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

Saturday, January 26, 2019

week ending Jan 26

Fed Considering Earlier End To Quantitative Tightening – Over the weekend, we showed the one chart that every trader should have "taped to their screen", namely Nomura's latest recap of the key Fed balance sheet roll-off dates, or those days in which there is a tangible decline in system liquidity as billions in Fed holdings of Treasurys and MBS mature, and the resultant proceeds as the Treasury repays the Fed in cold, hard cash are subsequently destroyed by the Federal Reserve which, as part of Quantitative Tightening, is now in the process of shrinking the money currently in the system. Well, it now appears that the chart above may have to be substantially truncated, because according to a d anticipated. That is, assuming the bank's top policy makers follow through on speculation reported Friday morning by the Wall Street Journal report, the Fed might acquiesce to President Trump's demands that they "stop with the 50 Bs" - a reference to the central bank's monthly peak balance sheet runoff... ... which as we explained previously is really 36.2 Bs... sooner than many investors had anticipated.  Just a few weeks after Fed Chair Jerome Powell backtracked on his claim, articulated during the press conference that followed the December Fed meeting, that the runoff of the Fed's balance sheet was on "autopilot", the WSJ said Friday that the central bank's top policy makers are seriously considering maintaining a larger balance sheet than what the central bank had initially anticipated when it stopped reinvesting the proceeds from expiring holdings.Federal Reserve officials are close to deciding they will maintain a larger portfolio of Treasury securities than they’d expected when they began shrinking those holdings two years ago, putting an end to the central bank’s portfolio wind-down closer into sight.Officials are still resolving details of their strategy and how to communicate it to the public, according to their recent public comments and interviews. With interest rate increases on hold for now, planning for the bond portfolio could take center stage at a two-day policy meeting of the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee next week.Yet nothing is certain yet, as Kansas City Fed President Esther George in a Jan. 15 interview: "A lot of the heavy lifting has been done. We’re waiting for the committee to be satisfied that they have reached sufficient understanding of what all the moving pieces are."

Q4 GDP Forecasts: Mid-to-High 2s -- Note: The GDPNow model hasn't been updated recently due to the lack of data.The Q4 advanced GDP release is scheduled for next Wednesday, but even if the government is opened this weekend, that release will probably be delayed.  From Merrill Lynch: 4Q GDP tracking remains at 2.8%. With the shutdown ongoing, we revise down 1Q GDP to 2.0% from 2.2% [Jan 25 estimate]   From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report: The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 2.6% for 2018:Q4 and 2.2% for 2019:Q1. [Jan 25 estimate]And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNowThe current GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2018 is 2.8 percent on January 16, unchanged from January 10. [Jan 16 estimate] CR Note: These estimates suggest GDP in the mid-to-high 2s for Q4.

Coming Attractions – Kunstler - As in this age of Hollywood sequels and prequels, America prefers to recycle old ideas rather than entertain new ones, so you can see exactly how the 2020 presidential election is shaping up to be a replay of the Great Depression, with Roosevelt-to-rescue! — only this time it’ll be with somebody in the role of Eleanor Roosevelt as chief executive. Donald Trump, of course, being the designated bag-holder for all the financial blunders of the past decade, gets to be Herbert Hoover. As was the case in the original, economic depression will segue into war, with maybe not such a happy ending for us as World War Two was. As in the standard Hollywood screenplay format, expect an “all is lost” moment when the “hero” (the USA) faces the existential dread of realizing that there is no more borrowing with the collateral gone. Translation: when the Federal Reserve discovers it can’t cue up yet another round of “Quantitative Easing” (QE) and ZIRP without destroying the value of the dollar — which it might do anyway, since monetary inflation is a great benefit to those who can’t pay back their debts, and the USA is the biggest deadbeat of all. An inflationary depression won’t be the same as the deflationary depression of the 1930s, but remember (cliché alert): history doesn’t exactly repeat, it rhymes. Financialization, it’ll turn out, was just money with its value removed. Imagine how pissed off the voters will be. The collateral for all that money was the conviction that there was a lot of money to be made in shale oil. But the shale oil industry has had a negative cash flow since it started around 2005. So, we’ve demonstrated that you can produce a lot of something at a big loss for a while, until you can’t. And the moment is approaching when there will be no more loans for the shale oil industry and then, voila, no more shale oil. And the USA will have a whole lot less of its primary energy “input” to the economy. We’ll be back to 2008. The turnaround will be fast and shocking and the American public will feel swindled. And having been already swindled out of all the other comforts and conveniences of what used to be modern life — a job, a home, a car — they will be even more supremely pissed off. Enter stage left, the first woman president. Take your pick: Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand — with AOC as Speaker of the House! The new “Eleanor” will out-do Franklin Roosevelt in “innovative” economic policy. Only this time it won’t be jolly corps of brawny men marching off with pick-axes and shovels to carve trails through the national parks. It will be an orgy of collectivization, led by a gender-fluid army of commissars in an American sequel to the classic film Battleship Potemkin. Madam President will nationalize everything that’s not fastened down with square-head decking screws. Then the show trials will commence, first with the hated One Percenters going to the firing squads and then briskly moving to all the enemies of “intersectional justice.”

Trump and Pelosi take aim at each other amid stalled shutdown negotiations - President Trump on Sunday defended his latest bid for border wall funding and blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a partial government shutdown that is now on its 31st day, as a bipartisan group of governors warned that some states are close to running out of money to help the poorest Americans.In a flurry of morning tweets, Trump rejected conservative complaints that his offer of temporary deportation protections for young immigrants amounts to amnesty and said that Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democrats “turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak.”  “She is so petrified of the ‘lefties’ in her party that she has lost control,” Trump said of the House speaker.  Pelosi fired back at Trump on Twitter, urging him to “re-open the government, let workers get their paychecks and then we can discuss how we can come together to protect the border.”The squabbling is the latest sign that both sides remain far apart as the longest government shutdown in history drags on, troubling news for the 800,000 federal employees who have gone without a paycheck and are resorting to food banks, charity and other employment to get by. As states scramble to mitigate the impact of the shutdown, the National Governors Association sent a letter to congressional leaders on Sunday urging the Senate to immediately pass an extension of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the federal welfare program known as TANF.  The $16.5 billion block grant program supports cash welfare benefits and other services for low-income families. At least one state is expected to exhaust its funding early next month, the association said, while the situation in other states varies “based on caseload and enrollment.” “It is untenable for states to administer effective TANF programs given the current uncertainty,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said in the letter.

Trump Has Made Government Shutdowns Great Again - Officially a month long today, the (partial) US government shutdown that began on Dec. 22 is now the longest in US history, surpassing both the 1995-96 shutdown (21 days) and 2013 shutdown (16 days), and with both Trump and the Democrats digging in, it shows no signs of ending any time soon. Indeed, Trump's latest proposal over the weekend to offer extended protections for "Dreamers" in exchange for border wall funding was rejected by Democratic leaders as a non-starter, suggesting both sides remain far apart. And with some analysts speculating whether instead of days or weeks, the current shutdown may last 2, 3 or even more months, pundits are starting to be increasingly concerned about its direct impact to GDP. According to BofA economists the impact to US growth from the partial government shutdown will be -0.1% for every two weeks the shutdown drags on, and as a result they have trimmed their 4Q GDP by 0.1 (to 2.8%), while their Q1 estimate of 2.2% will likely be downgraded similar to what JPMorgan did last week. In addition to the direct drag, indirect impacts are likely: furloughed workers may slow consumption and businesses could delay capex spending due to uncertainty. Companies who are suppliers to government contractors are also impacted, and SBA lending to small businesses/entrepreneurs has also been halted. Additionally, the delayed release and/or distortion of certain economic data creates more uncertainty for markets. Still, according to what high frequency economic data continues to be reported, there has yet to be a major hit to the economy, suggesting the stalemate will continue until the economic pain - for either side - becomes unbearable. 

The Supreme Court just weakened Trump's hand in government shutdown talks - President Donald Trump's expectations that the Supreme Court would hand him a win in talks over the government shutdown now look likely to come to nothing. The justices took no action Tuesday on a case before them concerning the legality of the administration's decision to end the Obama-era immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The inaction effectively allows the program to continue, reducing Trump's already limited leverage in a high-stakes impasse over money for his proposed border wall. DACA allows certain young migrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children to avoid deportation and receive permits to work in the country. Approximately 800,000 young undocumented immigrants have received work permits under the 2012 program, according to the Pew Research Center.  The Trump administration announced in 2017 that it would phase out the program, but that decision was ultimately held up in court. The Supreme Court's schedule is now full for the year, making it unlikely that the justices will be able to review the matter this term, pushing off a decision until possibly 2020. Trump projected confidence that the court would take up the matter quickly and deliver him a win. At least three times since the shutdown began last month, Trump said a quick ruling on DACA would force Democrats to strike a deal. . “But until we win that case, they don't want to really talk about DACA." On Saturday, Trump offered to extend DACA's legal protections for the immigrants, as well as those for people fleeing humanitarian crises in their home countries, for three years in exchange for wall money and an end to the closure. But with DACA looking safe for the time being, Democrats now have even less incentive to accept a limited three-year extension. That hurts Trump, who hoped a strengthened conservative 5-4 majority on the court would boost his negotiating power.

GOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight - President Trump and congressional Republicans are trying to change the narrative on Democrats as the partial shutdown drags into its fifth week. Republicans, who have seen poll after poll showing that a majority of respondents blame Trump for the shutdown, are eager to corner Democrats by forcing a vote on the White House proposal to reopen the government and provide Trump with $5.7 billion in wall funding. Whether the gambit works is anyone’s guess. Senate Democrats are showing no signs of division so far, and the Senate is also poised to vote Thursday on another measure that would temporarily reopen the government but not provide funding for the wall. Still, the votes on Thursday could allow Republicans to argue that they are putting up proposals to end the shutdown after weeks in which the only actions to do so have been taken by Democrats in the House. After watching House Democrats pass those bills for more than four weeks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is eager to flip the script and have Democrats vote “no” on a bill to reopen the government — a day before federal workers impacted by the funding lapse will miss their second paycheck. The White House and McConnell have also sought to sweeten the pot: Their plan includes priorities backed by Democrats including extension of the Violence Against Women Act and more than $12 billion in disaster relief funding. Neither proposal is expected to get 60 votes without a dramatic U-turn by either Trump or Democrats. But holding the two votes will allow Republicans to try to change the media narrative and counter the Democratic strategy of forcing McConnell to repeatedly block the House bills.

GOP: We Have to Destroy the Government in Order to Save It  - As we enter today the second month of the shutdown, it’s time to recall the 2011 words of Mike Lofgren, who spent 28 years as a Republican aide on Capitol Hill before leaving the party and retiring from his job. You may be sitting there thinking that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have the upper hand—and they do—and that the polls look great for the Democrats—and they do. But you have to bear in mind a key point: Democrats want the government to reopen and work. Republicans do not. And Republicans, therefore, might be more patient about all this than the polls would suggest. Let’s go back to 2011.   Lofgren quit and wrote a long piece about it all that got more than a million views. The aha paragraph, for my money, was this one: A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner. This is who they are. It’s who they were in 2011 when Lofgren was writing, and Republicans were shocked, shocked about the deficit (they care about the deficit when a Democrat is president, you see). Their action actually increased U.S. borrowing costs and led to the budget “sequestration” deal that everyone’s forgotten about but that we’re still living with today, which cuts domestic discretionary spending by billions every year.  So it’s who they were then, and it’s who they are today. They’re in no rush to end the shutdown.  In the long run, when the government looks like it’s being incompetent and stupid, it’s going to do damage to the party that cares about government. And, of course, to the reputation of government itself.

Poll shows 25 percent view McConnell favorably, lowest among leaders in survey - Only a quarter of U.S. voters view Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) favorably, the lowest of any other congressional leader included in the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey released exclusively to The Hill on Tuesday.The survey showed McConnell’s favorability underwater at just 25 percent, with 44 percent having an unfavorable view.Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) fared little better, coming in at 30 percent and 35 percent, respectively. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was not included in the survey. The approval rating for all three leaders are below President Trump’s favorability, according to the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey, which stands at 41 percent, while Vice President Pence comes in at 42 percent.

McConnell Calls Votes On Competing (And Probably Doomed) Funding Bills As Shutdown Enters 33rd Day - Now in its 33rd day, the unprecedented government shutdown is creating serious strains for the 800,000 federal workers who are either furloughed or going without pay. Some have started looking for new jobs. Others have turned to Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy jobs. Still others are calling out out of frustration.  Some workers are turning to unemployment assistance. Others are starting to frequent soup kitchens.But despite it all, Trump and Congressional Democrats are refusing to yield. And a series of votes expected to be held Thursday on competing proposals - one a bid to temporarily reopen the government being pushed by Democrats, the other a compromise proposed by Trump over the weekend that was immediately rejected by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer - have little chance of passing, according to Reuters.Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he planned to hold a vote on Thursday on a Democratic proposal that would fund the government for three weeks but does not include the $5.7 billion in U.S.-Mexico border wall funding demanded by President Donald Trump.Its prospects appeared grim. The House of Representatives has passed several similar bills, but Trump has rejected legislation that does not include border wall funding. McConnell previously said he would not consider a bill the Republican president refused to sign.McConnell also planned to hold a vote on legislation that would include border wall funding and relief for “Dreamers,” people brought illegally to the United States as children, a compromise Trump proposed on Saturday.No matter what Trump proposes, it's likely to meet a frosty response from the Dems, who are insisting that the government be reopened before any deal on immigration can b e struck (which effectively means that there wouldn't be a deal).

 Jared Kushner Pushing Big Idea To End Shutdown- Green Cards For DACA Recipients - Jared Kushner is pushing a novel idea to break the Congressional deadlock and end the government shutdown according to Axios: Put green cards for DACA recipients on the table.A new immigration idea has been circulating over the past 24 hours at senior levels inside the White House and on Capitol Hill: Give a path to green cards to the 700,000 current DACA recipients, three sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.Though the idea is anathema to many Republicans (as well as conservative talking heads like Anne Coulter), Kushner believes it could be a workable option for winning support from Democrats for an immigration compromise bill being pushed by his father-in-law. Over the weekend, Trump said he would be open to a three-year extension of DACA protections as part of the compromise plan - something that Democratic leaders almost immediately rejected. Some Republican senators, including James Lankford of Oklahoma, have advocated for this idea, but White House aides worry that it could turn off President Trump's No. 1 supporter: Fox News host Sean Hannity. Yet, there are few other workable options on the table. Few believe Trump's current immigration plan has a prayer of gaining the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate when Mitch McConnell brings it up for a vote on Thursday. And even if it does somehow pass, it would be effectively DOA in the House."Trump can withstand Ann Coulter. He can't lose Hannity and the rest," the senator said.One Republican involved in the negotiating process told Axios that Kushner "wants to go big." But there's one problem: "Now isn't the time to go big.""If you throw green cards onto the table, this whole coalition will fall over on the right," the senator told Axios on Tuesday night. "If you start putting citizenship on the table in any meaningful way, Democrats will have to give more, and they’re not ready to give more."

Top Dem- We would support $5.7B for a 'smart wall' - House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Wednesday said Democrats would be willing to provide $5.7 billion in border security funding to end the shutdown if the money is used for measures like a "smart wall." "Using the figure that the president has put on the table, if his $5.7 billion is about border security then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing what I like to call using a smart wall," Clyburn told reporters after a Democratic caucus meeting. "These are the types of things that we are going to be putting forward." Democrats have expressed support for border security funding that includes advanced scanning technology, increased infrastructure and more border patrol agents. President Trump, meanwhile, has demanded $5.7 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The impasse with Democrats has resulted in the partial government shutdown that has now lasted for more than a month and left 800,000 federal workers without paychecks. Democrats panned Trump's proposal over the weekend for Congress to provide $5.7 billion for a border wall in exchange for temporarily granting deportation protections for immigrants under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for three years.

GOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown vote --Frustrated GOP senators read Vice President Pence the riot act at a closed-door meeting Thursday, telling him the partial government shutdown needs to end soon, according to lawmakers in the room.Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(Ky.), warned the vice president that prolonging the shutdown is not a smart political strategy, in hopes of sending a clear message to President Trump that he needs to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.Lawmakers vented their irritation to Pence shortly before six GOP senators defected to vote for aDemocratic-backed bill that would open the government without funding Trump’s proposed border wall.One GOP senator said lawmakers told Pence “the shutdown needs to come to an end, this is not a strategy that works [and] we never should have had a shutdown in the first place.”Pence in turn told them that “the president is interested in striking a deal,” according to the source.The pushback against Pence came from outspoken critics of the shutdown like Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), as well as from lawmakers who usually keep a lower profile — Sens. John Boozman (Ark.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.).One of the most remarkable moments during the Senate luncheon came when McConnell told Pence that shuttering the government to try to secure funding for a border wall was not a smart approach. “McConnell talked about how we need to bring this process to a close; we should never have had a shutdown; they don’t work; I’ve said this numerous times; I don’t know how many times I’ve told you there’s no education in the second kick of a mule,” said a GOP source familiar with the meeting.

Senate Extends Shutdown Deadlock by Blocking Spending Measures - The Senate blocked two rival proposals to reopen U.S. government agencies in largely partisan votes, leaving President Donald Trump and lawmakers deadlocked with the partial shutdown in its 34th day. The Senate, voting 52-44 Thursday, failed to get the 60 needed to advance a Democratic measure that would reopen agencies until Feb. 8 to allow talks on a border security plan. On an earlier 50-47 vote, the chamber lacked support to move forward with Trump’s plan to spend $5.7 billion on a border wall. They were the first votes the Senate has taken on funding the government since the Dec. 22 start of the shutdown, now the longest in modern U.S. history. "We will not Cave!" Trump tweeted a few hours before the votes. Six Republicans voted to advance the Democratic bill: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. Three senators, two Republicans and a Democrat, were absent. Just last month, the Republican-controlled Senate had backed the Democratic measure by voice vote before Trump suddenly opposed it,triggering the closure. The president late Wednesday acquiesced to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cancellation of his planned Jan. 29 State of the Union address in her chamber until the government reopens.   In advance of the votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Trump’s plan a “pragmatic compromise that could end this impasse right away" by getting the president’s signature. He said the Democrats’ temporary measure creates the possibility of a new crisis in several weeks when funding expires.

Trump Just Lost His Leverage for Building a Wall -  President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to realize it, but his claim to any leverage on the shutdown is officially dead after two Senate votes on reopening the government failed Thursday afternoon. The question now: Will Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans let him twist in the wind, bleeding away support little by little while the nation continues to suffer the consequences of the closure? Or will they finally move to end this fiasco?First, here’s what the Senate did. Neither Trump’s plan nor the Democratic alternative reached the 60 votes needed to defeat filibusters. But two Republicans — Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Utah’s Mike Lee — opposed Trump’s bill; only one Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, voted for it. With one absent Democrat and two missing Republicans, that meant a narrow 50-to-47 margin. The point of Trump’s proposal was supposedly to demonstrate that he could pick off enough Democrats by floating a measure labeled as a compromise. However, since the plan added restrictions on asylum and on Temporary Protected Status, and offered very limited protections, there was very little to tempt Democrats who may have wanted a deal. Instead, the vote demonstrated only that there is no easy bargain to be made on Trump’s terms. Giving Democrats very little — enough to bring over just one vote — cost Trump two Republican votes.Meanwhile, the Democrats’ clean funding bill to reopen the government while negotiations continue on border safety, a bill that had passed the House easily, did well in the Senate as six Republicans joined every Democrat to get a 52-to-44 margin. That’s far short of 60. But it’s a solid majority, and a bigger one than Trump’s bill got, despite the Republican’s 53-47 majority in the chamber.  So the government remains closed because the Senate majority party is successfully killing by filibuster the most viable path to reopening it, which is a measure that has some fair claims to being bipartisan, and definitely has a majority in both chambers of Congress. Various versions of the Democrats’ clean bill have passed repeatedly in the House, each time with full Democratic support and a handful of Republican votes.

White House preparing draft for Trump to declare national emergency: CNN - The White House is preparing a draft of an emergency declaration President Trump could issue to secure funding for a wall along the southern border, CNN reported Thursday.The news outlet obtained internal documents that show the administration has identified more than $7 billion in funding for the wall if Trump opts to declare a national emergency. The draft declaration argues that the "massive amount of aliens who unlawfully enter the United States each day is a direct threat to the safety and security of our nation and constitutes a national emergency," CNN reported.The administration would look to pull most of the money for the wall from military construction and Pentagon civil works funds, with additional funding coming from treasury forfeitures and the Department of Homeland Security, CNN reported.  The declaration has been updated within the past week, an official told CNN.The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Democrats have expressed skepticism about the legality of such an order, and if Trump followed through it would likely be tied up in the courts. Republicans have indicated they would prefer Trump not resort to such an option to build the wall.A partial government shutdown that has lasted 34 days and counting was triggered by Trump's demand for wall funding. Democrats have repeatedly rejected that request, and urged the president to open the government amid negotiations over border security.The Senate on Thursday rejected two measures to reopen the government.In response, Trump said he would support a "reasonable" solution brokered by Senate leaders, but that he would use "other alternatives if I have to." The president earlier this month floated the possibility of declaring a national emergency to start construction on the wall. He expressed confidence in his legal standing, but later backed away from the proposal and said Congress should address the issue.

White House readies national emergency declaration --The Trump administration has prepared a draft national emergency declaration to bypass Congress and use the military to construct additional sections of the border wall with Mexico. The renewed threat to implement policy objectives and allocate funds without the consent of the legislative branch, if carried through, would mark a major and irreversible step towards presidential dictatorship.In the draft declaration, Trump repeats the fraudulent pretext that some thousands of workers seeking a reprieve from poverty and violence in their home countries represent an intolerable threat to a nation of 320 million. “The massive amount of aliens who unlawfully enter the United States each day is a direct threat to the safety and security of our nation and constitutes a national emergency,” the draft states.CNN, which obtained the draft proclamation and other related internal documents, reported that the administration has identified $7 billion in funding for the effort. Plans were reportedly updated last week.Earlier this month, Trump backed off from threats to immediately invoke the emergency declaration, though he never took the measure off the table. The initial response within the political establishment to Trump’s emergency proposal included concerns about the tactical implications of setting such a precedent. Republicans such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio warned of future Democratic administrations using emergency declarations to implement policies opposed by Republicans, such as gun control or climate change measures.However, Trump’s unprecedented assertion of quasi-dictatorial presidential powers was warmly received by major media outlets aligned with the Democratic Party such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as a section of Democratic lawmakers, who presented the national emergency option as an expedient way to bring an end to the partial shutdown of the federal government. There were virtually no expressions of principled concern from the political or media establishment over the anti-democratic implications of such an action.

FBI Agents Complain That Shutdown Is Hampering Sex Trafficking, Gang Investigations - Is the government shutdown also Vladimir Putin's fault? Following a report released Tuesday by the FBI, we imagine it's only a matter of time before Rachel Maddow and the rest of the left-leaning cable news commentariat come to that conclusion. In a 72-page-report and press conference, the FBI on Tuesday attacked President Trump for allowing the shutdown (now in its 32nd day) to continue and listed all the ways that break in funding for the DOJ (where the FBI is housed) has impacted its ongoing investigations (though it's worth noting that, according to media reports, the Mueller probe has continued without much of an interruption). Among the functions that have been interrupted: The US attorneys office can't issue grand jury subpoenas, ongoing investigations have been interrupted, agents are struggling to work without pay, and efforts to thwart sex trafficking and anti-gang operations (including investigations into MS-13) have been delayed. The FBI shared a summary of these gripes in a twitter thread published by the FBI Agents Association. Though agents are still working cases, some agents are struggling to feed their families. All of this culminated with Agents Association President Tom O'Connor calling on lawmakers to pass legislation funding the FBI. Today at 11:30 am, members of FBIAA's National Executive Board gather for a press conference to discuss the current and lasting impacts of the #GovernmentShutdown on FBI operations and national security. Updates will be shared on this thread. pic.twitter.com/hkmcIX5Jfi  Opening statement from FBIAA President @tfoconnor83: "I want to make one point clear: Agents were working cases yesterday, are working cases today, and will be working cases tomorrow. They are doing so without pay and under increasingly challenging conditions." pic.twitter.com/gpKYVkA8MJ "Last night I delivered food to our office break room for those in the office who are in need. The FBI family always comes together in times of crisis, but it's truly sad that we must resort to this." "As we said in our petition to elected leaders warning that the failure to fund the FBI could undermine important work on January 10, this is not about politics for Special Agents. For the FBI, financial security IS national security." — FBI Agents Association (@FBIAgentsAssoc) January 22, 2019

Shutdown Over Wall Leaves Border Patrol Agents Working Overtime Without Pay — As the government shutdown approached its fifth week and Washington Democrats and President Donald Trump showed no signs of coming to an agreement on how to end the stalemate Tuesday, U.S. Border Patrol vehicles could be seen patrolling just north of the Rio Grande near El Paso’s Paso del Norte bridge.  Meanwhile, the pedestrian line for travelers returning to El Paso from Ciudad Juárez moved steadily, and eight of the 12 vehicle lanes were open and operating normally, despite the shutdown that has forced Customs and Border Protection officers and U.S. Border Patrol agents to work without pay as Trump demands $5.7 billion for a border wall before he’ll sign a spending bill to re-open the government and Congress resists.But despite the feeling of normalcy, a current Department of Homeland Security agent who previously worked for the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection said the federal employees on the front line of the national immigration battle are beginning to feel the strains of the impasse.“Morale is definitely low [inside the department]. But I can’t imagine how it is at the bridge,” said the agent, who spoke to The Texas Tribune on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to reporters. “These guys are still working overtime … and they’re not getting paychecks. They’re working 16-hour shifts, then they go home and have to stress about the bills.”That anxiety isn’t isolated to the country’s borders. Some of the nation’s busiest airports are seeing long security lines as an increasing number of Transportation Security Administration agents refuse to work without pay; small businesses with federal government contracts aren’t getting paid either. In El Paso, immigration attorneys whose clients are waiting for court hearings are worried about how the stalemate is going to affect those cases now that federal immigration courts are closed except for cases involving people held in detention.

State Dept. forced to cancel border security conference amid shutdown -The State Department has been forced to cancel an international conference about border security amid the partial government shutdown, The Hill has confirmed. A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that the 16th annual International Export Control and Border Security Conference set to take place in Scotland next month has been cancelled due to "very limited funding available during the lapse in appropriations." The spokesperson noted that the event typically brings together more than 250 "export control and border security practitioners" from 85 countries. "In light of the very limited funding available during the lapse in appropriations, the Department will exercise judicious use of limited, remaining resources," the State Department spokesperson said. "Travel, hiring, contracting, public affairs, and other activities will continue to operate in a constrained manner." Kathryn Insley, director of the State Department's Office of Export Control Cooperation, announced the conference's cancellation in a letter first reported by CNN on Tuesday. Insley wrote to dozens of U.S. embassies and missions worldwide saying that officials are "working to identify alternative dates" and would be in contact when operational again.

Federal judiciary has enough funds to operate through end of January --The federal court system is estimated to have enough funds to sustain its operations through Jan. 31, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) announced Tuesday.The AO, an agency within the judicial branch that supports federal courts, said it has employed various various tactics to conserve funds and sustain its paid operations. “Most of the measures are temporary stopgaps, and the Judiciary will face many deferred payment obligations after the partial government shutdown ends,” an AO spokesperson said in a statement.“In recent weeks, courts and federal public defender offices have delayed or deferred non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel, and certain contracts. Judiciary employees are reporting to work and currently are in full-pay status.”This is the third extension the agency has announced, though it has acknowledged it will not be able to provide another extension past Feb. 1 if a funding bill is not approved.The AO said that federal courts would continue to operate under the Anti-Deficiency Act, which would cover only the most crucial tasks, if a spending bill is not signed to reopen the government by the end of the month.Each court would determine the staff necessary to support its “mission critical work,” which would include “activities to support the exercise of the courts’ constitutional powers under Article III, specifically the resolution of cases and related services.” The federal judiciary has continued to operate while funding for the Department of Justice (DOJ), which oversees U.S. courts, lapsed on Dec. 22 at the start of the shutdown.

Despite the government shutdown, Trump’s efforts to gut Obamacare go full speed ahead  - Michaek Hiltzik -- A good portion of the federal government may be shut down, but you can rest assured that the devoted Obamacare saboteurs at the Department of Health and Human Services are on the job.Late Thursday, they released proposed rule changes for the 2020 health insurance year — and requests for comments on further changes — that will drive up premiums for people on Affordable Care Act health plans, cut subsidies and discourage more Americans from enrolling.The proposals also could raise prescription costs for enrollees and raise costs even for families enrolled in employer plans. Longer-term changes proposed for 2021 and beyond could affect about 2 million ACA enrollees. . HHS acknowledges that the near-term proposals would save the U.S. treasury and cost families an aggregate $900 million a year in subsidies in 2020 and 2021, and $1 billion a year after that. They anticipate that the higher costs will drive 100,000 people off their health insurance plans every year between 2020 and 2023. “The savings to the treasury are consistent with the idea that consumers would have to pay more,” says Elizabeth Carpenter, the ACA expert at the consulting firm Avalere Health. HHS says some of those people may end up buying the short-term junk insurance plans of which the Trump administration is so enamored, though “a majority is likely to become uninsured.” The White House seems to think this is a good thing: The loss of insurance, HHS says, “may result in greater exposure to health care costs, which previous research suggests reduces utilization of health care services. Economic distortions may be reduced, and economic efficiency and social benefits improved, because these individuals will be bearing a larger share of the costs of their own health care consumption, potentially reducing spending on health care services.”

