output by about 1 million bpd next year.But Trump, a populist focused on filling Americans' pocketbooks, opposes the output cuts because he wants prices to fall at U.S. gas stations.Despite reportedly being shown evidence that links Khashoggi's death to Prince Mohammed, Trump continues to cast doubt on the royal's role in the slaying. The Trump administration is closely aligned with Prince Mohammed, and the president wants to preserve billions of dollars in potential arms sales to the Saudis. In an interview with Fox News Sunday this past weekend, Trump stressed that Prince Mohammed has repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing during the leaders' private conversations. That gives the Saudis an incentive to hold off on cutting output, especially in light of growing pressure on the regime from Congressional Republicans, according to Helima Croft, the global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets and a former intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Report- Saudi royals turn on king’s favourite son after killing - Members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are agitating to prevent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) from becoming king after the international uproar over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, sources close to the royal court told Reuters news agency. Senior US officials, meanwhile, have indicated to Saudi advisers in recent weeks they would support Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz - who was deputy interior minister for nearly 40 years - as a potential successor to King Salman, according to Saudi sources with direct knowledge of the consultations. Amid international outrage over Khashoggi's murder, dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession, but will not act while King Salman - the crown prince's 82-year-old father - is still alive, sources said. They recognise the king is unlikely to turn against his favourite son, the report added. Rather, they are discussing the possibility with other family members that after the king's death, Prince Ahmed, 76, uncle of the crown prince, could take the throne, according to the sources. Prince Ahmed, King Salman's only surviving full brother, would have the support of family members, the security apparatus, and some Western powers, one of the Saudi sources said. Prince Ahmed returned to Riyadh in October after two months abroad. During the trip, he appeared to criticise the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty. He was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling family's senior members, who opposed MBS becoming crown prince in 2017, Saudi sources said at the time. Neither Prince Ahmed nor his representatives could be reached for comment. Officials in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment on succession issues. 

Turkey reportedly has a second audio tape of a Saudi hit team discussing details of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, bolstering the CIA’s claims - Turkish officials reportedly have a second, 15-minute audio tape of a Saudi hit team discussing the details of a plan to murder the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.The tape, first reported by a columnist at Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper, allegedly shows evidence that Khashoggi was the victim of a premeditated murder and directly contradicts the conclusions drawn by Saudi investigators.Khashoggi, 59, was a contributor to The Washington Post and a Saudi Arabian national who frequently wrote editorials critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded on Friday that t he crown prince ordered Khashoggi's assassination.In the first tape, "Khashoggi's desperate attempts to survive could be heard in a seven-minute audio recording. There is no hint of anyone trying to persuade him," Abdulkadir Selvi, the Hurriyet columnist,wrote on Friday.Khashoggi traveled to the Saudi embassy to obtain documents needed to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, 36. Saudi investigators said Khashoggi was killed only after consulate officials tried to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia on his own volition.In the second tape, which was recorded 15 minutes before Khashoggi arrived at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the Saudi team "discusses how to execute Khashoggi. They are reviewing their plan, which was previously prepared, and reminding themselves the duties of each member," reports Hurriyet."There is also evidence from the period after the killing," the newspaper added. "Turkey has the international phone calls made by the 15-member Saudi hit squad." The Saudi government has repeatedly changed its story on Khashoggi's death. On Thursday, the Saudi public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb released his findings. A spokesman for the prosecutor, Shaalan al-Shaalan, said 11 people had been indicted and five face the death penalty. Their names were not released.

Traitor! You Will Be Brought To Account - Quotes From Khashoggi Murder Tape Leaked - The grisly recording of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's final moments (before his body was butchered and remains dissolved in acid)  that was purportedly captured by Turkish intelligence has reportedly been shared with international intelligence agencies including the US, and we imagine it's only a matter of time before it leaks.  In a chilling preview of what's to come, a Turkish news website has published quotes allegedly excerpted from the tape that delineate Khashoggi's final struggle with members of the 15-man hit squad that Turkey believes was sent to the consulate with specific instructions to murder Khashoggi.Haaretz gathered the quotes and translated them into English. According to the website, Khashoggi was immediately confronted by four Saudis after entering the consulate, one of whom grabbed his arm."Release my arm! What do you think you are doing?" website Haberturk quotes Khashoggi as saying at the consulate's "A unit," where the visa department is located, and where seven minutes of the tape are recorded.Khashoggi was then brought to the embassy's "B Room", where the purported leader of the hit squad, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, started threatening the journalist."Traitor! You will be brought to account," Mutreb is heard shouting, according to Haberturk.The rest of the recording features what the Turkish news organization described as verbal fighting, brawling and torture. After Khashoggi had been murdered, one of the hit squad members donned his clothes in an attempt to disguise himself as the journalist to bolster the embassy's eventual claim that he left the embassy. This prompted a joke from one member of the hit squad, according to RT. It is spooky to wear the clothes of a man whom we killed 20 minutes ago.

Erdogan, MBS, Islamic leadership and the price of silence - Pepe Escobar -  It was packaged as a stark, graphic message, echoing across Eurasia: Presidents Erdogan and Putin, in a packed hall in Istanbul on Monday, surrounded by notables, celebrating completion of the 930 kilometer-long offshore section of the TurkStream gas pipeline across the bottom of the Black Sea. This is no less than a key landmark in that fraught terrain I named ‘Pipelineistan’ in the early 2000s. It was built by Gazprom in only two and a half years despite facing massive pressure from Washington, which had already managed to derail TurkStream’s predecessor, South Stream. TurkStream is projected as two lines, each capable of delivering 15.75 billion cubic meters of gas a year. The first will supply the Turkish market. The second will run 180 km to Turkey’s western borderlands and supply south and southeast Europe, with first deliveries expected by the end of next year. Potential customers include Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary. Call it the Gazprom double down. Nord Stream 1 and 2 supply northern Europe while TurkStream supplies southern Europe. Pipelines are steel umbilical cords. They represent liquid connectivity at its best while conclusively decreasing risks of geopolitical friction. Turkey is already being supplied by Russian gas via Blue Stream and the Trans-Balkan pipeline. Significantly, Turkey is Gazprom’s second largest export market after China. Erdogan’s speech, strenuously emphasizing the benefits of Turkey’s energy security, was played and replayed all across a rainy, ultra-congested Istanbul. To witness this geopolitical and geoeconomic breakthrough was particularly enlightening, as I was deep into discussing Turkish geopolitics with members of the progressive Turkish Left. Even the opposition to what in Europe is routinely defined as Erdogan’s brand of “Asian illiberalism” concedes Turkey-Russia trade connectivity – in energy, in the military domain via the sale of the S-400 missile system, in the building of nuclear power plants – has been conducted with consummate skill by Erdogan, who is always careful to send direct and indirect messages to Washington that Turkish national interests will not be compromised.

Criticism Of MbS A "Red Line" In Khashoggi Probe, Warns Saudi Arabia - Now that President Trump has not only given Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a pass on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but in his Tuesday written statement even heaped praise on the kingdom while ultimately blaming Iran for destabilizing the region, Riyadh has come out swinging and put political enemies on notice.  In an official statement issued Wednesday the Saudi foreign ministry warned that any any criticism of MbS is a "red line" that would not be tolerated. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir specifically related his comments to the Khashoggi case, saying that calls for MbS to be held account would not be tolerated, according to the AFP. "In Saudi Arabia our leadership is a red line. The custodian of the two holy mosques (King Salman) and the crown prince are a red line," Jubeir told the BBC in an interview discussing the ongoing Khashoggi murder probe. The Saudi FM said that not even so much as "discussion" would be tolerated, saying of the kingdom's rulers: They represent every Saudi citizen and every Saudi citizen represents them. And we will not tolerate any discussion of anything that is disparaging towards our monarch or our crown prince.

Saudi Arabia Electrocuted, Flogged and Sexually Abused Female Activists, Human Rights Report Says - Saudi female activists were regularly tortured while held for interrogation, according to a new report from human rights groups that alleged a wide range of abuses. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both issued statements Tuesday detailing the brutality afforded to female activists at the deeply conservative kingdom’s Dhahban Prison. At least 10 women—including prominent activists who had fought for the right of women to drive—and seven men are currently detained in relation to human rights work, all on the pretence of national security concerns, the charities said. The testimonies were all anonymous, as the sources feared for their safety and the safety of the detained activists in question. Those held include Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef, all of whom had long campaigned for the right of women to drive before the ban was lifted in June. Though the new freedoms were allowed, several of those who fought for them were detained simultaneously. Dana Ahmed, a researcher at Amnesty, noted that none of those detained had been charged with any crimes, The Guardian reported. Citing three anonymous testimonies it had obtained, Amnesty said activists were repeatedly given electric shocks and flogged, leaving some unable to walk or even stand up. In one particularly brutal session, one prisoner was hung from the ceiling. One of the detained women also said she was subjected to sexual abuse by Saudi interrogators, who were wearing face masks at the time. Human Rights Watch quoted “informed sources” who said at least three female prisoners had been whipped, electrocuted and subjected to “forcible hugging and kissing.” The organization noted it was unclear whether interrogators were hoping to extract information or simply punishing the women for their activism. Amnesty said the abuse left prisoners suffering from uncontrolled shaking of their hands and marks on their faces and necks. A long-time adversary of human rights groups, Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian government is under the spotlight following the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s Istanbul Consulate on October 2. Many, including the CIA, suspect de facto ruler crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to have ordered the killing and directed the subsequent failed cover-up. Though Saudi officials have now admitted that Khashoggi—a columnist for The Washington Post—was murdered, his remains are yet to be found.

New Saudi Attack in Yemen Leaves 1,500 Pregnant Women at Risk of Death — The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently warned that as many as 1,500 pregnant women in the besieged Yemeni port city of Hodeida are at risk of death now that the city’s only hospital capable of providing emergency care services has become inaccessible due to the fighting. In a statement issued Wednesday, UNFPA’s Director for the Arab region, Dr. Luay Shabaneh, wrote that the agency feared that:  “Among the 10,000 pregnant women caught in the fighting in Hodeida City, the lives of an estimated 1,500 who are likely to encounter complications during pregnancy and childbirth might be at risk as the city’s only hospital [al-Thawra hospital] that can provide emergency care becomes inaccessible.”  Shabaneh went on to note that the al-Thawra Hospital has been forced to take on the majority of Hodeida’s civilians in need of medical assistance because “health facilities across Hodeida are closed or functioning at minimum capacity,” while others have been captured by the Saudi-led coalition. As a result, the hospital’s neonatal care facility sees 400 to 500 deliveries per month, including more than 200 caesarian sections. Without access to the hospital, over a thousand women likely to need caesarian sections, or other emergency care relating to childbirth and pregnancy complications, now face the risk of life-threatening complications, not to mention the risk to their unborn children.

Aid group: 85,000 children may have died of hunger in Yemen  (AP) — A leading international aid group said Wednesday that an estimated 85,000 Yemeni children under the age of 5 may have died of hunger and disease since the outbreak of the country's civil war in 2015. Save the Children based its figures on mortality rates for untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition, or SAM, in young children. The United Nations says more than 1.3 million children have suffered from SAM since a Saudi-led coalition went to war with Yemen's Houthi rebels in March 2015. The aid group said its "conservative estimate" was that 84,701 children may have died, based on historical studies that find that 20 to 30 percent of untreated cases lead to death. Save the Children says it calculated the figure based on the number of cases reported in areas where aid groups were unable to intervene. "For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death and it's entirely preventable," said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children's Yemen director. "Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop." The war has given rise to the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Three-quarters of Yemen's people require life-saving assistance and more than 8 million are at risk of starvation. Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the fighting. 

At least 85,000 child deaths in Yemen highlight Saudi-US war crimes -- A new estimate by the aid agency Save the Children that 85,000 children have died of hunger in Yemen since Saudi Arabia’s US-backed bombings of the country began in 2015 underscores the criminal character of Washington’s sponsorship of this horrific slaughter.The charity said 85,000 was a conservative estimate of how many children under the age of five had starved between April 2015, when the Saudi regime began its air war, and October this year. It is difficult to get an exact number of deaths. According to aid workers, many go unreported because only half of Yemen’s health facilities are functioning and many people are too poor to access the ones that remain open. Backed by the Obama administration, Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to fight Shiite rebels allegedly backed by the Saudi ruling elite’s regional rival, Iran. The brutal offensive has become a virtual proxy war by the US against Iran. The Pentagon has supplied aerial refuelling for Saudi bombers, naval support for a blockade of the port city of Hodeidah and intelligence assistance for selecting targets.Save the Children said it based its figures on mortality rates for untreated cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition in infant children from data compiled by the UN. The charity warned that, based on historical studies, if acute malnutrition is left untreated, around 20–30 percent of children will die each year.“For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death—and it’s entirely preventable,” Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen said. “Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop.“Their immune systems are so weak they are more prone to infections with some too frail to even cry. Parents are having to witness their children wasting away, unable to do anything about it.” The Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the entry point for some 80 percent of urgently needed food supplies, medicines and aid into Yemen, has been under blockade since last year.