How Sending Out Food Stamp Benefits Early Could Cause Another Problem In A Few Weeks - As I’ve written before, the government shutdown is a perfect demonstration of our politicians participating in partisan showmanship, with poor people as the victims of their theater. As individual states desperately attempt to take care of the people depending on them by sending out food stamp benefits early, the theater in Washington DC continues, completely unconcerned about the havoc being wrought. Regardless of your thoughts about people who are on government assistance, it’s incontrovertible that people are seeing the rug yanked out from under their feet quite suddenly. Here are some numbers:

A number of states are issuing food stamp benefits early due to the government shutdown. They’re doing this over concern that if the shutdown continues, they won’t be able to issue the payments in February. But the early payment comes with a sobering warning. A press relief from the state of Michigan said: For food assistance clients, Michigan will begin issuing February benefits on Saturday, Jan. 19. Clients who don’t receive their benefits on that date should receive the funds the following week. The early food assistance benefits are not additional benefits and there will be no food assistance payments in February. MDHHS strongly encourages families to budget the funds they receive in January so they can meet their food needs through the entire month of February. (source) Another warning, more bluntly worded, came from an official in Pennsylvania. Carmen Rodriguez, a Liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services, has a warning for anyone who uses the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. She says don’t blow through the money. “It is very important for people to understand that this is an early payment. You are not going to get more money later,” Rodriguez said. “This is you getting your February allotment for Food Stamps today.” (source)

Wilbur Ross doesn't "understand" why federal workers need food banks - Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, with a net worth in the hundreds of millions, said on CNBC that he doesn't "quite understand why" federal workers are going to food banks while on furlough.  “I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” Ross said when asked on @CNBC about workers who were getting food from places like shelters.   The White House's top economist Kevin Hassett said on CNN yesterday there could be "zero" growth in the U.S. economy if the shutdown lasts through the end of the first quarter. Now, Ross is downplaying the economic effect the 800,000 federal workers have while on furlough, saying they should borrow from a bank or credit union for money instead.

TSA Strike? As Trump and GOP Refuse to End Shutdown, Call Grows for Federal Workers to Rise Up - As the current partial government shutdown has become the longest in U.S. history—even with the latest polls showing President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans increasingly seen as the ones to blame for the crisis—it remains to be seen how the Democrats, with no reason to give ground, can apply enough pressure to bring the current impasse to an end.But according to journalist and activist Barbara Ehrenreich and veteran labor organizer Gary Stevenson, it's possible that the best bet—and in their minds, a key opportunity—is for the hundreds of thousands of federal employees now furloughed or forced to work without pay to take matters into their own hands. While acknowledging how "painful" the shutdown has been for federal workers and their families locked out of work for more than three weeks, Ehrenreich and Stevenson argue in a New York Times op-ed published Monday that the current political deadlock between the two major political parties is "also an opportunity for labor to take a stand." Putting a strategic focus on the nation's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers—"among the most visible" of the estimated 800,000 workers affected by the shutdown—the op-ed explores the idea of TSA workers going beyond passive resistance like sick-outs (an estimated 5.6 percent of the total 51,000 member TSA workforce called in sick last Saturday), and doing something bolder and more coordinated: "a genuine, old-fashioned strike, one with picket lines, chants, quickened pulses and the power to reignite the traditional fighting spirit of American labor." The TSA workers, they continue, "should use last year’s teachers' strikes as a model. They were called not by the leadership of the teachers' unions but by the rank and file. It was a new kind of labor activism, starting at the bottom and depending heavily on community support. By sticking together and creating their own communication system, the teachers succeeded in sending a powerful message of solidarity and strength."

TSA: Unscheduled absences hit record high as shutdown reaches one-month mark The Transportation Security Administration said Monday that unscheduled absences rose to a record high of 10 percent one day earlier as the partial government shutdown reaches the one-month mark. "Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations," the TSA said in a statement. The agency's airport security officers are required to work during the shutdown, but aren't getting paid. Sunday's record high compares to the 3 percent of unscheduled absences on the same day last year. Still, wait times were less than 30 minutes on Sunday for 99.9 percent of passengers, and less than 15 minutes for 93.1 percent, TSA reported. Some airports did experience longer than usual wait times, it added.

The TSA Could Decide The Fate Of The Government - The government shutdown, now in its 30th day and being the longest ever in U.S. history, has caused massive media coverage on Transportation Security Agency (TSA) employees and their fate due to the shutdown. This is precisely because the TSA could bring the country to a virtual standstill, and thus has more power than most to end the shutdown by pressure. Over this holiday weekend, sick call-ins for TSA employees not getting paid during the shutdown hit 10 percent, suggesting that the problem could spiral out of hand, despite the Agency’s insistence to the contrary. There’s plenty of reason for the public sympathy with the TSA, despite the grueling process they put travelers through at the airport. Still, you won’t find this same level of human interest stories about judges, lawyers or other federal workers affected by shutdown. Part of the reason may be the fact that TSA employees are the worst paid, or maybe because the agency exists because of the 9/11 attacks. More than 51,000 TSA staffers are involved in the airport screening process which is essential for people to travel across the United States. In average, the agents screen 2 million passengers in average per day at nearly 440 airports as travelers follow their instructions as if they are in the military because they feel safer doing so.

The financial shock for 800,000 federal workers is about to get much worse as the shutdown drags on - The financial shock is about to get much worse for government employees sidelined by the budget stalemate in Washington. If the partial government shutdown continues through this week – and there is no end in sight – Friday will mark the second paycheck missed by affected federal workers, whose household budgets have been completely upended. An estimated 800,000 government employees have been caught in the political crossfire of the shutdown, now in its fifth week. Roughly 380,000 federal workers have been furloughed and 420,000 are working without pay. The impact of the government shutdown on the overall U.S. economy, so far, has been limited. Yet, just as the economic effect is concentrated on furloughed workers, some companies and industries are taking a bigger hit than others. Commercial airlines, for example, are facing slower demand as airports struggle with understaffed security checkpoints, are losing revenue. Last week,Delta said it had lost $25 million in revenue on account of the shutdown.The hit to the overall gross domestic product in the first quarter is also difficult to quantify. Economists have come up with a range of numbers, but they agree that the longer the shutdown goes on, the wider the damage to economic growth. There was little indication Tuesday that the standoff would end anytime soon. President Donald Trump's proposal to reopen the government, which outraged immigration hard-liners on the right and was instantly rejected by Democrats, is headed for a vote this week in the Senate, where it will probably fail.

'Outrage Spiking': Federal Workers Occupy Senate Building With 33 Minutes of Angry Silence to End Trump Shutdown  - Protesting the widespread economic hardship caused by the ongoing shutdown and demanding that the Senate vote to reopen the government, federal workers and their allies gathered inside the Hart Senate Office Building on Wednesday for a 33-minute silent demonstration—one minute for every day the government has been partially closed over President Donald Trump's demand for border wall funding."The protest happening right now in the Senate office building is just the start," declared MoveOn.org's Ben Wikler. "Public outrage is spiking. GOP senators are feeling the pressure."The union-organized demonstration comes as the Senate is set to vote Thursday on two competing measures to reopen the government—a Trump-backed bill that would fund the border wall and a Democratic continuing resolution with no wall money. Happening now: In what they’re calling #OccupyHart, federal employee unions are standing silently in the Hart Senate building for 33 minutes - one for every day of the shutdown. @N2Sreports pic.twitter.com/wLV9vg1gQN — Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) January 23, 2019 33 minutes of silent protest here in Hart Senate Office Building for each day of shutdown. Federal workers from various unions holding plates to show they need to feed their families. pic.twitter.com/oNtmwRtgAZ — Kelly O'Donnell (@KellyO) January 23, 2019 Crowds gathering the Hart Senate office building to protest the government shutdown. @AFGENational @NFFE_Union pic.twitter.com/17CppdBX4M — Nicole Ogrysko (@nogryskoWFED) January 23, 2019   After the silence ended, workers led chants of, "No more food banks! Feds need paychecks!"

‘We Didn’t Get Ph.D.s Just to Sit Around’: Civil Servants’ Good Will Erodes NYT - The Civil Service relies to a large degree on good will. No matter how vital high-skilled federal workers are to the functioning of government, there are usually companies willing to offer them much higher salaries — double or even triple in some cases — on top of the free lunches and stock options. As student debt soars and private sector opportunities multiply, the sheer allure of public service — “the mission,” as NASA researchers often put it — is what keeps a lot of talent in the government. The longest shutdown in the country’s history is eroding that good will, already wearing thin after years of pay freezes, unpredictable budgets, and disdain from even the White House for government workers as swamp creatures or worse. Long after the government reopens, this is the damage that could last. If public service loses its allure, it will make it harder to recruit and hold onto the experienced and talented, those who can design spacecraft but also the people who battle epidemics, predict hurricanes and keep the food supply safe. Steve Reaves, a Federal Emergency Management Agency employee who leads the union for FEMA workers, said he knew firsthand of six experienced people who had left the agency since the shutdown began. Two went to BP, the oil giant. “They’re relying on the pure good intentions of the higher skilled work force,” said Matt Linton, a computer security specialist in California who worked for NASA’s Ames Research Center for 14 years. “And that’s what they drain down the most quickly in these stupid shutdowns.”

FAA halts flights into LaGuardia Airport amid shortage of air traffic control workers -  A shortage of air traffic controllers prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to halt flights into New York's LaGuardia Airport on Friday, while flights were delayed at several other major airports, including Newark Liberty International Airport. The disruptions come a day after airline executives warned that the partial government shutdown, during which 420,000 federal workers, including Transportation Security Administration screeners and air traffic controllers, have been deemed essential and told to go to work even though they aren't receiving regular pay, could roil air travel. The Federal Aviation Administration didn't immediately reply to a request for comment. On Thursday, an FAA spokesman said the agency had seen "no unusual increased absenteeism and there are no operational disruptions due to staffing."

The warnings are getting starker: Trump's government shutdown is becoming catastrophic for the economy -  We're 32 days into the record-breaking US government shutdown, and while most economists agree it will weigh on US economic growth, the chorus of warnings about doomsday scenarios is getting louder. Government shutdowns have typically lasted a few days or a couple of weeks, but the fight between President Donald Trump and Democrats appears set to continue for much longer. According to economists, the negative effects of the shutdown will only grow as the ripple effects from the 800,000 federal employees and millions of government contractors going without pay spread through the economy. Adding to the gloom is the negative effect of the US-China trade war, falling stock prices, growing worries about a slowdown in international growth, and a looming conflict about the debt ceiling. Given all of the worries facing the US economy, warnings about the shutdown are only amplifying:

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch reiterated its concern about the economic cost of the shutdown. It "definitely becomes a significant shock if it lasts for months rather than weeks," Ethan Harris, the head of global economics research, told the Financial Times. "There is a sensitivity in the markets to signs of dysfunction in Washington."
  • Standard & Poor's said the cost of the shutdown could soon equalTrump's demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
  • The White House even increased its internal estimate of the hit to gross domestic product. A White House official confirmed to Business Insider that the Trump administration's model estimated that the shutdown would shave off 0.13 percentage points from GDP for every week of the shutdown — higher than the 0.08 percentage points originally assumed.
  • JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said that the shutdown was a serious problem for the US economy and cited research that found US GDP growth could go to zero if the shutdown continued.
  • Pantheon Macroeconomics' Ian Shepherdson was even more bearish, warning that if the shutdown were to last through March, the US's first-quarter GDP growth could be negative.
  • BAML's figures actually suggest that for each week the government is shut down, US GDP growth is cut by 0.05 percentage points. This is half the economic impact of the 2013 shutdown because this one affects only part of the government. But the economists warned that the pain could get exponentially worse as the fight continues.
  • Another major concern is the possibility that the shutdown will affect the US's credit rating. During the 2013 shutdown fight over the debt ceiling, the US was downgraded to AA+ by S&P, a historic first for the country. While Fitch maintained the US's AAA rating in 2013, James McCormack, the agency's global head of sovereign ratings, warned that a downgrade was possible in 2019.
  • Credit Suisse economists estimated that the shutdown would come to an end relatively soon and shave off 0.6 points to 0.8 points from first quarter GDP. But if the closure were to go for longer than another week or two the economic impact could be seriously damaging. "If the shutdown persists though, a substantially larger drag is possible," the Credit Suisse economists wrote. "An outright contraction in the first quarter, and downgrades to the entire 2019 outlook are not out of the question."
  • Moody's economist Adam Ozimek told Business Insider that while contraction isn't likely, "you also can't rule it out." Ozimek also decried the unforced error caused by the shutdown. "The fact that we are even discussing the possibility of a wholly government created contraction in GDP is enough to really make you scratch your head," he said.
  • "The longer this shutdown drags on, the more collateral damage the economy will suffer," analysts at S&P said last week.

The government shutdown may force Trump to make a nightmare choice between his border wall and the economy - As the government shutdown enters its second month, the pressure on President Donald Trump to make a deal is growing. But the battle over government funding could put the president in a tight spot.Trump has long touted the relative strength of the US economy as one of the major successes of his presidency, crowing about better-than-expected GDP numbers and gains for the labor market. But now Trump's demands for border-wall funding could put the strength of the economy at risk, unless the president can find a way to cut a deal.According to a growing number of economists, the ongoing government shutdown is taking a bite out of the US economy. Even the White House projects that the shutdown will shave 0.13 percentage points off first-quarter GDP growth for every week the closure continues.In fact, according to an analysis by S&P Global, the cost of the shutdown will soon eclipse the $5.7 billion Trump is demanding as a down payment for the wall. Even more stark are warnings from economists that first-quarter GDP could actually go negative if the shutdown continues into March.Trump could end the economic woes at any time by signaling a willingness to delay the wall fight and sign bills reopening the government that do not include the border-wall money, as Democrats have advocated. The president first sparked shutdown concerns in late December by suddenly changing his mind on a funding extension that did not include border wall funds. But much like the initial plan to push the wall fight off, any move to open the government without border-wall money would likely drawblowback from hardline conservatives and pundits, the same people who seemed to convince Trump to shut the government down in the first place.

Shutdown Now Costs $1 Billion Per Day, And Consumer Sentiment Is Tumbling  The partial government shutdown is in its 34th day and counting, and it is starting to have a significant effect on the economy.  According to Brian Rose, senior economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, the closure is now costing the economy about $1 billion a day, and if Q1 growth is zero or negative as a result - as administration officials admitted may happen earlier this week - it likely won't see a sharp rebound in Q2 even if the shutdown ends, for reasons including that it may be tough to replace workers who quit; as a result one should think about that famous hockey-stick graph when projecting the pace of the growth hit from the shutdown according to UBS.This is what Rose said in terms of calculating the direct impact of the shutdown:The direct impact from the shutdown-the loss in real government expenditures-is purely mechanical: calculate the loss in aggregate hours worked and you get about a 0.1pp drag to growth every two weeks the government remains shuttered. The indirect impact-how consumers and businesses respond-is harder to quantify. Part of that story will be how consumer sentiment evolves over time to various news flow such as moves in equity markets and updates from DC and how that translates to changes (if any) to demand.Yet while the direct impact from the shutdown - the loss in real government expenditures - is purely mechanical, which one can calculate simply in terms of the loss in aggregate hours worked (getting about a 0.1% drag to growth every week the government remains shuttered), and which prompted JPMorgan to once again cut its Q1 GDP forecast from 2.0% to 1.75% moments ago (and down from 2.5% two weeks ago), the indirect impact - how consumers and businesses respond - is harder to quantify, but according to Bank of America is becoming a key concern.  Here something troubling emerges: according to the latest data collected by Bank of America, there has been notable deterioration in consumer sentiment since early December, as news of the government shutdown roiled financial markets and disrupted economic activity.

White House Warns Of Zero Q1 Growth Due To Shutdown, But Humongous Q2 White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett warned during an interview on CNN this morning that if the government shutdown continues, there is a chance of zero growth in the first quarter:  “It is true that if we get a typically weak first quarter and extended shutdown that we could end up with a number that is very low.”  However, Hassett was quick to note that this could be followed by “humongous” growth in the second quarter if the government reopens.  Hassett confidently proclaimed that the chance of recession in 2020 is "very, very close to zero," and sees no risk of a credit downgrade for the US.  Additionally, ever the optimist considering the statements from Kudlow yesterday (and Lighthizer over the weekend), Hassett reassured that he is confident the US and China will reach a deal.

Lawmakers Want to Fund the Border Wall by Making People Pay to View Internet Porn  — Arizona lawmakers want to hide internet porn behind a paywall in an attempt to raise funds for building a portion of the proposed wall along the United States’ southern border with Mexico. A bill introduced by Arizona State Rep. Gail Griffin would require internet users in her state to pay a fee before gaining access to “obscene content.” House Bill 2444 proposes that the state government impose strict regulations on internet service providers, forcing them to put blockers on all porn sites which can only be removed after a fee is paid. It is not clear exactly how much the government would charge for the “privilege” of watching porn, but the bill did specify that the fee would be a minimum of $20. The revenue collected from this potential scheme would go to fund a number of different projects, including the proposed border wall between Arizona and Mexico.As with other puritanical efforts to criminalize sex work and regulate pornography, lawmakers claim that this is simply a measure to prevent human trafficking.In addition to funding the border wall, the bill promises to create a fund that would “provide grants to government agencies and private entities that work to uphold community standards of decency for the purpose of strengthening families and developing, expanding or strengthening programs for victims of sex offenses.”The proposed law isn’t as far-fetched as many people think. A similar law has already been passed in the United Kingdom, forcing all UK citizens to register with the government before accessing online porn. Similar efforts are also underway in the U.S. states of Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Utah, Rhode Island andSouth Carolina.

 Trump tells Pelosi he will still give State of the Union, setting up possible showdown - President Donald Trump told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he will give the State of the Union address in the House chamber next week as planned, setting up a potential clash after the Democratic leader urged him to reschedule the speech during a partial government shutdown.In a letter to Pelosi dated Wednesday, Trump wrote that he will be "honoring your invitation" to speak on Jan. 29. The president said that "it would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule and very importantly, on location!" Trump's letter does not necessarily mean he will deliver remarks in the House chamber. Pelosi can technically bar him from the room, and both chambers of Congress need to pass a resolution setting up the joint session where he would speak.

Pelosi Blocks Trump's "State Of The Union" Speech --A few hours after President Trump told Speaker Pelosi he would accept her earlier invitation to deliver his SOTU speech in the House, daring the House Democratic leader to rescind her invitation, the Democrat leader responded angrily doing just that, and blocking the President from delivering his annual address next Tuesday:Dear Mr. President: When I extended an invitation on January 3"I for you to deliver the State of the Union address, it was on the mutually agreed upon date, January 29th. At that time, there was no thought that the government would still be shut down.In my further correspondence of January 16th, I said we should work together to find a mutually agreeable date when government has re-opened and I hope that we can still do that.I am writing to inform you that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President's State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened.Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened.

The Memo: Pelosi ups ante in Trump showdown - Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) upped the ante in her battle with President Trump on Wednesday, disinviting him from delivering the State of the Union address initially planned for Jan. 29. The move is a power play from Pelosi, and one that is guaranteed to please her base. But it carries risks, too, especially if the Speaker is seen as overplaying her hand. Democrats are confident they have the political advantage on the partial government shutdown — a belief bolstered by public opinion polls — and swathes of the party’s supporters are adamant that no concessions should be made to the president in his push for a border wall. The latest polls deepen the gloom for Trump. The president’s job performance won the approval of only 34 percent of Americans in an Associated Press–NORC poll released within hours of Pelosi’s statement. It was Trump’s worst showing in that survey in more than a year, with a decline of 8 points since mid-December, before the shutdown began on Dec. 22. But Pelosi’s decision to prevent Trump from delivering a traditional State of the Union address could be seen as too unyielding by independent voters who want, above all, an end to the shutdown that's now in its 33rd day. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Trump sought to push this idea, saying it was “really a shame what’s happening with the Democrats” and adding, “They’ve become radicalized.” The latter turn of phrase is more commonly heard about Islamic militants than U.S. political parties. Its use by the president is one more indication of just how hostile the atmosphere has become between him and Pelosi.

Trump accepts delay in State of the Union speech -- In a tweet late Wednesday night, US President Donald Trump conceded that he would not deliver his State of the Union speech until after the partial federal shutdown is ended. The tweet acknowledged that the invitation to the president to address a joint session of Congress in the chamber of the House of Representatives is the “prerogative” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. On Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi officially withdrew her invitation to Trump to deliver the State of the Union speech, as the conflict over the partial shutdown of the federal government escalated to unprecedented dimensions. Her action came in response to a letter from the White House in which Trump said he would not agree to a postponement of the State of the Union address because of the federal shutdown and would deliver the speech as scheduled on January 29.The House speaker indicated that while she had extended Trump the usual invitation to deliver the State of Union when she took office on January 3, she had not imagined that the partial shutdown of the federal government, which began on December 22, would still be ongoing at the end of January.  The formal invitation to address a joint session of the House and Senate requires passage of a concurrent resolution by the Senate, now controlled by the Republican Party, and the House, where Democrats took control on January 3. Pelosi’s letter reads: “I am writing to inform you that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until the government has opened.” Trump’s initial reaction was an intensification of his vindictive and authoritarian denunciations of the Democratic Party. “I’m not surprised,” he told the press. “It’s really a shame what’s happening with the Democrats. They’ve become radicalized. They don’t want to see crime stopped.”   He said of Pelosi, “She’s afraid of the super-left Democrats, the radical Democrats. What’s going on in that party is shocking.” He added that the withdrawal of the invitation was “a great blotch on the great country we all love.”

30 Democrats suggest Pelosi give Trump a vote on wall funding if he reopens government - Thirty Democrats sent a letter Wednesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, suggesting she guarantee President Donald Trump a vote on his border security funding request if he reopens the government. Led by freshmen Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, the letter lays out a process that would guarantee a House vote — but not passage — on the $5.7 billion Trump has requested in border wall funding, as well as other funding he is seeking for border security needs. The letter is not designed to signal support for the president’s funding request. Rather it is intended to lay out a process for the House to truly debate the proposal — with opportunities for Democratic amendments — in hopes that would be enough of a commitment for Trump to agree to reopen the government. “Effective governing should not result in winners and losers,” Luria said in a statement after releasing the letter. “Our job is to do the most good for the most people. We feel this proposal would gain support across the aisle, allow a transparent process, and encourage much-needed reforms to our immigration system.” Before releasing the letter, Luria told reporters she had given Pelosi a heads-up that the letter would be coming. She said it is not meant to suggest a disagreement with Democratic leadership’s position of not negotiating until the government is reopen. “My frustration is not with our leadership in the House,” Luria said. “My frustration is in the Senate and the fact that we have voted nine, now 10 times to open the government. So we’ve given all kinds of opportunities for the Senate to take action.” More than half of the members who signed the letter are freshmen. In a nod to that, the letter notes, “We understand that this shutdown was not caused by the 116th Congress, but it is our job to fix it.”

Air traffic grinds to a halt in the Eastern US - A shortage of air traffic controllers on Friday morning at airports in the East Coast of the United States, but particularly in Washington, D. C., and Florida, caused the Federal Aviation Administrate (FAA) to substantially slow air traffic throughout the region, the most populous part of the US.According to media reports, “Arriving flights from Newark International and Philadelphia International airports were being delayed by an average of 41 minutes at one point. Later, LaGuardia released a statement saying, ‘Due to staffing shortages at FAA air traffic control centers along the East Coast, there are major delays at LGA’.”At about 9:00 a.m EST on Friday, the FAA suspended air arrivals into LaGuardia altogether and issued a statement that read in part, “We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two facilities. We are mitigating the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic and increasing spacing between aircraft as needed.” Air traffic controllers are among the 500,000 federal employees who have been obliged to work without pay for the previous 35 days. 300,000 others were furloughed also without pay. Many of these workers, who have now missed two paychecks, were unable to work because of the stress and fatigue of second and third jobs they have been forced to take to make ends meet.Flights were significantly delayed at Orlando, Florida and Newark, New Jersey and Boston. While the traffic ban at LaGuardia, known as a ground stop, was lifted after an hour and half, long delays for remained for travelers at the airport already overburdened by the general decay of transportation infrastructure in New York. Delays averaged an hour and half.

Trump announces deal to temporarily reopen government, ending shutdown - President Trump on Friday agreed to temporarily reopen the federal government without getting any new money for his U.S.-Mexico border wall, retreating from the central promise of his presidency, for now, in the face of intense public anger. The president’s humbling concession to the new realities of divided government brought the nation’s longest government shutdown to an end on its 35th day. It was a major victory for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who took charge of a new House Democratic majority just three weeks ago and kept her large caucus unified throughout the standoff. “Our diversity is our strength,” Pelosi told reporters after the agreement was reached. “But our unity is our power. And that is what maybe the president underestimated.” Trump announced the deal in an early afternoon speech in the Rose Garden. By evening the Senate, and then the House, had passed the plan by voice vote, and both chambers adjourned. Trump signed the plan into law later Friday night, bringing an end to weeks of anxiety for 800,000 federal workers who will soon receive back pay after missing two consecutive paychecks. The shutdown had also threatened important government functions, impeding Food and Drug Administration safety inspections and the ability of the Internal Revenue Service to process tax refunds, and — in a final sign that it could continue no longer — causing delays Friday at major East Coast airports as unpaid air traffic controllers failed to report to work. The deal reopens the government through Feb. 15, while also creating a bipartisan, bicameral committee charged with negotiating an agreement on border security as part of a new spending bill for the Homeland Security Department.

Pelosi, Schumer speak after Trump announces deal to reopen government - live updates - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are holding a press conference shortly after President Trump announced a deal to reopen the federal government. The House and Senate are expected to vote on a continuing resolution (CR) that will keep the government open for three weeks to negotiate over funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and a border wall or barrier. After refusing for over a month to sign any government funding bill without money for a wall, Mr. Trump agreed to sign a bill to reopen the government without wall funding. The CR will include $1.3 billion for border security, and is essentially the deal that the GOP-controlled Senate in December before the shutdown began (this resolution would be in effect until Feb. 15, rather than Feb. 8, the date agreed upon in the December deal). The House and Senate will also establish a conference committee to continue bipartisan, bicameral negotiations over border security. Mr. Trump announced the deal in an address from the White House Rose Garden Friday afternoon, and he thanked the federal workers who had been furloughed or working without pay. He also said that he expected Democrats and Republicans to cooperate on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, although he reiterated that building a wall was important to border security. "I really feel that in working with Democrats and Republicans, we can make a truly great and secure deal for everyone," he said. "Walls should not be controversial." He added that the wall he wanted to build were not "medieval," as Democrats have contended, but that it would be a "smart wall." 

Congress Passes Bill to Re-Open Government -  The House and Senate easily advanced a three-week funding bill to reopen the federal government. This happened a few hours after President Trump announced the deal that had been worked out. The funding legislation passed the Senate by voice vote. The House passed the funding bill a short time later, also by voice vote. It will now go to the president’s desk for his signature. This Senate vote was held a day after it had rejected two proposals to reopen the government. The situation changed on Friday after federal employees on furlough or working without pay missed their second paycheck. Also, delays at major airports were filling the national media and the political pressure undoubtedly increased on elected officials.

Trump signs bill to reopen government for 3 weeks - Late Friday night, President Donald Trump signed a bill passed by Congress that officially reopens the federal government for three weeks while lawmakers negotiate border security funding with the president -- ending the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. "I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government," Trump said earlier on Friday, in a surprise development that thrilled hundreds of thousands of federal workers that have been toiling without pay for more than a month. The bill passed by Congress, sources told ABC News, includes no funding for the president’s long-sought border wall. The president said earlier on Friday that while has decided not to declare a national emergency at this time, he has the ability to do so if members of Congress do not work on a deal for border security. "If we don't get a fair deal from Congress, the government either shut down on February 15th again or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the constitution of the United States to address this emergency," Trump said. Later on Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that the administration would move forward in three weeks with building a wall. 

Shutdown ends without funding for Trump’s border wall - President Trump signed a three-week funding bill on Friday night, formally bringing an end to the partial government shutdown without securing money for a border wall. Trump skipped the fanfare of a public signing ceremony and instead signed the continuing resolution (CR) behind closed doors at the White House, less than 12 hours after he reversed course and said he had agreed to punt the funding fight. It was the latest sign that the shutdown, which consumed Washington for 35 days, is going out with a whimper. Earlier Friday, the legislation cleared the House by unanimous consent and the Senate by voice vote, an anticlimactic end to the weeks-long drama. Trump warned Friday in announcing the three-week funding deal that if he cannot get a "fair deal" by next month the government could shut down again or he may declare a national emergency to sidestep Congress and build a border wall. Such a move would almost certainly draw legal challenges. The president's decision Friday to agree to end the shutdown without securing money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border spawned immediate criticism from conservatives, who warned that he had weakened his negotiating position with Democrats going forward. Trump tried to defend himself from that criticism Friday night on Twitter, saying the deal was "in no way a concession." "I wish people would read or listen to my words on the Border Wall. This was in no way a concession. It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!" he wrote.

‘Complete, total surrender’: Why Trump waved the white flag - President Donald Trump touted GOP unity for 33 days of a partial government shutdown. But by the 34th day, it was clearly gone — and so was the shutdown by the end of the 35th. Senate Republicans had finally had it and were struggling to continue to defend the president's position and heap blame on the Democrats. Perhaps no one illustrated that dynamic more than Sen. Rob Portman. Story Continued Below ..The Ohio Republican, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), had spent more than two weeks pushing to reopen the government and then negotiate on border security, only to face repeated rejection by the president and Vice President Mike Pence. So when two votes came before the Senate this week, one on Trump's plan, the other on a stopgap with no new guaranteed wall money, Portman nearly made a rare break with his party. “I considered it, yes,” he said on Friday after the president finally caved on his position that the government would only reopen with a down payment on his wall. Portman and most Republicans ultimately stuck with Trump after Pence's pleas for unity. A sustained rebellion against Trump on Thursday, Portman argued, would mean the government "would not be open right now,“ because Trump would simply veto a Democrat-backed bill. “It would have been a real problem.” In fact, despite his public hard-line stance, Trump has been quietly looking for a way out of the shutdown for weeks, according to White House aides. In recent days, the president has expressed frustration to allies about how the crisis was being covered on cable news, worrying that Democrats had won the upper hand, even before Friday’s dramatic airport delays. But the erosion of Senate Republican support — fueled by the increasingly damaged economy and worsening poll numbers — perhaps more than anything is what pushed Trump to reverse course.