Houthis ready for ceasefire if Saudi-UAE alliance wants ‘pace’  - A senior leader from Yemen's Houthi rebels says his group will halt all rocket and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is ready to institute a ceasefire - if the Saudi-UAE alliance battling his movement is prepared to do the same. "We are willing to freeze and stop military operations on all fronts to reach a just and honourable peace if they really want peace for the Yemeni people," Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the group's Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said in a statement on Twitter. Al-Houthi called on the group's forces to refrain from carrying out attacks and said that, in a gesture of goodwill, the movement would halt all missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their Yemeni allies. "We announce our initiative and call on the official Yemeni [Houthi] authorities to stop firing missiles and unmanned aircraft at the US-Saudi aggression countries and their allies in Yemen to drop any justification for their continued aggression or siege," he added. International pressure has mounted on Yemen's warring parties to end the war, which has killed more than 56,000 people, according to a recent estimate, and pushed the country to the brink of famine. On Monday, the United Kingdom is expected to present a draft resolution to the Security Council to address the conflict.

Saudis Agree To Yemen Peace Talks - Ceasefire In Effect For First Time Since War's Start - The prospect for peace - or at least a lasting ceasefire - is advancing rapidly following a surprise weekend proposal by Yemen's Houghis to halt all attacks on Saudi coalition forces. On Sunday the head of Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said "We are willing to freeze and stop military operations" something which now appears to have taken effect, according to a breaking Reuters report.In the biggest turning point in the war which has raged since 2015, Reuters confirms: Houthi rebels in Yemen said on Monday they were halting drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their Yemeni allies, responding to a demand from the United Nations. “We announce our halt missile and drone strikes on the countries of aggression,” an official Houthi statement reads. Crucially, it appears this halt in fighting was precipitated by a Saudi agreement to the Houthi extension of an olive branch as according to the AFP Yemen's internationally recognized Saudi-backed government says it has informed UN envoy Martin Griffiths it is ready to take part in proposed peace talks with Houthi rebels to be held in Sweden. "The [Saudi-backed Yemen] government has informed the UN envoy to Yemen ... that it will send a government delegation to the talks with the aim of reaching a political solution," Yemen's pro-Saudi foreign ministry said, quoted by the official Saba news agency.

Saudi official hints at Qatar-canal announcement - The Saudi government appears to be close to announcing the winner of a tender to dig a canal along the border with Qatar, effectively transforming the peninsula nation into an island.The tender process for the ambitious project to dig a 60-kilometre navigable canal closed on June 25 with Saudi media reporting at the time that the results would be announced in September.A senior government official signalled on Friday that the final approvals for the project may be in the works.“I am eagerly awaiting details on the implementation of the Salwa island project, a great, historic project that will change the geography of the region,” Saud Al Qahtani, a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said on Twitter. Five unnamed international companies with experience in digging have reportedly submitted bids to carry out the work worth 2.8 billion Saudi riyals (Dh2.74 billion). The canal will stretch from the town of Salwa just south-west of the Qatari border to Khor Al Adeed. It will be 200 metres wide and 15 metres to 20 metres deep, allowing ships up to 295 metres long and 33 metres wide to navigate it. The channel will be set one kilometre back from the official border. Riyadh is looking to develop significant infrastructure along the canal, including a military base and an atomic waste storage dump to service nuclear power stations it plans to build in the country.Seaports will be built in Salwa and in Aqlat Al Zawayed for shipping and marinas for pleasure yachts and water sports will be built along the banks of the canal near two planned holiday resorts with beaches.The funding has reportedly been put forward by Saudi and Emirati private investors, and an Egyptian company will be involved in the undertaking.

Syria Sitrep - Army Wins Al-Safa Battle - More Troops Move Towards Idelb - Today the Syrian army won the al-Safa battle. Al-Safa is a barren area around an old volcano southeast of Sweida where in July ISIS abducted dozens of hostages. The last of those hostages were freed in a commando raid ten days ago.With the hostages out of the way the Syrian army could finally use heavy weapons against ISIS which hid in the caves of the al-Safa field. Under heavy artillery cover the troops made good progress (video). Then came three days of unprecedented rain fall. ISIS fighters drowned in their caves and fighting positions. The commander of ISIS in the area, a Chechen, was killed. Those ISIS fighter who were left fled towards the al-Tanf area, which is under U.S. control, and into the desert in east Homs. The Syrian army is now in full control al-Safa. The situation in the U.S. controlled northeast is complicate. The Kurdish YPG/PKK forces the U.S. allied with do not get along with the Arab fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces and vice versa. Isolated attacks on Kurdish SDF units happen each day. It is unknown if these are by ISIS sleeper cells, local Arabs who despise the new Kurdish overlords, or some third party under Turkish direction.

Iran Seizes Saudi Fishing Boat In Persian Gulf, Arrests Crew - Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have detained a Saudi Arabian fishing boat and arrested its crew, Reuters reports citing Iran's judiciary’s website Mizan reported on Friday.  A local official at the Iranian port city of Bushehr told Mizan that the reason for the detention was under investigation, although subsequent reports suggested that the crew was detained for "illegally fishing" in Iran's territorial waters. “Yesterday, the coast guards deployed in the country’s Southern waters came to spot two vessels in Iran’s protected waters in the South using electronic and optic tools and equipment,” Commander of Bushehr province Coast Guards Qalandar Lashkari said, according to Fars news agency. Lashkari added that the Iranian coast guards rushed to the scene and were faced with two vessels which were illegally fishing in the Iranian waters under the Saudi flag. Noting that 9 sailors were arrested thereafter, Lashkari said further investigation showed that the 9 people are nationals of different countries.

Here We Go Again- US Accuses Iran Of Hiding Chemical Weapons - In a trite refrain straight out of the standard Washington regime change playbook, the United States has lodged a formal complaint alleging Iran is developing nerve agents "for offensive purposes". Like Syria before (and Russia), first comes the "outraged!" human rights violations rhetoric, then come crippling sanctions and international "pariah status", and for the final push comes unfounded chemical attack claims, a charge now being formally prepped and set in motion against Tehran by the West. After the AP first revealed a week ago that the U.S. is set to accuse Iran of violating international bans on chemical weapons, an American diplomat has told the global chemical weapons agency in The Hague that Tehran has not declared all of its chemical weapons capabilities. On Thursday Ambassador Kenneth Ward told a meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that Iran was in violation of an international non-proliferation convention. "The United States has had longstanding concerns that Iran maintains a chemical weapons program that it has failed to declare to the OPCW," Ward said at an OPCW conference. "The United States is also concerned that Iran is also pursuing central nervous system-acting chemicals for offensive purposes," he added. He connected this with the general White House charge and theme that Iran and Russia had "enabled" Syria in attacking civilians with nerve agents, according to claims of officials in the West. Specifically Amb. Ward claimed Iran has been hiding a production facility for filling aerial bombs while simultaneously maintaining a secret program to procure banned toxic munitions, include nerve agents. While a number of commentators acknowledged the sheer lack of evidence to back the claims — something that's never stopped US officials from making the charge whether it was Iraq, Libya, or Syria — Ward merely cited historical information from the 1980s alleging Iran had transferred banned chemical munitions to Gaddafi's Libya.

Top Iranian Commander Identifies US Bases Within Reach Of Precision Missiles - Threats issued from Iranian officials against U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf are nothing new, however, it will be interesting to see the White House response to an elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) commander specifically designating that American bases in Afghanistan, the UAE, Qatar, as well as U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within range of Iranian ballistic missiles. Amirali Hajizadeh, the head of the IRGC airspace division, was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency, via Reuters: They are within our reach, and we can hit them if they make a move… Our land-to-sea missiles have a range of 700 kilometers [450 miles]… and the US aircraft carriers are our targets. In his remarks the IRGC commander singled out the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which hosts some 10,000 US troops involved in routine operations in the Middle East, as well as Al Dhafra base in the United Arab Emirates and Kandahar base in Afghanistan.The Iranian military official further boasted about the improved the precision of their missiles a claim that hasn't been born out by both recent tests and a series of rocket launches in October which targeted an ISIS camp in Eastern Syria nearly all of which failed to hit their target, with a number landing in the desert near the Iran-Iraq border.  Tensions between Washington and Tehran are already at their highest point in years as aggressive sanctions especially targeting the energy sector continue crippling Iran's economy, and after threats and counter-threats over Tehran laying claim to the vital Strait of Hormuz oil waterway over the past two months, through which some one-third of the world's oil passes.

U.N. Report Confirms ISIS Given Breathing Space In US-Occupied Areas Of Syria - A recent report from the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team has found that many of the places in Syria where the terror group Daesh (ISIS) continues to operate, recuperate and extract oil for profit are in areas of the country occupied by the United States.According to the report’s executive summaryIslamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), having been defeated militarily in Iraq and most of the Syrian Arab Republic during 2017, rallied in early 2018 [owing to] a loss of momentum by forces fighting it in the east of the Syrian Arab Republic, which prolonged access by ISIL to resources and gave it breathing space to prepare for the next phase of its evolution into a global covert network.”  While the text itself doesn’t explicitly state who controls these areas of Syrian territory, maps of eastern Syria make it clear that the pockets of Daesh within U.S.-controlled territory have remained unchanged in size since November 2017 while the Daesh pockets in the Syrian government-controlled portion of eastern Syria have shrunk considerably since last November.Furthermore, the UN report states that the areas where Daesh has rallied since the year began are located in “pockets of territory in the Syrian Arab Republic on the Iraqi border” where the group has mounted “attacks, including across the border into Iraq.” Again, area maps clearly show that the ISIS-controlled areas in only the U.S.-occupied portion of eastern Syria are along the Syria-Iraq border.

Syria - Back In The Arab Fold - Following Syria's military success against its enemies, Arab states which supported the war on Syria are again making nice with it. The United Arab Emirates will reopen its embassy in Damascus. Kuwait and Bahrain will follow. Today a delegation of parliamentarians from Jordan visited Damascus and met with President Assad.The members of the delegation affirmed that the pulse of the Jordanian street has always been with the Syrian people in the face of the terrorist war against the, as Syria is the first line of defense for the entire Arab region and the victory in this war will be a victory for all the Arab countries in the face of Western projects aimed at destabilizing and fragmenting these countries in service of Israel’s security.First signs that this was going to happen appeared a few month ago when a Kuwaiti TV personality spoke about the pleasure of visiting an again peaceful Damascus. In June the Foreign Affairs Minister of UAE called the expulsion of Syria from the Arab league a "mistake". In an interview with a Kuwaiti paper Assad said that he had reached "major understanding" with Arab states.The Saudis though are not yet welcome back in Damascus. They were one of the largest financiers of the Jihadis and will have to pay an equally large price to come back into good standing. Negotiations are ongoing. A formal reentry of Syria into the Arab League can not be far away. Behind this change is a fear of renewed Turkish ambitions. Not only Saudi Arabia but all the Arab states do not want Turkey to expand and become more powerful. They do not want to see Arab land in Syria under Turkish control. The sole exception so far is Qatar which is allied with Turkey and has Turkish troops on its land to protect it from Saudi imperialism.

Why the UAE and Saudi Arabia Are Reaching Out to Syria’s Assad — Last week the United Arab Emirates announced it was negotiating the reopening of its embassy in Damascus and restoring full ties with Syria.  After the opening of the Nassib border crossing on the Jordan-Syria border, for the first time since the war began, Syria now has a through road linking Turkey to Jordan.At the same time the Israelis have also handed over the Quneitra border crossing in the occupied Golan Heights to Damascus after four years of closure.It is not just that all roads are leading to Damascus but also there is a quiet – but strategic – shift by the most powerful Arab actors in the region towards establishing a working relationship with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.For example, and according to the pro-Syrian regime news outlet, al-Masdar, Saudi Arabia and Syria are working through back channels via the UAE to reach a political reconciliation. In an ironic twist, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and Kuwait suddenly realised the need to strengthen Syria and become a counterweight to growing Iranian and Turkish control over affairs in the Levant.As the headlines over the last few weeks have been dominated by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the viability of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – quietly but strategically Damascus has been regaining lost ground with key Arab states.Written off seven years ago by the likes of the then Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, Damascus is now quietly re-positioning itself as the key arbiter in the regional tussle for control over strategic choke points in the Middle East.Recent statements by the UAE, Bahrain and Egyptian officials point to making Syria “an Arab issue” to steer it away from Turkey and Iran. This view goes as follows: only by engaging with Damascus can the influence of Tehran and Ankara be balanced out. Also, the seven-year policy of isolating Assad and Syria did not help the Arab cause and allowed the Turks and the Iranians to wield stronger influence in Syria.

US Airstrikes Kill at Least 40, Mostly Civilians, in Eastern Syria  — Continuing weeks of near-daily civilian death tolls from the US air war in Eastern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that Saturday’s US attacks killed 40 more people, overwhelmingly civilians. The victims were described as mostly women and children.Saturday’s attacks were against the village of Abu al-Hassan, along the Iraq border. It is adjacent to the ISIS-held towns that the US has been mostly attacking in recent weeks, and which Kurdish ground troops are attempting to invade.The Syrian Observatory said it was unclear if any of the men killed in the attacks were actually militants, but that 17 children and 12 women were confirmed among the slain. In general, these attacks have targeted residential areas, not militants. The US, as is increasingly typical of these incidents, has not offered any commentary on the matter at all. Though earlier in the war they would try to explain such killings, or at least deny involvement, in the past weeks they seem simply to be refusing all comment.