Trump Told Sarah Sanders Not To Bother With Press Briefings Anymore -  In a week that has been defined by blunders committed by the "Fake News" media, President Trump is taking his bashing of the American press to a whole new level.  Following an earlier tweet where he condemned the mainstream media outlets for bashing a teenager at a Catholic high school in Kentucky who was accused of harassing a Native American activist after video footage of the encounter was taken wildly out of context, Trump revealed that he told Press Secretary Sarah Sanders "not to bother" with press conferences because of the unfair and "rude" media coverage she receives.The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the “podium” much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press. I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly & hence, the term, Fake News! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2019    Since almost the beginning of the Trump Administration, the mainstream press has consistently griped that the supposedly "daily" White House press briefings now only happen once in a blue moon. According to an analysis by Quartz, which cited data from the American Presidency Project, in 2018, Sanders "held drastically fewer briefings than her peers, allowed relatively few questions, and engaged in many contentious exchanges." Compared with her 13 most recent predecessors (including Sean Spicer), Sanders holds far fewer briefings per month, averaging only 11.5 during her tenure as of September. However, that number is expected to plummet because Sanders has held only 3 briefings since September. And while Trump himself has regularly held press briefings independently of Sanders, he is also holding fewer than most of his recent peers (though he is tied with Obama at 21). Given the direction that coverage of the Trump administration has been trending, we wouldn't be surprised to see that number fall even further.

Second-Round Stakes Higher For Trump And Kim --President Donald Trump’s announcement late last week that he will meet North Korea’s Kim Jong-un next month promises a significant result whether the encounter succeeds or fails. In the intervening weeks, we have two questions to ponder.

  • No. 1: what will this second summit accomplish? The first Trump–Kim meeting last June in Singapore was about establishing rapport and can by this measure be counted a success. Something of substance, however modest, needs to get done this time.
  • No. 2, and just as important, will Trump’s foreign policy minders undermine this encounter before it takes place? The record suggests this is a serious possibility.

A month ago, Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from Syria. The howls of protest, Capitol Hill Democrats often the shrillest, have not ceased. And troops have not started to pack their duffle bags.But the Syria decision may prove a turning point, given that Trump directly confronted the policy clique - segments of the Pentagon and State Department bureaucracies, as well as members of the National Security Council - who have been sabotaging his objectives since his first day in office two years ago. Steve Bannon, once and briefly Trumps’ strategic adviser, put it this way after the withdrawal announcement: “The apparatus slow-rolled him until he just said enough and did it himself. Not pretty, but at least done.”Will the second Trump–Kim summit prompt another such showdown with “the apparatus” around Trump? It could. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, is a hyper-hawk on North Korea. Behind him, the Pentagon finds the prospect of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula a threat to its immense presence in Northeast Asia. Be wary in coming weeks of vaguely sourced press reports citing newly discovered North Korean treachery, betrayals, and deceits.

The Congressional Budget Office points US spending priorities towards “great power” conflicts: Part Two - Last December the Congressional Budget Office issued a report “Options for Reducing the Deficit 2019 to 2028.” It sounds the alarm over the growth of the federal deficit. In 2018 the deficit—the difference between federal outlays and income—was $779 billion. This deficit is projected to grow to $984 billion in 2019. While the document purports to critically and objectively review all government spending including the largest portion of discretionary allocations—the military budget—the practical outcome of the report will be to increase military spending while spearheading a fundamental assault upon what remains of America’s social programs. Many of the budget choices outlined by the CBO for the new Congress are breathtaking in their sweep and implications for US society. They include the complete elimination of Head Start (a projected “savings” of $92 billion between 2020-2028); turning the food stamp program—Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—into smaller block grants; and cutting the federally-subsidized school lunch program. Further “options” include: eliminating tens of thousands of federal employees through attrition and eliminating all annual cost-of-living adjustments for those who remain; ending NASA’s funding for human exploration and operations in space starting in 2020; reducing funding for technology development in fossil fuel energy, nuclear energy, energy efficiency, and renewable energy programs to roughly 25 percent of their 2018 amounts; eliminating federal funding for Amtrak train service; reducing state subsidies for mass transit and eliminating the Federal Transit Administration which assists local and regional transit systems; increasing the cost for tenants in federally-assisted housing and more. Should any reader consider such ideas merely empty threats, these “options” should be placed in the context of the Trump administration’s threat to defy Congress and establish a “state of emergency” to build a wall on the Mexican border. As the World Socialist Web Site has noted, such a measure would be a historical turning point, from which there could be no return. Under such circumstances, it would become plausible for a “state of emergency” to be invoked over government “gridlock” or the national debt crisis to implement the severe attacks postulated in the CBO report and more, including gutting Medicare and Social Security.

Eisenhower's Nightmare On Steroids -- President Donald Trump’s plan to escalate efforts in Ballistic Missile Defense (BDM), including the introduction of space-based weapons, should not be viewed in isolation. It comes on top of the Defense Department’s plan to execute an across-the-board modernization of all our nuclear strike forces. It comes on top of the expansion of NATO under three presidents, despite earlier promises (here and here) to the contrary. It comes on top of the unilateral decision by President George W. Bush to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in June 2002, on top of Trump’s threat to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and on top of Trump’s publication of a more aggressive Nuclear Posture Review. To argue that such a massive effort is directed at deterring Iran or North Korea is ludicrous. Russia and China know who these programs and policies are aimed at.  Viewed through the lens of the precautionary principle, any sensible strategic planner in Russia and China would have no choice but to see these efforts as being a consistent, integrated plan to harden the US nuclear shield while sharpening the US nuclear sword. Consider that the makeup of the offensive modernization program - i.e., the nuclear sword - includes:

  • 1) increased precision guidance;
  • 2) improved command and control systems;
  • 3) dial-a-yield warheads on nuclear gravity bombs;
  • 4) new families of nuclear warheads for ballistic and cruise missiles;
  • 5) new ICBMs;
  • 6) new air launched cruise missiles;
  • 7) new bombers;
  • 8) new missile-launching submarines;
  • 9) modernized SLBMs;
  • 10) new sea-launched cruise missiles; and
  • 11) new space-based C4ISR systems with the possibility of ASAT capabilities.

Taking all of this into account, it is quite obvious that Russian and Chinese war planners will have no choice but to assume the worse about US intentions. Russian and Chinese planners will be forced to assume that Washington is returning to the thoroughly discredited 1970s-era nuclear war-fighting theory of graduated nuclear escalation via the use of a series limited nuclear options, punctuated perhaps by diplomatic signaling. Application of the precautionary principle by Russian and Chinese nuclear war planners would force them to conclude that the US believes it can fight and win a nuclear war regardless of any US protestations about its sword-shield modernization plan being a defensive application of deterrence theory.

Come To Your Senses! Russia Slams Trump's Space-Based Missile Defense Plans - After what many are describing as Trump's attempted channeling of Reagan's 'Star Wars' program with Thursday's unveiling of a missile defense strategy heavily focused on space as "the next war-fighting domain", Moscow has issued a predictably harsh rebuke, calling the newly published US Missile Defense Review (MDR) "openly confrontational" and a danger to global stability and peace.   Warning that Washington's missile defense strategy could restart the Cold War-era arms race, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday accused the White House of seeking to weaponize space while removing any limitations to development. Indeed President Trump did appear to reaffirm his controversial decision to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia during his remarks at the Pentagon Thursday affirming, “We are committed to establishing a missile defense program that can shield every city in the United States and we will never negotiate away our right to do this.”  In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced, “We would like to note that the very same logic served as the foundation of the widespread nuclear missile race that brought the world to the brink of disaster multiple times.” The statement added that US defense planners “apparently decided to step on the same rake, with predictable consequences,” in reference to 20th century nuclear brinkmanship.  The Foreign Ministry statement further urged Washington to “come to its senses” and abandon any restart of a new ‘Star Wars’ program, first proposed under the Reagan administration.  It described that the opposite of global stability and peace would be the outcome, as any weaponization of space would result in a “heavy blow to international stability, which is already falling apart thanks to irresponsible actions by Washington.” The statement concluded, “Obviously, no one wins in this scenario.”

How to save $1 trillion on defense spending - I see three basic strategies for attacking the defense budget, which I will label (1) Requirements, (2) Optimization, and (3) Ceiling.  The requirements strategy reviews the specific project line-items in the budget and debates the merits of each project. Perhaps we don’t need a fancy new stealth bomber, or a 300 ship Navy will suffice over 355 ships. For each program, you count the dollars in the acquisition’s planned budget and estimate the impact on O&S costs. You find the programs least valuable to national security, and cut them out until you reach your savings quota.  This seems like a rational approach to finding savings. Target the superfluous items, manage the force structure for tomorrow’s needs based on affordability.  The optimization approaches budget cutting a bit differently. Instead of looking at military requirements and connecting those to program budgets, it looks at the acquisition process itself and determines where efficiencies can be gained. This is a strategy more congenial to those who wish to see the Pentagon run in a more business-like manner. It focuses on consolidating IT systems and utilizing big data. It focuses on streamlining the contracting process and shortening cycle times. It focuses on business case realism and transparency.  The Ceiling approach is rather simple in this scenario: give the DOD a ceiling that is $100 billion less in each year for ten years, and tell them, “I expect the same end performance.” Now, this might seem like the most ridiculous approach. I’ll explain why it is perhaps the best approach we have. Organizational budgeting allows managers to take advantage of real options as they present themselves. They don’t need to justify project changes to many layers of bureaucracy, and develop a execution plan specifying what will be done over decades. It creates an alignment between acquisition and budgeting processes that has been broken. In effect, it avoids dangerous lock-in problems where decisions based on incomplete information are hard to redirect without a Government-wide consensus.

Now the F-35 Is Also an Anti-Nuke Weapon -- The F-35 is a jet that’s supposed to be all things to all people, an ever-expanding boondoggle soaking the American taxpayer for billions of dollars. Now, the Pentagon wants to strap new missiles to the F-35 and use it to shoot nukes out of the sky.As first reported by DefenseNews, the 2019 Missile Defense Review, a briefing on what the Pentagon plans to do to keep America and its allies safe from enemy missiles. The review laid out a wide array of plans, including equipping drones with lasers to shoot missiles out of the sky, “space based sensors and interceptors,” and using the F-35 to to knock out nukes before they can enter the upper atmosphere. They’re impressive plans that stretch both the laws of physics and the limits of the human imagination. Naturally, President Trump praised the missile plans in a speech to the Pentagon on January 17. Defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) requires weapon systems that detect the launch of the nukes, then knock them out of the air during the boost phase—when rocket boosters are shooting the missile into space, before coming back down to Earth. It’s at this stage that the ICBM is slowest and most vulnerable. This is an incredibly impractical plan. It’s one of those things that’s technically possible, but a practical crapshoot.For an F-35 to shoot down an ICBM, it’d first need to know where the launch is coming from. Advance knowledge of the launch would help, but ICBMs are most vulnerable and visible during their boost phase. They’re slowest after they first launch, but that speed is still an incredible 6.5km a second. “An ICBM is accelerating (fast) on the way up, [so] you have to be close enough to avoid a tail chase,” Reuters News Editor Gerry Doyle explained on Twitter. “Your interceptor has to have enough energy to get up and make the kill. So it’s big and you have to have enough advance notice of the launch to be in position when it happens. And you have to avoid getting shot down before launch.”

David Stockman- NATO Is Obsolete; We Should Get Rid Of It -- MSNBC’s Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski seemed taken aback when economics and politics writer David Stockman told her in a Monday interview: “NATO is obsolete; we should get rid of it.”Brzezinski followed up, asking, “are you saying that we should pull out of NATO?”“Sure,” replied Stockman, a former United States House of Representatives member. He then provided a rundown of some of his reasoning:"NATO’s obsolete. It was only set up to stop the Soviet Union with 50,000 tanks on the Warsaw front. That ended 25 years ago. We don’t need NATO.Europe can take care of itself. Russia’s a pint-sized economy - seven percent the size of the US economy. NATO-US GDP combined is 36 trillion. Russia’s is 1.5 trillion.You think the Europeans can’t handle it? Germany spends one percent only of GDP on defense. If they really thought that the Russians were heading through the Brandenburg Gate, they would be providing for their own defense.They’re not pacifists."In response, Brzezinski said the Morning Joe show will need to invite Stockman back to talk more about NATO, commenting “there might be a few people who want to debate you on that.” Hopefully, that does happen. It would be good TV. Stockman, who was the director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Ronald Reagan administration, also discusses in the interview the American economy, calling the stock market “way overvalued” and warning a recession is on the way. Watch Stockman’s complete interview here:

Former White House aide: Trump offered NASA unlimited funding to go to Mars - President Trump in 2017 offered unlimited funding to NASA to send a manned flight to Mars, according to an upcoming book. Prior to a phone call with NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson from the Oval Office in April 2017, Trump pressed Robert Lightfoot Jr., then the acting NASA administrator, for NASA's plans for Mars, New York Magazinereported Tuesday, citing an advance copy of Cliff Sims's upcoming book "Team of Vipers." “Is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?” Trump reportedly asked Lightfoot, who explained to the president that NASA planned to try a manned spaceflight by the 2030s and that there were logistical challenges of doing so before then.Trump then offered Lightfoot "all the money you could ever need," according to New York Magazine's reporting on Sims's book. “But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?” Trump asked. “What if we sent NASA’s budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you’re doing now. Could it work then?”Lightfoot reportedly responded to the president by telling him he didn't think that was possible. That left Trump "visibly disappointed," wrote Sims, a former White House communications staffer. Trump also pressed the issue during the phone call with Whitson, saying that he wanted to get humans on Mars "at worst, during my second term."

Army’s long-awaited Iraq war study finds Iran was the only winner in a conflict that holds many lessons for future wars - Army Times - A two-volume Army study of the Iraq war is a deep examination of the mistakes and success of the war effort that also takes aim at critics who would slough off the conflict as they shift to near-peer threats. The study, commissioned by former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno in 2013 and continued under current chief Gen. Mark Milley, was delayed for release since 2016, when it was completed. Some said it was due to concerns over airing “dirty laundry” about decisions made by some leaders during the conflict.The 1,300-page, two volume history, complete with more than 1,000 declassified documents, spans the 2003 invasion through the U.S. withdrawal, the rise of ISIS, and the influence of Syria and Iran.“At the time of this project’s completion in 2018, an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor,” authors wrote in the concluding chapter.

Graham: US-Saudi Ties Can’t Move Forward Until Crown Prince MBS “Dealt With” — After meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, US Senator Lindsey Graham said on Saturday that relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia cannot move forward until Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is “dealt with”.Graham, who has taken a prominent role in speaking out over the death in October of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, made the remarks in Ankara a day after holding talks with Erdogan.Riyadh, which initially denied knowledge of Khashoggi’s disappearance, then offered contradictory explanations, has described the assassination as a “rogue operation,” though the CIA has concluded that bin Salman (MBS) almost certainly signed off on the mission. “The relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia cannot move forward until Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is dealt with,” the Republican senator said, without being more specific.Graham also said Congress will reintroduce sanctions against those involved in the killing of Khashoggi.After leaving Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi became a US resident and wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post, which were often critical of the crown prince.The journalist, who was also a contributor to Middle East Eye, was murdered by a team of 15 Saudi hitmen on 2 October, shortly after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.Saudi officials have said bin Salman knew nothing of Khashoggi’s killing.

Trump and Erdogan Discussed “Negotiated Solution” for Syria in Sunday Call — President Donald Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday about a “negotiated solution” for Syria, where the withdrawal of US troops has alarmed Kurdish allies of America who are considered terrorists by the Turks, The Associated Press reported.In the phone call Trump “underscored the importance of defeating terrorist elements that remain in Syria,” the White House said.Turkey is ready to assume responsibility for security in Syria’s Manbij without delay, Erdoğan told Trump, according to Turkish presidency sources.Ankara has been planning a military operation in Kurdish-held Manbij city.About 2,000 US troops have been fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northeast Syria with the help of Kurdish fighters, near the border with Turkey. The administration has begun withdrawing those forces, with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence asserting that the terrorist group is all but destroyed.“The two leaders agreed to continue to pursue a negotiated solution for northeast Syria that achieves our respective security concerns,” the White House said. Trump has warned the US could devastate Turkey’s economy with sanctions if Ankara takes action against the Kurds. The White House said both leaders “discussed their mutual interest in expanding the trade relationship between the United States and Turkey.”

Congress Is Pushing Sanctions Against Supporters of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad - ON TUESDAY, THE House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to impose new sanctions on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and its allies, and those who do business with them. The move comes a month after President Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw troops from Syria, and as some Arab governments are thawing relations with the Assad regime, which has all but secured a military victory after nearly eight years of war. The measure has been passed by the House twice in previous sessions, and a companion bill currently remains pending in the Senate. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., reintroduced the standalone version of the Syria bill, H.R. 31, which passed under fast-track procedures. On the Senate side, the bill is one provision rolled into a foreign policy-related package called the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a lead sponsor. Senate Democrats blocked the bill — designated as S.1, which symbolizes heightened importance — on the grounds that Congress should reopen the government before considering unrelated legislation. The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act is named after the whistleblowerwho defected from the Assad regime and smuggled tens of thousands of photos of those tortured to death in regime prisons. The current version of the bill imposes sanctions on anyone engaging in “significant financial, material, or technological support to, or knowingly engages in a significant transaction with” the Syrian government or the governments of Russia and Iran in Syria. It includes an exception for nongovernmental organizations operating in Syria, and it directs the president to come up with a plan regarding the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians in need.

Kushner's top secret security clearance was rejected twice: report - Two White House security specialists, including one supervisor, rejected President Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s application for top secret clearance but were overruled by the head of the president's personnel security office, according to an NBC News reporton Thursday. Carl Kline, director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office, reportedly overruled security experts in the office regarding Kushner. He also did so with Trump officials on at least 30 occasions, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC.NBC reported that a top supervisor overruling security clearance recommendations by the career experts in the office only occurred once in the three years before Kline, a former Pentagon official, arrived at White House in May 2017.Kushner's security clearance wasdowngraded from top secret to secret last February. He was then granted a permanent security clearance in May of 2018 after working more than a year for the Trump administration. He previously held a temporary clearance status. Kushner’s FBI background check was reportedly flagged over concerns about his family’s businesses, his foreign contacts, his foreign travel and meetings he held during the 2016 presidential campaign, sources told NBC News. They spoke to the outlet on the condition of anonymity. An adjudicator deemed Kushner’s application “unfavorable” and handed it to his or her immediate supervisor in the office, NBC News reported. The supervisor agreed with the ruling and turned it over to Kline. When Kline overruled the White House security analysts, Kushner’s application was sent to the CIA for an even higher designation that would allow him to have access to "sensitive compartmented information," or SCI.

Michelle Alexander explodes an open secret in the ‘NYT’: progressives keep quiet about Palestine out of fear for their careers -- Everyone is talking about one thing this morning, the outstanding piece by Michelle Alexander in the New York Times, yes, the New York Times, titled, “Time to Break the Silence about Palestine,” in which she says she can’t be quiet about Palestine any longer.  The author of “The New Jim Crow” is a regular columnist now, and she has changed the discourse about Palestine in one explosive swoop, stating that progressives have been silent about Palestine partly because of fear for their careers, but the time has come to end that silence.  The 51-year-old legal scholar and civil rights advocate begins by quoting Martin Luther King’s courageous coming out against the Vietnam War in 1967, when it could do him no good. Just as speaking up for Palestinians can only hurt our careers today thanks to the “well-documented power” of the Israel lobby. [King’s] was a lonely, moral stance. And it cost him. But it set an example of what is required of us if we are to honor our deepest values in times of crisis, even when silence would better serve our personal interests or the communities and causes we hold most dear. It’s what I think about when I go over the excuses and rationalizations that have kept me largely silent on one of the great moral challenges of our time: the crisis in Israel-Palestine. Alexander all but outs herself as a PEP, Progressive Except Palestine.  Here is a principled person who has done groundbreaking work on human rights and anti-racism, and she is revealing that one of the reasons she keeps quiet is because she wants to protect her ability to participate in the mainstream discussion, to write about racism in the U.S. without being smeared and attacked. This is an open secret that everyone knows: if you speak up for Palestinian human rights, your character will be assassinated. That is a very fair description of the mainstream landscape, surveilled by the likes of Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss of the New York Times, and Abe Foxman and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL (Just ask Paul Krugman, who has rationalized his own silence on this issue on that basis).

 The United States Is At It Again- Compiling An Enemies List -  The Administration of President Donald Trump, not to be outdone by its predecessors, has recently come up with two enemies lists.  The first one was coined by the irrepressible John Bolton, who is now National Security Adviser. He has come up with the “troika of tyranny” to describe Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, where he sees “…the dangers of poisonous ideologies without control, and the dangers of domination and suppression… I am here to convey a clear message from the President of the United States about our policy towards these three regimes. Under this administration, we will no longer appease the dictators and despots near our coasts in this hemisphere. The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — has finally found its rival.” Bolton also demonstrated that he has a light touch, adding “These tyrants fancy themselves strongmen and revolutionaries, icons and luminaries. In reality, they are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly, and Moe. The three stooges of socialism are true believers, but they worship a false God.”   Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has apparently also been looking at Venezuela and not liking what he is seeing. On his recent road trip to the Middle East he told reporters that "It is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government [in Caracas].” He declared that “The Maduro regime is illegitimate and the United States will work diligently to restore a real democracy to that country. We are very hopeful we can be a force for good to allow the region to come together to deliver that.” “Force for good” is another key soundbite used by Pompeo. In his Cairo speech on January 10th, he described the United States as a “force for good” in the entire Middle East. Bolton might have thought “troika of tyranny” was a hands down winner, but he was actually upstaged by the dour Vice President Mike Pence who declared to a gathering of US Ambassadors that “Beyond our global competitors, the United States faces a ‘wolf pack of rogue states.’ No shared ideology or objective unites our competitors and adversaries except this one: They seek to overturn the international order that the United States has upheld for more than half a century.” The states Pence identified were North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Of the five, only North Korea can even plausibly be considered as a possible threat to the United States.

Pence Urges Venezuelans To Rise Up Against "Dictator" Maduro After Failed Military Revolt -  It appears the White House is ready to stoke the flames of anti-Maduro unrest following Monday's dramatic failed military revolt launched by 27 low-ranking officers and their subsequent arrests in the Cotiza neighborhood of Caracas, which sparked overnight protests and sporadic clashes with police after opposition leader Juan Guaido made a broad appeal to the military in a speech, urging them to demand Maduro step down. Guaido and other opposition leaders in the National Assembly have declared Wednesday a nation-wide protest day seeking to topple the regime itself a historic date commemorating the end of Venezuela's military dictatorship in 1958.On Tuesday US Vice President Mike Pence urged the Venezuelan people to "make your voices heard" in follow-up to Guaido's risky appeal, which appears a continuation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's comments throwing the United States' full weight behind Venezuela's opposition seeking to depose President Nicolás Maduro, which he made over a week ago while in the Middle East after Maduro was sworn in to a widely contested six-year second term. As the good people of Venezuela make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say: estamos con ustedes. We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you until Democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of Libertad. pic.twitter.com/ThzIAqBoRn— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 22, 2019VP Pence's words were issued in a video posted to social media wherein he asserted, “Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to to power." The video begins with Pence greeting in Spanish “Hola, I’m Mike Pence” but ending with a somewhat grimmer tone: “Vayan con Dios!” or “Go with God.”Pence also praised Guaido, head of the opposition held National Assembly who previously called himself Venezuela's "legitimate" power, as the "courageous" leader of “the last vestige of democracy in your country,” referencing the legislative body. This week the government-stacked S upreme Court declared it would throw out recent measures by the National Assembly that declared Maduro's presidency illegitimate.

Trump Backs Venezuelan Opposition Leader As 'Acting President' In Chaotic Aftermath Of Attempted Coup - In the chaotic aftermath of the latest coup attempt against Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of the Venezuelan assembly has proclaimed himself ‘acting president’ with the explicit backing of the US in what's looking more and more like a successful, US-backed coup."Today, January 23, 2019, I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as president in charge of Venezuela," Guaido said as crowds of people singing the national anthem converged in Caracas central square.During a speech in Caracas, he promised to run the country until free elections can be held.#Breaking #Venezuela:Juan #Guaidó dichiara di assumere il potere esecutivo e giura di fronte ad un'imponente folla a #Caracas per rivestire l'incarico di presidente di un governo di transizione verso nuove libere elezioni pic.twitter.com/sihwgbDphN— Atlantide (@Atlantide4world) January 23, 2019The defiant outburst comes shortly after Maduro started a new six-year term, and one day after Vice President Mike Pence urged Venezuelans to rise up against his corrupt regime.  Clashes have continued following a failed coup attempt organized by a group of National Guard soldiers  who tried to unseat Maduro. In a retaliatory crackdown, Venezuelan police have blocked Internet access.   The list of countries recognizing Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president has grown to 10.In his first public appearance since the unrest began, Maduro appeared on the balcony of the Miraflores palace to assure his supporters that he's "not giving up" and not going anywhere.First sighting of @NicolasMaduro today. He's one of two Venezuelan presidents right now. He's at the Miraflores Palace balcony, joined by his wife Cilia Flores, Diosdado Cabello, and VP Delcy Rodriguez #Venezuela #23Ene (h/t @EfectoCocuyo) pic.twitter.com/EMiaj5esSp— In Venezuela (@invenezuelablog) January 23, 2019Blocks away, clashes between protesters and national guard soldiers were escalating.

Maduro Kicks Out US Diplomats As Video Of "Live Ammo" Clashes Emerges; Internet Blackout Across Venezuela - Things are deteriorating rapidly or rather Nicholas Maduro's prospects of remaining in power are in Venezuela following Monday's mutiny of military officers in an anti-Maduro neighborhood of Caracas leading to nation-wide opposition sponsored anti-regime protests Wednesday, and following President Trump's shock declaration bestowing sole legitimacy on "the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela." A senior Trump administration official followed by saying “all options are on the table”. The sheer speed of events internationally, and the building momentum of opposition resistance on the ground, appears to be bringing the full weight of "counterrevolutionary" forces down upon the opposition: about a dozen countries now refuse to recognize Maduro's second term, internet and social media sites have been blocked through much of the country, Maduro has broken diplomatic relations with the US and given American diplomats 72 hours to leave, and the embattled president has called on all Venezuelans to defend the government against a coup. To top it all off, it appears American social media companies are ready to work the US government, given that Facebook and Instagram have removed Venezuelan Dictator Nicolás Maduro’s verification sign this after opposition leader Juan Guaido swore himself in as "interim president".

    US Refuses To Withdraw Diplomats From Venezuela, "Will Take Appropriate Actions" If Harmed --In what may shape up to be a major international incident over the next 48 hours, the United States has refused to withdraw diplomats from Venezuela, saying in a Wednesday evening statement that the US "stands with interim President Juan Guaido," adding "The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela. Accordingly the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata.U.S. will conduct diplomatic relations with #Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido. U.S. does not recognize the #Maduro regime. U.S. does not consider former president Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations. https://t.co/DBS4GiGEWI pic.twitter.com/gQZJuS1xfn— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 24, 2019Earlier Wednesday, Maduro broke diplomatic relations with the US, giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave Caracas after President Trump declared Maduro's political opponent, Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido, the I nterim President of Venezuela. 

    Fears of US-Backed ‘Coup’ in Motion as Trump Recognizes Venezuela Opposition Lawmaker as ‘Interim President’ --President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela officially cut off dipomatic ties with the U.S. government on Wednesday—and gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country—in response to President Donald Trump declaring formal recognition of an opposition lawmaker as the “Interim President” of Venezuela, despite not being elected by the nation’s people for that position.“Before the people and nations of the world, and as constitutional president,” declared Maduro to a crowd of red-shirted supporters gathered outside the presidential residence in Caracas, “I’ve decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist U.S. government.”According to the Associated Press:Maduro said in his speech the U.S. was making a “grave mistake” by trying to impose a president on Venezuela and rattled off a long list of countries — Guatemala, Brazil, Chile and Argentina—that saw leftist governments toppled or come under military rule during the Cold War with U.S. support. In a prepared White House statement earlier in the day, Trump declared he was “officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.” In addition to vowing to “use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power” to restore what he called “democracy” in the country, Trump also encouraged “other Western Hemisphere governments” to recognize Guaido. Shortly later, CBC News reported that Canada, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was making plans to follow Trump’s lead.In his remarks from Caracas, Maduro told his supporters “the very existence of our Bolivarian republic” was under threat and urged them to resist “at all costs” what he explicitly described as a “coup” attempt by the “interventionist gringo empire” and the “fascist right” within his own country.“They intend to govern Venezuela from Washington,” Maduro declared. “Do you want a puppet government controlled by Washington?”

    “Catastrophic Consequences”: Russia Warns US Against Military Intervention in Venezuela — Commenting on Washington’s claim that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido is the legitimate president,  Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called out what Moscow sees as rank hypocrisy, saying: “The US, which is paranoid about somebody interfering in their elections, even though they have no proof of that, themselves are trying to rule the fates of other peoples. What they actually do is interfere in their internal affairs. There is no need for [US special counsel Robert] Mueller to determine that.” He further noted that the speed of events and unrest inside Venezuela suggests foreign powers are ultimately pulling the strings, calling attempts to foster a coup “someone else’s dirty game”. He said: “We hope the Venezuelan opposition prioritize national interests and call on them not to be pawns in someone else’s dirty game.” Russia has dismissed the political crisis engulfing Venezuela as an attempted coup while expressing concern over the role of external states and the potential for foreign military intervention, calling Juan Guaido’s move to declare himself president illegal.Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday, “We are very concerned by statements that don’t rule out some kind of external intervention,” as cited by Bloomberg. “We consider such intervention unacceptable,” Peskov added while describing the internal unrest spilling into the streets after the catalyst of Monday’s failed military revolt of 27 officers in an opposition neighborhood of Caracas an “attempt to usurp power.”This follows President Trump’s declaration that the US would only recognize the unelected head of the opposition-held National Assembly as “the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.” A senior Trump administration official followed by saying “all options are on the table”.The Russian Foreign Ministry said further in website statement that Washington’s joining a growing list of about a dozen other countries to recognize Guaido “is aimed at deepening the split in Venezuelan society, increasing the conflict on the streets, sharply destabilizing the internal political system and further escalation of the conflict.” And in words eerily similar to the brief international exchange of words over prior US action in places like Libya and Syria the ministry said that external armed intervention would be “fraught with catastrophic consequences.”