US Sanctions Russian, Iranian Companies To Disrupt Oil Shipments To Syria - The US announced new sanctions against what a "network of petroleum shipments" to Syria, including Russian and Iranian companies and individuals, in what Washington said was an attempt to disrupt shipments to Syrian-owned ports. Six individuals and three institutions were sanctioned in what the Treasury said was an illicit plot involving officials in Iran working with Russian companies to send millions of barrels of oil to the Assad government in exchange for funds that Tehran then used to fund Islamic militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.Those sanctioned include two officials working with the Central Bank of Iran, a Syrian national and his Russia-based company Global Vision Group, and Russia’s state-owned Promsyrioimport, a subsidiary of the Kremlin’s energy ministry, as well as its first deputy director. The administration is also sanctioning an Iranian entity that purports to be a medical and pharmaceutical company that U.S. officials say has been repeatedly used to facilitate illicit money transfers in the scheme.“Today we are acting against a complex scheme Iran and Russia have used to bolster the Assad regime and generate funds for Iranian malign activity,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “Central Bank of Iran officials continue to exploit the international financial system, and in this case even used a company whose name suggests a trade in humanitarian goods as a tool to facilitate financial transfers supporting this oil scheme."As detailed in the Treasury statement, Russian companies would act as middlemen, taking money from Iran to move the oil to Syria. In one case detailed in a Treasury Department press release, the Iranian central bank transferred money to an Iranian pharmaceutical company, hoping that its humanitarian name would throw US observers off the trail. That money was then allegedly wired to a Russian bank, then to a Russian company that shipped the oil from Iran to Syria. Along the way, the Treasury Department claims that Russian ships would switch off their GPS tracking systems to conceal the origin of their cargo.

The Final Push for Idlib Will Come Soon - The situation in Syria is that of a frozen conflict, following the agreements made between Russia, Turkey and Syria on the demilitarized zone created around Idlib. Except for some sporadic terrorist attacks, the truce seems to be holding up over the last few weeks, even though it has become clear to everyone what the next step is for the province. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has been busy eradicating Daesh in the southern part of Syria in recent weeks, concentrating its efforts on securing all areas that have been liberated from terrorist control but which still remain vulnerable to sporadic attacks, as occurred in Sweida at the end of July 2018. In that incident, there were dozens of victims and numerous abductees who remained in the hands of Daesh for months. This caused the Syrian population in neighbouring areas to clamor for protection, forcing the SAA to undertake an anti-terrorist campaign that has been ongoing since August.This effort by the SAA has slowed down in part due to subsequent events, with an agreement reached between Erdogan and Putin to create a demilitarized zone in the province of Idlib. From October 15, an area spanning 20 kilometres and guarded by Turkish and Russian troops guarantees a separation between the SAA and terrorist groups in the province.Russian and Syrian efforts have been moving in two very specific directions over the last few weeks. While Moscow supplies Damascus with new equipment in preparation for the future advance on Idlib, Putin and his entourage continue diplomatic efforts to draw more of Syria’s enemies closer to the Russia-Iran-Syria axis. The meeting that brought about the demilitarized zone included Macron and Merkel, the Europeans having evidently come to terms with the impossibility of overthrowing the legitimate government of Syria. Macron and Merkel were offered a way out of the Syrian conflict, decoupling themselves from the belligerent stance of the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The intention is to usher Paris and Berlin towards the same direction Qatar, Turkey and Jordan have been progressively gravitating. Certainly, these are not countries to be considered friends of Damascus. Rather, they are parties with whom a constructive dialogue needs to be entered into in order to advance common diplomatic interests.

What NYTimes Called Israel’s “1st Incursion” Was Actually at Least Its 263rd  — In a piece headlined “Deadly Gaza Raid by Israel Threatens Nascent Ceasefire” (11/11/18), the New York Times described an Israeli assault near the city of Khan Yunis that killed seven Palestinians as the first known Israeli ground incursion into Gaza since Operation Protective Edge, in July 2014, set off a seven-week war.  York Times article (11/11/18) misstates the number of recent Israeli ground incursions into Gaza by two orders of magnitude.This depiction of the attack as a unique occurrence in recent times is wildly inaccurate. Since the 2014 Gaza War, the IDF has carried out 262 ground incursions into the Gaza strip, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Seventy of these have occurred in the past year alone. As Henriette Chacar, writing for +972 Magazine (11/13/18), points out:Israel carried out 21 incursions into Gaza in 2014…. The next year, in 2015, that number more than doubled, to 56 incidents. In 2016 and 2017, 68 and 65 incursions took place, respectively. By end of October 2018, 73 such incidents had been recorded, according to the UN data.Such incursions are a regular occurrence, but are rarely reported by media or known to the general public. Chacar’s article (which was reposted by Lobe Log—11/14/18) quotes retired Israeli Gen. Tal Russo: “Activities that most civilians aren’t aware of happen all the time, every night and in every region.”Operations by the Israeli military can have a devastating effect on ordinary Palestinians in Gaza. Combined with the ever-changing “buffer zone” declared by the IDF, they make it difficult for nearby farmers to grow crops or raise livestock, worsening the area’s already tenuous economic situation. Errors like the New York Times’ minimize the degree to which Israel continues to occupy Gaza, despite claiming to have “disengaged” in 2005, and aid a media narrative in which the IDF is reacting defensively rather than acting as an aggressor.

Number of hungry children in Africa's Sahel hits 10-year high - U.N.  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of hungry children in West Africa's Sahel region reached a 10-year high in 2018 due to poor rains, conflict and high food prices, the United Nations said on Friday. More than 1.3 million children under the age of five suffered from severe malnutrition this year in the six worst hit countries in the semi-arid belt below the Sahara - a 50 percent increase on 2017, said the U.N. children's agency UNICEF. "When children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, they are more vulnerable to illnesses such as malaria and waterborne diseases," Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa said in a statement. Hunger is a recurrent scourge in the region, whose growing population grapples with high poverty rates and periodic droughts, the agency said. This year the problem was particularly acute across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, it added. An estimated 6 million people did not have enough to eat across the region during the lean season, according to the U.N. food agency (FAO). Pastoralist communities were among the worst hit because poor rains meant there was not enough vegetation for grazing, said Coumba Sow, the FAO's regional coordinator for resilience. The Sahel has only one growing season and if it goes poorly due to climate shocks or conflict people must survive on whatever they have until the next one. Global warming exacerbates the problem by making rainfall more erratic, said Sow, adding the rains were late and suffered a prolonged break, causing many farmers to lose half their seeds. U.N. agencies and local governments were currently evaluating production levels for the new season, she said. "We still hope that we will be able to get some good results in harvest, but it is too early to say," 

With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the U.S. Change Policy? - The Trump administration has remained largely silent about the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, maintaining a quiet diplomacy with the country’s leaders despite a recent report that nearly 400,000 people have died in the country’s civil war. This figure of nearly 400,000 deaths is comparable to the estimated number of deaths in the war in Syria. About 2 million people have been internally displaced in South Sudan, and more than 2.5 million people have fled the country. Making matters worse, the people of South Sudan are experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. About 6 million people, or about 60% of the population, are severely food insecure, and another 1.7 million people are facing a looming famine. “As the conflict has gone on and worsened, the numbers of people in need of assistance has simply continued to grow,” Mark Lowcock, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said earlier this year. The civil war in South Sudan began in 2013 when President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar turned their forces against one another. Although the war is often portrayed as an intractable ethnic conflict between Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group, the two men have really been more focused on power and wealth. “It has ethnic aspects to it, but it is a power struggle of taking control of the country and who holds control of the country,” Hilde Johnson, a former head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, said in 2016. The United States has played an influential role in the country. Before the war began, the Bush administration helped South Sudanese leaders with the negotiations that led to the country’s independence in 2011. President Kiir often wears the cowboy hat that George W. Bush gave to him.

U.S. to scale back major joint military exercise in bid to keep North Korean nuclear diplomacy on track - In a bid to keep Washington’s ongoing denuclearization talks with North Korea from faltering, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that a major joint military exercise with South Korea would be scaled back. “We have taken a decision,” Mattis said, according to a transcript of his conversation with reporters. “We are not canceling exercises. We are realigning one exercise.” Asked if it was the Foal Eagle exercise, a large-scale drill typically held in the spring, Mattis confirmed this was the case. “Foal Eagle is being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy,” he said. Mattis did not provide details on what a scaled back version of the exercise would look like. “The United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) conduct regular, routine training and exercises to enhance our ability to defend the ROK and maintain our combined military readiness,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told The Japan Times on Thursday, adding that Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo had earlier agreed that military activities, including exercises, should be “conducted in a manner that complements diplomatic efforts to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization while sustaining the readiness” of the two countries’ military forces. “The secretary and minister agreed to continue the close review of all large-scale combined military exercises, and to make coordinated decisions based on the advice of our military commanders,” Logan said. “We continue to look at multiple aspects of future exercises to include their size and scope.”.

Nearing a bear market, China steel sector weighs record output, softer economy: Russell (Reuters) - China’s steel sector is toying with falling into a bear market, with prices almost down 20 percent in the past three months as the industry’s run of record production meets the reality of a slowing economy and trade disputes. Shanghai steel rebar futures, the benchmark price, fell 18.8 percent from the highest so far this year at 4,418 yuan ($637.52) a ton on Aug. 22 to a low of 3,586 yuan on Wednesday. It’s worth noting that steel futures still remain higher than at the end of last year, when they closed at 3,431 yuan a ton, although the recent declines have come close to wiping out the gains for the year. Sentiment appears to have swung in the industry, which had been buoyed in the middle two quarters of 2018 by strong profitability amid the ongoing closure of older and less efficient steel mills. China has been chalking up record after record monthly steel production this year, with output reaching new highs in every month since April, with the exception of August. Output hit 82.55 million tonnes in October, up from 80.85 million in September, according to official statistics released on Nov. 14. Output over the first 10 months of the year was 782.46 million tonnes, up 6.4 percent on the same period last year, according to the data. Production growth had been encouraged by robust profit margins, which were reaching close to 1,000 yuan a ton as steel prices hit their highs for the year in August. However, with prices retreating, margins will be coming under pressure and steel mills are likely to be focusing on the demand outlook for their products. It’s here that there may be something of a disconnect between reality and hopes for the future, as the drivers of steel demand in the Chinese economy appear to be under downward pressure, although there are hopes government stimulus measures will boost demand. 

Apple Supplier Foxconn Signals Deep Cuts as Smartphone Demand Wanes — Foxconn Technology Group, the biggest assembler of iPhones, became the latest Apple Inc. supplier to warn of anemic demand, with an internal memo suggesting that expenses will be cut by almost a half next year. The contract manufacturer aims to cut 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) from expenses in 2019 as it faces “a very difficult and competitive year,” according to an internal document obtained by Bloomberg. The company’s spending in the past 12 months is about NT$206 billion ($6.7 billion). The shares of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd., as Foxconn is known in Taiwan and Asia, rose less than 1% in early trade in Taipei on Thursday. “The review being carried out by our team this year is no different than similar exercises carried out in past years,” Foxconn said in an emailed statement in response to Bloomberg queries. It’s designed to ensure the company’s teams and budgets “are aligned with the current and anticipated needs of our customers, our global operations and the market and economic challenges of the next year or two.” Foxconn’s iPhone business will need to reduce expenses by 6 billion yuan next year and the company plans to eliminate about 10% of nontechnical staff, according to the memo. The moves are likely to add to the gloom enveloping Apple and suppliers for the iPhone, its most important product. Just last week, four suppliers on three continents cut their revenue estimates because of weak demand. That set off a rout in technology stocks that has spread to the broader market in recent days.

Huawei “surprised” by reports US is exerting pressure on allies - Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest telecoms equipment vendor, said it was “surprised” by a report in the Wall Street Journal that the US government is exerting increased pressure on foreign allies to ditch network services from the Chinese company on national security grounds.US officials have briefed government counterparts and telecoms executives in friendly countries where Huawei equipment is already in wide use, including Germany, Italy and Japan, about what they see as cybersecurity risks, according to a Wall Street Journal report on Friday, citing anonymous sources. The report also said that the US is considering increasing financial aid for telecoms development in countries that shun Chinese-made equipment.“Huawei is surprised by the behaviours of the US government detailed in the article,” said Huawei in a statement on Friday. “If a government's behaviour extends beyond its jurisdiction, such activity should not be encouraged.”Countries that buy Chinese network equipment and host American military bases are what concern the US authorities the most, according to the sources in the report. Most internet traffic at military installations travels through commercial networks despite the fact that the US Defense Department has its own satellites and telecoms network for sensitive communications.The Shenzhen-based company, caught in a vortex between the world’s two largest economies amid an escalating trade and technology war, has faced several setbacks for its global businesses this year. The US government has blacklisted almost all of Huawei’s business in the country and is ramping up efforts to persuade allies to do the same, saying Huawei’s close ties with the Chinese government pose fundamental threats to national security. Both Huawei and ZTE Corp, China’s other leading telecoms equipment vendor, have been excluded from building Australia’s 5G infrastructure after Canberra laid out new rules in August. The decision was made following reports by Australian media in February that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was briefed on US concerns about Chinese involvement in 5G networks during a meeting with the heads of the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security in the US.