    Trump Incites Turmoil in Venezuela Amid a Bipartisan Clamor for Regime Change  - The same US government that is currently shutdown, refuses to pay more than 800,000 Federal workers and declines basic services to tens of millions of Americans has the audacity to lecture others about democracy. It’s always easier to point elsewhere than it is to take care of a growing epidemic of homelessness, rotting infrastructures and economic inequalities that have turned America into a nation of Aspen for the rich and Appalachia for the poor and working class. The fraction of the nearly trillion dollars that is wasted committing massacres around the world could end poverty over night, but the neocon/neoliberal establishment would rather kill in the name of “peace” than heal for the sake of humanity.With that, the United States is back to their old ways. This time around, Venezuela is the target that is bearing the brunt of American imperialism. Just like Hitler, who threatened an invasion of Austria unless Chancellor von Schuschnigg resigned and Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart took his place, Trump arrogantly asserted that Nicolas Maduro was no longer legitimate and decreed Juan Guaidó the new president of Venezuela. Where Hitler unleashed blitzkriegs to annex Austria, the US dangles the threat of paramilitary forces as Trump menacingly infers that “all options are on the table” to oust Maduro. Proving that warmongering is a bipartisan endeavor, Democrats jumped on board and gleefully embraced the idea of toppling yet another government that never attacked us. The ever obsequious “free-press” and mainstream media personalities across the political spectrum likewise endorsed this naked aggression by painting Maduro as a despot and presenting the turmoil in Venezuela as popular uprising. War is a profitable business; it’s a trough that feeds many pigs who walk on two feet and dance to the tune of genocides—Animal Farm was quaint compared to the beasts of the Military-Industrial Complex.

    Pence’s Key Phone Call to Venezuelan Opposition Confirms US Orchestration — As U.S. lawmakers, civil society leaders, and Latin America experts  American intervention in Venezuela’s internal political affairs, the Wall Street Journal on Friday confirmed suspicions that opposition leader Juan Guaido’s move to declare himself “interim president” of Venezuela this week was highly coordinated with the Trump White House and Republican lawmakers. According to the Journal, Vice President Mike Pence called Guaido the night before his announcement and “pledged” that the Trump administration would support him “if he seized the reins of government from [elected President] Nicolas Maduro by invoking a clause in the South American country’s constitution.”“That late-night call set in motion a plan that had been developed in secret over the preceding several weeks, accompanied by talks between U.S. officials, allies, lawmakers, and key Venezuelan opposition figures, including Mr. Guaido himself,” the Journal reported, citing an anonymous administration official. “Almost instantly, just as Mr. Pence had promised, President Trump issued a statement recognizing Mr. Guaido as the country’s rightful leader.” The coordination was clear to observers, but now the WSJ has it: Pence calling Guaidó and telling him to invoke the clause in the constitution that would allow him to take powerhttps://t.co/2CzIgphfrd — Christy Thornton (@llchristyll) January 25, 2019  Guaido’s move and U.S. President Donald Trump’s rapid endorsement were quickly decried as a dangerous intervention—or the beginnings of a coup d’etat—which progressives argued would dramatically worsen the country’s economic and political crisis. As Common Dreams reported, over 70 academics and experts signed an open letter demanding that the U.S. “cease encouraging violence by pushing for violent, extralegal regime change.”

    Venezuela - Trump's Coup Plan Has Big Flaws -- While U.S. coup plotting against Venezuela goes back to at least 1998 when the deceased President Chavez won his first election, the actual planning for this coup attempt was only done during the last two month. There are many holes in the plan and it involves a lot of wishful thinking. That might give the Maduro government openings to deflect the attack. Today U.S. media give some insight into the decision making before the coup attempt. The Wall Street Journal headline makes it clear that the U.S. is 100% responsible for it: Pence Pledged U.S. Backing Before Venezuela Opposition Leader’s Move: Trump administration’s secret plan pledging support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó was preconceived and tightly coordinated..The night before Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela, the opposition leader received a phone call from Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Pence pledged that the U.S. would back Mr. Guaidó if he seized the reins of government from Nicolás Maduro by invoking a clause in the South American country’s constitution, a senior administration official said.That late-night call set in motion a plan that had been developed in secret over the preceding several weeks, accompanied by talks between U.S. officials, allies, lawmakers and key Venezuelan opposition figures, including Mr. Guaidó himself. The leading figures were Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio as well as hawks in in the National Security Council.A decisive moment came a week later in a White House meeting Jan. 22, the eve of protests in Venezuela, when Mr. Rubio along with Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Republicans from Florida, were called to a White House meeting with Mr. Trump, Vice President Pence and others.  ...Other officials who met that day at the White House included Messrs. Pompeo and Bolton, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who presented Mr. Trump with options for recognizing Mr. Guaidó.  Trump himself is only interested in Venezuela's oil reserves, which are the largest of the world:

    Venezuela’s Military Backs Maduro, as Russia Warns U.S. Not to Intervene - NYT— The embattled government of Venezuela struck back against its opponents on Thursday, winning strong support from the country’s armed forces and the solid backing of Russia, which warned the United States not to intervene.The events put Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, at the center of a Cold War-style showdown between Russia, an ally that has shored up his government with billions of dollars, and the United States, which has denounced him as a corrupt autocrat with no legitimacy.The Trump administration pressed its case on Thursday, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on all countries in the hemisphere to reject Mr. Maduro and “align themselves with democracy,” setting up a test of wills with the Kremlin.Only a day before, Mr. Maduro’s political nemesis, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, seemed to have the momentum. During nationwide protests against the government, he proclaimed himself the country’s rightful president, earning endorsements from President Trump and several governments in the region.But on Thursday, it was Mr. Maduro’s turn to put Mr. Guaidó on defense. In a televised news conference, the leader of Venezuela’s armed forces declared loyalty to Mr. Maduro and said the opposition’s effort to replace him amounted to an attempted coup.In a further blow to the opposition, Russia warned the United States against meddling in Venezuela. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia telephoned Mr. Maduro and “emphasized that destructive external interference is a gross violation of the fundamental norms of international law,” according to a statement on the Kremlin’s official website.

    US Order Non-Emergency Government Employees Out Of Venezuela - One day after the State Department said that the "U.S. does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela" and while it would maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela it would "conduct our relations with Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido, who has invited our mission to remain in Venezuela", which in turn prompted Maduro to order the expulsion of all US diplomats out of Venezuela in 72 hours - an order that SecState Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would ignore - moments ago the US State Department ordered all non-emergency U.S. government employees to depart Venezuela. "U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Venezuela," the state department said in a security alert, warning that Americans residing or traveling in Venezuela "should strongly consider departing Venezuela. Commercial flights remain available."  Earlier in the day, a socialist party official threatened to shut off electricity to the US embassy in Caracas. The embassy sits atop a lush green hill in the privileged east of the city in the Valle Arriba neighborhood. It’s visible from many parts of Caracas, as is the enormous U.S. flag that flies in the wind in front, according to Bloomberg. Beyond fences and security, the complex has multiple floors underground and could act as a bunker if needed.

    “All Options Are on the Table”: Trump Intensifies Anti-Maduro Push  — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be heading to the UN Security Council Saturday with a very clear agenda: trying to sell the 15 members on recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president, instead of Nicolas Maduro. This is unlikely to happen uniformly, as Russia and China have already expressed support for Maduro.This is part of an ever-escalating Trump Administration plan to try to sell the world on Venezuela’s regime change. Some US allies are on board, but there are still some countries that are not.It’s to the point where President Trump says “all options are on the table” against Maduro, with the immediate focus being some way to divert Venezuela’s money from oil exports to Guaido, instead of the Maduro government. John Bolton was setting that out as a priority earlier in the week, though he conceded that officials weren’t clear yet how that would be accomplished. Citgo, Venezuela’s main foreign energy asset, is already gearing up for a fight, envisioning attempts at the company being taken over on behalf of the Guaido government, or otherwise trying to hijack their revenue stream before it gets back to Venezuela.

    Antiwar Hero Medea Benjamin Disrupts Pompeo Speech on VenezuelaCaitlin Johnstone — Before they launch missiles, they launch narratives. Before they drop bombs, they drop talking points. Before they implement crushing starvation sanctions, they demonize and condemn. Before they invade, they propagandize. Before the killing starts, manipulation paves the way. For this reason, the front line of any antiwar movement is a fight against the establishment narratives about disobedient nations that are aggressively promulgated by the political/media class. And right now one of the very most adept Americans at doing that is an activist named Medea Benjamin. Benjamin once again displayed her knack for getting her message seen in high-profile spaces in a way that grabs attention and punches through cleanly and concisely as she crashed the warmongering bloviations of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a meeting of the Organization for American States (OAS) in Washington, DC. Following a speech in which Pompeo regurgitated already established Trump talking points referring to Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro as the “former president”, accusing him of being “economically incompetent”, “profoundly corrupt” and “undemocratic to the core,” Benjamin cut off his applause by standing at the end of the council room with a sign reading “OAS: DON’T SUPPORT A COUP IN VENEZUELA” and decrying the Trump administration’s attempts to topple the Venezuelan government. “Don’t support the coup!” Benjamin shouted. “A coup is not a democratic transition! Do not listen to Secretary Pompeo! Do not support the coup! Do no support the coup in Venezuela!” “We call on the OAS to support the democratically elected leader and work for a negotiated solution,” Medea continued to yell as security staff cajoled her out of the room. “Coups only bring more violence, war and destruction!” And of course Medea Benjamin is correct. This US-led coup is not different from all the other US-led coups in South America and in oil-rich nations around the world; it is designed to be profitable for the already wealthy and strategically advantageous for the already powerful, with none of the interest in humanitarianism and democracy that it always pretends to have.

    U.S.-China Trade Talks Falling Short on Make-Or-Break IP Issues - Ever since negotiators from the U.S. and China sat down in Beijing after a Christmas meltdown in global markets, President Donald Trump has sought to calm investors and claim his trade talks are making great strides. But that glosses over a more uncomfortable reality.According to people close to the discussions, the two sides have so far made little progress on the issue any deal Trump strikes with China may ultimately be judged on: ending what the U.S. has dubbed as decades of state-coordinated Chinese theft of American intellectual property.That stands in contrast to movement on other fronts that has lifted stocks in recent sessions, including a Bloomberg report on Friday that China offered a path to reducing its trade surplus to zero by 2024. The next round of talks is scheduled for Jan. 30-31, when Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s top economic emissary Liu He will visit Washington.China’s alleged IP theft and its related practice of forcing foreign companies to hand over technology to gain access to its market formed a large part of the agenda for the three days of early-January talks. Yet the discussions amounted more to an airing of grievances than constructive negotiations, according to participants and others briefed on the talks. Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish spent much of the time citing a U.S. report used to justify the tariffs imposed on some $250 billion in Chinese goods, one person present at the talks said. Chinese officials responded by repeating longstanding denials of any wrongdoing and asked the U.S. for proof.The lack of progress in discussions on structural issues such as IP was confirmed by Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, in a meeting with lawmakers last week, according to congressional aides. His office declined to comment. China’s Ministry of Commerce and the National Intellectual Property Administration didn’t respond to faxes seeking comment.

    U.S. demands regular review of China trade reform (Reuters) - The United States is pushing for regular reviews of China’s progress on pledged trade reforms as a condition for a trade deal - and could again resort to tariffs if it deems Beijing has violated the agreement, according to sources briefed on negotiations to end the trade war between the two nations. A continuing threat of tariffs hanging over commerce between the world’s two largest economies would mean a deal would not end the risk of investing in businesses or assets that have been impacted by the trade war. “The threat of tariffs is not going away, even if there is a deal,” said one of three sources briefed on the talks who spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity. Chinese negotiators were not keen on the idea of regular compliance checks, the source said, but the U.S. proposal “didn’t derail negotiations.” A Chinese source said the United States wants “periodic assessments” but it’s not yet clear how often. “It looks like humiliation,” the source said. “But perhaps the two sides could find a way to save face for the Chinese government.” The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed import tariffs on Chinese goods to put pressure on Beijing to meet a long list of demands that would rewrite the terms of trade between the two countries. The demands include changes to China’s policies on intellectual property protection, technology transfers, industrial subsidies and other trade barriers. An enforcement and verification process is unusual for trade deals and is akin to the process around punitive economic sanctions such as those imposed on North Korea and Iran. 

    Trump ‘not going to back down’ on trade deal without China concessions: report - President Donald Trump will not agree to any new trade deal unless China agrees to make substantive changes to the way it does business, according to a new report Tuesday. Citing White House advisers, Reuters reported that China’s offering to buy more American goods is not enough to resolve the trade war, and structural reforms — including how it handles intellectual property — are necessary. “The president’s said many times how crucial that is, and he’s not going to back down,” Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told Reuters. The world’s two biggest economies are facing a March 1 deadline to settle their trade differences before Trump raises tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods from 15% to 25%. The two sides are next scheduled to meet next week. Separately, Kudlow on Tuesday denied a report that the U.S. had canceled a planning meeting before those talks due to differences over intellectual property rules. “The story is not true, there was never a planned meeting,” Kudlow told CNBC.

    Kudlow denies report that US-China trade talks hit wall -White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow helped stocks pare some losses on Tuesday, denying a report that the Trump administration had canceled vice-ministerial trade talks with China that were expected this week. Kudlow stressed that the two sides were on track to have “very, very important” high-level talks at the end of the month that will be “determinative.” “There’s no cancellations. None. Zero. Let me put that to rest,” Kudlow said, adding: “President Trump has been optimistic about the China trade talks.” His comments came after The Financial Times reported that the Donald Trump administration had called off the talks this week after China refused to send officials with written offers to address key asks. The talks were expected to lay the groundwork for high-level discussions between Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at the end of the month. According to the report, officials on the US side wanted Chinese negotiators to present concrete concessions to deal with alleged forced technology transfers and other “structural” reforms to China’s domestic economic policy. Beijing has consistently denied that foreign businesses operating in China are “forced” to hand over intellectual property, but instead do so willingly in exchange for market access.

    China-US rifts widen on eve of trade talks - In the wake of the sharp falls in the US stock market in December, partly over concerns about the trade conflict with China, US President Trump sought to massage the markets with the message that discussions were going well and he was confident of a deal. However, in the lead up to the crucial meeting between US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and China’s Vice Premier Liu He in Washington on January 30-31, the wide gap between the sides was on view again this week.The top-level meeting will be crucial in determining whether the US proceeds to impose a 25 percent tariff of $200 billion worth of Chinese goods when a deadline for negotiations expires on March 1.The Financial Times reported earlier this week that an offer by China to send two vice ministers to prepare the way for the meeting was turned down by the US. It said the reasons for the rejection of preliminary discussions were lack of progress on US allegations of “forced” technology transfers and its demands for “structural” changes in the Chinese economy related to subsidies for state-owned enterprises.Larry Kudlow, the head of the National Economic Council, denied there had been any planned meeting and said the US was moving towards negotiations. But in an interview with the business channel CNBC on Tuesday, he emphasised the key US demands saying “enforcement” was crucial to the success of the talks. “Promises are great but enforcement is what we want—things like deadlines and timetables and full coverage of the various structural issues.” He emphasised that the end-of-the-month meeting would be “very important” and “determinative.”

    Wilbur Ross- US, China 'miles and miles' apart on trade talks - The U.S. and China are “miles and miles” away from coming to agreement on a broader trade deal, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday, an admission that comes as other White House officials voice optimism that a deal can be reached before the March 1 deadline. “There’s been a lot of anticipatory work done, but we’re miles and miles from getting a resolution,” Ross told CNBC. “Frankly, that shouldn’t be too surprising.”  White House top economic adviser Larry Kudlow and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- while voicing optimism on the state of discussions -- have also both cautioned that disagreements remain on key areas like Beijing’s theft of intellectual property and forced technology transfer, as well as what enforcement mechanisms will be put in place to ensure the terms of the deal are adhered to. The administration put a deadline of March 1 on the ongoing negotations. If a deal is not reached, the White House is prepared to raise tariffs on the existing $200 billion in Chinese products from 10 percent to 25 percent, an increase that would have ramifications across several U.S. industries and likely spur volatility in the stock market. When asked about a possible extension, Ross said, "There’s quite a little bit of time between now and then to judge just where do we stand [and] is it worth going forward.” President Trump is hoping that China’s slowing economy could force the communist nation to make key concessions to address the long-standing U.S. concerns.  "China posts slowest economic numbers since 1990 due to U.S. trade tensions and new policies," he tweeted recently. "Makes so much sense for China to finally do a Real Deal, and stop playing around!" While China slips, top business leaders and administration officials say the U.S. economy is strong amid concerns of a possible recession in the coming years.

    US Will Seek Extradition of Huawei CFO From Canada (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it will pursue the extradition of the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s, arrested in Canada in December. The United States has accused Meng Wanzhou of misrepresenting the company’s links to a firm that tried to sell equipment to Iran despite U.S. sanctions. The arrest soured ties between Canada and China, which subsequently detained two Canadians and sentenced a third to death. The U.S. statement came a day after a report that Canada’s ambassador to the United States said his government was told Washington planned to proceed. “We will continue to pursue the extradition of defendant Ms. Meng Wanzhou, and will meet all deadlines set by the U.S.-Canada Extradition Treaty,” Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate Canada’s continuing support of our mutual efforts to enforce the rule of law.” Huawei Chairman Liang Hua told media at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday that the company was following the issue closely and wanted a quick resolution of the case, but had no direct contact with authorities. The United States must file a formal request for extradition by Jan. 30. Once it is received, a Canadian court has 30 days to determine if there is enough supporting evidence and the Canadian justice minister must issue a formal order. Canada has not asked the United States to drop its bid to have Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou extradited, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told Bloomberg TV in an interview.

    China Threatens Retaliation As US Confirms Plan To Extradite Huawei CFO   - Despite China's demands that the US government use the shutdown as an excuse not to make a formal extradition request for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, DOJ officials have reportedly told a Canadian diplomat that the DOJ will submit its formal extradition request by the Jan. 30 deadline (the US has 60 days from the day of Meng's arrest in Vancouver to formally ask for extradition). The news, which was first published Tuesday by Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail, sent the offshore yuan lower as Chinese officials accused the US of "abusing" the extradition system in the Meng case. According to the report, David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the US, met with senior White House and State Department officials about the Meng case. MacNaughton also reportedly expressed to Washington Canada's unhappiness that it had been drawn into the dispute, and that several of its citizens are now facing retaliation from Beijing. "We do not like that it is our citizens who are being punished," he was quoted as saying. "[The Americans] are the ones seeking to have the full force of American law brought against [Meng] and yet we are the ones who are paying the price. Our citizens are."He also said the US had expressed its appreciation that Ottawa would honor the extradition agreement, and said that Canada would continue to press Beijing about releasing Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the two Canadian nationals arrested on vague "national security" charges in the wake of Meng's arrest. In a warning issued after the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying threatened that China would "take action" in response to the US's decision, adding that the extradition convention was "an abuse" of power.

    Huawei warns it may pull out of some countries - The chairman of Chinese tech giant Huawei has warned that his company could shift away from Western countries if it continues to face restrictions. Huawei has been under scrutiny by Western governments, which fear its products could be used for spying. Speaking at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Mr Liang Hua said his firm might transfer technology to countries "where we are welcomed". He also stressed that Huawei follows regulations wherever it operates. Huawei makes smartphones but is also a world leader in telecoms infrastructure, in particular the next generation of mobile phone networks, known as 5G. But concern about the security of its technology has been growing, particularly in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Germany. Security concerns The company is banned from bidding for government contracts in the US, where intelligence services have raised questions about Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei's links to China's ruling Communist Party. Last month, BT confirmed that Huawei equipment was being removed from a communication system being developed for the UK's emergency services. Meanwhile, Germany is considering blocking the firm from its next generation mobile phone network. Huawei has always maintained that it is a private company, owned by its employees, with no ties to the Chinese government. The company says it remains committed to its £3bn investment in Britain.

    The U.S.-China Cold War Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better – Tyler Cohen - We are in the midst of a new Cold War, with the United States and China carving out separate economic and political orders. Let’s consider how it might look in a few years.  There will be two separate internets, with the U.S. and China as the two dominant players. American tech companies still will be kept out of China, and Chinese tech companies will find it hard to get Western contracts or sales, as Huawei is discovering with its plans to build 5G networks. National security and surveillance considerations will make these risks too high, and such restrictions will become increasingly important as “software eats the world.”  There is already talk that the U.S. should not buy solar panels from China. What if those panels are monitoring Americans, or have embedded kill switches? Even if the chances are not high, risk-averse businesses, as well as businesses that have contracts with the Pentagon, will feel more comfortable with other sources of supply. Already, CFIUS — the U.S. regulator charged with scrutinizing foreign investment — is no longer welcoming Chinese investment in American sectors that might be considered sensitive in terms of either national security or advanced technology. Furthermore, Apple iPhone sales in China are down, and that was long one of the biggest export success stories for an American company. You can blame that on the Chinese economic slowdown. But in the longer run, a mix of cheaper “good enough” Chinese brands, plus security considerations and patriotism, means Apple has probably peaked in China. The new dynamic affects people as well as products. China is asking state firms to avoid travel to the U.S. and its allies. And if you were an American or Canadian tech company executive, would you travel to China right now, given that Canada has detained a leading Huawei executive (and daughter of the company’s CEO) for extradition to the U.S.? Meanwhile, many American universities are kicking their local Confucius Institute off campus, most notably the University of Michigan, amid complaints that those institutes are spying on Chinese nationals who attend those schools. Whether or not that is true, this is another sign of the collapse of trust. This is the deeper issue with the U.S.-China relationship: the continuing erosion, in an era of rapid deglobalization, of previous ties built at least partly on a common sense of purpose. Looking back at 2018, it now seems obvious that this was the most important story of the year. It is easy enough to imagine how things might get worse. More and more accounts of Chinese espionage are likely to surface, and the U.S. is hacking Chinese systems, too. As deals are rejected, commercial and political grudges will stick and fester. Hong Kong may fall even further into the Chinese sphere and behind the Great Firewall. Headlines will focus on tariffs and the short-term trade war with China. But the issues are geopolitical, not commercial. Even if there is a truce in the trade war in the next few months, any agreement on Chinese economic policy will itself be hard to enforce. And of course no settlement can change the fundamental dynamic of declining trust.

    Global FDI skids 19 percent on Trump tax reform, may rebound in 2019 – U.N. (Reuters) - Global foreign direct investment (FDI) fell 19 percent last year to an estimated $1.2 trillion, largely caused by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax reforms, the United Nations trade and development agency UNCTAD said on Monday. FDI, comprising cross-border mergers and acquisitions (M&A), intra-company loans and investment in start-up projects abroad, is a bellwether of globalization and a potential sign of growth of corporate supply chains and future trade ties. But it can also go into reverse as companies pull investments out of foreign projects or repatriate earnings. The lowest net global FDI since 2009 was the result of U.S. firms repatriating $300 billion or more in accumulated earnings to take advantage of Trump’s tax break. Net investment flows into Europe slumped by an unprecedented 73 percent to $100 billion, a level not seen since the 1990s, as U.S. firms pulled years of profits out of affiliates in Ireland, Switzerland and elsewhere. UNCTAD investment chief James Zhan told reporters that U.S. repatriation of profits had slowed down and an FDI rebound was possible this year, but there were also growing risks. “It’s what we call the potential trade-investment-technology war that will affect global investment, and we see that the rising protectionist measures of a number of countries and the prospects for global economic growth are worsening,” Zhan said. The United States remained the top destination for FDI in 2018, attracting $226 billion, 18 percent less than in 2017. Second was China, up 3 percent to $142 billion, and third was Britain, which saw a 20 percent jump to $122 billion, mainly due to a doubling of reinvested earnings and a tripling in the value of M&A deals.

    As global recession fears grow, calls escalate for Trump to end shutdown and trade war – Calls are growing louder for President Trump to end the trade war and government shutdown as fresh evidence pours in that businesses and consumers are losing faith in the global expansion. On Monday, the International Monetary Fund cut its global growth predictions for this year and next, saying “the balance of risks remains skewed to the downside” and momentum has “past its peak.” Chief executives ranked a global recession as their number one concern for 2019, according to a survey of nearly 800 top business leaders around the world released Thursday by The Conference Board. Global trade threats came in second. Even consumers, who power the U.S. economy, are on edge. Consumer confidence has fallen to the lowest level of Trump’s presidency, according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey out Friday. “After two years of solid expansion, the world economy is growing more slowly than expected and risks are rising,” said Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF. “Does that mean a global recession is around the corner? No. But the risk of a sharper decline in global growth has certainly increased.” The mood is noticeably more somber as government, business and non-profit leaders from around the world are gathering this week here in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum. A year ago, optimism was high as nearly every country was growing, and Trump received a warm welcome from business leaders after a big U.S. tax cut for corporations. Today growth is decelerating, especially in China and Germany, Trump’s tariffs are starting to bite and the U.S. government is in the midst of the longest ever shutdown, which is starting to have a serious impact on the economy. Trump was supposed to speak in Davos this year but his entire delegation is staying home because of the shutdown. “I think there is anxiety. There are concerns the slowdown could be quite deep,” said John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge. “The more we can show some progress and resolution of some trade disputes, that would help.” 

    CEOs sour on Trump policies, warn they hurt business, investment (Reuters) - From centre-stage in Davos last year, President Donald Trump told the world’s corporate bosses that America is a great place to invest. It hasn’t quite turned out that way. Foreign direct investment to the United States fell in 2018, and companies gathered at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps this year say they are worried Trump’s trade war with China will dampen the global economy and business investments even further. One key complaint here this week: Companies increasingly reliant on consumers in China have had to lower their earnings outlooks as the world’s second-largest economy cools. And while the U.S. administration has cut taxes and regulations to attract new investment, a wave of caution is rippling through many industries in the United States. “The trade war has been very damaging for the U.S. agricultural economy,” said David MacLennan, chief executive of U.S. food and agricultural giant Cargill Inc, which announced worse-than-expected results out of China earlier in January. “The longer this goes on, the worse it is,” he told Reuters.

    Leaked Memo Reveals Trump Administration's "Immoral" Plan to "Traumatize" Migrant Children - Following reports on Thursday that federal officials forcibly separated thousands more migrant children from their families than previously reported, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D.-Ore.) released a document to NBC News revealing the Trump administration intended to "traumatize children and intentionally create a humanitarian crisis at the border."  The December 2017 draft memo—which Merkley shared with NBC News after receiving it from a government whistleblower—shows that Trump administration officials wanted to deport children more quickly by denying them asylum hearings after taking them away from their parents."It appears that they wanted to have it both ways—to separate children from their parents but deny them the full protections generally awarded to unaccompanied children," concluded ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who led a class-action lawsuit on behalf of migrant parents.President Donald Trump's "child immigration strategy is immoral and comes from a dark place in the heart of this administration," Merkley declared, responding to the revelations on Twitter. "Children are NOT expendable commodities in political battles."The leaked document, as NBC reports,also shows officials wanted to specifically target parents in migrant families for increased prosecutions, contradicting the administration's previous statements. In June, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration did "not have a policy of separating families at the border" but was simply enforcing existing law.The authors noted that the "increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and it would have a substantial deterrent effect." The memo was shared with high-ranking members of DHS and the Justice Department before then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an ex-senator infamous for his anti-immigrant positions, officially unveiled the administration's cruel "zero tolerance" policy in the spring.

    Watch As Over 100 Migrants Illegally Scale US-Mexico Border Wall Before CBP Arrests Them - More than 100 Central American migrants were caught on camera illegally scaling the US-Mexico border wall in Arizona, just one week after 376 migrants tunneled through to the US near the same location. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents "apprehended a group of 110+ Central Americans who illegally scaled the wall with the assistance of a smuggler with a ladder," tweeted the Agency on Monday. In the video, a procession of people can be seen slinking over the 21-foot wall and dropping to the ground, after which a person can be seen running further into Mexico while carrying a ladder. Of note, Trump's long-promised border wall - now to be made out of steel beams with 13-inch spikes on top, would be around 30 feet tall should it ever be built. On Monday #CBP #YumaSector Border Patrol agents apprehended a group of 110+ Central Americans who illegally scaled the wall with the assistance of a smuggler with a ladder #NationalSecurity #SouthwestBorder pic.twitter.com/T19JzI3xeC— CBP Arizona (@CBPArizona) January 23, 2019Last week 376 migrants tunneled under the wall an claimed asylum. Additional footage of #YumaSector Border Patrol agents processing the group of 376 Central Americans on Monday. #NationalSecurity #SouthwestBorder pic.twitter.com/SohiN2XPu0— CBP Arizona (@CBPArizona) January 18, 2019 President Trump and Congressional Democrats are at an impasse over $5.7 billion Trump has requested to build the wall, or 0.0013% of the 2018 federal budget - resulting in the longest partial government shutdown in US history.