China building on new reef in South China Sea, think tank says (Reuters) - China has installed a new platform on a remote part of the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea which could be used for military purposes, according to recent satellite images reviewed by a U.S. think tank. The strategic waterway is claimed almost in its entirety by China, whose continued building of military and other installations on artificial islands and reefs there has unnerved the region and angered Washington. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said the images showed a “modest new structure” on Bombay Reef, topped by a radome and solar panels. “The development is interesting given Bombay Reef’s strategic location, and the possibility that the structure’s rapid deployment could be repeated in other parts of the South China Sea,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday. The purpose of the platform and radome was unclear, but it could be for military use, it said. “The reef is directly adjacent to the major shipping lanes that run between the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south, making it an attractive location for a sensor array to extend Chinese radar or signals intelligence collection over that important sea lane,” the group said. China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands was not in dispute, and there is nothing wrong with China carrying out construction work on its own territory. “As for the specific situation you mention, I have no understanding of it,” Geng told a daily news briefing. Vietnam also claims the Paracels. Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Indian Cinema Legend Clears Debts of 1,398 Farmers - Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan said he has "taken care" of 1,398 farmers by wiping out more than $560,000 (40m rupees) of their debt, BBC News reported."Gratitude leans across to the desire of removing some of the burdens that farmers continue to suffer from ... and the inner peace it generates when the desired is completed," the 76-year-old Indian film legend wrote in ablog post on Tuesday.The farmers are from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where Bachchan was born.Bachchan cleared their loans owed to the Bank of India, which issued a "one time settlement document and certificate" to confirm the payment, he wrote.So far, he has identified 70 of the farmers and has reserved a train coach to bring them to Mumbai so he can meet them in person and present them with the bank documents. "I shall wish of course to give these settlements, these confirmations that their loans have been paid off, personally," Bachchan wrote.

Modi Govt to Propose Rules Allowing Closer Supervision of RBI- Report - The Modi government plans on proposing rules that will enhance the power of the Reserve Bank of India’s central board, a move that may open the door to greater government supervision, according to media reports.According to Bloomberg, the finance ministry has recommended that the central bank’s board set up panels to “oversee functions including financial stability, monetary-policy transmission and foreign-exchange management”.The RBI’s central board has, throughout its history, never been a decision-making body.It usually advises and guides the regulator, and leaves most of the decision-making to the RBI governor and his colleagues.The board currently has 18 members, with five people from the central bank (the governor and his four deputy governors). The other 13 members include two government representatives, seven government-appointed non-official directors and four more from the central bank’s local boards.If the Modi government plans on going through with this change, banking sources tell The Wire, it will move the central board from being an advisory forum to playing a more sharp supervisory role. “The recommendations being considered include setting up several committees comprising two to three board members each. The body has the powers to frame rules under section 58 of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, and no legislative change is required,” the Bloomberg report noted, quoting unidentified sources.  In remarks made to CNBC-TV18, senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily, who also serves as the chairman of the parliamentary panel on finance, described the proposed move as an “assault on the RBI’s independence”.

Narendra Modi Stacks RBI Board With Allies to Turn Heat up on Governor - As Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government turns up the heat on the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor to do its bidding ahead of next year’s general election, it is getting the central bank’s board to take on a much more powerful role, according to government officials and board members. Now stacked with government nominees who can be counted on to support the administration, the board is being transformed from having a passive advisory role into a body that can exert pressure for policy change. Some economists fear it could threaten the bank’s independence. Two board members told Reuters that government pressure for easier lending policies is likely to become abundantly clear at Monday’s board meeting – the first to be held since the extent of a deep rift between the RBI and the government became public knowledge. With the election due by May, and voters concerned about weak farm incomes and whether enough jobs are being created, Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is keen to stimulate the economy and sees the RBI’s hawkish stance as a barrier, said government officials and BJP allies. The government has been pressing the Mumbai-based RBI and Governor Urjit Patel to accede to a range of demands that could help to boost demand. They include making it easier and cheaper for small businesses to borrow, easing lending curbs on 11 state-run banks which had debt and capital adequacy issues, and providing more liquidity to shadow lenders. They also want the government to have access to surplus reserves the RBI has built up – money that could be used for the administration’s populist programmes including boosts to rural wages, fuel subsidies and buying crops at a guaranteed minimum price. 

RBI move boosts Indian banks’ lending ability by up to $42 billion- sources - (Reuters) - The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) estimates that Indian banks will have capacity to lend an extra 2.5 trillion rupees to 3.0 trillion rupees ($35 billion to $42 billion) over the next year after it decided to relax a deadline for lenders to boost capital ratios, two sources aware of discussions on the matter said on Tuesday. Under pressure from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to spur lending ahead of elections, the RBI agreed at its board meeting on Monday to extend a deadline for lenders to further lift capital conservation buffers by a year to March 31. The relaxation will also reduce banks’ capital requirements by about 300 billion to 350 billion rupees of capital, the two sources said, adding that the numbers were shared by the RBI at the board meeting. The relaxation is a credit negative for Indian banks, international credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Services said. During Monday’s nine-hour meeting, the board advised the central bank to act to support small businesses and give banks more time to step up capital norms. The government had been lobbying furiously for such moves for weeks. “The RBI has agreed at the board meeting to allow banks to restructure the stressed loans to small and medium size companies,” the first source told Reuters, though the central bank had not been so specific in its press statement on Monday. The RBI’s board meeting, usually a staid affair, came sharply into focus after top government officials pressed the RBI to ease lending and capital rules for banks, provide more liquidity to the shadow banking sector, support lending to small businesses and let the government use more of the RBI’s surplus reserves to boost the economy. “The broad concern that board members wanted the RBI to address was that no one should be starved of credit,” the second source said. 

IMF Pushes Neoliberal Policies in Latin America (video & transcript) Following a prolonged loss of influence in Latin America in the first decade of the 2000’s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is back again, flexing its muscle in Argentina and Mexico, pushing the neoliberal Washington Consensus, says Vijay Prashad in this Real News Network interview.

U.S. Sanctions Cut 6% Off Russian GDP Since 2014, New Study Claims - A new study by Bloomberg Economics claims that US sanctions have knocked as much as 6% off Russia's economy over the past four years. The findings highlight the general devastation that Washington and E.U. sanctions against Moscow wreaked in the aftermath of the Crimean crisis in 2014. According to the authors the estimate is based on a growth forecast that would be reasonably expected according to indicators at the end of 2013 if the crisis had never happened. The study found that while some of the blame is due to the slump in oil prices, sanctions have been the bigger driver, and perhaps partly the introduction of inflation targeting and a sell-off in emerging markets could be other factors. According to the report, “The underperformance has been much bigger than crude alone can explain.”Scott Johnson, study author and analyst at Bloomberg Economics in London, concluded “Part of the gap is likely to reflect the enduring impact of sanctions both imposed and threatened over the last five years.”Bloomberg reports of Moscow's reactionary measures in the face of sanctions: Policies aimed at protecting the nation from future sanctions by building up reserves have made it more resilient, but they have come at the expense of growth. Still, the Kremlin argues that the sanctions haven’t had an impact on its foreign policy.

Russia Blasts West's Meddling In Interpol Leadership Election -Four US senators, and their mainstream media mouthpieces, are enraged at the idea that Alexander Prokopchuk - a general in the Russian Interior Ministry who is currently a vice president of Interpol - is the front-runner to become its next president; and have urged nations to vote against him. The position in question became vacant after Interpol's President Meng Hongwei was detained in his homeland China, pending a corruption investigation. Based in the French city of Lyon, Interpol is a clearinghouse for police agencies around the world, helping them cooperate outside their borders. It is best-known for issuing red notices, or alerts that identify a suspect pursued by another country, effectively putting them on the world's "most-wanted" list.As AP reports, the Interpol presidency is more of a ceremonial position compared to the hands-on leadership role of the secretary-general. The president oversees the executive committee, which meets a few times a year and makes decisions on Interpol's strategy and direction.Interpol's charter explicitly proclaims its neutrality, and two years ago it introduced measures aimed at strengthening the legal framework around the red notice system. As part of the changes, an international team of lawyers and experts first check a notice's compliance with Interpol rules and regulations before it goes out.But the potential of a Putin loyalist in such a prominent role has prompted concern among those critical of the Russian president's leadership.AP reports that Kremlin foes including financier Bill Browder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Alexei Navalny have warned that naming a top Russian police official to lead the international law enforcement agency will undermine Interpol and politicize police cooperation across borders.As RT reports, the four US senators said in a statement, released on Monday, that electing Prokopchuk as the head of Interpol is "akin to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse."

 Interpol Defies Russia, Elects South Korean As President -- It appears that an aggressive lobbying campaign by the US and the UK has succeeded in stopping a qualified Russian candidate from winning the presidency of Interpol. One day after four US senators, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the home office of the UK expressed outrage at the notion that Interpol Vice President Alexander Prokopchuk, a general in the Russian Interior Ministry, had emerged as the front-runner to become the international police agency's next president. Both the US and UK urged Interpol members to vote instead for Kim Jong Yang, who assumed the role of acting president after the last president, Meng Hongwei, disappeared in China following rumors of a corruption prosecution, according to the Financial Times..@SenatorShaheen, @marcorubio, @chriscoons, and I oppose Russian leadership of Interpol. Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents, and journalists. Read our full statement here:— Senator Roger Wicker (@SenatorWicker) November 19, 2018  On Wednesday, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid praised Kim’s "clear win" which he said "comes despite Russia’s best efforts." He added the result was an "encouraging victory for rules and rights-based security co-operation."

Maersk planning for tariffs to hit hard in 2019 - CEO Søren Skou said investments are likely to slow down next year as the company deals with the challenges at hand and works to reduce its debt and grow existing secondary services like supply chain management, warehousing and distribution. "The fact that we're underweight market share wise in the Pacific is actually something that comes in quite handy right now," said Skou on the call. Tariffs are hurting back haul revenue out of the U.S., said COO Søren Toft, but with tariffs on $200 billion in imports from China set to increase from 10% to 25% on in January, carriers are bracing for volume dips. But tariffs are just one challenge coming to the industry next year. Lower sulfur emissions standards handed down by the IMO go into effect in January 2020; next year will be the time where carriers have to ready their fleets with scrubbers to clean the exhaust or prepare to change their fuel sourcing.Maersk, along with several other carriers, has announced new fees to cover the cost of the upgrades and Clerc said customers are taking it well — despite accusations of profiteering. "The discussion with customers will be around that bunker adjustment formula, not a discussion around the number of scrubbers or how this is being impacted. We have no visibility on that at this stage anyway. So we have given the formula already to the market," said Clerc on the same call, describing initial conversations with customers as "quite positive."

Barricaded refugees ‘ready to die’ than return to Libya detention - Refugees and migrants refusing to leave a cargo boat in a Libyan port are pleading to be taken to Europe, saying they are prepared to die than be returned to detention in the North African country. As the standoff with Libyan authorities in Misrata entered its ninth day, two of those on board said on Sunday it was too dangerous to go back to Libyan detention centres, where they risk being abused and sold to people smugglers while having little hope of being evacuated. "All people are saying now we don't want to go outside until we die here," Kai, an 18-year-old from South Sudan, told Al Jazeera on the phone. The refugees and migrants were brought to Misrata on November 10, four days after setting sail in a rubber boat with the hope of reaching Italy. Daniel, a 16-year-old from South Sudan, said the rubber boat had travelled almost 200km before the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship, The Nivin, crossed its path. Both Kai and Daniel said the crew on board The Nivin told them they would be taken to Italy, but instead brought them to Misrata. "We see Malta and they brought us back. All of us we entered into the international waters and they bring us back," said Kai. "Why would they bring us back; they know we die here. Why they bring us back here?" After discussions with humanitarian organisations, some of those on board the docked ship agreed to disembark, including women and an infant child. According to Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity known by its French initials, MSF, there are now 77 people on board, 28 of whom are under 18. Rights groups and medical charities urge authorities to ensure the safety of those on board [Al Jazeera] Kai said they come from various countries, including Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Bangladesh. Many are sick and injured, after being burned with oil from the rubber boat they were travelling in, he added. Paula Barrachina Esteban, spokesperson for the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR), said the world body is providing humanitarian aid to those on The Nivin. "At the moment, we're just advocating for a solution to be found and discussing with the relevant authorities,"

 Italy Orders Seizure of Migrant Rescue Ship — Italy has ordered the seizure of the Aquarius, the rescue ship at the center of international criticism over its government’s hard line against migration, saying the vessel had illegally disposed of potentially infectious waste. Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania announced on Tuesday that they had accused 24 people of having “systematically shared, planned and executed an illegal waste-disposal project of an enormous quantity” in southern Italian ports between January 2017 and May 2018. They said the waste included contaminated garments, leftover food, and medical supplies and syringes. Those accused included members of Doctors Without Borders, one of the aid groups operating the Aquarius, and officials of a Sicilian company that manages waste disposal. According to a statement by the prosecutors’ office, the Aquarius and VOS Prudence, another rescue ship operated by Doctors Without Borders, illegally coordinated with the Sicilian company, which failed to declare the “presence of dangerous sanitary waste with an infectious risk.” Doctors Without Borders denied the accusation in a statement on Tuesday, writing that it “strongly condemns” the Italian order to seize the Aquarius. It called the measure a disproportionate reaction designed to criminalize humanitarian and medical missions at sea. The group said it would appeal in Italian court.