    US federal judge allows lawsuit over illegal experimentation on Guatemalan subjects -- The experiment, which was similar to the government’s infamous Tuskegee study on US Afro-American share croppers (1932-1972), left unwitting subjects infected with syphilis and untreated. Similar studies were done on prisoners in Terre-Haute, Indiana. In this study, some 1,500 healthy individuals, prostitutes, peasant military conscripts, prisoners and mentally ill patients (male and female), were deliberately infected, either through the use of prostitutes provided by the scientists, or by pouring the germs onto skin abrasions the researchers caused. The idea was to test penicillin’s effect on various strains of these diseases. None of the subjects was informed of the experiment; alcohol was often used to “lubricate” the participants. The illegality and criminal character of the study (both under Guatemalan and US laws) and the fact that it took place as Nazi doctors were being tried in Nuremberg for similar crimes required that it be kept secret. Needless to say, those that organized the experiment were fully conscious of their criminal conduct. As the experiment progressed, the methods of infection took the form of medieval torture. Experimenters scraped men’s sexual organs with needles and then dressed their open wounds with syphilitic material. Women were forced to swallow syphilitic solutions. Infected pus was injected into subjects’ spinal cords. People’s eyes were coated with gonorrhea.  According to an account published by the Slate website: “In a particularly gruesome case, a patient named Berta was injected in her left arm with syphilis. More than a month later, she started to develop small red bumps around her injection site, and then she started to develop lesions on her limbs. She was given treatment three months after her injection, but by about three months later, Cutler wrote in his research notes that it looked like she was going to die. The same day he wrote the note, experimenters put gonorrhea pus in her eyes and re-infected her with syphilis. Her eyes soon filled with discharge, and she began bleeding from her urethra. Days later, she died. There were several other case studies of patients who died following their involvement in the studies.” The subjects were infected without their consent or knowledge. Many of them passed on the diseases to their children and grandchildren, unaware of what was afflicting them, suffered from chronic pain and nerve degeneration throughout their lives, which shortened by the crippling effects of syphilis and gonorrhea. Between 1948 and 1953, the study entered a new phase, using children in orphanages, state-run schools and rural communities.

    The Future of the Supreme Court in the Liberal Imagination  -Imagine you’re a law student today — remembering how Gorsuch was appointed for a seat that should have gone to Merrick Garland; thinking about how Kavanaugh was appointed despite the obvious truth of Christine Blasey Ford’s claims about his attempted assault on her; and anticipating the very real possibility that Trump may get yet a third appointment to replace Ginsburg.The Supreme Court of your future will consist of a six-person right-wing majority.Two of those justices will forever have the stench of credible charges of sexual assault or sexual harassment hanging over them.Four of those justices will forever be the appointees of presidents who didn’t win the popular vote (or five justices if you throw in Alito, who was appointed in Bush’s second term, which Bush did win with the popular vote but wouldn’t have won had he not won the electoral vote, with the help of a conservative Supreme Court, in 2000).Three of those justices will forever be the appointees of a president whose victory, many in elite liberal circles of the law believe, was secured with the illegal collusion of Vladimir Putin. Put that all together and it’s hard for me to see how the law students and budding law professors of this generation aren’t going to view the Supreme Court and the enterprise of constitutional law with a skepticism so jaundiced, it will make the arguments of Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Theory seem like Thomistic natural law.

    Americans support Ocasio-Cortez's 70 percent tax rate on rich- poll - Republicans and even some Democrats swooned when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pitched a 70 percent tax rate on the rich — but a new poll out Tuesday showed that most Americans like the idea. The Hill-HarrisX survey found that 59 percent of US voters support raising the top rate to 70 percent, which she said would be applied to income above the first $10 million taxpayers earn. Women back the idea by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin, while men support it by 55 percent to 45 percent. According to the poll, 45 percent of Republican voters said they favored it while 55 percent were opposed. Independent voters backed the plan by a 60 to 40 percent margin while Democrats supported it, 71 percent to 29 percent. Ocasio-Cortez reacted to the survey on Twitter — taking a shot at her critics as well. “Oh? What’s that? The majority of Americans respect when you break down reasonable policy proposals that are designed to combat runaway income inequality and help fund priorities they value most?” she wrote. “We can win public sentiment, stand our ground, & not be scared by GOP information.”

    World’s Billionaires: Taxing Us Our Fair Share Would Be “Disastrous” - On Tuesday, the World Economic Forum kicked off its annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. There, over the course of three days, the upper echelons of the business, political, and academic worlds will grapple with the most urgent problems facing the globe as they consume $55 Caesar salads and shark canapés, rub shoulders with Matt Damon, and attend parties that involve “endless streams of the finest champagne, vodka, and Russian caviar, dancing Cossacks, and beautiful Russian models,” thanks to organizers’ decision toreverse a ban on Kremlin-linked oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s attendance. This year, attendees at the “Money Oscars” are particularly concerned about slowing economic growth, spiking sovereign debt, central banks’ limited ability to fight recessions “or worse,” and uncertainty over geopolitical events such as Brexit, and the U.S.’s trade war with China. Also scaring the bejesus out of them? The prospect of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez forcing people in what’s known as the “fuck-ton of money tax bracket” to “contribute more.”   “It’s scary,” said adult man and Guggenheim Partners global chief investment officer Scott Minerd,of the new lawmaker’s comment on 60 Minutes that it wouldn’t be unreasonable for earnings above $10 million to be taxed at 60 or 70 percent. “By the time we get to the presidential election, this is going to gain more momentum,” Minerd added, noting he would likely be personally affected by the change, meaning he barely scrapes by on only $10 million a year. “And I think the likelihood that a 70 percent tax rate, or something like that, becomes policy is actually very real.” (As a reminder, at this point, the new representative has merely expressed a point of view, not unveiled an actual proposal or anything approaching legislation.) In an interview with Bloomberg TV, investment banker Ken Moelis, whose net worth hit $1 billion last April, claimed A.O.C.’s idea “would be disastrous for the economy,” suggesting that people in the U.S. would no longer have a reason to work. “You have to incentivize people,” Moelis said. “Even in the U.S., what’s going to happen to the two-workforce family? You forget where 70 percent starts to kick in,” he warned, despite the fact that in a marginal tax system, the more money you make, the more you will take home, regardless of your tax rate. (Even a Bloomberg editorial against a 70 percent rate acknowledged Tuesday that “evidence suggests a top rate of 70 percent on the highest incomes would be fiscally productive—meaning not so high that the disincentive to effort and enterprise would cause the government to raise less money than with a lower rate.”)

    AOC# and MMT Spook the AEI -  William Black - AOC# drives Republicans berserk.  Booing her, and only her, at the ceremony admitting the members of Congress, raging at her for dancing – yes dancing – in a college video, and attacking her for having a nickname (“Sandy”) in high school demonstrate the degree of derangement and the pathetic ammunition they have found in their failing efforts to discredit her.  MMT has become an indirect beneficiary of this derangement.  AOC# has expressed support for MMT – so the right is now eager to reach the famous second stage of opposition to good ideas (‘first they ignore them, then they attack them’).  It is far better for the right to attack our good ideas, than ignore them.  As with the right’s attacks on AOC#, the nature of their attacks on MMT is laughably extreme and nonsensical.  When they attack MMT, they spread our views. The AEI is a hard right non-think tank, who, in league with Brookings’ now disgraced Robert Litan, led the catastrophic assault on financial regulation that created the criminogenic environment that produced the Great Financial Crisis (GFC). Michael Strain was briefly a junior economist with the NY Fed, but his CV shows that he does not write about macroeconomics.  His specialty is labor economics.  Stan Veuger, a more junior AEI economist, does not write about macroeconomics.  He focuses on public finance. Strain makes few substantive points in his fervid attack on MMT, which makes his rhetorical rage particularly strange.  His title and subtitle indicate the problem.  “Modern Monetary Theory’ Is a Joke That’s Not Funny.”  “Yes, a government that issues its own currency can pay its bills. But piling up debt for no urgent reason is lunacy.” Strain characterizes his rivals’ theories as a “joke” and “lunacy.”  That means he has assigned himself an extraordinary burden of proof.  He must prove MMT is “lunacy” of such a degree that it represents “a joke.”  That means it has no validity and that anyone who advances the theory is delusional – that the theory rests on defects in logic so basic that no rational person could believe the theory.  To be “a joke,” any reputable economist must be able to point out easily MMT’s purportedly gaping failures of logic.Strain and Veuger never try to meet the burden they set for themselves with their frenzied rhetoric.

    MMT’s Opening --- J. D. Alt, I recently read in the WSJ that Modern Monetary Theory is defined as the proposition that the federal government can borrow as much money as it needs so long as the interest rate it pays is less than the growth rate of the GDP. The short article, by Desmond Lachman, went on to argue why this was a dangerously false premise. Thus, MMT got shot with two bullets in one paragraph: first by defining it in a way that negates its most fundamental principle (that the federal government doesn’t need to “borrow” fiat currency in order to spend fiat currency), and second, by declaring MMT to be not only false, but dangerous. Why is it so difficult for MMT to get itself properly understood—and, once understood, to get itself over the hump of this narrative calculation? Part of the problem was revealed to me on New Year’s Day at McGarvey’s Saloon at City Dock in Annapolis when a neighbor—who is a retired banker, sharp as they come, and who understands quite well what fiat money is—said to me, “Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, but the fact is the federal government does not own the Federal Reserve. It is owned by the private banking industry.”Whether or not he was technically correct (and the reality of it is so ambiguous that arguing the point on one side or the other is futile) what he meant, of course, is that it is meaningless for MMT to argue that the sovereign U.S. government creates U.S. dollars by fiat and then spends them into the private economy—because it is the Federal Reserve, in fact, that creates U.S. fiat dollars, and it does so only to service the needs of private commerce.  Operationally, it seems, the sovereign federal government really does have to claim—through taxation or borrowing—some portion of the profits of private commerce (fiat dollars created by the Federal Reserve) in order to have dollars to spend.MMT therefore is made difficult not because it must disprove a false “truth,” but because the “truth” which it is trying to replace cannot seem to be disproved so long as one accepts words to have their conventional meanings. This dilemma is often brought to light with the question: if the Central Bank and the Treasury are really two components of the same sovereign entity, why are they not set up that way? If the Federal Reserve can create sovereign fiat dollars at will, why limit this ability only to the meet the “demands” of the operations of the reserve banking system in support of private commerce? Why is it not structured to also enable the Federal Reserve to create fiat dollars as “demanded” by the spending needs of the federal government in support of the collective good—as is implicitly (and often explicitly) suggested by the advocates of MMT?

    Ocasio-Cortez among progressives joining House Oversight: report - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is among a group of progressive lawmakers joining the House Oversight Committee, Politico reported Tuesday.In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, fellow freshmen Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) are also set to join the committee, as is Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), according to Politico.Politico noted that each of the lawmakers has been particularly critical of President Trump. Tlaib faced some criticism from within the party earlier this month for saying House Democrats would "impeach the motherf---er," in reference to Trump.Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the committee, told Politico that he is "excited" about the new members and dismissed any concerns about them. “If I based the choices going on the committee based on what people said or their reputations or whatever, I probably wouldn’t have a committee. I am excited — there were a lot of people that wanted to come on our committee," he said. The Oversight Committee is the main investigative committee in the House and is expected to open investigations into Trump and his administration during the new Congress.

    Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies New tensions are flaring on the Senate Judiciary Committee over plans by newly minted Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to dig into Obama-era scandals. Graham, a close ally of President Trump’s, has outlined several areas he wants to probe now that he has the Judiciary Committee gavel. They include the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications targeting former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), asked about Graham’s plans, started laughing and compared them to the “thrilling days of yesteryear.” “This is going to be like the History Channel it turns out. Instead of taking a look at the current issues, Lindsey Graham wants to go back and answer important questions about the Bermuda Triangle and Hillary Clinton,” Durbin told The Hill. Durbin said he was “concerned” about Graham’s plans but quipped that “you know there is that question about Jimmy Carter which he probably wants to ask.”

    BuzzFeed News Faces Scrutiny After Mueller Denies a Dramatic Report - In an age of unyielding appetite for all things Trump, big news travels fast.So when BuzzFeed News reported on Thursday that the president had instructed his lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to lie in his testimony to Congress — a felony — the assertion ricocheted around the cable TV ecosystem and into the halls of Congress, where Democratic lawmakers publicly mused on impeachment.Unlike past articles on the possible ties between Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, however, this one was not followed by similar stories from other news organizations, who proved unable to corroborate its findings with reporting of their own. And on Friday, the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, broke precedent by issuing a denial, interrupting nearly 20 months of silence from Mr. Mueller on news reports swirling around his investigation.Whether BuzzFeed’s reporting can stand up to further scrutiny is now at the center of a test of the news media’s credibility. President Trump seized on the special counsel’s denial to continue making the case that the press is biased against him. Journalists expressed the worry that a retraction could undermine Americans’ trust in their work. BuzzFeed News said on Saturday that it remained confident in the article and its two authors, one of whom won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2016. “We wouldn’t have published it if we hadn’t felt comfortable with it,” Ben Smith, the site’s editor in chief, said in an interview. “We were careful and thorough.”The BuzzFeed article was the talk of TV pundits and news websites for 24 hours — until Peter Carr, Mr. Mueller’s spokesman, weighed in. Mr. Carr, whose stoicism is so well-known in Washington that he has the nickname “Mr. No-Comment,” wrote: “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”This is not the site’s first brush with controversy. In January 2017, Mr. Smith was the first editor to publish the explosive, but unverified, dossier compiled by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele during the 2016 campaign. Besides earning ire from the White House, and some scolding from media ethicists, the site was also sued for libel by Mr. Cohen in a case that was later dropped. Last month, a federal judge ruled in favor of BuzzFeed in a separate dossier-related lawsuit.

    Peter Carr Speaks - emptywheel. - Yesterday, Mueller’s spox Peter Carr issued a statement vaguely denying Thursday’s Buzzfeed story claiming that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie. BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate. Clearly, there are parts of the story that are correct, in that they provide specific details that match the vague ones Mueller himself has released. The new details in the story include a price tag for the Trump Tower detail: Trump, “hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million” (Mueller’s sentencing memorandum stated that the deal might be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues”).  It quantifies how many times Trump and Cohen spoke about the deal: Trump, “had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.” It also confirms that Don Jr and Ivanka were the “family members” described in Cohen’s allocution who were apprised of the details. That, by itself, suggests that Buzzfeed’s sources have direct access to some of this evidence. But one thing Mueller is almost certainly responding to is a claim that puts blame for the lies Cohen told to Congress on Trump. Michael Cohen is under oath saying not that Trump ordered him to lie, but that he lied to match the messaging that Trump was using.

    Giuliani says he confirmed Trump ‘never’ spoke with Cohen about congressional testimony- President Trump didn't speak with Michael Cohen about his testimony before Congress, Rudy Giuliani told the New York Daily News on Monday. “The President never spoke with Cohen about the congressional testimony,” Giuliani told the Daily News. Giuliani said he confirmed it with previous members of Trump's legal team, after previously saying on Sunday that he didn't know if Trump and Cohen spoke ahead of Cohen's congressional testimony. Giuliani said that Trump's legal team talked with Cohen's lawyers before his testimony before the House and Senate intelligence committees in September of 2017. “Anything that happened between the lawyers would have been part of the joint defense agreement,” Giuliani told the Daily News, adding that all parties involved believed at the time that Cohen’s planned testimony was truthful. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress when he said discussions about a Trump Tower deal in Moscow ended in January 2016. BuzzFeed News reported last week that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the deal, but Mueller's office has disputed the accuracy of the story. It's not clear which parts of the story Mueller's office takes issue with, and BuzzFeed said it stands by its reporting.

     Trump legal team reached out to Mueller’s office after BuzzFeed article: report - President Trump's legal team reached out to Robert Mueller's office after a BuzzFeed News article claimed the president told his former attorney to lie to Congress. The special counsel's office then released a rare statement disputing the article. Rudy Giuliani, Trump's attorney, told CNN Monday his team contacted Mueller's office following the article, which claimed Mueller's office had evidence of the claim Trump directed Cohen to lie. Giuliani didn't provide information about what was said or indicate whether discussions were held. The BuzzFeed article claims that Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a Trump Tower project in Moscow. BuzzFeed has said it stands by its reporting. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress when he said discussions about a Trump Tower deal in Moscow ended in January 2016. Giuliani also told the New York Daily News on Monday that Trump never spoke with Cohen about the congressional testimony.

    Schiff Vows To Investigate Disputed Trump-Cohen Story As BuzzFeed Doubles Down - House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), still licking his wounds from getting grounded by President Trump last week, has vowed to "absolutely" investigate a BuzzFeed News report that President Trump directed his former personal attorney to lie to Congress about a potential Trump Tower Moscow project that never materialized - despite special counsel Robert Mueller's office claiming the report is untrue. "Absolutely. Absolutely," Schiff told CBS's "Face The Nation" after being asked whether he would investigate the allegations. "Congress has a fundamental interest in two things. First, getting to the bottom of why this witness came before us and lied, and who else was knowledgeable that this was a lie," Schiff added. The California Democrat also suggested that Mueller disputed the BuzzFeed report because he might want to use Cohen as a witness in future prosecutions, and "wanted to make sure that the public didn't have the perception that he was saying more than he was saying, at least to the special counsel."  Schiff says Mueller's office may have disputed BuzzFeed report because it wants to use Michael Cohen as witness for more prosecutions, and "wanted to make sure that the public didn't have the perception that he was saying more than he was saying, at least to the special counsel" pic.twitter.com/VqkmBY5Zkd— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 20, 2019  BuzzFeed, meanwhile, has doubled down after editor-in-chief Ben Smith and reporter Anthony Cormier both stood behind their reporting in a Sunday interview with CNN."I have further confirmation that this is right. We are being told to stand our ground. Our reporting is going to be borne out to be accurate, and we’re 100 percent behind it," Cormier told CNN's Brian Stelter, adding "The same sources that we used in the story are standing behind it, and so are we." That said, Cormier deflected when asked about documents that his colleague, Jason Leopold, said he had seen while formulating the report. He was also hazy on what Cohen specifically told Mueller's team, or what Trump allegedly told Cohen.

    Michael Cohen postpones congressional testimony because of threats to family from Trump, Giuliani - President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is postponing his plan to testify before Congress in February because of concerns about his family's safety, according to Cohen's adviser Lanny Davis.Davis cited "ongoing threats" to Cohen's family from Trump and the president's current personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in the decision to postpone his Feb. 7 appearance before the House Oversight Committee.A spokesman for committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., as well as spokesmen for the White House and Giuliani, had no immediate comment.Trump as recently as last week had urged people to "watch" Cohen's father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, who was placed on probation in the mid-1990s after pleading guilty in a case in which he was charged with conspiring to defraud the IRS."Mr. Cohen volunteered to testify before the House Oversight Committee ‪on February 7th," Davis said."Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen's continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen's appearance will be postponed to a later date." "Mr. Cohen wishes to thank Chairman Cummings for allowing him to appear before the House Oversight Committee and looks forward to testifying at the appropriate time.This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first."

    Cohen Agrees To Testify Before Intel Committee After Senate Subpoena -  Earlier this week, Michael Cohen delayed his testimony before the House Oversight Committee, which had initially been set for Feb. 7, citing concerns about his family's safety following what Cohen described as threats issued by President Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. And before the former Trump Organization attorney-turned government witness could even reschedule, it looks like the Senate Intelligence Committee has jumped at the opportunity to try and be the first to drag Cohen in behind closed doors by issuing a subpoena. According to the Wall Street Journal, Cohen will appear before the committee for a closed-door meeting on Feb. 12. Though the testimony will be closed, we imagine the details will swiftly leak to the press.The subpoena was issued a day after the chairmen of the House Oversight and Intelligence committees issued a joint statement saying they expected Cohen to testify before their panels, and that not doing so was "never an option."Cohen is expected to begin his three year prison sentence on March 6, though he still has time to offer further cooperation to prosecutors that could mitigate his time served. Senate Intel Committee Chairman Richard Burr said after Cohen was invited to a public hearing by the House Oversight Committee that his offer for Cohen to return to testify before his committee still stood, though he didn't mention any subpoena. A rep for Burr's office declined to comment on the story when approached by WSJ.

    A N.Y. Times Story Just Accidentally Shredded the Russiagate Hysteria - Lee Camp - Last month we finally got to see the Senate report spelling out the Russian meddling in our last election. And it was a bombshell. It rocked the heart of our country. It shredded the inflamed mucousy core of our palpitating democracy. As Dan Cohen reported for the Grayzone Project, the report said that “…everything from the Green Party’s Jill Stein to Instagram to Pokemon Go to the African American population had been used and confused by the deceptive Facebook pages of a private Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency.” That’s right. Russia even used Pokémon Go to pulverize the previously pristine 2016 election. That’s ever so frightening, since Pokémon Go is CIA-backed. Back to the point—we learned from the report last month that the Russian Internet Research Agency manipulated every one of us with Facebook ads. If you don’t mind though, the Senate and the corporate media (and anybody else who knows the secret oligarchy handshake) would really prefer you just ignore the fact that Facebook clearly stated: “…56% [of the Russian ads] were after the election” and “…roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone.” But like an overweight man dressed like Wolverine at a Comic-Con, our brave congressmen and -women are not about to be dissuaded by reality. After the reports came out, Sen. Mark Warner tweeted, “Incredible. These bombshell reports demonstrate just how far Russia went to exploit the fault lines of our society and divide Americans, in an attempt to undermine and manipulate our democracy.” Just after posting that, Warner patriotically pissed his red, white and blue Underoos. So who are these amazing nonpartisan unbiased sleuths who put together this legitimate and nonpartisan unbiased Senate report? The New York Times found out they are a group called New Knowledge (which sounds like a terrible boy band). New Knowledge was founded by two veterans of the Obama administration, Jonathon Morgan and Ryan Fox. …So, I guess we’re, um, doing away with the “nonpartisan unbiased” thing. The Grayzone Project pointed out that besides working for Obama and the State Department, “… Morgan also developed technology for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the arm of the Department of Defense created for basic, applied technological research, and futuristic war toys.”

    Brennan predicts Mueller will indict ‘a significant number of names’ familiar to Americans - Former CIA Director John Brennan on Friday predicted that there will be more indictments coming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, including “a significant number of names that will be quite familiar to the average American.”Brennan, who has emerged as a frequent critic of Trump, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” shortly after news broke that longtime Trump associate Roger Stone was indicted and arrested by the FBI.Brennan said he expects there to be a “significant number of indictments” within the next 60 days related to the probe of Russian interference and potential collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Moscow.“I expect there to be a significant number, and a significant number of names that will be quite familiar to the average American,” he added.Brennan said Mueller’s investigation is showing that there was an “extensive effort” to influence the election that involved both Russians and Americans.“That may have gone to the very top of the Trump campaign,” Brennan added. “I think the shows that are yet to drop are going to be the ones that are going to be the most profound and that will hit the people at the top of the organization.” Brennan clarified that may or may not include the president himself or members of his family.

    Trump associate Roger Stone arrested on 7 counts, including lying to Congress, in Mueller probe - Roger Stone, a longtime political advisor to President Donald Trump, was arrested during a predawn raid Friday in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into election interference in 2016. Stone, who was arrested in Florida, faces seven counts, including witness tampering, obstruction of justice and making false statements to Congress. The indictment alleges that Stone had been in contact with top-ranking Trump campaign officials about efforts to leak damaging information about Hillary Clinton just before the 2016 election. According to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, one of the senior officials who reached out to Stone was Steve Bannon, who served as CEO of the Trump campaign during the election's final stages. Bannon's attorney declined to comment. Bannon, who worked as Trump's chief strategist in the White House for less than a year, has not returned repeated calls for comment. Stone, a veteran Republican operative who has described himself as a dirty trickster, has consistently denied collusion with Russia during the campaign. He will make an initial appearance at 11 a.m. ET Friday at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Mueller describes repeated contacts between Stone and high-ranking members in Trump's campaign organization.

    Roger Stone says he won’t testify against Trump after Mueller indictment - Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Donald Trump, has said he will not testify against the president after he was arrested by the FBI on Friday morning and indicted on seven criminal charges. Stone, a veteran Republican operative, appeared in federal court in Fort Lauderdale charged by special counsel Robert Mueller with obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering. He was released on $250,000 bail and denies wrongdoing. Mueller alleged in a long-anticipated indictment that Stone, 66, was asked by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to get inside information about emails that were stolen from Democrats by Russian government hackers and passed to WikiLeaks. A senior campaign official “was directed” to tell Stone to find out what damaging information WikiLeaks had about Hillary Clinton even after it was reported that the material being published by the group came from Russia, the indictment said. The allegations were the first to connect Trump’s campaign to the explosive release of the emails stolen by Russian operatives. Their release disrupted Clinton’s campaign and led the Democratic party’s chairwoman to resign. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia’s interference was aimed at damaging Clinton’s campaign and helping Trump. Mueller is investigating whether any Trump associates coordinated with the Russian effort. Appearing outside the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale after his hearing, Stone smiled and said he would resist pressure from Mueller to turn on Trump. “I will not testify against the president because I would have to bear false witness,” he said. The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, repeatedly declined to say if the order for Stone was given by Trump himself. Sanders claimed the charges against Stone, an early adviser to Trump’s campaign, had “nothing to do with the president”.

    Steve Bannon is the ‘high-ranking’ Trump official in Roger Stone indictment who asked about future WikiLeaks releases in October 2016 - Former White House chief strategist and Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon is the unidentified "high-ranking Trump campaign official" in special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of Roger Stone, CNBC has learned. The indictment released Friday said the campaign official reached out to Stone in October 2016, a month before President Donald Trump was elected, "about the status of future releases by Organization 1." The unidentified organization clearly refers to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Bannon is the campaign official, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. This person, who declined to be named, added that Bannon has spoken with Mueller's team, along with the Senate Intelligence Committee, about the exchange. Attorneys for Bannon and Stone declined to comment. Bannon did not return requests for comment. The special counsel's office declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Within the indictment that led to Stone's predawn arrest Friday in Florida, the special counsel describes an interaction between what a source says is Bannon and Stone. "On or about October 4, 2016, the head of Organization 1 held a press conference but did not release any new materials pertaining to the Clinton Campaign. Shortly afterwards, STONE received an email from the high-ranking Trump Campaign official asking about the status of future releases by Organization 1," the indictment reads. "STONE answered that the head of Organization 1 had a "[s]erious security concern" but that Organization 1 would release "a load every week going forward." The email exchange was first reported by The New York Times in November.

    Was CNN Tipped Off By FBI Ahead Of Stone Arrest? -  In response to a Friday tweet by President Trump over "who alerted CNN to be there?" the network said that their "ability to capture the arrest of Roger Stone was the result of determined reporting and interpreting clues revealed in the course of events. That's called journalism"  The pre-dawn arrest of former Trump adviser Roger Stone in connection with the Mueller investigation has many scratching their heads over how it went down. Not only did the FBI surprise Stone at 6am Friday morning with a knock on his door - as opposed to simply notifying his attorney and letting Stone turn himself in, but CNN was there to film the entire thing going down. Wow wow wow.CNN got video of the FBI making the Roger Stone arrest before 6AM. pic.twitter.com/iDBSYUKKzF— Erick Fernandez (@ErickFernandez) January 25, 2019FBI arrested my neighbor Roger before my morning jog, I’ve only seen shit like that in movies, crazy to start to my Friday— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) January 25, 2019This begs the question; did the FBI tip off CNN ahead of Stone's dramatic takedown?     Former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren certainly thought so on first take, tweeting: "CNN cameras were at the raid of Roger Stone…so FBI obviously tipped off CNN…even if you don’t like Stone, it is curious why Mueller’s office tipped off CNN instead of trying to quietly arrest Stone;quiet arrests are more likely to be safe to the FBI and the person arrested." CNN cameras were at the raid of Roger Stone...so FBI obviously tipped off CNN...even if you don’t like Stone, it is curious why Mueller’s office tipped off CNN instead of trying to quietly arrest Stone;quiet arrests are more likely to be safe to the FBI and the person arrested — Greta Van Susteren (@greta) January 25, 2019   Others shared her sentiment:

    Insidiocracy: Russiagate, Corporate Media & Losing My Religion – Part One – Nina Illingworth - When I sat down to write this article, I began by compiling a list of all the times mainstream corporate news outlets had been forced to retract or effectively neuter a “bombshell” story about Russia or the ongoing (and surprisingly convenient for the Democratic half of our elite neoliberal establishment) Cold War conspiracy spy novel that is Russiagate. Working from my notes and memory, I was able to piece together about twenty examples; feeling pleased with myself, I immediately dove into the task of composing this post. About halfway through however, I decided to search the internet for any examples I might have missed. That was when I came across the work Doug Johnson Hatlem (@djjohnso) who had compiled a whopping thirty-seven examples of media retractions into a single Twitter thread. While I trust that the content below is sufficiently distinct from this thread to represent a unique work, I would be remiss if I did not offer Doug a hat-tip and note that some not-insignificant portion of this article is an expansion of his posts on Twitter. Finally, if you haven’t been following my previous writing on “Russiagate” and you’re wondering where I stand on swine emperor Trump, Vladdy Putin and the pro-Pig empire corporate media, please read this December 2017 recap; absolutely nothing about my opinion has changed in the time since then and I’m going to respond poorly to accusations of partisanship when I have repeatedly written that Herr Donald is a fascist, a rapist, a crook, a warmonger and a liar – what he isn’t, is a Russian intelligence asset, and if aNew Cold War with Russia and its allies is the price of admission for impeaching Trump, I’m not interested.

    Majority of Americans were not exposed to ‘fake news’ in 2016 U.S. election, Twitter study suggests -- In the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a website calling itself “WTO5 News” posted the headline “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president.” Pope Francis never made such an endorsement, but that didn’t stop the story from being shared, liked, or commented on nearly 1 million times on social media. Another site, the “Denver Guardian,” posted a story titled “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder suicide” the day before the election. Social media users engaged in some way with that story more than half a million times.After the election, many experts worried the prevalence of such “fake news” on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter influenced the result. Now, a study of more than 16,000 Twitter users finds just a tiny fraction spread and saw the majority of misinformation, and that they were typically older and politically conservative. The authors say fake news may have been less pervasive on social media during the election than commonly assumed.“If fake news on social media undercuts the public’s ability to tell apart truth and fiction, then we need to do something about it,” says Yochai Benkler, a law professor and social scientist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study. “But it’s critical that we correctly diagnose the problem.”