60% Of Italians Think EU Is Bad For Italy - If the European Commission does levy billions of fines against the Italian government (or enforce some other punishment), some "60 million Italians will rise up" against the trade bloc - or at least that's what a clearly frustrated Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini told a group of Italian reporters following reports that the Commission could move to punish Italy as soon as next week.The Italian people, Salvini added, would never accept those penalties, according to a report in Italy's ANSA newswire. And according to the latest polling, there's more than a little truth to that.As the 27 EU members who aren't the UK brace for the inevitable fallout for what increasingly looks to be a bumpy Brexit, one shocking poll revealed that 60% of Italians feel that their country has been mistreated by the European Union. If accurate, that's several percentage points higher than the percentage of Britons who voted to leave the EU back in 2016. According to Express, pollsters Coldiretti and Ixè found that some 43% of Italians believe that Brussels' economic policies were designed by stronger economies with little concern for weaker EU members. And fittingly enough, one of Italians' biggest concerns about the EU and its unfair treatment of Italy stems from policies related to agriculture.Two-thirds of Italians believe that the EU’s policies on food damage products made in Italy and only 10 percent believe the Italian agri-food sector is benefitting from EU choices. "The clear majority of Italians therefore believe that community regulation and the recent choices regarding international treaties are not adequate to guarantee quality, safety but also respect for the gastronomical traditions of Italy."

Hillary Clinton- Europe must curb immigration to stop rightwing populists - Europe must get a handle on immigration to combat a growing threat from rightwing populists, Hillary Clinton has said, calling on the continent’s leaders to send out a stronger signal showing they are “not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support”. In an interview with the Guardian, the former Democratic presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists, particularly on the right, in Europe and the Americas.“I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message – ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ – because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.” Clinton’s remarks are likely to prove controversial across Europe, which has struggled to form a unified position ever since more than 1 million migrants and refugees arrived in the EU in 2015. While some countries who have borne the brunt, such as Germany, Italy and Greece, have argued for the burden to be shared more evenly, some, particularly in central and eastern Europe, have rejected demands to take in refugees.

In Unprecedented Clash, EU Rejects Italy's Budget, Paves Way For Sanctions - Yields on Italian government bonds fell on Wednesday morning as the euro climbed following reports that Italy's ruling coalition might be open to reviewing its budget plan. Though the Italian government swiftly denied the reports about being open to changes in its plan, the moves in the euro and yields persisted, as analysts said they didn't appear to be news driven. The spread between the 10-year BTP and 10-year German bund tightened to tightening as much as 16 basis points to 309 basis points. Italian bank shares also eased off their highs of the session after the denials, but remained 2% higher on the day after sinking to two-year lows on Tuesday. And in the most significant sign yet that the confrontation between Italy and Europe is heading toward the point of no return, the European Union confirmed Wednesday morning that it would officially reject Italy's budget plan, an unprecedented move that will likely lead to billions of euros in fines being levied against Rome for violating the bloc's budget rules. Furthermore, the EC said it would call for the opening of an Excessive Debt Proceeding against the Italian government, which could lead to billions of euros in fines. In its draft budget, the Italian government called for an expansion of the country's budget deficit to 2.4% of GDP to finance tax cuts, expanded pension benefits and other handouts to unemployed and desperate Italians. "Our analysis today suggests that the debt doesn't respect our budget rules. We conclude that opening a proceeding against excessive spending based n the debt is then justified," the EU said, according to ANSA.. But EU bureaucrats have long maintained that this expansion will do nothing to boost stagnant Italian growth; instead, it will hurt Italians by inevitably leading to more austerity. The Italian plan represents a "particularly grave disrespect" of EU budget rules, particularly the recommendation from the meeting of EU ecofin ministers last July 13. The statement confirms Brussels' previous analysis.

Italy to resist budget pressure ahead of EU elections (Reuters) - Italy said on Thursday it would resist pressure from Brussels to revise its big-spending budget, effectively daring EU authorities to punish it with fines ahead of May’s European parliamentary elections. Leaders of Rome’s populist government said they would press ahead with expanding the deficit next year, a day after the European Commission kicked off disciplinary procedures against Italy over that plan in a dispute that has alarmed the whole euro zone. “We will not take a backward step,” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini told state-owned television Rai. “We’re not spending this money at random. The idea is for Italy to grow.” Salvini wants his League - one of two parties that formed a governing coalition in June - to help trim the European Union’s powers over member states and spearhead a populist attack on the European parliament at next year’s elections. His coalition partner and co-deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio of the anti-establishment 5-Star party, also said Rome would not back down before then. “I rule out spending-cutting measures before the EU vote,” Di Maio told journalists in parliament, saying many European countries would have reasons to change the “rules of the game” in Europe thereafter. The government argues a budget expansion will boost economic growth and in turn tax revenues, bringing down its 2.3-trillion-euro ($2.63 trillion) public debt, which represents about 130 percent of economic output. The Commission disagrees, saying Italy must do more to ease its debt burden, proportionally the euro zone’s second highest after Greece. The clash with the EU, whose fiscal rules designed to protect the euro zone from a debt crisis Brussels says Rome is breaking, is worrying investors. It has dented the single currency and sent Italy’s borrowing costs surging and shares its banks tumbling. But on Thursday, with the start of the Commission’s excessive deficit procedure having pushed back any action against Italy into next year, Italian bond yields fell sharply for a second day as investors chose to focus on conciliatory rather than confrontational comments. Di Maio also said he saw room for dialogue with the Commission, while economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici voiced confidence that an agreement could be reached.

SocGen To Pay $1.3 Billion To Settle US Sanctions Violations Against Iran, Sudan And Cuba - Five months after French bank Societe Generale agreed to pay $1.3 billion to resolve criminal and civil charges in the United States and France for bribing Gaddafi-era Libyan officials and manipulating the Libor interest rate benchmark, on Monday the third-largest French bank did it again when it settled its longstanding sanctions violations case with U.S. authorities, entering a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors and agreeing to pay another $1.3 billion to New York and Washington regulators.As part of the settlement, SocGen acknowledged violations of U.S. sanctions laws against Iran, Sudan and Cuba starting as far back as 2003 and extending to 2013, according to Bloomberg. According to a consent order filed by New York’s Department of Financial Services, the bank executed more than 2,600 outbound payments during this period, valued at about $8.3 billion, in violation of U.S. sanctions laws.In a statement, the NY Fed said that the bank agreed to pay $1.34 billion in all to resolve the settlement. In addition to paying $717 million to the US DOJ, the bank will pay $420 million to New York’s Department of Financial Services, $163 million to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, $81 million to the U.S. Federal Reserve and $54 million to the U.S. Treasury.“Societe Generale has admitted its willful violations of U.S. sanctions laws -- and longtime concealment of those violations -- which resulted in billions of dollars of illicit funds flowing through the U.S. financial system,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman in Manhattan, which announced the settlement.“Other banks should take heed: Enforcement of U.S. sanctions laws is, and will continue to be, a top priority of this office and our partner agencies.”

France shaken by mass protests --On Saturday, protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax hike saw an elemental outpouring of pent-up anger against social inequality. After a series of calls for protests and road blockades in social media in recent weeks, 287,710 people wearing yellow vests joined 2,034 blockades and go-slow operations across France. Last night, tens of thousands were still protesting a measure that would break the monthly budgets of workers commuting to their jobs.They are part of an international wave of protests spreading across Europe. In Belgium, protesters are blockading oil refineries in solidarity with the French protests, while fuel tax protests have also erupted in Bulgaria and Serbia. Amid an upsurge of the class struggle in Europe, there are ferry strikes and a public sector strike against the pro-austerity Syriza government in Greece; the Bucharest metro strike; and Amazon and Ryanair strikes in Germany and across the continent.Broad opposition to existing social conditions is mounting. “For the average Frenchman who works and gets a wage, it is getting really hard. … We are proud to pay our taxes, but this is too much,” one protester told BFM TV. He added that he is opposing problems that accumulated “over decades,” to cries of “Macron resign” from protesters holding signs saying “No to the president of the rich.”Three-quarters of French people support the protests, amid anger at austerity, Macron’s cuts to pensions, and his decision to tax workers while slashing the Tax on Wealth (ISF) on millionaires. “The fuel tax was the feather that broke the camel’s back, but it goes far beyond that,” protesters near Marseille told the WSWS. “We are sure there are other solutions, we are tired of being led by private interests. We would like a return to democracy, wage increases, cuts in taxes paid by working people, the right to cast blank votes and to decide on all important laws via referendums. We are sure there are many solutions. The population must take back political power.”

 One Dead, Over 200 Injured As 280,000 People Protest Rising French Fuel Prices - Is this why French President Emmanuel Macron wants to build a new European army? As the youngest French leader since Napoleon watches his popularity sink ever-closer to single-digit territory, the French people, who are increasingly fed up with the endless stream of gaffes, scandals and poor policy choices are rapidly getting fed up. In the latest expression of public outrage to rock the republic, one person has died and more than 200 people were injured during protests that involved some 282,000 people flooding the streets throughout France according to the French interior ministry to protest Macron's controversial decision to hike fuel taxes. According to RT, French police used tear gas to stop demonstrators on the Champs-Elysees. Beginning in the early hours of Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to express their grievances about the government's decision to raise taxes on fuel. The protesters blocked roads, disrupted traffic and blocked access to gas stations. Most of them are wearing yellow vests – the symbol of a popular movement and umbrella organization behind the protests. Police tried to contain the protest by cordoning off some roads in Paris, but the crush of people kept coming. "Gasoline prices never stop rising. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. Macron and his buddies just let… things go from bad to worse," one protester said.

Amid mass protests, France announces return to universal military service - Yesterday, after hundreds of thousands of people across France donned yellow vests and blockaded roads and intersections to oppose President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax hike and his social attacks on working people, the French government announced the return to universal military service. In an interview yesterday with Le Parisien, Junior Minister for Youth Gabriel Attal, who is presenting the bill, said: “My objective is to have the first draftees as early as June” of 2019.The timing of this announcement underscored the close link between the ruling elite’s attempts to put entire generations of youth under military discipline, and its attempts to suppress social anger that is erupting among youth and workers in France and across Europe.As it announced the return to the draft, the government was threatening a new, violent police crackdown against continuing “Yellow Vest” protesters’ blockades Monday. Some 27,000 protesters were involved, blockading highways in the northeast and near the western coast of France, as well as strategic Total oil refineries in the south.With 183 protesters still in preventive detention after a heavy police crackdown on the weekend’s protests, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner threatened that Yellow Vest protesters would be “thrown out systematically, methodically” from their blockades during the week.“Deblockading operations will continue in the coming hours,” he announced last night, adding that he had asked police authorities to be ready to “liberate fuel depots and other sensitive sites.” He said, “Freedom of expression and of protest is a fundamental right. But this liberty does not allow for lasting interference with freedom of movement or with commercial and economic life. I ask solemnly, but firmly, that those who want to demonstrate to continue demonstrating if they want, but without trying to create blockages and attack the liberty of others.” With calls spreading on social media for a march on the Elysée presidential palace and for renewed mass blockading actions this coming weekend, the government is clearly planning for a major police crackdown against growing social opposition.

France’s ‘yellow vest’ protest enters third day as fuel depots are blocked The "yellow vest" fuel tax protests around France continued into a third day on Monday with road blocks set up at petrol refineries and at strategic points on roads and motorways across the country. Read on for all the latest. Road blocks were put up across France for a third day on Monday despite the "yellow vest" movement being on a much smaller scale than was seen on Saturday. In total, 150 protests were ongoing on morning Monday, with Benjamin Cauchy, the organizer of the movement in Toulouse, explaining their new strategy in an interview with radio station RMC. "We now want to block refineries and industrial deposits to have an economic impact. [...] Edouard Philippe heard us with one ear but did not listen to us," he said. Early Monday, dozens of barricades were still being manned on motorways and roundabouts, far fewer than the more than 2,000 sites on Saturday. Around 200 trucks were backed up along a road leading to a fuel depot in the western city of Rennes, where some protesters had camped out overnight, an AFP reporter said. Others continued to camp out in supermarket parking lots. The fact the protesters are willing to continue their action into a third day will concern the French government, whose Prime Minister Edouard Philippe vowed on Sunday to stick to their plan to raise fuel taxes in January. "The movement is not exceptional... and obviously isn't as big as on Saturday," Laurent Nunez, junior interior minister, told CNews, adding that police would continue to intervene to ensure major roads are not blocked.

What’s driving this French revolution? - Hundreds of people in yellow, high-visibility jackets blocked the traffic. The police had fled. Six open-top, tourist-buses were trapped. Chinese passengers took photographs with their mobile phones, as if convinced that this was a French cultural event staged just for them. Corentin and Sylvie were in their early 60s and neatly dressed, except that they too wore the fluorescent, high-viz jackets, which are the symbol of France’s latest street revolution. The expression on their faces said: Are we really part of this. Us? Respectable people like us? “We have never been on a demonstration before, never in our lives,” Corentin said. “Usually we are sitting at home in front of the television asking ‘who do these people out on the streets think they are? Why does the government allow it?’” “But enough is enough. This is about petrol and diesel prices, yes, but it’s also about people like us, people not at the top nor at the bottom – people who are sick to the teeth of being punished and fleeced to pay for everyone else.” More than 280,000 people blocked streets and roads in 2,000 demonstrations against petrol pump prices across France on Saturday and Sunday. One protestor in Savoie, a woman in her 60’s, was killed when the driver of a blocked car, taking her child to the doctor, panicked and reversed into the crowd. Over 400 other demonstrators were hurt, 14 of them seriously. They were mostly knocked over by motorists who objected to being delayed.  Most road-blocks were good-humoured and well-behaved, although there was a scattering of racist and homophobic attacks on drivers who refused to halt,. The uniform of the revolt is the yellow hi-vis jacket, or gilet jaune, which French drivers must carry in their vehicles by law. The protest has no formal leaders or organisation and has refused help from political parties or trades unions. It is predominantly rural and outer suburban, anti-Metropolitan and anti-politician but cannot easily be dismissed as a populist trend of hard-Right or hard-Left. It has spread like wild-fire from several, unconnected petitions and blogs first posted on social media late last month. Two of the petitions were posted by women – a 50-something hypnotherapist in rural Brittany called Jacline Mouraud and a 30-something commercial traveller in the outer Paris suburbs, called Priscillia Ludosky. Neither had any previous connection with politics.

Germany scuppers grand French plans for euro zone budget - French president Emmanuel Macron was in Berlin on Sunday to address the German parliament on the occasion of Germany’s remembrance day, the first French president to address German MPs in 18 years. His speech – in which he, again, called for more European cooperation – was loudly applauded by the politicians, who are not really used to such rousing words in their chamber. Macron also had a small breakthrough to celebrate: France and Germany have finally come to an agreement on a euro-zone budget, due to launch in 2021 and a Franco-German paper on the subject will be presented to euro-zone finance ministers meeting on Monday. Unfortunately for Macron, the joint paper released by both countries’ finance ministries indicate that his victory is more symbolic than substantial. The two countries agreed in principle to a budget last June, but detailed negotiations saw more conservative German ideas winning out. The French and Germans have been negotiating a euro-zone budget for some time, with many sessions going on into the early hours of the morning. Apparently, the French were frustrated with the German foot-dragging and at one stage, French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, warned about a loss of trust. And the eventual compromise seems to have resulted in little to celebrate. The original idea – that the euro-zone budget be used to stabilize European countries in crisis – barely gets a mention in the Franco-German paper, notes Lucas Guttenberg, deputy director of the Delors Institute, a German-French think tank focusing on Europe. “The unity was mainly around that central bit of progress. The overall impression is that this [new euro-zone budget] is interchangeable with the EU budget.”

The Eurozone Banks' Trillion Timebomb -  Eurozone banks have fallen dramatically in the stock market despite the results of the stress tests carried out by the ECB. EU Banks Index is down 25% on the year despite year-long bullish recommendations from almost every broker. This should not surprise anyone because we have seen in the past that these tests are only a theoretical exercise. Moreover, stress tests’ results are widely challenged, and rightly so, because the exercise starts with the most ridiculous premise in economics: Ceteris Paribus, or “all else remaining equal”, which never happens. Every asset manager knows that risk builds slowly and happens fast.Disappointing earnings, rising risk in the eurozone as well as in their diversification markets such as emerging economies, weak net income margins and low return on tangible equity are factors that have contributed to the weak performance of European banks. Investors are rightly suspicious about consensus estimates for 2019 with expectations of double-digit EPS growth rates. Those growth rates look impossible in the current macroeconomic scenario.Eurozone banks have done a good job of strengthening their capital structure, reaching almost a one per cent per annum increase in Tier 1 core capital. The question is whether this improvement is enough.Two factors weigh on sentiment.

  1. More than EUR104 billion of risky “hybrid bonds” (CoCos) are included in the calculation of core capital.
  2. The total volume of Non-Performing Loans across the European Union is still at around EUR 900 billion, well above pre-crisis levels, with a provision ratio of only 50.7%, according to the European Commission.  Although the ratio has declined to 4.4%, down by roughly 1 percentage point year-on-year, the absolute figure remains elevated and the provision ratio is too small.

This is what I call the “one trillion eurozone timebomb”. One trillion euro risk when the MSCI Europe Bank index has a total market capitalization of around EUR790 billion.

Brussels won’t allow Brexit deal do-over - Brussels is on edge, but it has no intention of going back to the Brexit drawing board. Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told a meeting of EU27 ambassadors Friday morning that whatever political “difficulties” Theresa May is experiencing in London, the bloc has a “duty” to stand firm on its key Brexit red lines, according to EU diplomats present.For her part, May is standing firm on the deal in the face of a gale of criticism and is intent on pushing the deal to a vote in the House of Commons. But if political opponents in her own party succeed in forcing her to seek a better deal, there is no sign that any of the EU27 red lines will change.We cannot “compromise” or engage in “cherry-picking” or “bargaining,” Barnier told ambassadors, referring to requests to reopen the draft deal that was agreed by the British Cabinet on Wednesday. He added that he expects “difficult negotiations” ahead.Barnier also expressed a desire to help the British government in its efforts to ratify the text in a vote of MPs. And he said that there could be room for movement on the EU side in specific areas, such as enhanced cooperation on phytosanitary regulations and so-called technical barriers to trade. It is a moment not for triumphalism, he said, but for “encouragement.”The chief negotiator’s presentation at the more than two-hour meeting reflects a dilemma for Brussels. While EU countries want to help May get the deal through parliament, there is a reluctance at such a late stage to radically unpick the agreement — despite threats to May’s leadership and a series of ministerial resignations over the deal.Diplomats say that some tweaks might still be possible if they could make the difference between the deal succeeding or crashing, but the kind of radical overhaul proposed by Brexiteers such as former Brexit Secretary David Davis is simply not on the table. There is “no question” of that, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday.

Brexit- ‘No question’ of further negotiations if Theresa May’s deal rejected, says Merkel -- There is “no question” of further Brexit negotiations if the deal struck byTheresa May is rejected, Angela Merkel has said. Speaking in Berlin, the German chancellor welcomed the deal but warned a chaotic exit was still possible as a “worst case” scenario.“We have a document on the table that Britain and the EU 27 have agreed to, so for me there is no question at the moment whether we negotiate further,” the Chancellor said. The warning follows EU officials close to talks saying the controversial document, which has been panned on all sides in Westminster, is “the best we can do” given the prime minister’s red lines and the bloc’s own rules. Ms May has publicly stood by the plan, but the Huffington Post reported on Thursday night that allies of the prime minister are trying to win over Brexiteer rebels in the Conservative party with the offer of further concessions from Brussels if they fall in line. Speaking at a news conference ostensibly about her government’s digital strategy, Ms Merkel told reporters: “I am very happy that after long negotiations which were not easy, a proposal has been pulled together. “You have to see the alternatives and then ask: is what we have a basis? So I hope that this can be such a basis.  “The worst case, and most disorderly, is that there is no kind of no deal.”It comes as Westminster waits with baited breath to see whether the prime minister will be subject to a no-confidence vote over the plan. This would be triggered if 48 Tory MPs write to party authorities requesting one, a number that is thought to be close. In Brussels, ambassadors of the 27 remaining EU member states are meeting to put the finishing touches to the “future relationship” part of the deal, which unlike the withdrawal agreement could still change.

Brexit- another fine mess - The only thing that is now absolutely certain about Brexit is that what we voted for in the referendum was not the utter chaos we are looking at today, writes Booker in today's column. What most of us making up that 17.4 million imagined we were voting for was not just that we should leave the EU, but also that we should do so with minimal damage to our economy. But the problems started way back when the Brexiteers behind the official Vote Leave campaign very deliberately decided that they should not put forward any specific plan for how this might be achieved. Their view was that, if any such strategy was proposed, this would only set off ferocious arguments with all those lobbying for alternative plans. This was evident in a sneery e-mail which Dominic Cummings sent me in July 2015 in response to one of mine when I had argued that the official "no" campaign would need an exit plan. Cummings by then was already aware of Flexcit, acknowledging that it was "unarguable" that it was "a very important document", but we went on to say that he had to deal with "a physical reality" where "almost nobody agrees … about almost anything".Thus, it was not a question of the campaign failing to have a plan. The idea was deliberately rejected, an act of cowardice that had the main players ducking an issue that was inevitably going to rebound on us all, simply because the campaign wanted to avoid disagreement in its ranks. The inevitable result of this act of cowardice - only offering voters a blank cheque as to what might happen next - was that it merely postponed the moment when precisely those arguments were bound to emerge. After the result, each of the rival groups could then claim that the referendum result supported whatever agenda they were putting forward.  The trouble was that none of these competing views, including those of the "ultra" Brexiteers, was based on any proper understanding of the incredibly complex realities of the situation we were facing

Brexit: an information desert - You can tell by their tone of voice and the body language that BBC presenters are loving Brexit just now. With the negotiations effectively over (except for the last hurrah as Mrs May goes to Brussels), they can dispense with any pretence of following the detail and devote their energies to lapping up the Westminster soap opera. With the (largely) London-based media doing the same thing, this drags coverage down to a new level of tedium as we have to suffer in equal measure the ignorance and self-importance of sundry politicians and their hangers-on. Most of those whom we saw during the negotiation phase had little enough to say worth listening to, but now the babble is more or less devoted entirely to politics, there input is of even less interest. I actually found myself switching off a BBC report on Brexit, mid-flow. I could no longer stand the prattle. As Nick Cohen observes, "political correspondents, who couldn't find a big picture in a multiplex, buzz around Westminster hyperventilating about the number of letters sent to the 1922 Committee, and the replacement of minister X with junior minister Y, as if it mattered in the slightest". Much of the trouble with the Brexit debate is that it is virtually impossible to kill a bad idea. They just keep getting repeated over and over again, ad nauseum, to the point where one no longer bothers with rebuttals. It doesn't make the slightest bit of difference: their authors are in "broadcast only mode", impervious to outside influences. Of course, some (even most) politicians are permanently in this mode, with their fingers pressed so firmly on transmit button that no-one else's output can be heard. They prefer it that way as it removes the need to answer criticism or hear their (mostly) stupid ideas torn to shreds. No more so is this event than in yesterday's contribution from the Labour Party, through the persona of Kier Starmer, determine to exploit the mess left by Mrs May to their own electoral advantage.

May to face down Tory rebels: Prime Minister will insist her Brexit deal delivers on immigration promises and tells ministers her Northern Ireland plan cannot be changed Theresa May will today declare that her Brexit deal delivers on the key priority of controlling immigration, as she faces down Cabinet critics who want to reopen negotiations. The cricket-loving Prime Minister will try to get on the front foot in the Tory Brexit war by saying her agreement will create greater opportunities for young people wanting skilled jobs. But she will risk a fresh Cabinet row by rejecting a demand from her Eurosceptic ministers to make last-minute changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. A ‘Gang of Five’ ministers, led by Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom, have been calling for modifications to the Northern Ireland backstop. But Mrs May will today say the arrangements have already been ‘agreed in full’ as she insists her deal is a ‘good one for the UK’. The Prime Minister is also facing the continued threat of a Tory party vote of no confidence triggered by rebel backbench MPs. Led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Eurosceptic rebels need 48 MPs to submit a letter of no confidence to trigger a vote to topple May. So far 25 MPs have publicly sent a letter of no confidence. The rebels last week claimed they had the 48 necessary letters, but now say they are likely to come this week. Addressing the CBI annual conference in London, the Prime Minister will say that the priority in this ‘intense week of negotiations’ is to ‘hammer out’ the framework of the future trade deal. Mrs May will go on the offensive with a sales pitch highlighting how she is bringing back control over immigration. She will tell delegates that her agreement will create a level playing field on immigration that means EU nationals will no longer be able to ‘jump the queue’. She will say: ‘Getting back full control of our borders is an issue of great importance to the British people... once we have left the EU, we will be fully in control of who comes here.

Brexit deal: Theresa May faces defeat over plan to force release of economic analysis of her plan - Theresa May faces an embarrassing defeat over plans to force her into publishing data comparing Britain’s economic prospects under her Brexit deal to staying in the EU. Eleven Conservatives – including Jo Johnson, who resigned as a minister last week – have publicly signed up to the cross-party push, with the rebellion set to grow if it comes to a vote on Monday. The prime minister has so far refused to commit to releasing the analysis, which is likely to underline how remaining in the EU would deliver a more prosperous future for the country. Ms May meanwhile continued her media offensive to defend her Brexit plans, while eurosceptics pushed to raise enough support to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Conservative leader. On Monday more than 70 MPs from six different parties will attempt to push through an amendment to the Finance Bill, which if passed would obligate Ms May to publish an economic impact assessment into the withdrawal deal she has agreed with the EU. The names include 11 Tories – the same number who rebelled the last time Ms May was defeated in the Commons on Brexit – who had backed Remain in 2016, many of whom now also support a new final say referendum on the outcome of Brexit. Mr Johnson, who quit the government branding Ms May’s deal a “failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis”, is expected to make his first speech in the chamber since resigning in support of the move. The ex-transport minister told The Independent: “It is of crucial importance that the full study is published showing the impact of the government’s proposed terms of departure compared with the benefits we currently enjoy as full members of the European Union.