    Shocking Admission by FBI Veteran Shows Why the FBI Shouldn’t ExistCaitlin Johnstone —  Whenever America celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day we should remind ourselves that it is a known, undisputed fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation engineered a psyop to manipulate one of the world’s greatest minds into committing suicide. It is also worth reviewing the compelling argument for the case that the FBI was behind King’s assassination as well.   We received yet another reminder of the FBI’s true face the other day in an interview with its former Deputy Assistant Director Terry Turchie on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight. In a passing tangent largely unrelated to the rest of the interview, Turchie made the following shocking statement in relation to the ongoing Russiagate saga:  “And I think we can expect more of this, because quite honestly the electorate in some places is putting more and more progressives and self-described socialists in positions. And ironically, years ago, when I first got into the FBI, one of the missions of the FBI in its counterintelligence efforts was to try and keep these people out of government..”  According to his LinkedIn profile, Turchie joined the FBI in July of 1972. COINTELPRO, the program in which leftist groups were actively infiltrated and undermined, officially ended in 1971, and Hoover had died in May of 1972. This was after “Hoover’s FBI” stopped being Hoover’s FBI, yet a “counterintelligence effort” was still very much alive and thriving to undermine the will of the electorate and prevent them from electing leftists to office. This one admission, by itself, is in my opinion more than enough to justify the FBI’s total dissolution. Leaving aside any of their other malfeasance that I mentioned earlier, leaving aside the rest of their other documented malfeasance that I haven’t mentioned, this one admission by Turchie shows clearly that America’s secret police should cease to exist. Think about it. How can anyone justify the FBI’s continued existence after such an admission? There is an extremely powerful branch of the US government which is known to have been actively undermining the democratic will of the electorate through covert means. Even if you very trustingly subscribe to the belief that the FBI no longer engages in any such practices to any extent (and that would be extremely naive), how can you justify keeping it in power knowing that it did? Where precisely in the FBI’s history is a clear, clean, unequivocal break from what it was doing then declared, documented and evidenced? For what reason was it not razed to the ground decades ago and any of its actual necessary functions transferred elsewhere?

    ACLU sues federal agencies in attempt to obtain social media surveillance records - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday sued seven federal agencies, seeking to obtain records on how the government surveils people on social media.  The lawsuit seeks to compel the Justice Department (DOJ), FBI, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), State Department and others to turn over documents related to their social media surveillance, including the guidelines they use and their communications with social media platforms and private businesses.   The ACLU said it has submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to each of the agencies they are suing, but have not received substantive responses.  "The FBI, for one, has repeatedly acknowledged that it engages in surveillance of social media posts," the ACLU wrote in a blog postdescribing the lawsuit. "So it was surprising when the bureau responded to our Freedom of Information Act request on this kind of surveillance by saying that it 'can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.' "  The other federal agencies have not handed over documents related to their use of social media surveillance, the ACLU is claiming. The organization says it submitted the FOIA requests in May.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) raised concerns over social media surveillance in 2017 when it moved to collect social media information on all immigrants, including permanent residents and naturalized citizens. DHS at the time published a new rule calling to include "social media handles and aliases, associated identifiable information and search results" in the department's immigrant files.  The State Department last year also proposed rules that would have asked all U.S. visa applicants to submit their social media usernames. The ACLU cited those moves by DHS and the State Department as indicating the federal government could be monitoring social media to a greater extent than is widely known.

    Facebook Slides After Report Claims 50% Of Its Users Are Fake - In a report published Thursday by PlainSite, an independent research shop led by Aaron Greenspan, analysts calculated that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been regularly lying to investors and the public about the company's user metrics, and that the company could be overestimating the number of users by as much as 50%.The team detailed their findings in a 70-page report published on their website.Facebook has been lying to the public about the scale of its problem with fake accounts, which likely exceed 50% of its network. Its official metrics—many of which it has stopped reporting quarterly—are self-contradictory and even farcical. The company has lost control of its own product.Ultimately, this is just the latest sign that Facebook - formerly one of the world's most successful companies - is doomed to go the way of CompuServe and AOL.PlainSite is a project launched by the Think Computer Corporation and Think Computer Foundation which aims to make "data accessible to the public free of charge” and "lets ordinary citizens impact the law- making process," according to Bloomberg. Aaron Greenspan recently told his story about how he fit into the history of Facebook's founding at Harvard on a podcast.  Facebook's fraudulent numbers hurt its customers (advertisers) by overstating the effectiveness of Facebook's product, the company said.

    • Fake accounts affect Facebook at its core in numerous ways:
    • Its customers purchase advertising on Facebook based on the fact that it can supposedly target advertisements at more than 2 billion real human beings. To the extent that users aren’t real, companies are throwing their money down the drain.
    • Fake accounts click on advertising at random, or “like” pages, to throw off antifraud algorithms. Fake accounts look real if they do not follow a clear pattern. This kind of activity defrauds advertisers, but rewards Facebook with revenue.
    • Fake accounts often defraud other users on Facebook, through scams, fake news, extortion, and other forms of deception. Often, they can involve governments

    Facebook Ripped Off Game-Playing Kids And Their Parents In Multi-Year Friendly Fraud Scheme - Facebook engaged in a multi-year effort to trick kids and their parents into racking up massive charges based on deceptive in-game purchases - then refused to give the money back, according to unsealed records in a class action lawsuit.  The in-game charges which added up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars were part of a system of "friendly fraud," according to Reveal News' Nathan Halverson, citing over 135 pages of unsealed documents which include employee emails, Facebook memos and secret strategies.   When parents found out how much their children had spent – one 15-year-old racked up $6,500 in charges in about two weeks playing games on Facebook – the company denied requests for refunds. Facebook employees referred to these children as “whales” – a term borrowed from the casino industry to describe profligate spenders. A child could spend hundreds of dollars a day on in-game features such as arming their character with a flaming sword or a new magic spell to defeat an enemy – even if they didn’t realize it until the credit card bill arrived. -Reveal NewsAccording to an internal document which reveals Facebook's strategy, the "friendly fraud" by game developers was encouraged in order to maximize revenues. Another internal Facebook report shows that the company knew that in-game purchase options defaulted to "the highest-cost setting," and that it "doesn't necessarily look like "real" money to a minor - nor that their parents' credit cards were linked to their Facebook account in order to spend real money in the games.   The "friendly fraud" was particularly rampant among the games "PetVille, Happy Aquarium, Wild Ones, Barn Buddy and any Ninja game." Facebook was well aware of the issue - even developing a method that would have mitigated the excessive in-game purchases, however the company did not implement it, "and instead told game developers that the social media giant was focused on maximizing revenues," reports Reveal.  Some parents turned to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to lodge complaints, while others turned to the courts or their credit card companies for a refund. Facebook's chargeback rate of 9 percent far exceeded the Federal Trade Commission's red-flag level of 2 percent for a "deceptive" business. U.S. District Court Judge Beth Freeman ordered the documents unsealed on Jan. 14 after Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting intervened last year arguing the public had a right to know how Facebook targeted children. The judge gave Facebook until January 24 to unseal the documents, although she allowed the company to keep a few of the records sealed or partially redacted. The documents span a time period of 2010 to 2014. -Reveal News 

    Wow, fancy that. Web ad giant Google to block ad-blockers in Chrome. For safety, apparently - Google engineers have proposed changes to the open-source Chromium browser that will break content-blocking extensions, including various ad blockers.Adblock Plus will most likely not be affected, though similar third-party plugins will, for reasons we will explain. The drafted changes will also limit the capabilities available to extension developers, ostensibly for the sake of speed and safety. Chromium forms the central core of Google Chrome, and, soon, Microsoft Edge.In a note posted Tuesday to the Chromium bug tracker, Raymond Hill, the developer behind uBlock Origin and uMatrix, said the changes contemplated by the Manifest v3 proposal will ruin his ad and content blocking extensions, and take control of content away from users.Content blockers may be used to hide or black-hole ads, but they have broader applications. They're predicated on the notion that users, rather than anyone else, should be able to control how their browser presents and interacts with remote resources. Manifest v3 refers to the specification for browser extension manifest files, which enumerate the resources and capabilities available to browser extensions. Google's stated rationale for making the proposed changes, cutting off blocking plugins, is to improve security, privacy and performance, and supposedly to enhance user control.

    Amazon Can’t Fix Facial Recognition - Cathy O’Neil - A group of Amazon.com shareholders has added a new twist to the concept of corporate social responsibility, asking the company to stop selling its facial recognition service for purposes that might violate people’s civil rights. In doing so, they have raised an important question: Could this be the way to curb the creepy use of new algorithms? By appealing to the enlightened self-interest of their makers? Sadly, I think not. Relying on companies is a flawed approach, because they typically don’t know — and don’t want to know — how the technology really works. Like most algorithms being deployed these days, facial recognition is largely a black box. Based on vast databases of faces and its own experience of the most relevant features, a computer identifies a person as, say, your aunt Freda, a suspected criminal, or a target for a drone strike. Users rarely know exactly how it does this — licensing agreements often stipulate that they don’t have access to the source code. Vendors also prefer to remain in the dark. They’re focused on profits, and cluelessness insulates them from responsibility for anything unethical, illegal, or otherwise bad. In other words, the whole ecosystem of artificial intelligence is optimized for a lack of accountability. Neither the builders nor the users need think too much about the potential consequences of its application, or of mistakes in the code.

    MacKenzie Bezos and the Myth of the Lone Genius Founder - WHEN AWARD-WINNING NOVELIST MacKenzie Bezos and her husband Jeff Bezos, the chief executive and founder ofAmazon, announced on Twitter Wednesday they weregetting divorced, public discussion over the uncoupling quickly centered on the impact it might have on Jeff’s company, and on each sides’ net worth. Were he and his wife to split their estimated $136 billion fortune equally, news articles speculated that MacKenzie could become the “richest woman in the world,” far wealthier than even people like Elon Musk.TMZ reports that the couple did not have a prenup. Washington, where they live, is a community property state, meaning that all property and debts acquired during the 25-year marriage could be equally split if the Bezoses can’t negotiate an agreement. Amazon, for the record, is 24 years old. But thinking about the divorce as an opportunity for MacKenzie to become the richest woman in the world is a strange way of describing her situation, as Bloombergpoints out. She is already the richest woman in the world, because she’s half of the richest couple on Earth.This week has been full of stories with headlines like “How much could MacKenzie Bezos get in a divorce?” speculating on what will happen to “his wealth.” (Punctuated by theoccasional outcry that any human being could stand to receive more than $60 billion at all.) What was often missing, or glossed over, is the fact that MacKenzie helped her husband start his historic company, starting by agreeing to leave their life and move across the country from New York City to Seattle, where Amazon was founded. It’s also part of a wider pattern of how the stories of tech companies get told, which erases the many individuals who help to build them in favor of highlighting the “lone genius” at the helm. Many of the people who fade to the background have been women.

    The Silence on Wall Street’s Dark Pools Is Deafening -- Pam Martens - It is destined to go down as one of the greatest journalistic and regulatory failures of our time – the lack of serious attention by investigative business reporters and the U.S. Department of Justice to the glaring fact that the largest Wall Street banks continue to trade their own and each other’s bank stocks in their own Dark Pools.Dark Pools function as unregulated stock exchanges inside the bowels of the largest Wall Street banks. Making the situation even more dicey, some of the big banks own more than one Dark Pool, raising the possibility that there could be cross-trading between those pools to artificially inflate or depress stock prices.  JPMorgan Chase owns two Dark Pools; Citigroup currently owns at least two although it owned a lot more in the past; Morgan Stanley owns three; and then there is the Dark Pool that a consortium of Wall Street banks quietly own together. That one is called Level ATS. According to Wall Street’s self-regulator, FINRA, Level ATS is owned by Citigroup, Credit Suisse, LB I Group, Merrill Lynch LP Holdings, and Fidelity Global Brokerage Group.  After being repeatedly charged with collusion, should global banks be allowed to team up on the darkest of trading markets, i.e., Dark Pools? Should felon banks like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase be allowed to trade the stocks of their own bank? Should any Wall Street bank be allowed to trade its own stock in darkness? Following the great stock crash in 1929, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee conducted an extensive investigation over three years into the trading structure and trading practices on Wall Street. What it found was a vipers’ nest of corruption and collusion. The Senate investigations focused extensively on the dirty dealings of “Pools,” now reincarnated as Dark Pools. The Senate found the following: “A pool, according to stock exchange officials, is an agreement between several people, usually more than three, to actively trade in a single security. The investigation has shown that the purpose of a pool generally is to raise the price of a security by concerted activity on the part of the pool members, and thereby to enable them to unload their holdings at a profit upon the public attracted by the activity or by information disseminated about the stock. Pool operations for such a purpose are incompatible with the maintenance of a free and uncontrolled market.”

    CECL talks could get heated as detractors weigh in - Members of the Financial Accounting Standards Board could be in for an earful Monday. The FASB will hold a highly anticipated roundtable at its Norwalk, Conn., headquarters to discuss the Current Expected Credit Loss accounting standard. The session was scheduled to discuss a proposal by a regional banks designed to cushion CECL’s balance-sheet impact, as well as another that would require financial institutions to break chargeoffs and discoveries out by vintage year. But it is the agenda item allowing for a more general discussion that could make things interesting. It is that The potential for fireworks has some industry observers urging for calm discourse. “I hope the meeting Monday lets investors be heard without bias,” said Joseph Stieven, CEO of Stieven Capital Advisors in St. Louis and an opponent of the new standard. Criticism of CECL, which would require institutions to record projected credit losses when a loan is originated, reached a fever pitch in December when the Financial Stability Oversight Council discussed it during a lengthy closed-door meeting. A day after the FSOC meeting, nine Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to FASB Chairman Russell Golden, as well as Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, suggesting that surveys and educational work that FASB pursued prior to approving the standard in June 2016 were flawed. “FASB standard-setting should be enhanced through formal review and approval processes and ensuring new rules will not create unnecessary or market instability,” the lawmakers wrote. The same day, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., one of the letter’s signatories, introduced a bill to make CECL implementation contingent on the completion of a qualitative impact study. His bill echoes an earlier call by the American Bankers Association for a similar study. The uproar has continued into 2019. Earlier this month, a survey of more than 50 investors conducted by FIG Partners found that a four out of five participants believed no change was needed from current accounting rules, while 83% expressed a belief that the new standard would prove procyclical and magnify fluctuations in credit performance. The ABA on Thursday called on industry regulators to seek a delay in CECL implementation, claiming that "the lack of quality guidance has prevented many smaller banks from making significant progress in their implementation efforts.”

    Fed to Probe Deutsche Bank Over Suspicious Danske Cash - The Federal Reserve is examining how Deutsche Bank AG handled billions of dollars in suspicious transactions from Denmark’s leading lender, according to people familiar with the matter, further intensifying what could be one of the biggest money-laundering scandals ever. The Fed’s probe is in an early stage as it scrutinizes whether Deutsche Bank’s U.S. operations adequately monitored funds from an Estonian branch of Danske Bank A/S, according to two people briefed on the situation, who asked not to be named because the inquiry isn’t public. Danske, which used correspondent banks such as Deutsche Bank to move money abroad, has admitted that much of about $230 billion that flowed through the tiny Estonian outpost may have been dirty. “There are no probes,” Deutsche Bank said in an emailed statement, but the bank “received several requests for information from regulators and law enforcement agencies around the world. It is not surprising at all that the investigating authorities and banks themselves have an interest in the Danske case and the lessons to be learned from it. Deutsche Bank continues to provide information to and cooperate with the investigating agencies.” The U.S. requires banks operating under its jurisdiction to scrutinize clients and their dealings to detect potential money laundering and alert authorities to suspicious transactions. The Fed is among regulators that ensure banks have adequate systems in place to fulfill those duties. A Danske Bank whistle-blower who outlined the illicit flow of cash through that firm has said much of it passed through Deutsche Bank in the U.S., and one of the people said the Fed is focusing on the German lender’s trust bank. Deutsche Bank has been cooperating with the Fed, the people said.

    Fed Probing Deutsche Bank's Role In Largest-Ever Money Laundering Scandal -- As rumors about a possible Deutsche Bank merger with rival troubled German lender Commerzbank continue to swirl despite the seemingly never-ending investigations into a suite of alleged misdeeds by the bank, Bloomberg has given would be merger arbs weighing whether to buy the German lender's battered shares one more reason to hold off. In a follow-up to a report late last year that the Department of Justice had expanded its probe into what could be the largest money laundering scandal in history - that is, the infamous Danske Bank money laundering scandal, which involved some $230 billion of suspicious money flowing into Western Europe from shadowy sources in the former Soviet Union - by looking into the role played by the various correspondent banks that cleared many of these transactions (a group that included DB, BofA and JPM), Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that the Federal Reserve is examining how DB moved billions of dollars on behalf of Danske's Estonian branch, the epicenter of the fraud.Though this line of inquiry is said to be in its early stages, the implications are clear: US regulators are growing increasingly dissatisfied with correspondent banks and their deference on all KYC-related issues to the client banks whose transactions they are clearing. Deutsche Bank said that month it has controls in place when acting as a correspondent for other banks, but its ability to know about their clients is limited. As a correspondent, "your only relationship is with the bank and the bank itself has the responsibility to check its own client to monitor the transaction and to do all these kinds of checks", a company representative said at the time. The Fed is exploring whether Deutsche "adequately monitored funds" moving through Danske's Estonian branch. Danske, which used correspondent banks such as Deutsche Bank to move money abroad, has admitted that much of about $230 billion that flowed through the tiny Estonian outpost may have been dirty.

    Big U.S. banks are letting stress tests make decisions for them - Seventy-eight percent of global banks now use the tests to assess concentrations and set limits internally, according to a Deloitte survey to be released Wednesday. That's up from 67% in 2012, the first time the same question was posed. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they use capital stress tests for strategy and business planning, up from 68% seven years ago. The tests are a post-crisis phenomenon, first started by the U.S. Federal Reserve in 2009 to help restore confidence in the biggest banks, which had previously used their own formulas for allocating capital to different businesses and setting limits for trading desks. After the crisis, the tests replaced banks' own calculations in how regulators set minimum capital requirements — and are now playing a bigger role in internal strategic decisions too.   "Over the last decade, regulators' stress tests have been increasingly used by bank executives to evaluate the impact of big decisions on the business," Edward Hida, a partner with Deloitte's risk advisory unit and author of the firm's global risk management survey, said in an interview. "Banks may need to run these stress tests even more frequently — and especially when the market has such violent and volatile market swings as we're facing now."  Stress tests even influence most of the firms' merger decisions, according to the Deloitte survey. The number of respondents saying so rose to 55% last year from 27% in 2012. The latest survey was conducted between March and July among 94 financial institutions around the world. More than 60% were banks, but insurance and investment management firms also took part.

     Banks didn't cause the shutdown — why are they on the defensive? — When Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter last week to some of the largest banks asking for details about what they were doing to aid customers affected by the government shutdown, many firms had to confront an all-too-familiar public relations dynamic: playing defense. Before the Massachusetts Democrat sent the letter, banks had already been quick to point out that many of them were taking action to help their customers — a point that Warren herself acknowledged. But it can be hard for those stories to get traction when the banking sector at large is still rebuilding its image after the financial crisis — an effort made more difficult by various and sundry subsequent scandals. “Unfortunately the way that the industry’s reputation has been neglected over the last 10 years or so, any specific examples where a bank is being unreasonable will taint the [industry] reputation as a whole,” said Rolland Johannsen, senior consulting associate with Capital Performance Group LLC. “There’s no industrywide approach to something like this — they’re dealing with it in primarily a reactive way, and you can understand why.” Those reputational issues — deserved or not — may worsen with Democrats having gained congressional power and industry critics such as Warren eyeing 2020 presidential bids. Observers say the effect of something like the government shutdown — in which banks' only involvement is trying to help affected customers — can pose a public relations risk that might otherwise be an opportunity for other industries. In the case of the shutdown, many of the banks’ responses have essentially asked customers to come to them and describe what their challenges are and what relief they require, Johannsen said. That makes sense because each individual case is different, he added, and banks don’t necessarily know which of their customers are affected by the shutdown. Warren's letter, which described steps taken by financial institutions but said their "announcements do not provide full details about the services that are actually available to affected workers and businesses." She also suggested that the largest banks were not doing enough, saying that "small banks and credit unions should not be the only financial services providers assisting federal workers during the shutdown."

    Goldman, Morgan Stanley Ask to Cancel Trades After $41 Billion Flash Crash - Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley asked some counterparties to cancel or amend trades in Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd., after a $41 billion flash crash on Thursday saw shares change hands far below the market level, according to people familiar with the matter. Some of the amendment requests were to settle the trades at a higher price, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing a sensitive topic. It wasn’t clear whether the at-market sell orders from Goldman and Morgan Stanley triggered the brief plunge or whether other factors in the pre-open auction were at play, some of the people said. Spokesmen for Goldman and Morgan Stanley declined to comment. Speculation has been swirling in Singapore about Jardine Matheson’s dramatic start to the Thursday session, when some 167,500 shares changed hands at $10.99, compared with the previous day’s close of $66.47, then bounced back within minutes. That implies a loss of about $9 million for those who sold at the pre-market level, and an instant windfall on the other side of the trade, according to Bloomberg calculations. Three market makers had their sell orders matched at the day’s low, a separate person said, also asking not to be named as the details are private. More than a dozen counterparties snapped up the cheaper shares, according to that person. The plunge briefly wiped out $41 billion in market value. Singapore Exchange Ltd. decided not to cancel the trades. Sellers had "ample time" to withdraw their orders if they didn’t want to offload shares at the low price, SGX said after reviewing the incident. The exchange attributed the decline to sell orders that overwhelmed bids during the pre-open, for which neither a fat finger nor a malfunctioning computer system were responsible.

    BlackRock accidentally posted spreadsheets full of information on thousands of financial advisors that use its ETFs, calling some ‘dabblers’ and others ‘power users’ - According to a Bloomberg News story, multi-trillion-dollar asset manager BlackRock accidentally posted a link to spreadsheets full of information on the firm’s advisor clients to its iShares ETF website.   The spreadsheets reportedly showed the names, emails, and assets of advisors that had invested in iShares ETFs, as well as placing them in certain categories like “dabblers” and “power users.”   There was also a column in the spreadsheet titled “Club Level” that included labels such as “Patriots Club” and “Directors Club.” One sheet reportedly contained 12,000 entries. The sheets were dated from December 5, 2018, but it’s not clear whether they were exposed since then. The New York-based manager deactivated the link to the spreadsheets on Friday.  “We are conducting a full review of the matter. The inadvertent and temporary posting of the information relates to two distribution partners serving independent advisors and does not include any of their underlying client information,” said a statement provided to Business Insider by a company spokeswoman. While the firm’s inadvertent release of advisor information was potentially online for more than a month, the data breach is minor compared to some of the hacks suffered by companies like Marriott hotels and others last year.

    BlackRock CEO Larry Fink Tells Corporate CEOs to Engage in Better Eyewash - One of the sorry spectacles of modern life is having prominent individuals who profit from and serve as prime exemplars of major social ills trying to depict themselves as part of the solution, when they haven’t gone through any sort of Damascene conversion o give their virtue-signalling even a thin veneer of legitimacy.Today’s object lesson is Larry Fink, the Chairman and CEO of the ginormous fund manager BlackRock (not to be confused with the private equity/alternative asset manager Blackstone). BlackRock, with $6.2 trillion under management as of October, 2018, is the largest asset manager in the world.   Fink became a big cheerleader of sustainability in early 2018, which makes him awfully late to this party; “environment, social, and governance” has been an investment fad for well over a decade. We’ve embedded his 2019 letter letter to CEOs at this end of this post. One imagines that Fink thinks his missive is forthright, but it doesn’t even register as either a “dare to be great” exhortation or an incisive analysis. Instead, it comes off as a rehash of Davos Man worries, with it all too evident that Fink and his fellow travelers are in comfortable denial about the rot in the foundations of the political and social order. Nowhere does Fink mention the elephant in the room: high levels of income and wealth inequality. Heavens no.  Fink can’t afford to acknowledge that he exemplifies the problem. Supersized finance sectors have played a big, direct role in the rise in inequality in advanced economies. These studies have also found that the growth in secondary market trading is particularly unproductive in economic terms. And not to belabor the obvious, but rising levels of pay in finance since the early 1980s have also led to a brain drain, particularly of mathematics and physicians who became “quants”.

    26 Billionaires Own as Much as World’s Poorest 3.8 Billion People, Fueling Global Anger — With Wall Street titans, tech moguls, and other members of the global financial and political elite set to gather in Davos, Switzerland this week for the annual World Economic Forum, a report published late Sunday found that the planet’s richest people saw their fortunes soar by $2.5 billion per day last year as the world’s poorest lost wealth.  Titled “Private Good or Public Wealth?” and conducted by Oxfam, the new analysis found that 26 billionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 3.8 billion people combined.  According to Oxfam, the number of billionaires has doubled since the global financial crisis of 2008, even as average families have struggled mightily to recover. In contrast to the soaring fortunes of the global financial elite, the wealth of the world’s poorest fell by $500 million each day in 2018—an overall decline of 11 percent.  “The economy we have today is fundamentally inhuman,” Paul O’Brien, vice president for policy and campaigns at Oxfam America, said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

    PG&E secures $5.5 billion in credit, braces for anticipated two-year bankruptcy - PG&E has secured $5.5 billion in credit as it braces for a bankruptcy process that the embattled California utility believes will last two years. Shares of PG&E were up about 9 percent to just under $8 on Tuesday. The stock price has plunged since the company announced it plans to pursue Chapter 11 bankruptcy by the end of the month. The company, California's largest utility, is facing at least $30 billion in liabilities related to wildfires in 2017 and 2018. Investigators have not yet determined whether PG&E equipment was at fault for sparking last year's Camp Fire, which killed 86 people. On Monday, PG&E signed a commitment letter with several large banks to obtain debtor-in-possession financing, a type of funding for companies in financial distress. A rough timeline provided by the company in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday sees the bankruptcy process lasting through roughly the start of 2021. "PG&E expects that the DIP Facilities will provide it with sufficient liquidity to fund its ongoing operations, including its ability to provide safe service to customers during the Chapter 11 cases. PG&E currently expects the Chapter 11 cases to take, subject to satisfaction of certain terms and conditions, approximately two years," the company said in the SEC filing. The last time the company filed for bankruptcy, it took about three years to complete the process. PG&E sought Chapter 11 protection in 2001 amid the California energy crisis. The DIP facilities include $3.5 billion in revolving credit, $1.5 billion in term loans and an additional $500 million in delayed draw term loans. The banks providing the credit and loans include J. P. Morgan Chase,Bank of America, Barclays and Citigroup.

    BIS trolls bitcoin-  -  Bitcoin aspires to take over the world. But as we all know (according to poorly sourced conspiracy forums), the world is currently run by the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), the central bank to central banks. That means Bitcoin needs to displace the BIS in the near future if it is to get anywhere. But it takes one to know one. So here's the dominant global payments system calling out the aspiring global payments system in an excellent piece of professional trolling this week:  This paper discusses the economics of how Bitcoin achieves data immutability, and thus payment finality, via costly computations, ie “proof-of-work”. Further, it explores what the future might hold for cryptocurrencies modelled on this type of consensus algorithm. The conclusions are, first, that Bitcoin counterfeiting via “double-spending” attacks is inherently profitable, making payment finality based on proof-of-work extremely expensive. Second, the transaction market cannot generate an adequate level of “mining” income via fees as users freeride on the fees of other transactions in a block and in the subsequent blockchain. Instead, newly minted bitcoins, known as block rewards, have made up the bulk of mining income to date. Looking ahead, these two limitations imply that liquidity is set to fall dramatically as these block rewards are phased out. Simple calculations suggest that once block rewards are zero, it could take months before a Bitcoin payment is final, unless new technologies are deployed to speed up payment finality. Second-layer solutions such as the Lightning Network might help, but the only fundamental remedy would be to depart from proof-of-work, which would probably require some form of social co-ordination or institutionalisation. 

     Government Shutdown Halts SEC Prosecution Of Hedgie Accused of Fabricating Financials, Stealing – A hedge fund manager who allegedly made remarkable, and fraudulent, promises to his investors – that he would never lose their money - has seen the Securities and Exchange Commission's case against him stall as a result of the recent government shut down.Statim Holding’s Joseph Meyer was accused of stealing from his clients after making the "too good to be true" claim, but that case is now in limbo, according to Bloomberg. The SEC had hoped that Meyer would not pull assets from a Statim hedge fund. Meyer refused the SEC's request, according to a January 17 court filing, and SEC attorneys are now trying to get an injunction to prevent him from withdrawing even more funds. Meanwhile, Meyer through his lawyer, claims that he hasn’t done anything wrong.His lawyer, Steve Sadow, said: “Mr. Meyer and Statim Holdings Inc. will respond in detail to the SEC’s allegations. But suffice it to say for now that we dispute the allegations, will vigorously contest them in court and look forward to vindication by a open-minded, fair and impartial jury.” The halt of this case is yet another example of the tangible ways that the government shutdown is preventing federal agencies from doing their job. The Securities and Exchange Commission has stopped opening new investigations and has seen its staff dwindle to just 300 employees, from its normal 4500, as a result of the shutdown.The hedge fund's incredible returns, including a year where it allegedly made 91%, had been previously discussed by Bloomberg. The SEC claims that the profits were a result of misconduct, including the fund manager's propensity to pay his living expenses using investor capital. They also claim that he doctored financial statements. The SEC's complaint says: “The purported guarantees and loss protection were illusory. Meyer simply concocted numbers that had no apparent connection to any share class and then reported these exaggerated returns to investors.”