Spain threatens to reject May’s Brexit deal over Gibraltar Theresa May is facing a fresh threat to her Brexit deal after Spain warned it would reject it unless Madrid were granted a special veto to prevent any future EU trade agreement with Britain that covers Gibraltar. As the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, sought to sell the withdrawal agreement to both its critics in the UK and member states who have expressed concerns, the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, threw a spanner in the works. Borrell said his government wanted a clear promise that no future trade or security deals would apply to Gibraltar without Spain’s consent. “Negotiations between the UK and the EU do not apply to Gibraltar. Future negotiations on Gibraltar are separate negotiations,” he said. “That is what must be made clear. Until we have the future declaration and we know what it says, whether we agree with it or not, we are not going to approve the withdrawal agreement.” Downing Street and the European commission have a deal in principle on the withdrawal agreement dealing with citizens’ rights, the £39bn divorce bill and the Irish border problem. The Spanish government wants the accompanying political declaration on the future relationship, which is still being negotiated, to include the veto on the inclusion of Gibraltar, a disputed territory. The socialist government in Spain is facing criticism at home, ahead of regional elections, for being soft on the Gibraltar issue. “In these negotiations, things always come up at the last moment and that is what we are going to see. I cannot say that things are fixed 100%,” Borrell said. “[Negotiations] may not be so peaceful as they seem. In Europe, it is not over until it’s over. You have always got to be prepared for a surprise at the last minute.”

Brexit: the revolution eats its children - With some (unintended) prescience, I wrote on Sunday about Dominic Cummings admitting that the "physical reality" of the Eurosceptic movement was one where "almost nobody agrees … about almost anything".That has always been the curse of Euroscepticism and from the look of it, nothing has changed. A headline in the Telegraph tells it all: "Tory Eurosceptics have admitted an attempt to unseat Theresa May had stalled as bitter in-fighting broke out among Brexiteers". Despite "confident predictions" from Tory rebels that a no confidence vote would be held as soon as Tuesday, says the paper, the extra letters from Conservative MPs needed to trigger a ballot failed to materialise on Monday. So, we are told, the vote now appears to be "on hold" until after Parliament votes next month on Brexit. Just one new name came forward to reveal they had submitted a letter last night. This was "hardline" Eurosceptic Philip Hollobone, and he'd sent in a letter four months ago. One senior Brexiteer source is cited as saying: "Today was supposed to be the day we finally got the 48 letters needed to force a no confidence vote but some people didn't turn up to be counted. There is a lot of frustration, especially with some of the big names who haven't yet put letters in". The feeling is that many of the colleagues don't want to commit themselves yet and were setting their sights on reaching the target after parliament votes next month. They believe that Mrs May would be more likely to lose a confidence vote if she had already lost a vote on the Brexit deal. Another of these "senior Eurosceptics" thus tells The Telegraph that: "Many people are saying that the meaningful vote is the right time to put in letters, that they don't want to do it yet".  Meanwhile "senior Brexiteers" Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson have been meeting Mrs May in Downing Street which, according to The Sun had "furious Brexit Tory rebels" accusing their older colleagues of "slamming the brakes on a bid to oust Theresa May because they want peerages".

Brexit deal: Government to publish analysis comparing impact of Theresa May’s plan with remaining in EU - Theresa May has been dealt a fresh blow after MPs forced the government to agree to publish analysis comparing the economic impact of her Brexit deal with staying in the EU. A cross-party amendment outlining the demand was backed by more than 70 MPs from six political parties, including enough Conservative rebels to deprive the government of its majority. Facing the prospect of a humiliating Commons defeat, ministers bowed to pressure and agreed to accept the motion.It means that, before MPs vote on Ms May’s Brexit deal, the government will have to publish analysis comparing the impact of the proposed agreement with the consequences of the alternative scenarios of a no-deal Brexit and remaining in the EU. The information will be made available at least a week before MPs hold a ”meaningful vote“ on whether or not to accept Ms May’s Brexit deal. The amendment to the Finance Bill was tabled by Labour MP Chuka Umunna and Conservative former minister Anna Soubry, who have been at the forefront of attempts to force a fresh referendum on Brexit.Tory backers of the motion included Jo Johnson, who resigned as a transport minister earlier this month in order to criticise Ms May’s Brexit plan.

Spain threatens to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal over Gibraltar - The Spanish government has threatened to reject Theresa May’s Brexitdeal over the issue of Gibraltar, demanding that last-minute changes be made to the text ahead of a crunch summit.The country’s foreign minister said Spain would not back the proposals at the European Council unless it received assurances that the agreement would not apply to Gibraltar.  But Downing Street said it would not exempt Gibraltar or any other British territory from the agreement – putting the two governments on a collision course ahead of the meeting this weekend.“The negotiations between Britain and the EU have a territorial scope that does not include Gibraltar, the negotiations on the future of Gibraltar are separate discussions,” Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell said on Monday morning in Brussels.“This is what needs to made clear, and until it is clarified in the withdrawal agreement and in the political declaration on the future relationship, we cannot give our backing.”Spain has long resented Britain’s claims on Gibraltar, a British overseas territory that is home to around 30,000 people, and has previously threatened to use Brexit to wrest concessions on the issue.

Brexit: Even More Confusion -- Yves Smith -  The most disheartening aspect is that the UK press and pols continue to be as clueless as the Tories have been and continue to be from the outset of the Brexit process. They appear unwilling to accept that the UK has had very little bargaining leverage, and the fact that the EU is governed by treaties also limits how much latitude it has. Just as it proved difficult to dislodge the Government’s fantasy that the UK would get a “special, bespoke, close” deal that would let it have “frictionless trade” with few obligations, so too are those who oppose the deal coming up with either remedies or ways out that are delusional. For instance, former Brexit minister David Davis wrote on MondayIt does not have to be like this. What we need now is leadership and the courage and confidence to deliver for the UK. We can deliver an honest and clean Brexit, leaving all the possibilities such as global free trade deals open for bright future. If we need to leave with no deal and negotiate a free trade agreement during the transition period, so be it. Let’s be clear and honest and tell the EU that’s what we are prepared to do. Um, if there’s no deal, there’s no transition period. A related vein from Tories is that they are pushing May to improve the terms of the deal, when Barnier is striving to treat the “draft” agreement as settled. Barnier is already having trouble containing demands from the EU side. From the Financial Times: France is leading a push for uncompromising EU declarations to accompany any Brexit deal with Theresa May, raising demands that would further complicate the UK prime minister’s efforts to win Westminster’s backing for the withdrawal agreement…The EU statements, known as side declarations, are commonly used by the bloc in difficult negotiations. While they are outside any formal agreement, their aim is to manage expectations by clarifying the EU’s internal interpretation of any deal… In a sign of the obstacles facing Mrs May, who needs to push through the eventual deal through a deeply sceptical House of Commons, France and Spain are championing the idea of separate EU statements, according to several diplomats from the bloc. These would set out the EU bloc’s red lines more clearly than in the formal political declaration. The hot topics are fishing rights. “level playing field,” provisions, and Gibraltar, where what was depicted as a deal between Spain and the UK fell apart. Spain now wants a formal commitment that the Withdrawal Agreement does not “prejudge” Gibraltar’s position.

Brexit negotiations at a 'critical moment', says May - British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the Brexit negotiations were at a "critical moment" ahead of an EU summit. "The negotiations are now at a critical moment," she told UK parliament, adding that British sovereignty on Gibraltar - a contentious issue ahead of the summit - would be "protected". Earlier, she described the draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and the UK as "the right deal for the UK". Speaking outside No 10 Downing Street, she said: "This is the right deal for the UK. It delivers on the vote of the referendum. "The British people want this to be settled. They want a good deal that sets us on course for a brighter future. That deal is within our grasp and I am determined to deliver it." However, MPs have warned Mrs May that they will vote down her deal in the crucial House of Commons debate which is expected early next month. Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson urged her to "junk" her backstop plan for keeping the Irish border open, which he said "makes a nonsense of Brexit". Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Mrs May had returned from Brussels with "waffle". "It represents the worst of all worlds, no say over the rules that will continue to apply and no certainty to the future," he said. .

Vote Leave loses legal challenge over Brexit spending breach - The official pro-Brexit campaign group has lost a judicial review aimed at trying to get an Electoral Commission ruling that it breached spending limits thrown out. Vote Leave was challenging the findings of a report issued in July that it had exceeded the prescribed £7m limit by channeling funds via another campaign group, but the high court concluded on Wednesday that its case was groundless. A judgment by Mrs Justice Yip said: “I do not consider that the claimant’s grounds are arguable.” She also dismissed an attempt to claim that the commission did not have the power to investigate the alleged overspending. Vote Leave was fined £61,000 by the watchdog in July and its accounting officer, David Halsall, was referred to the police for further investigation. At the time, Matthew Elliott, the former chief executive of Vote Leave, claimed the commission had not followed due process in its investigation and that it was driven by “a highly political agenda”. Bob Posner, the commission’s legal counsel, in turn complained that Vote Leave “resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation”. Fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, Vote Leave was accused of submitting incomplete and inaccurate spending returns, and of channelling donations it had received to the smaller BeLeave group which it worked with “under a common plan”, meaning its true spending was £450,000 over the £7m limit. Wednesday’s judgment said Vote Leave had raised “general complaints about the fairness of the procedure leading up to the publication of the report” and in particular the lack of opportunity for Vote Leave “to consider and comment on the report before it was released to the media”.

Who speaks for Northern Ireland on Brexit – Business bosses or the DUP? - Belfast Telegraph - Tonight the ears of Northern Ireland should be burning as Prime Minister Theresa May hosts a special reception in Downing Street for the voices of local industry, commerce and agriculture. The battle for the hearts and minds of us all in the great Brexit crisis is now waging in every corner of the UK - none more so than here, where the 10 MPs of the Democratic Unionist Party appear determined to face down the views of those to whom Mrs May will listen this evening. The very future of a British Prime Minister, of the Conservative Government, of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, depends on Northern Ireland. By a quirk of electoral arithmetic, the DUP finds itself uniquely positioned in a make or break pivotal role. The party says it will not be moved irrespective of the supportive message those gathered in Downing Street tonight will offer to Theresa May. The stage is therefore set for an extraordinary conflict of political and economic interests. Mrs May may well wonder who is truly reflecting opinion in this corner of her increasingly disunited kingdom - the politicians or the business leaders? To answer that question, it is worth returning to the only accurate gauge we have of Brexit views: the results of the 2016 referendum in the 18 Northern Ireland constituencies. Who voted for and against leaving the EU and how do those votes justify or otherwise the trenchant attitude adopted by the DUP? When the DUP is reminded that 56% of Northern Ireland voters in the referendum were Remainers, the party chooses conveniently to ignore the local result and claims instead that it reflects the overall 52% national majority for leaving the EU.  Can the 10 DUP members of Westminster have an agenda which takes little or no account of the feelings of the majority in NI who did not want to leave the EU in the first place? Only seven of the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland supported the DUP's Brexit stance in the 2016 referendum. Three out of the four Belfast constituencies voted to Remain in the EU.

Will the Tories Sacrifice Theresa May to Survive? The British government has been plunged into high political drama as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to contain a three-front rebellion against her Brexit withdrawal agreement. The currency markets, where the pound has been falling, threaten to open a fourth. The opposition of the hard Brexiteers, who think she made too many compromises in concluding a draft agreement to leave the European Union on Nov. 14, was expected. Her own Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, resigned the next morning. May, having been unable to tempt either the leading Brexiteer Michael Gove or the stentorian Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, appointed the little-known health minister, Stephen Barclay, to take over. Likewise, May always feared rejection of her deal by the small Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), upon which May’s governing majority depends. The DUP, which wants to avoid differentiating Northern Ireland from the rest of U.K., made demands concerning Northern Ireland that were incompatible with those of the EU—and the Irish government in Dublin. Should the DUP formally withdraw its support for May’s government, the opposition Labour Party stands a good chance of forcing a general election. What was most surprising for May was the hostile fire her compromise drew from those in favor of Britain remaining in the EU in the Tory party. The so-called Remainers, such as Jo Johnson (brother of Boris Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary over Brexit in July), have been relatively quiescent for most of the two years since the referendum, but in recent weeks they’ve coalesced behind the campaign for a second vote. Oddly, for Conservatives, they appear to have taken to heart the lessons of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin on the need to sharpen societal contradictions and intensify conflict by making things worse before they can be better. According to this view, only by voting down the withdrawal agreement, but also taking the risk of putting a real Marxist like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in power, can they hope to force another Brexit referendum. May could surely not hang on if Parliament voted to have a referendum in which remaining was an option, and getting the legislation necessary for a referendum through Parliament without control of the government would reverse two centuries of British constitutional practice. Thus besieged, the prime minister has struggled to assert her authority in the House of Commons.  She faced a direct attack from the extreme Brexiteer Member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg, who openly asked her to give a reason why he shouldn’t submit a letter to a Conservative Party organ known as the 1922 committee calling for a vote of no confidence in her as party leader.

Brexit political declaration: what it means for the future UK-EU relationship -  In the to and fro that all Brexit watchers are now used to, the draft text of the full political declaration between the EU and the UK is now available ahead of an expected summit of EU leaders in Brussels on November 25. First, a note on what the Political Declaration is and what it isn’t. It is separate to the Withdrawal Agreement – the 585-page document published on November 13, which covers the detailed circumstances of the UK’s departure. Instead, the Political Declaration looks to the future and how the UK and EU might work together beyond the transitional period, and in what areas and how. There are two key things to bear in mind. First, it is a political and not a legal document. Nothing in the document legally requires either the UK or the EU to do anything specific in the future. Things might happen, or they might not. Second, it is a declaration and not therefore a legal text. It has no particular formal force that could be used, for example, in a court of law. So if it is not legally binding, then why have it? For a start, it gives us some indication of the areas that the UK and EU will have to work on intensely over the coming years. It is also an indication of the extent to which the British prime minister, Theresa May, has been successful in maintaining her “red lines” and how the EU side has managed to accommodate the differing views between the 27 member states. But this only goes so far – there is little to suggest here how closely entwined the UK and EU might be in, say, ten years from now.

How EU Surprised Capitals and Helped May Cross the Brexit Line Theresa May got her Brexit deal a bit sooner than many were expecting. Trouble is, the rush to get it over the line blindsided European capitals and left them puzzled by the choreography. EU President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared on Thursday that a deal had been “agreed in principle at political level,” just as Commission negotiators circulated a text, which quickly leaked. National ambassadors thought the document was still an open draft as they met behind closed doors in Brussels. They’re now complaining they’ve been sidelined, according to people familiar with the situation. The Spaniards grumbled about Gibraltar and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel was left sounding a bit out of date as she spoke in Berlin. With nations starting to raise concerns on issues from fish to fair play, the Brussels machinery staged an intervention. The Commission sought to put a lid on objections by nailing down the text and publishing it as soon as possible, according to two people familiar with the matter. The risk is that the summit on Sunday isn’t just a rubber-stamping exercise and nations that didn’t feel heard will want to assert their authority. After all they are the ones who gave chief negotiator Michel Barnier his mandate in the first place, and he reports to them. Some countries are particularly miffed that May is coming to Brussels on Saturday to see Juncker. The last pre-summit meeting of member-state officials is Friday -- and they don’t want anything to change after that. Merkel for one has made clear she’s not up for negotiating on Sunday. She wants her officials to brief her on the final text, so she can be in and out for the signing. May’s spokesman tried to allay any concerns that May would rock up on the weekend with a new wish list. He acknowledged that the deal isn’t finalized until all 27 member states sign off, and said the U.K. won’t be asking for anything else.

Diplomats puzzled at Theresa May’s Brussels visit - EU diplomats expressed puzzlement at a meeting of ambassadors Thursday over why Theresa May is coming to Brussels on Saturday for talks about a key Brexit document that will have been finalized some 24 hours earlier. They are adamant that any attempt at a last-minute renegotiation by the British prime minister should be prevented.   EU leaders are due to meet in Brussels Sunday to formally approve both the text of the divorce agreement between the U.K. and the EU and a separate political statement setting out a framework for future relations between the two. The U.K. prime minister then has a matter of weeks to convince a majority of MPs at home to back the deal, a vote she looks unlikely to win in the face of renewed criticism from all sides of the House of Commons. The Political Declaration, which was agreed today by London and the European Commission but is still being examined by EU member countries, will be locked down at a meeting of prime ministerial advisers, known as sherpas, on Friday morning or later that day. But May announced after talks with Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday evening that she would be returning to Brussels for further talks with the Commission president on Saturday, the day before the leaders’ summit.

Corbyn says deal is ’26 pages of waffle’ and ‘blindfold Brexit we all feared’ – Politics live - Jeremy Corbyn calls May's Brexit deal '26 pages of waffle' - video

Brexit: a vassal’s charter - In a crowded chamber in the Commons yesterday, Theresa May told MPs: "the draft text that we have agreed with the Commission is a good deal for our country and for our partners in the EU. It honours the vote of the British people by taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money, while protecting jobs, security and the integrity of our precious United Kingdom".And so it comes to pass that our prime minister is reduced to the status of a common liar. By any measure – other than that of Mrs May and her cohorts - the draft withdrawal agreement is a very bad deal. Not in any way does it honour the vote of the peoples of the United Kingdom – a group which our prime minister consistently fails to address, as she refers to Britain and not even Great Britain.  Unabashed, she delivered much the same mendacious message standing outside No.10 Downing Street (pictured), announcing that approval of the whole package, which now includes the political declaration, "is within our grasp".Attempting to adopt stern, Churchillian tones, she concluded by declaring that she was "determined to deliver" this fabulous agreement. But, if she intended to inspire, she did not. All she managed to do was sound faintly ridiculous. What isn't ridiculous is that political declaration. A mere 36 pages of double-spaced text (including the cover page), it was agreed yesterday afternoon by the EU-UK negotiating teams. But, if the sudden "breakthrough" was theatre, it wasn't very good value. They didn't even spin it out until Saturday. The substance of this thing is very much as one might expect – a template for a comprehensive free trade agreement that belies Mrs May's suggestion that she has somehow evaded the EU's attempts to confine the UK to the binary choice of Norway or Canada. Mrs May argues that the political declaration recognises that there is a spectrum, with the extent of our commitments taken into account in deciding the level of checks and controls. But, in more general terms, she had a binary choice between a multilateral or a bilateral agreement and she's chosen the latter. The rest is detail. The best we can even aspire to is a variation of the Canada agreement, with some tweaks and some additions.

EU negotiators fail to agree on Gibraltar before summit - European Union negotiators from the 27 states remaining after Brexit were unable to agree on Gibraltar during talks, diplomatic sources said of the issue before Sunday's summit of the bloc's leaders to seal the deal. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has threatened to "veto Brexit" if it is not made clear that Madrid and London must resolve their differences over Gibraltar before any eventual future partnership bilaterally. In Madrid's view, neither the 585-page withdrawal deal nor the accompanying 27-page framework for future ties guarantees this, so diplomats are trying to negotiate another text to clarify the issue. "Gibraltar is the only open issue," a European diplomat said as the so-called "sherpas" met in Brussels to finalise preparations for Sunday's summit between British Prime Minister Theresa May and her 27 EU colleagues. "We are working hard," chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said, as his team attempted to hammer out an annex to the summit texts with the Spanish delegation. In strictly legal terms, Spain's objection would not halt the deal being endorsed on Sunday, but politically it would be a blow if a major member state like Spain prevents the EU from demonstrating consensus. And if Spain's concerns are not addressed in the months to come, then Madrid could still veto the adoption of any future relationship agreement that London and Brussels manage to negotiate after Brexit.

Threatening Brexit ‘veto,’ Spain demands written commitment from UK on Gibraltar - The government in Madrid has insisted it will not allow the disputed territory of Gibraltar to be affected by agreements made in the Brexit talks between the UK and Brussels without its consent. Madrid wants guarantees that it alone can decide on the future of Gibraltar in direct talks with Britain."The guarantees are still not enough and Spain maintains its veto to Brexit. If there is a deal, then it will be lifted," Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said during a trip to Cuba on Friday. "If there is no deal ... the European Council will most likely not take place" on Sunday.While Madrid does not legally have a veto over the Brexit deal, it is unlikely the other EU member states would want to adopt the agreement at their meeting on Sunday without Spain's support. Earlier on Friday, Spanish Secretary of State for the European Union Luis Marco Aguiriano said his government wanted a commitment in writing from the UK on clarifications on the status of Gibraltar in the Brexit agreement, so it would not have to vote against the final deal. A government source said later its demands should be guaranteed in the Brexit treaty and not just in an accompanying political declaration.

Brexit latest- Theresa May refuses three times to say whether she would resign if deal is rejected - Theresa May has refused to confirm whether she would resign if her Brexit deal is rejected by MPs, as she insisted that it was the "the best deal for the UK." In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Mrs May was asked three times if she would stand down but refused to provide an answer. "I am focused on ensuring we get this deal. I believe it's the right deal for the UK. As I'm sitting here I am not thinking about me but getting a deal for this country. That's what drives me," she said. When pushed further, she simply replied: "I am going to be around the country, explaining the deal up and down the country. I think this is important. It's not just about MPs it's about people understanding what the country is about." Mrs May also revealed that she does not have dreams about Brexit, despite the negotiations frequently keeping her up after midnight. Asked if she was frustrated by the number of outspoken, male Cabinet members abandoning her government over the deal - such as David Davis and Dominic Raab - she said she was "disappointed" in them. It came as former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said Prime Minister Theresa May's EU withdrawal proposals were worse than staying in the EU. Asked if the PM's deal was worse than remaining in the bloc, Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm not going to advocate staying in the EU. "But, if you just presented me terms, this deal or EU membership, because we would effectively be bound by the same rules but without the control or voice over them, yes, I think this would be even worse than that."Mrs May declared that final agreement on Brexit is "within our grasp" following a breakthrough on future relations between the UK and European Union on Thursday. But she endured a bruising session in the House of Commons as critics lined up to condemn both the divorce deal contained in the Withdrawal Agreement and the aspirations for a close future relationship in the Political Declaration.

Germany prepared for no-deal Brexit: Finance Minister Olaf Scholz -  Germany is prepared for a chaotic British exit from the European Union, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said Friday. Britain and the remaining 27 European Union countries are negotiating the finishing touches of a draft deal to ensure an orderly Brexit at the end of March 2019.But resistance to the deal from British lawmakers and the Spanish government has raised fears that Britain could crash out of the bloc with no deal in place.Scholz told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that a no-deal Brexit risked serious economic disruption for both sides, but said Germany was "preparing very carefully" for that outcome."Both scenarios are posing challenges for us, but we can and will manage them," he said. He called on both sides to agree on a final deal that would contain the disruption. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders are hoping to sign off on the draft Brexit deal and a political declaration on post-Brexit ties during a special Sunday summit in Brussels.Merkel vowed on Thursday to "do anything" to reach an agreement. "A disorderly exit would be the worst possible way both for the economy and the mental basis of our future relationship," she said.Late Thursday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reiterated a threat to withhold his country's approval over the status of Gibraltar. Sanchez wants the deal to clarify that talks over Spain's claims to the British territory will take place directly between Madrid and London. But when asked on Friday whether it's possible that the summit might not go ahead, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said: "We assume that open questions can be cleared up by Sunday. That is being worked on intensively, so the chancellor is preparing for the trip to Brussels."

UN says millions in Britain deliberately plunged into “great misery” --The report on poverty and human rights in Britain by United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston is an extraordinary depiction of the social catastrophe devastating the working class.For years, the special rapporteur only investigated “developing” countries such as China, Ghana and Mauritania, where “extreme poverty” is endemic.However, the offensive against the working class in the advanced capitalist countries is so severe that Alston has been forced to turn his attention to them. He visited the United States in 2017, where he was confronted with levels of poverty and inequality that “shocked” him.Alston has now published a 24-page UK report into nine cities, including London, Oxford, Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow and Belfast.Opening the London press conference on his findings last week, Alston said that he wanted to contrast the “great prosperity in Britain,” the fifth largest economy in the world, with the fact “that a fifth of the people, 14 million people, are living in poverty. Four million of those are more than 50 percent below the poverty lines and one and half million are destitute.”Child poverty rates are “staggering” and “are predicted to go up significantly over the next couple of years.”Millions of people are suffering “great misery,” he writes, as “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach.”There is an “immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation. … “For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.”

The temptations of student real estate - As an institutional asset class, student accommodation has a few things going for it. The tenancy rates are high, and a lot of the marketing is outsourced to the university. The tenants themselves — students — are often bailed out by their parents if they are unable to pay the rent. The cash-flows in the first place mainly come from centralised government loans.Student accommodation is also by definition a type of real estate concentrated in university towns or cities, making it a play on a global educational exports industry centred around the English language, as well as domestic migration towards such areas. An institutional investor in this field is effectively competing against small-scale, unsophisticated landlords with weak access to credit.Finally, there is a tenuous case to be made that education has some counter-cyclical qualities. If a recession leads to high youth unemployment, the government might have incentives to increase the higher education rate (either to counter the problem, or, more cynically, to give young people something to do). These are a few of the reasons investors have flocked towards the asset class over the past few years. One of the country’s biggest providers of purpose-built student accommodation is jointly owned by Goldman Sachs and the Wellcome Trust, a charity.   The University Partnerships Programme, which works with universities across the UK to provide tens of thousands of rooms, was spun out of Barclays Infrastructure Funds in 2012, and is jointly owned by PGGM, the Dutch pension fund, and the People’s Bank of China. The other dynamic boosting the sector is the global pressure on investors to shift into alternative assets, because of low returns in bond markets. Student accommodation is not merely a small-scale and idiosyncratic development; it is an early example of a vast move to gain exposure to rental property, instead of financial securities. Retirement accommodation is another example.

Scottish teachers overwhelmingly reject pay offer - Teachers in Scotland have overwhelmingly rejected a 3 percent pay offer from the Scottish government and local authorities. Teachers, some 30,000 of whom marched through Glasgow last month, are demanding a 10 percent pay increase to redress some of their huge income losses over the last decade.  Ballot results from teacher members of the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) unions, all showed huge majorities against the pay offer.98 percent of EIS members rejected the offer on a turnout of 74 percent of its 48,000 members. 97 percent of the 73 percent of SSTA members who voted rejected the offer, while a survey of 1,000 NASUWT members found that 54 percent were willing to strike against the offer.EIS general secretary, Larry Flanagan, warned “this is the biggest ballot turnout in 40 years… and the biggest single rejection of a pay offer.”“It shows there is deep discontent about pay, but also workload, the cuts to additional support needs staff and the general impact of rising class sizes and resources reducing.“The threat of industrial action has never been more real in living memory.” Teachers were immediately denounced by employers group, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA). Resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor complained “If we could give more to teachers we would, but as budgets reduce we have to think about what we would have to cut if we were to pay teachers more.

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