     FHA loan delays from government shutdown loom larger for seniors - While most single-family Federal Housing Administration lending is somewhat insulated from the government shutdown, the impasse is doing more to hurt funding in niches like nursing home loans and reverse mortgages. Areas where lending is noticeably slowed because FHA staff have been furloughed include reverse mortgages taken out by borrowers 62 and older, and commercial/multifamily products, a category that includes senior-living-facility financing, said Justin Burch, a managing director at The Collingwood Group. "The FHA has a skeleton crew to approve commitment authority, but there are delays in that, and there's risk in that delay for those sectors," said Burch, who is the head of the federal housing practice at Collingwood, a consultancy owned by Situs. "It's impacted elderly citizens and that's obviously disturbing," said Steve Kennedy, a senior managing director at nursing home lender Lancaster Pollard. He said the unprecedented length of the shutdown, and the possible added strain on cost from higher rates, are concerns for him. "Some projects that are on hold require substantial rehabilitation and already face other pressures, so this kind of strain on the cost of capital adds to the challenge," he said. "The last few shutdowns were in stable or declining interest rate environments." As the shutdown has progressed, FHA lending on nursing homes has gone from being delayed to almost a full stop, "There's no one at HUD working unless it's a true emergency,"

    Lender offers cash-out refis to aid federal workers during shutdown -  Better Mortgage has launched a mortgage refinance program to help federal government employees affected by the shutdown utilize their home equity for living expenses.The New York-based lender's Shutdown Relief Emergency Refi offers homeowners an opportunity to live off of their equity while also delaying loan payments for up to 30 days after the end of the furlough, according to Better Mortgage.  Homeowners must have a minimum FICO score of 620, at least 5% equity in their homes and a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 50% to be eligible. Federal workers either furloughed or working without pay as a result of the shutdown may apply, including contract employees. Eligible borrowers can refinance with or without the cash-out feature and Better Mortgage is offering expedited appraisals and waiving its origination fees. No out-of-pocket expenses will be due at closing, the company said. "We are dedicated to helping all of those federal employees impacted by the current shutdown. By delaying their mortgage payments and tapping into the equity in their home, we are providing them the added flexibility of covering their normal monthly expenses and minimizing the financial disruption to their lives until the shutdown has ended," Vishal Garg, co-founder and CEO, said in a press release.The program is accessible in any of the 27 states (and Washington, D.C.) where Better Mortgage is available.

    Mortgage lenders call construction loans their most promising product - In a slow mortgage market, construction loans are considered the most likely source of growth for lenders, according to Altisource's latest annual originations survey. One-quarter of more than 200 decision-makers in the origination market identified construction lending as the most promising sector of the market, according to the "The State of the Originations Industry" report for 2018. "Construction activity should increase over the next year due to the robust demand in the overall housing market and the historical shortage of existing housing supply," Altisource noted in a press release. One-fifth or respondents called loans that are below the jumbo mortgage threshold, and that fall outside of the qualified mortgage safe harbor from ability-to-repay rule liability, the most-promising category of loans. Renovation loans were considered the most promising loan product by 19% of respondents, followed by Federal Housing Administration loans (18%) and jumbo loans (17%). The survey was completed before the government shutdown that has constrained some FHA production. Competition for home-purchase loans is the biggest challenge in the origination market, according to 29% of respondents to the survey. One-fourth of respondents called margin compression related to regulatory requirements their largest business hurdle, and 24% identified higher mortgage rates as their biggest concern. More than three-fourths of respondents are paying $7,000 or more to produce a loan, and 78% fear production expenses will continue to rise and volumes will continue to fall. The most common step mortgage lenders have taken to adjust production costs is to add automation to their operations. More than 60% of lenders do this, according to the survey conducted independent analytics firm Echo Research. Another 56% of mortgage lenders have changed and diversified their loan products in an effort to adjust production costs. More than half have consolidated staffing, and another 45% have outsourced some of their work.

    Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Increased Seasonally in December, Lowest Year-End this Century --From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Delinquency Rate Entering 2019 Lowest of Any Year Since the Turn of the Century

    • Despite rising seasonally in recent months, only 3.9 percent of mortgages were delinquent as of December month-end, the lowest year-end total since Black Knight began reporting the figure in 2000
    • The national foreclosure rate, while also edging seasonally upward in December, posted the lowest year-end figure since 2005, with just 0.52 percent of mortgages in active foreclosure
    • Foreclosure starts edged slightly upward with 46,300 starts reported for the month, a 2.4 percent uptick over November
    • Foreclosure starts were also up 4 percent year-over-year in December, though this increase was primarily driven by suppressed foreclosure start volumes in late 2017 due to hurricane-related moratoriums
    According to Black Knight's First Look report for December, the percent of loans delinquent increased 4.7% in December compared to November, and decreased 17.6% year-over-year.  The percent of loans in the foreclosure process increased 1.2% in December and were down 19.2% over the last year.Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.88% in December, up from 3.71% in November.The percent of loans in the foreclosure process increased slightly in December to 0.52% from 0.52% in November. The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is down 399,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 60,000 properties year-over-year.

    Millions of Bank Loan and Mortgage Documents Have Leaked Online  - A trove of more than 24 million financial and banking documents, representing tens of thousands of loans and mortgages from some of the biggest banks in the U.S., has been found online after a server security lapse. The server, running an Elasticsearch database, had more than a decade’s worth of data, containing loan and mortgage agreements, repayment schedules and other highly sensitive financial and tax documents that reveal an intimate insight into a person’s financial life. But it wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone to access and read the massive cache of documents.It’s believed that the database was only exposed for two weeks — but long enough for independent security researcher Bob Diachenko to find the data. At first glance, it wasn’t immediately known who owned the data. After we inquired with several banks whose customers information was found on the server, the database was shut down on January 15.With help from TechCrunch, the leak was traced back to Ascension, a data and analytics company for the financial industry, based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company provides data analysis and portfolio valuations. Among its services, the Ascension converts paper documents and handwritten notes into computer-readable files — known as OCR. It’s that bank of converted documents that was exposed, Diachenko said in his own write-up.

    MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey - From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey - Mortgage applications decreased 2.7 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending January 18, 2019.... The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 4 percent compared with the previous week and was 13 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“Mortgage application activity cooled off last week after two consecutive weeks of sizeable increases. Both purchase and refinance applications saw declines but remained at healthy levels, with the purchase index remaining close to a nine-year high, and the refinance index hovering near its highest level since last spring,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Reversing the recent downward trend, borrowers saw increasing rates for most loan types last week, as better-than-expected unemployment claims, easing trade tensions and stabilization in the equity markets ultimately led to a rise in Treasury rates.” The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) increased to 4.75 percent from 4.74 percent, with points decreasing to 0.44 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

    New-home mortgage applications drop over stock market volatility: MBA - Mortgage applications for new homes declined again as worries over the stock market and the global economy outweighed lower interest rates for potential buyers, the Mortgage Bankers Association said. The MBA's Builder Application Survey for December found activity was down 13% compared with November and 6.1% from the year prior. This data is not seasonally adjusted. "New-home sales declined for the second straight month in December, from 627,000 units to 552,000 [seasonally adjusted] units, as factors such as a volatile stock market and economic uncertainty, both here and abroad, likely kept some prospective buyers away," Joel Kan, the MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a press release. "This pullback in activity was in spite of falling mortgage rates and a robust job market. Looking ahead, if mortgage rates remain low, housing inventory rises, and home-price growth continues to steady, we expect to see a rebound in purchase activity this spring." In the weeks after New Year's Day, overall purchase application volume rebounded to a nine-year high as rates continued to drop. On an unadjusted basis, there was an estimated 37,000 new-home sales in December 2018, a decrease of 17.8% from 45,000 in November, the MBA said. The average loan size to purchase a newly constructed home increased to $334,944 in December from $326,037 in November, but was down from $339,203 in December 2017. By product type, conventional loans composed 69.5% of new-home loan applications, Federal Housing Administration-insured loans composed 17.3%, Veterans Affairs-guaranteed loans had a 12.5% share and U.S. Department of Agriculture/Rural Housing Service applications were 0.7% of the total.

     FHFA House Price Index: House Prices Up 0.4% in November - The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for November. Here is the opening of the report: U.S. house prices rose in November, up 0.4 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) seasonally adjusted monthly House Price Index (HPI). The previously reported 0.3 percent increase in October was revised to reflect a 0.4 percent increase. The FHFA monthly HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From November 2017 to November 2018, house prices were up 5.8 percent. [Read more] The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.

    NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 4.99 million in December - From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales See 6.4 Percent Drop in December After two consecutive months of increases, existing-home sales declined in the month of December, according to the National Association of Realtors®. None of the four major U.S. regions saw a gain in sales activity last month.  Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, decreased 6.4 percent from November to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.99 million in December. Sales are now down 10.3 percent from a year ago (5.56 million in December 2017).  Total housing inventory at the end of December decreased to 1.55 million, down from 1.74 million existing homes available for sale in November, but represents an increase from 1.46 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 3.7-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.9 last month and up from 3.2 months a year ago.  Existing Home SalesClick on graph for larger image. This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in December (4.99 million SAAR) were down 6.4% from last month, and were 10.3% below the December 2017 rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory decreased to 1.55 million in December from 1.74 million in November. 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.

    Existing Home Sales Crash In December -  After NAHB's optimism rebounded earlier in the month, all eyes are on this morning's existing home sales data for any signs of optimism. With some expecting a crash (and consensus expecting a modest 1.5% MoM drop), after rebounding in October and November (in the face of declining new and pending home sales), December existing home sales did indeed collapse - down a shocking 6.4% MoM.. With SAAR crashing below 5mm for the first time since 2015... Regional breakdown:

    • December existing-home sales in the Northeast decreased 6.8 percent to an annual rate of 690,000, 6.8 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $283,400, up 8.2 percent from December 2017.
    • In the Midwest, existing-home sales fell 11.2 percent from last month to an annual rate of 1.19 million in December, down 10.5 percent overall from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $191,300, unchanged from last year.
    • Existing-home sales in the South dropped 5.4 percent to an annual rate of 2.09 million in December, down 8.7 percent from last year. The median price in the South was $224,300, up 2.5 percent from a year ago.
    • Existing-home sales in the West dipped 1.9 percent to an annual rate of 1.02 million in December, 15 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $374,400, up 0.2 percent from December 2017.

    The latest results brought the 2018 tally to 5.34 million, the weakest pace since 2015. This is the biggest annual drop in existing home sales in 8 years...

    Comments on December Existing Home Sales --Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 4.99 million in December A few key points:
    1) The key for housing - and the overall economy - is new home sales, single family housing starts and overall residential investment. Unfortunately this key data is not currently being released due to the government shutdown.  However, overall, this is still a somewhat reasonable level for existing home sales, and the weakness at the end of 2018 was no surprise given the increase in mortgage rates.
    2) Inventory is still low, but was up 6.2% year-over-year (YoY) in December. This was the fifth consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in inventory, and the largest YoY increase since January 2014.
    3) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer to the NAR report than the consensus. See: Lawler; Early Read on Existing Home Sales in December: Big Drop.   The consensus was for sales of 5.24 million SAAR, Lawler estimated the NAR would report 4.97 million SAAR in December, and the NAR actually reported 4.99 million SAAR.The current 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.  In 2018 (light blue arrow), inventory followed the normal seasonal pattern.Although I expected inventory to increase YoY in 2018, I also expected 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. The second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).Sales NSA in December (377,000, red column) were below sales in December 2017 (427,000, NSA), and sales were the lowest for December since 2012. For the year, sales totaled 5.342 million, down 3.1% from 5.511 million in 2017.  This was also below sales in 2016 (5.452 million).

     At the end of 2018, housing lays an egg – I normally don’t pay much attention to existing home sales, but with the lack of other housing data, this is the closest we have to a decent snapshot of the market during December. This morning the NAR reported that  Existing-home sales ... decreased 6.4 percent from November to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.99 million in December. Sales are now down 10.3 percent from a year ago (5.56 million in December 2017).  Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, sa[id] “The housing market is obviously very sensitive to mortgage rates. Softer sales in December reflected consumer search processes and contract signing activity in previous months when mortgage rates were higher than today. Now, with mortgage rates lower, some revival in home sales is expected going into spring.”  The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $253,600, up 2.9 percent from December 2017 ($246,500). I think Yun is correct here. This was the lowest number of existing sales in 3 years, and the lowest but one month in 4 years. Meanwhile, in the last 4 months of 2018, mortgage rates were at their highest in over 5 years: while home prices have continued, by most surveys, to increase. The good news in the report is that the YoY price increase was less than the increase in median household income as reported by Sentier Research for 2018, which makes houses slightly more affordable. And the decline in mortgage rates this month, if it is sustained, should help put a bottom under sales — a plus for the overall economy.

    NMHC: Apartment Market Tightness Index remained negative for 13th Consecutive Quarter - The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) released their January report: January NMHC Quarterly Survey Shows Little Overall Change Apartment market conditions were mixed in the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Quarterly Survey of Apartment Market Conditions for January. The Market Tightness (46) and Equity Financing (50) indexes showed little change in those conditions from October, while the Debt Financing Index (59) showed improving conditions. By contrast, the Sales Volume Index (33) showed further slowing in property sales.Notably, a significant majority of respondents found that recent tariffs have driven up costs across the board and in a variety of markets throughout the country. "While the four indexes each changed somewhat over the last quarter, overall market conditions remained fairly static. Debt market financing conditions improved somewhat over the last three months," said NMHC Chief Economist Mark Obrinsky. "By contrast equity market financing conditions are little changed, as considerable capital continues to seek investment in the apartment sector."The Market Tightness Index increased from 41 to 46. Less than one-quarter (22 percent) of respondents reported looser market conditions than three months prior, compared to 13 percent who reported tighter conditions. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents felt that conditions were no different from last quarter. This index helped me call the bottom for effective rents (and the top for the vacancy rate) early in 2010. And it also helped me call the bottom in vacancy rate more recently.

    AIA: "Architecture billings slow, but close 2018 with growing demand" - Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.From the AIA: Architecture billings slow, but close 2018 with growing demand: Architecture firm billings growth softened in December but remained positive for the fifteenth consecutive month, according to a new report released today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA). AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score for December was 50.4 compared to 54.7 in November. Despite the positive billings, a softening in growth was seen across several regions and sectors, as well as in project inquiries and design contracts. “Given the concerns over the ongoing tariff situation, it is not surprising to see a bit of a slowdown in progress on current projects,” Growing anxiety over unstable business conditions and the partial shutdown of the government may lead to further softening in the coming months.”
    • Regional averages: Midwest (56.3), Northeast (51.6), South (49.4), West (49.2)
    • Sector index breakdown: institutional (53.1), commercial/industrial (51.2), mixed practice (50.2), multi-family residential (49.8
    This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 50.4 in December, down from 54.7 in November. Anything above 50 indicates expansion in demand for architects' services. Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions. According to the AIA, there is an "approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending" on non-residential construction.  This index has been positive for 15 consecutive months, suggesting a further increase in CRE investment in 2019.

    Hotels: Occupancy Rate Increased Year-over-year - From HotelNewsNow.com: STR: US hotel results for week ending 19 January The U.S. hotel industry reported positive year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 13-19 January 2019, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 14-20 January 2018, the industry recorded the following:
    • Occupancy: +5.0% to 58.4%
    • Average daily rate (ADR): +3.4% to US$124.32
    • Revenue per available room (RevPAR): +8.5% to US$72.54
    STR analysts partially attribute the week’s substantial growth figures to a calendar shift. Growth for Monday of the week was especially pronounced due to comparison with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last year: 14 January 2019 (standard business day) vs. 15 January 2018 (MLK Day). Significant performance increases were also noticeable on Saturday of the week. That was likely due in part to the Women’s March as well as the long weekend that ended with this year’s MLK Day. The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

    Shopko retail chain files for bankruptcy, 105 stores across US to close -General merchandise retail chain Shopko, with 367 stores across 26 states and over 14,000 employees, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Nebraska courthouse on January 15, becoming the latest in a string of retailers to enter or consider such a move in recent years. Shopko, which had an operating revenue of over $3 billion dollars in 2017 and its parent company Speciality Reality Shop Holdings Corp, along with 11 other subsidies, including Shopko Hometown, cited excessive debt and “changes in consumers shopping patterns” in court documents as the reason for the bankruptcy.McKesson, a pharmaceutical medicine supplier to the retailer had sought a restraining order against Shopko earlier this month, in response to unpaid debts. The order would have barred Shopko from selling medicinal goods already delivered to the company. Lawyers for McKesson stated that the company was owed $67 million dollars for unpaid inventory from November 2018.Shopko lawyer Stephen Hackney in arguing against the restraining order cited the risk to public health if Shopko was barred from selling medications over the counter or through the pharmacies located inside the stores. Brown County, Wisconsin Judge William Atkinson agreed with Hackney’s argument, denying the restraining order, “I do not believe it is safe for citizens, residents ... and patients if I grant your order,” Atkinson told McKesson's attorneys. “There would be significant public health effects. The public harm, I don't think it can be understated.”A week later Shopko lawyers were back in court filing for bankruptcy and agreeing to shut down 105 stores, many of them in rural locations. Shopko pharmacies accept Medicaid and Medicare and in many small communities in the Pacific and Midwest regions of the US it is the sole drug store.

    Where Amazon Returns Go to Be Resold by Hustlers - With a couple hundred dollars and a few minutes, you could go to a liquidation website right now and buy a pallet full of stuff that people have returned to Amazon. It will have, perhaps, been lightly sorted by product category—home decor, outdoor, apparel—but this is mostly aspirational. For example, in one pallet labeled “home decor,” available for sale on liquidation.com, you could find hiking crampons, shimmer fabric paint, a High Visibility Thermal Winter Trapper Hat, a Mr. Ellie Pooh Natural White Paper List Pad, a St. Patrick’s Pot O’ Gold Cupcake Decorating Kit, a Spoontiques Golf Thermometer, a Feliz Cumpleanos Candle Packaged Balloon, and five Caterpillar Hoodies for Pets.  Every box is a core sample drilled through the digital crust of platform capitalism. On Amazon’s website, sophisticated sorting algorithms relentlessly rank and organize these products before they go out into the world, but once the goods return to the warehouse, they shake free of the database and become random objects thrown together into a box by fate. Most likely, never will this precise box of shit ever exist again in the world. On liquidation.com, each pallet’s manifest comes with suggested prices for each product in a pristine state. If you add them up, the “value” of the box might be $4,000, while the auction price might only come to $200. While Amazon doesn’t publicly talk about how it chooses which returned products go back up for sale and which go to the liquidators, it does sell some products through Amazon Warehouse at a discount. If it sounds crazy to sell products at massive discounts, consider that goods sitting in a warehouse are a cost. So is the labor necessary to repackage something for resale. If Amazon and other retailers let another company pay them something, they avoid those costs and add some revenue.

    Supermarket Chains Say Shoppers Increasingly Wary About The Future - Surveys of consumer confidence have begun to weaken after exploding to their highest levels in nearly two decades over the summer, even as GDP growth is believed to have remained relatively robust during Q4. With consumer debt levels back at all-time highs, worrying signs that consumers are beginning to pull back have emerged - including lower-than-expected holiday store traffic. And in the latest sign that consumers are bracing for an uncertain future with the end of the business cycle nigh at hand, Bloomberg reported that the CEO of the largest supermarket says his customers are beginning to express concerns about growing economic uncertainty - though they feel good about where the economy is at right now."It’s fascinating right now from a customer standpoint. They feel incredibly good about the economy but very nervous about where things are headed," Kroger Co. Chief Executive Officer Rodney McMullen said in an onstage interview at the National Retail Federation’s annual trade show in New York City.In other words, while shoppers feel everything is alright as of now, if one tweaks the line of questioning just a little, their concerns about a looming recession bubble to the surface. Even with gas prices back below $50 a barrel and consumer price inflation moving back below the Fed's rate target. "If you talk about questions in the present," American shoppers feel just fine, but "if you change the question a little to ‘where do you think things are going,’ there’s a lot of uncertainty," he said. Kroger operates stores in 35 states and Washington DC, allowing it solid insight into the shopping habits of Americans. And while McMullen said he isn’t yet bracing for the worst, and executives at Kroger “don’t see anything that would cause us to say there’s a recession right around the corner'", with interest rates expected to rise further, consumers will soon need to balance higher credit payments with consumer prices that are in all likelihood rising faster than they appear. While it's not on the horizon just yet, Krogers' CEO said judging by consumers' behavior, "a recession is something that could happen."

    LA area Port Traffic in December; Imports Up YoY, Exports Down --Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was up 1.3% compared in December to the rolling 12 months ending in November. Outbound traffic was down 0.8% compared to the rolling 12 months ending in November. The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports). LA Area Port TrafficUsually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year. In general imports have been increasing, and exports have mostly moved sideways over the last 8 years.

    Chemical Activity Barometer Declines in January - Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production. - From the American Chemistry Council: Chemical Activity Barometer Shows Signs of Slower Growth in U.S. Economy The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), posted a 0.3 percent decline in January on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis. This marks the barometer’s third consecutive month-over-month drop and suggests a slower rate of U.S. economic growth. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer is up 0.8 percent (3MMA), a pronounced slowdown in the pace of growth as compared with late last year. “The CAB continues to signal gains in U.S. commercial and industrial activity through mid-2019, but at a much slower pace as growth (as measured by year-earlier comparisons) has turned over,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC. “Despite three straight months of decline in the barometer, the cumulative decline is 1.0 percent – well below the 3.0 percent that would signal negative growth in the U.S. economy.” Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index. This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production.  It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue). The year-over-year increase in the CAB has softened recently, suggesting further gains in industrial production into 2019, but at a slower pace.

    US Services Slow, Manufacturing Rebounds As 'Soft' Survey Data Collapses - After Europe's PMI plunged (led by contractions in France and Germany), US PMIs offered a mixed bag with Services dropping to 4-month lows and Manufacturing rebounding to 2-month highs. On the Services side, new business growth remained subdued in comparison to the peaks seen in the first half of 2018. The latest rise in new work was one of the weakest seen in the past year-and-a-half. On the manufacturing side, the improvement in overall business conditions was driven by the fastest expansion of production since May 2018. New orders, employment and stocks of purchases also increased at faster rates in January. Commenting on the flash PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said: “US businesses reported a solid start to 2019, with the rate of expansion running only slightly weaker than the average seen in the second half of last year.“The resilience of the survey data suggest little impact from the government shutdown on the private sector, with very few companies reporting any material detrimental impact on their output or order books.“Historical comparisons suggest January’s survey data are indicative of the economy growing at an annualised rate close to 2.5%. However, as the survey does not include the government sector, the impact of the shutdown may not be fully captured.  “Manufacturers reported faster rates of increase for both output and order books during the month, accompanied by ongoing robust service sector growth. Both sectors continued to rely on domestic demand, however, with service sector exports falling for a second successive month and goods exports rising only moderately, acting as a drag on overall order books. “The jobs data from the surveys were also somewhat disappointing, with the overall rate of job creation slipping to a 20-month low. However, even this weaker January survey employment index reading is consistent with private sector payroll growth of approximately 150,000.

    Richmond Fed: "Fifth District Manufacturing Activity Was Soft in January"  - From the Richmond Fed: Fifth District Manufacturing Activity Was Soft in January Fifth District manufacturing activity was soft in January, according to the latest survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index rose from −8 in December to −2 in January but continued to indicate weak growth. The rise from December came from increases in the component indexes of employment and shipments, although the shipments index remained negative. The third component, new orders, dropped to −11, its lowest reading since June 2016. Meanwhile, the index for backlog of orders fell to −21, its lowest reading since May 2009. However, manufacturers remained optimistic that conditions would improve in the coming months.  Survey results indicated continued growth in employment and wages in January, but firms still struggled to find workers with the skills they need. Respondents expected this struggle to continue, along with employment and wage growth, in the near future.    This was another weak regional manufacturing reading for January.

     Kansas City Fed: Regional Manufacturing Activity "Continued to Grow Modestly" in January, Negative Impact from Shutdown --From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Continued to Grow ModestlyThe Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the January Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity continued to grow modestly, and expectations for future growth remained solid. “Regional factories had another month of sluggish growth in January,” said Wilkerson. “About one-sixth of the firms in the survey said the partial government shutdown had negatively affected their business.”The month-over-month composite index was 5 in January, similar to 6 in December, and lower than 17 in November. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. The slow and steady increase in factory activity was driven by durable goods producers, particularly wood products, fabricated metals, electrical equipment and appliances, and furniture manufacturing. Month-over-month indexes were somewhat mixed. The production index jumped back into positive territory, while the order backlog index turned negative for the first time since June 2017. Most year-over-year factory indexes eased from the previous month, and the composite index decreased from 38 to 31. Future factory activity expectations remained solid. The future composite index eased slightly from 22 to 18, while the future production index increased. So far, most of the regional surveys have indicated slower growth in January than in December (and December was the weakest month for the ISM index in over 2 years).

    Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 199,000, Lowest since 1969 -- The DOL reported: In the week ending January 19, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 199,000, a decrease of 13,000 from the previous week's revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since November 15, 1969 when it was 197,000. The previous week's level was revised down by 1,000 from 213,000 to 212,000. The 4-week moving average was 215,000, a decrease of 5,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised down by 250 from 220,750 to 220,500.  The previous week was revised down. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

    Matamoros strike threatens to shut down North American auto industry - The strike by 70,000 auto parts workers in Matamoros, Mexico is beginning to affect production at US automobile assembly plants, raising the possibility that auto production across North America could be brought to a standstill.US workers are reporting to the World Socialist Web Site that management is slowing production at General Motors and Ford assembly plants as a result of the strike. Production at Ford’s assembly plant in Flat Rock, Michigan will stop this week due to a shortage of parts caused by the walkout.By courageously withholding their labor, the workers at 50 auto parts plants that have been struck in Matamoros, just south of Brownsville, Texas, could bring a major sector of the world economy to its knees.The strike demonstrates the objective unity and class common interests of US, Canadian and Mexican workers. It is the answer of the working class to Donald Trump’s racist threat to build a wall between the US and Mexico and the nationalist poison spread by the United Auto Workers and Unifor unions to make American and Canadian autoworkers think that their enemies are their Mexican brothers and sisters, not the auto bosses and the capitalist profit system. Matamoros workers are beginning to recognize their social strength. Yesterday, thousands of workers marched from their plants to the city plaza, chanting “Bourgeoisie, get out!” The strikers have issued a social media appeal for “all Mexican workers” to join them in a national general strike, which they are calling “A Day Without Workers.”

    Tens of thousands of striking Matamoros, Mexico workers march to border to appeal to US workers - The strike by 70,000 “maquiladora” workers in Matamoros, Mexico has entered its second week and continues to intensify each day. Yesterday, workers held a protest titled “A Day Without Workers” to demonstrate that it is the working class—not the unions or the bosses—that generates all of society’s wealth. Photos circulating on social media showed deserted factories and union bureaucrats struggling to keep production lines operating after workers put down their tools en masse. Over 50 factories have now stopped production as a result of the strike, costing corporations an estimated $100 million over the course of one week. After refusing to show up to work, the auto parts and electrical workers held a massive march through the city of 500,000, chanting “we will win this fight no matter what,” “the workers united will never be defeated,” and “empty plants, a day without workers!”The strike in Matamoros, like any significant movement of the masses, is characterized by the striving for social equality. The demands of the Matamoros workers—a 20 percent wage increase, a USD$1,700 bonus, a shorter work week, and cuts to union dues—are class issues that unite all workers regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or national origin.

    Seven-month National Grid lockout ends with USW-backed concessions - More than 1,200 natural gas distribution workers in Massachusetts who were locked out by National Grid seven months ago began returning to work Sunday. The end of the lockout follows a January 7 vote by members of United Steelworkers Locals 12012 and 12003 to ratify a concessions contract. Few details of the contract have been released publicly but raises will total only 18 percent over the six years it covers. This is below the annual rate of inflation in the Boston area, which is around 3.2 percent. The raises are essentially the same as management’s final offer of 2.5-3 percent before the lockout.While the previous contract provided for health insurance with no deductibles or co-insurance, the Boston Globe reported that the new agreement allows the company to reduce this benefit by an “undetermined amount” starting in 2021. New hires will receive a 401(K) employee-contribution pension plan instead of the legacy defined benefit plan paid by management. The company will match a worker’s contributions to the 401(K) plan, but will use an arcane formula that provides for higher percentages as a worker gets older; absurdly, the chart shows a match of 9% of eligible pay for workers 85 years of age and older.The lockout began on June 25, one day after the previous contract—which had contained a no strike/no lockout clause—expired. On July 1, the company stopped paying for the health insurance of the locked-out workers.The USW, which has 850,000 members in North America—including 15,000 at ArcelorMittal and 16,000 at US Steel who were recently forced to accept USW-backed concessions contracts—isolated the 1,200 embattled workers for seven months. Far from mobilizing USW members or other sections of workers against the giant company, the USW sought to cover its betrayal by organizing impotent protests, which appealed to investors and corporate-controlled politicians.

     New Jersey state agency hands $11 billion in tax breaks to businesses and developers - New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) has approved $11 billion in tax incentives for businesses and developers in the past 15 years. According to the authority’s stated mission, the huge sums are designed to promote the retention and creation of jobs. Harrah’s, Quest Diagnostics, Eastern Pro Pak, Sysco Guest Supply, and the Philadelphia 76ers have all initiated projects with EDA support. But the EDA’s incentives, according to an audit by the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, “have been improperly awarded, overstated, and overpaid.”The EDA is an independent state agency governed by a board of thirteen directors appointed by the governor for three-year terms. Public members, who come from local government and the private sector, account for eight of the board’s seats. The other five seats are for ex-officio members from various state departments, such as Banking and Insurance, Labor and Workforce Development, and Treasury. As in other US states, these autonomous agencies are charged with representing the public interest, but in effect function to defend the interests of the capitalist ruling elite.The comptroller’s audit noted that the EDA has not created processes to monitor awardees’ performance and ensure that it satisfies the requirements for receiving the incentives. It has no way of determining whether promised jobs were created or retained, nor does it have adequate means of evaluating the success of the incentive programs, the comptroller said. Thus, in an example of “corporate welfare,” the EDA has effectively transferred resources from New Jersey’s residents to business owners and developers, with no questions asked.

     Tennessee state lawmaker proposes bill to make parents follow a dress code at schools - A state lawmaker in Tennessee is proposing a bill that would require parents and visitors to follow a dress code when visiting their children’s school. Tennessee state Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D) said that he has been receiving calls from parents concerned with how other parents are inappropriately dressed, CBS affiliate WREG reported Monday. "I've heard some concerns from principals," he said. "They say you'd be surprised at some of the stuff that we see." Details on what would be banned under a parental dress code would be left up to school districts in the state, he said. "I visualize clothes that are not sexually suggestive," Parkinson said. "Not wearing things that might encourage or suggest gang activity." The bill would also require visitors inside the school to follow a code of conduct similar to those children and teachers have, prohibiting cursing, fighting and arriving at school property under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

    Parkland students, gun control advocates to hold nationwide gun safety town halls - The group founded by survivors of last year's school shooting in Parkland Florida is working with two other gun control groups to hold a series of town halls in four cities across the country to urge Congress to pass legislation implementing universal background checks on gun purchases.  March for Our Lives will team up with Giffords, which was founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) after she survived being shot in the head during an assassination attempt, and the Town Hall Project.“The only way to tackle the biggest problems facing our country is to bring people together to discuss solutions,” Giffords said in a statement announcing the town halls Thursday.“When communities come together to share stories, ask questions, and exchange ideas, we’re able to bridge divides, find unity, and amplify our calls for action. These Gun Safety Town Hall events will create an important opportunity for anyone concerned about gun violence to speak up and demand that those we elected to protect us are fighting for the solutions we need to make our country a safer place to live, work, learn and play.” The first town hall will take place Saturday in Denver and will feature gun violence prevention experts, local advocates and lawmakers who will answer questions from community members regarding gun safety. The other events will take place in Raleigh, Austin and Charleston, S.C.   The town halls will urge Congress to pass The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which was introduced on the eighth anniversary of Giffords’ shooting and would require a federal background check on all public and private firearm purchases.

    Indiana superintendent charged after using her insurance to help sick student - An Indiana school superintendent is facing charges of identity fraud after authorities said she used her own insurance to help a sick student. Dr. Casey Smitherman, the superintendent at Elwood Community Schools in central Indiana, took a 15-year-old student to the doctor and used her insurance and her son's name to get him a prescription, according to court documents. Smitherman told investigators she realized the student wasn’t at school on Jan. 9. Worried about his health, she picked him up from his home and took him to the doctor. When Smitherman signed the student in at the doctor’s office, she used her son’s name. After the doctor prescribed Amoxicillin for the student's sore throat, she filled the prescription under her son’s name, court documents said. The student told police that he ripped the label off the prescription bottle because "he knew it was wrong... to have a prescription in his possession with a different name." Police received a tip and followed up with the student’s guardian. Smitherman was charged on Jan. 15 with insurance fraud, identity deception and official misconduct. She was released on bail. After her arrest, Smitherman issued a statement that was shared by local media outlets, saying she remains committed to her students and school.

    Oakland teachers stage unauthorized walkout as contract talks hit impasse - Hundreds of Oakland teachers called in sick or took a personal day Friday to rally in front of school district offices and demand a contract that includes higher salaries and smaller class sizes. Students, saying they are tired of seeing their good, qualified teachers leave for districts with higher pay or a lower cost of living, joined them.The group gathered outside Oakland Technical High School on Friday morning armed with signs, banners, megaphones and drums to call attention to school closures and the rising cost of living, which teachers say is outpacing their wages. The demonstration is not sanctioned by the Oakland Education Association, but teachers said they want to send a message to Oakland Unified School District that unless the district makes a better offer, they could strike. District superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, in a letter Thursday afternoon to parents and the community, emphasized her desire to accommodate the teachers’ requests and avoid a strike.“We are working diligently to avoid the disruption to our students’ lives. Likeyou, we would much rather see our teachers fostering learning in the classroom than walking a picket line,” she said.In a letter to teachers Tuesday, the district warned that participation in the wildcat walkout could be punished with docked pay. In December, about 100 teachers called in sick in a similar demonstration and were subsequently docked a paycheck. Several districts across the country have seen teachers strike in the past year, most recently in Los Angeles, where thousands, striking since Monday, are demanding pay raises, smaller class sizes and more support staff. Most of the walkouts in other states ended once local or state governments conceded to the teachers’ requests.

    The Radical Organizing That Paved the Way for LA’s Teachers’ Strike - The teachers are facing off with the police officers at the picket line—one teacher is in tears—as they explain why they think fellow unionized workers should stand with them, not try to cross the line. One woman taps my shoulder, saying, “The police should be going after bad people, not teachers!” Another picketer asks where all these police cars are when someone gets shot.  But the line holds. The police don’t make good on their threats to cite or arrest teachers, and the truck and police cars drive off. One of the officers even gets on his radio before he leaves and says, “Don’t let them come between us. We support you!”  Four days into the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) strike, the picket lines are working like well-oiled machines—and the groundwork that union reformers put into reshaping a massive organization into a fighting union, one that has taken over the city with mass rallies and pickets, is showing. So is the work the union has put into building community alliances, as parents, students, and community groups continue to organize solidarity actions that include visits to the homes of schoo-board members and charter-school funders. The UTLA strike, which leadership has called “a battle for the soul of public education,” at this point looks to be a model for how to keep public-sector unions strong in the age of Janus Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.  “When you’re a union, you have to go out and support other unions. ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ doesn’t just mean our union, it means all unions,” Gary Herrera of Local 13 of the ILWU tells me. The ILWU’s district council, he explains, set up an adopt-a-school program weeks ago and has been telling everyone to come join the pickets around Los Angeles. But this school is special to them. “This is our community. And I think Harry Bridges would want us to get out and do social things, not just our work.” That solidarity—between the community and teachers, teachers and the community—goes both ways, Gearin explains. Local businesses have also adopted the picket lines, delivering hot coffee and bagels. In turn, the teachers have coordinated—with money from UTLA—to put together brown-bag lunches for local students who depend on the meals (some of them three a day) they receive at the school.  Such solidarity in the community has been key to UTLA’s rebuilding, and it remains key to the success of the strike.

    The L.A. Teachers’ Strike Is About So Much More Than Wages - Los Angeles public school teachers began a historic strike on Monday, for the first time in 30 years. Members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) walked out of contract negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that had dragged on for nearly two years. The specific battle is being fought over LAUSD’s refusal to tap into its record $1.86 billion reserve in order to reduce class sizes, hire more support staff, including counselors and nurses, improve infrastructure and more. But more broadly speaking, the L.A. teachers’ fight is symbolic of a bigger struggle to maintain and expand quality public education for all Americans and to secure the rights that the critical stakeholders—teachers, students, parents—have within that system. The L.A. teachers’ strike comes after several high-profile fights last spring in states like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, where educators tired of poverty-level wages fought for raises and won. But the L.A. strike is broader than those others, not just in terms of the sheer size of the district and the union, but in the demands the union is making. Although LAUSD has offered a 6 percent raise over two years (not nearly enough of what teachers deserve), teachers want an overall better experience for their 600,000 overwhelmingly nonwhite students. They want more nurses and counselors, smaller class sizes and a halt to the expansion of charter schools. Students needing regular medical attention are attending schools where nurses are on staff for only one or two days a week. School counselors and psychologists are forced to work at numerous schools at once, handling emergencies whenever they can. Students who want to use the library have to wait for the brief weekly window during which the school librarian is on call. Meanwhile, charter schools are expanding across the district, drawing from the very pool of limited resources that the public school system relies on, but without being held to the same level of transparency and accountability. L.A.’s teachers are angry about how the district is treating their students—and they have good reason to be.

    Los Angeles teachers angered over secret talks between union, school district and mayor - Striking teachers in Los Angeles are expressing their anger over being kept in the dark on the content of the closed door negotiations between the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union and school district officials, which began last Thursday under the auspices of Democratic mayor Eric Garcetti. While the mayor has indicated that a deal could be reached before Tuesday, neither side has issued an official statement on the talks.The walkout by more than 33,000 teachers, which began on January 14, has pit educators in the nation’s second largest school district against the entire Democratic Party establishment, which has overseen decades of defunding of public education and expansion of charter schools and other privatization schemes. Teachers who have not had a raise in a decade are fighting for improved wages and school funding, smaller class sizes and to halt the expansion of publicly funded private charters that siphon off resources and students from the traditional public schools.UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl and other union officials have claimed that teachers “are the most essential part of the bargaining process.” In practice, however, the UTLA has relegated teachers to the position of cheerleaders while union executives bargain behind their backs. During the course of the weekend negotiations blackout, the UTLA posted a number of videos on social media of teachers taking a break from picketing to dance and sing along with several celebrity endorsements of the strike. This campaign, meant to distract and mollify rank and file teachers, has encountered growing anger from educators determined to carry out a serious struggle. One teacher writes on the UTLA Facebook page, “UTLA leadership seems to be more interested in performances and entertainment. People are NOT getting paid. This is NOT a celebratory occasion!!”

    Union attempts to ram through deal to end Los Angeles teachers strike -The United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) attempted to ram through an agreement Tuesday night to end the six-day strike by more than 33,000 teachers in the nation’s second-largest school district. The deal, which was crafted by leading state Democrats, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and California Governor Gavin Newsom, is a blow to teachers that will pave the way for an escalation of the bipartisan attack on public education throughout the United States.  The manner in which the deal was supposedly ratified underscores the contempt the union executives have for rank-and-file teachers. The deal was announced Tuesday morning, just before a scheduled mass rally. The full text of the contract was not released until the afternoon, shortly before 33,000 teachers, nurses and counselors were told to report to 900 separate schools to vote starting at 5:30 or 6:00 pm. Teachers were told to review the 40-page document, raise any questions and vote on the deal within a couple of hours, in time for UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl to announce that the deal had been “overwhelmingly ratified” at an 8:15 pm press conference. Many teachers expressed extreme skepticism about the vote results, which were not even finalized before the UTLA announced the end of the strike. Ballots are still being counted into tomorrow, and teachers reported overwhelming opposition at their schools. Most of the comments on the Facebook livestream announcing the “ratification” of the contract were opposed to the deal. This sham, which Caputo-Pearl cynically called “democracy in action,” was designed to prevent teachers from gathering en masse and to rush a vote before anyone had time to seriously review and discuss the contract. In addition, many teachers on leave, ill or out of town did not have a chance to vote at all.

    Los Angeles teachers have the right to know the details of the negotiations - The United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union and the school district continued their closed-door negotiations all day Monday, the fifth straight day of bargaining mediated by Democratic mayor Eric Garcetti. While negotiators have spent day after day in City Hall, no details have been publicly released regarding the proposals and counterproposals of the UTLA, the district and the mayor. Over 33,000 Los Angeles teachers have been engaged in a historic strike since January 14, the first time in 30 years that teachers have struck in the second-largest school district in the US. While UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has repeatedly declared that teachers “are the most essential part of the bargaining process,” the reality is that educators—whose lives will be dictated by the agreement—are the only ones being kept in the dark. Beutner and the school authorities know what is being discussed. The UTLA officers know. And there is no doubt that Garcetti has kept Governor Newsom and other top city and state officials informed. Yesterday’s bargaining update on the UTLA web site says, “We are making progress,” but provides no details of the proposals and counterproposals over the last several days. The last full counterproposal from the district that is available on the UTLA site is from January 11. The last UTLA proposal is from January 7. Teachers have a right to know exactly what is being said and what the latest proposals and counterproposals by the UTLA and the district are. They must demand that all contract negotiation meetings be live-streamed and fully available to the public. From the standpoint of advancing the interests of teachers, there is no justification for a confidentiality agreement with Mayor Garcetti. What are the UTLA, the district and the mayor afraid of? The only rationale is that if teachers got wind of a rotten compromise they would get up in arms and fight to prevent it.

    Students and the fight to defend public education --Since the strike by 33,000 Los Angeles teachers began on January 14, large numbers of students have joined their teachers, counselors, and other educators on the picket lines and rallies throughout Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). By taking a powerful stand, teachers are speaking not only for themselves but for educators and their students across California, the US and the world.The International Youth and Students for Social Equality ( IYSSE ) calls on young people to reach out to striking teachers and other sections of workers and youth and fight for the broadening of this powerful struggle. We call on teachers and young people to form rank-and-file strike committees to expand the strike across the state and call on workers across the US and world to join in a common struggle.Students and teachers alike are fed up with the poor conditions in their schools—growing class sizes, less funding for books and special education, too few full-time teachers and nurses.The LA teachers are fighting for living wages and to defend the right to high-quality public education as a whole. This pits teachers and young people against the entire economic and political system—capitalism—which subordinates every aspect of life, including the right to a decent education, to the profit interests of the ruling class of billionaire and multimillionaire corporate executives and bankers. This struggle also pits those who defend public education against both corporate-controlled parties and in Los Angeles and California, in particular, the Democratic Party, which controls every lever of political power, from the school district and city to the governor and both houses of the state legislature.

    'Historic Day for American Unions': Los Angeles Teachers Strike Earns Victory for Labor, Public Education - Los Angeles public school teachers at the nation's second-largest district ended a six-day strike late Tuesday after union members voted to approve a deal—hailed as a major victory for organized labor—that's designed to raise salaries, cap class sizes and charter schools, and direct more funding to schools for nurses, counselors, and other support staff positions. Welcoming the vote of approval by a "vast supermajority" of educators from the Los Angeles Unified School District, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) president Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement, "For too long teachers have lived with a hard truth to tell—that for years our students were being starved of the resources they need.""Our expectations were fundamentally raised by this strike," Caputo-Pearl added. "Together we said we deserve better, our students deserve better. We must keep our expectations high and not let go of this moment, because the next struggle is right around the corner."This is such an incredible scene in downtown LA. Tens of thousands of teachers + supporters in the thrill of victory. Have to imagine this is a historic day for American unions #UTLAStirke #UTLAStrong #LAUSDStrike pic.twitter.com/X1T6fZjx55— Scott Heins (@scottheins) January 22, 2019The Los Angeles chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)—which supported the city's first strike in three decades—declared, "this fight was won with union power AND community p ower," and thanked those who "came together in the pouring rain to make historic demands for public education."

    How the UTLA orchestrated the betrayal of Los Angeles teachers -- The betrayal Wednesday of Los Angles teachers by the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) epitomizes the anti-working class character of unions and the depths these organizations will go to suppress social opposition. Teachers returned to their classrooms Thursday still shocked and outraged over how the UTLA pushed through a contract that ignored their most critical demands to increase wages and school funding, reduce class sizes and stop the expansion of charter schools. One teacher described feeling like there was “a hole in her heart” and reported seeing teachers crying because nothing they went on strike for was realized.In particular, teachers were angered over how the union rammed through the deal without giving teachers sufficient time to study and discuss it, along with the undemocratic voting process. As of this writing, the UTLA has still not completed counting the ballots. From the very beginning, the UTLA did everything to prevent a strike, dragging the negotiating process over 20 months, ignoring the 98 percent mandate to strike, and submitting to endless state mediation and fact-finding. Facing increasing pressure from rank-and-file teachers, the UTLA was ultimately compelled to call a strike for January 10. Three days before, however, UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl announced the union was dropping the teachers’ most critical demands opposing the expansion of charter schools, unlimited standardized testing and other schemes used to privatize education. Caputo-Pearl tried to justify this capitulation by claiming the union had no choice but to accept LAUSD’s position that such issues were outside of collective bargaining.Then the UTLA announced it was postponing the January 10 strike date to January 14. When it became clear the teachers’ commitment to fight had become even stronger, the UTLA called the walkout on January 14. Although there was widespread public support, it was clear the UTLA had no intention to wage the type of battle that teachers were demanding. Although it had not struck in 30 years, the union provided no benefits from its multi-million-dollar strike fund.

    Los Angeles Teachers Make the Case That Charter Schools Are an Existential Threat to Public Education “Isn’t it reasonable to have some regulations on charters?” asked Ingrid King, a kindergarten and dual language teacher at Latona Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. She and two of her colleagues spoke to me from the picket lines during the recently resolved teacher strike in her city. When she and over 30,000 teachers and school personnel walked off the job, it closed the nation’s second-largest school system of nearly a half-million students for six days and filled the streets with huge protests.The strike ended when the district conceded to give teachers a 6 percent pay raise, limit class sizes, reduce the number of student assessments by half, and hire full-time nurses for every school, a librarian for every middle and high school, and enough counselors to provide one for every 500 students.But the concessions teachers won that will likely have the most impact outside of LA are related to charter schools. The teachers forced the district leader to present to the school board a resolution calling on the state to cap the number of charter schools, and the teachers made the district give their union increased oversight of charter co-locations—a practice that allows charter operations to take possession of a portion of an existing public school campus.Los Angeles Unified has 277 charter schools, the largest number of charter schools of any school district in the nation. The schools serve nearly 119,000 students, nearly one in five students. The vast majority of charters are staffed by non-union teachers. (Teachers at a chain of unionized charter schools in the city that joined district teachers on the strike are still on strike.) So the quick takefrom some is the teachers’ union made curbs on charter schools part of their demands because these schools are a threat to the union’s power. But when you talk to teachers, that’s not what they say. They tell you they want to curb charter school growth, not because it threatens their union, but because charters threaten the very survival of public schools.'

    Virginia and Denver teachers set to strike as educators struggles continue to spread - Teachers across the US continue to press their fight in defense of public education in the face of open sabotage by the unions. The United Teachers of Los Angeles on Wednesday precipitously shut down the powerful six-day walkout by teachers with the claims—widely disputed by educators—that a tentative agreement had been ratified and that it was a “victory.” This betrayal comes as additional contingents of educators in many states are clamoring to join in the fight for full funding for their schools and, by implication, pushing for national action. Teachers are demanding a fight against the decades-long assault on public education and instinctively seeking a means to halt the unions’ continual efforts to smother their struggles.  Thousands of Virginia teachers are expected to walk out on Monday, January 28 and travel across the state to protest at the capitol in Richmond to further their fight for K-12 funding. In a vote over the past few days Denver educators have voted by a 93 percent margin to strike. They may also walk out next Monday.Wright State University faculty in Dayton, Ohio are currently on the picket lines. On February 4, 2,000 City College of Chicago faculty and staff are set to walk. And Oakland, California teachers have staged two “sickouts” and could strike at any time. Teachers are entering into struggle after decades of bipartisan defunding of public schools, accompanied by the deliberate promotion of privatization and charter schools. During this period the unions have proven themselves willing partners in every assault so long as their dues-stream is protected. 

    Denver school system apologizes for threat to report striking teachers on visas to immigration authorities - The Denver Public School system on Thursday apologized for saying it would report striking teachers on visas to immigration authorities, theDenver Post reports.The Denver Classroom Teachers Association voted earlier this week to begin a district-wide walkout to secure better pay for educators.Soon after the announcement, one area school received a letter from the district saying that teachers on H or J visas that would choose to strike would be reported to immigration and the U.S. Department of State, according to the Post.The Colorado People’s Alliance shared the letter, which stated that if teachers “have a pending case and choose to strike, this could impact the decision on the case.”District spokesman Will Jones said late Thursday that “an incorrect communication was provided by a DPS employee regarding our educators on H-1B and J-1 visas.”Marisol Calderon, a local teacher, told the Post that employees at her school saw the letter, including one Venezuelan who is seeking asylum and another who is about to become a U.S. citizen.Calderon called the letter a “scare tactic.”“The fact that the district thought this was OK was extremely scary,” she added.The district said the error “was the result of a misinterpretation of the information that we received from our immigration firm, and the communication was in no way intended to cause fear for our educators on visas.

    Capitalist-Style Wealth Gap: 1 Tech Guy = 1,000,000 Teachers - As of 01/20/19, the richest six American tech leaders (Bezos, Gates, Zuckerberg, Ellison, Page, Brin) averaged over $80 billion in net worth. Meanwhile, the 25 million Americans just above the median, many of them teachers, have an average net worth of $78 thousand. That's a difference of a million times. For anyone questioning this disturbing truth, the following information should be helpful: There are over 4 million preschool, primary, secondary, and special education teachers; the median teacher age is 41; the median elementary school salary is $57,000; the median wealth of a 41-year-old is only $60,000. So it's probably even worse than a million to one. Consider also that about 77 percent of teachers are female, and that females suffer the discrimination of lower wealth, especially Black and Hispanic women, for whom net worth is in the low HUNDREDS.   The Los Angeles teachers are striking for better pay, smaller class sizes, the addition of nurses and counselors, and the ending of the rash of charter school openings that suck the lifeblood out of the public school system. They could also be striking for a fairer wealth distribution. A technology boss is not a million times more important than an L.A. teacher.

    College Teaches Ed. Students How To Combat Toxic Masculinity - Students at Lewis and Clark College’s Graduate School of Education can take a course in spring 2019 that will teach them to combat toxic masculinity in the classroom. The course, which is intended for educators, will encourage participants to “analyze the effects of toxic masculinity and how they play out in our classrooms, communities, and lives," according to the course description. Participants will walk away from the course with  “a lesson plan based on an idea or strategy presented during sessions, and will return to their classrooms with strategies to combat toxic masculinity.”Students can receive one semester hour by taking part in the course.The course will be taught by Chris Kelly and Jayme Causey. Causey is a 2016 graduate of nearby Portland State University and of the Lewis and Clark College Graduate School of Education Oregon Writing Project. He has also presented workshops at the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in both 2017 and 2018.Prices for the course are $350 per hour for current students, $250 for those choosing to take the class not for credit, and 20 percent off for alumni of Lewis and Clark College who are also not taking the class for credit. With the release of Gillette's "toxic masculinity" ad earlier in January, the topic of toxic masculinity has dominated public discourse across the country. For their own part, colleges have tried to address the perceived problem through workshops and other initiatives.

    U.S. universities unplug from China's Huawei under pressure from Trump (Reuters) - Top U.S. universities are ditching telecom equipment made by Huawei Technologies and other Chinese companies to avoid losing federal funding under a new national security law backed by the Trump administration. U.S. officials allege Chinese telecom manufacturers are producing equipment that allows their government to spy on users abroad, including Western researchers working on leading-edge technologies. Beijing and the Chinese companies have repeatedly denied such claims. The University of California at Berkeley has removed a Huawei video-conferencing system, a university official said, while the UC campus in Irvine is working to replace five pieces of Chinese-made audio-video equipment. Other schools, such as the University of Wisconsin, are in the process of reviewing their suppliers. UC San Diego, meanwhile, has gone a step further. The university in August said that, for at least six months, it would not accept funding from or enter into agreements with Huawei, ZTE Corporation (000063.SZ) and other Chinese audio-video equipment providers, according to an internal memo. The document, reviewed by Reuters, said the moratorium would last through February 12, when the university would revisit its options. “Out of an abundance of caution UC San Diego enacted the six-month moratorium to ensure we had adequate time to begin our assessment of the equipment on campus and to prevent the campus from entering into any agreements that could later be viewed as inconsistent with the NDAA,” UC San Diego spokeswoman Michelle Franklin said in response to Reuters’ questions about the memo. These actions, not previously reported, signal universities’ efforts to distance themselves from Chinese companies that for years have supplied them with technical equipment and sponsored academic research, but which are now in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.

    MSU Pays for Former MSU President’s Criminal Defense - This does not come as a surprise to anyone in Michigan. Mostly it is quiet here and people are still stunned about something of this magnitude could go on for years. There were numerous complaints by female student athletes of various college ages and under which span 20 years. Complaints made to the university, administrators, coaches, trainers, etc. quietly fell to the wayside with conciliatory answers. “he is an Olympic doctor and he should know what he is doing”, “filing a report would involve an investigation, making an accusation against Nassar, and requires a statement that I felt what Nassar did was unprofessional or criminally wrong”, “you could file a report if you were uncomfortable; but, there may be consequences” Lindsey Lemke is a “Sister Survivor,” the name taken by the 256 survivors of Larry Nassar’s physical sexual assault. She and the others spent the last 18 months fighting “not just for justice for Nassar;” but, they also fought for accountability, “the accountability of Michigan State University who enabled Nassar’s continued abuse” by not reacting. People are stunned this could happen at a state university. And there still is a battle going on for accountability beyond Nasser. Former MSU President “Lou Anna Simon and Coach Kathie Klages face charges of lying to police about when they knew about sexual abuse reports against Nassar.” MSU is paying for their legal defense which is in the $milions along with half of Dean William Strampel’s defense. The mental harm done will never be erased for the hundreds of young women (one as young as 6) which is something MSU forgets when it comes discusses its image and the costs of going to court.

    Feds Prepare To Bail Out Vast Majority Of 90,000 Sears Pensions -  The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp (PBGC) said in a Friday press release that it believes Sears Holdings Corp's "continuation of the plans is no longer possible" following the Company's October bankruptcy, after it was revealed in a Friday filing that Chairman Eddie Lampert's $5.2 billion rescue package does not include pension plans.  PBGC, a government agency, covers individuals' pensions in the event a pension plan shuts down without sufficient funding to meet its obligations. The Sears pension system, meanwhile, is underfunded to the tune of approximately $1.4 billion, which the agency could attempt to recover through the bankruptcy, according to MSN. It should be noted that the PBGC is not supported by general tax revenues, rather, funding comes from four sources; insurance premiums paid by sponsors of defined benefit pension plans; assets held within the pension that PBGC takes control of; recoveries of unfunded pension liabilities from the bankruptcy estates of plan sponsors, and investment income. Sears entered into a five-year protection plan with the PBGC in 2016.  Lampert - then the company's CEO, wrote in a September blog post that the company's pension obligations had become a major sticking point.  In addition to the very difficult retail environment, Sears has also been significantly impacted by its long-term pension obligations. In the last five years, we contributed almost $2 billion, and since 2005 we have contributed over $4.5 billion, to fund our Pension Plans. ... The reality is that, while we strongly believe in our vision and our strategy for the Company, we also have had to address the pressures that result from the unsatisfactory operating performance as well as the ongoing burden of our legacy pension liabilities. -Eddie Lampert

    Too Many Americans Will Never Be Able to Retire -- Noah Smith - Traditionally, Americans could look forward to a comfortable retirement. After four decades in an office or a factory, sometime in their 60s they would lay down their burdens and enjoy a final couple of decades with time to relax, spend time with family and friends, and reflect on their life. But since the financial crisis, older Americans have been increasingly staying in the workplace: Some see this as a positive trend, because it adds to the economy. But others rightfully view it with trepidation, because there’s the distinct possibility that many of these elderly people just can’t afford to retire. Whether their nest eggs were wiped out in the housing crash, or they just didn’t save enough, or whether their kids don’t make enough money to support them, the decline of retirement seems like an ominous development. The pressures on older Americans to work will likely only become greater in the coming years. This is because the young, working population needed to support retirees will see slower growth, and possibly outright shrinkage.As recently as 10 years ago, the U.S. had unusually high fertility rates for a developed nation. The total fertility rate — the number of children a woman can be expected to have over her lifetime — was about 2.1 children per woman, which is the level required for long-term population stability. But since then, the rate has fallen to 1.8 in 2016, implying long-term population shrinkage:Much of this is due to a fall in fertility among Hispanics, whose birth rates are converging with those of other groups. The Great Recession was undoubtedly a trigger as well; permanently lower expectations of income and wealth made child-rearing seem like a more financially daunting prospect. Fewer kids means, eventually, fewer young workers to support an increasing population of retirees. This will result in less money being paid into the Social Security and Medicare systems, requiring either cuts in benefits, a higher retirement age or ever-ballooning deficits. Past experience suggests that Americans will be asked to work longer.

    Booze Good, Weed Bad- CBS Refuses To Air Medical Marijuana Super Bowl Ad - As more and more people shake themselves free from the taboo against the medical and recreational use of cannabis, one would think that the mainstream media would similarly shift with the cultural winds and begin to show more flexibility toward the plant.In the case of CBS, this doesn’t seem to be an option. The network’s stance was made clear when they rejected a commercial promoting the numerous medicinal and health benefits of cannabis during this year’s Super Bowl, when an estimated 100 million viewers will attentively watch not only the Big Game and Halftime Show, but also eagerly gape at the commercials that run during the game.As is tradition, many of the ads will be for alcoholic beverages that viewers often binge-drinkthroughout the day. But ads for medical marijuana to treat glaucoma or improve the quality of life for suffering U.S. military veterans? Now that’s going too far – or so CBS executives say.Keep pumping the booze ads, guys. You’re doing great! https://t.co/BpCzBRBjjP  — Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) January 22, 2019   According to USA Today, Acreage Holdings  – a firm involved in the cultivation, processing, and sale of cannabis – produced a 60-second ad showing three people suffering from a variety of ailments who attest to the healing power of medical marijuana. “It’s a public service announcement really more than it is an advertisement,” Harris Damashek, chief marketing officer for Acreage explained.  “We’re not marketing any of our products or retail in this spot.”

    Uncle Sam Wants Your DNA: The FBI's Diabolical Plan To Create A Nation Of Suspects “As more and more data flows from your body and brain to the smart machines via the biometric sensors, it will become easy for corporations and government agencies to know you, manipulate you, and make decisions on your behalf. Even more importantly, they could decipher the deep mechanisms of all bodies and brains, and thereby gain the power to engineer life. If we want to prevent a small elite from monopolising such godlike powers, and if we want to prevent humankind from splitting into biological castes, the key question is: who owns the data? Does the data about my DNA, my brain and my life belong to me, to the government, to a corporation, or to the human collective?”―Professor Yuval Noah Harari   Uncle Sam wants your DNA. Actually, if the government gets its hands on your DNA, they as good as have you in their clutches. Get ready, folks, because the government— helped along by Congress (which adopted legislation allowing police to collect and test DNA immediately following arrests), President Trump (who signed the Rapid DNA Act into law), the courts (which have ruled that police can routinely take DNA samples from people who are arrested but not yet convicted of a crime), and local police agencies (which are chomping at the bit to acquire this new crime-fighting gadget)—is embarking on a diabolical campaign to create a nation of suspects predicated on a massive national DNA database. As the New York Times reports: “The science-fiction future, in which police can swiftly identify robbers and murderers from discarded soda cans and cigarette butts, has arrived. In 2017, President Trump signed into law the Rapid DNA Act, which, starting this year, will enable approved police booking stations in several states to connect their Rapid DNA machines to Codis, the national DNA database. Genetic fingerprinting is set to become as routine as the old-fashioned kind.Referred to as “magic boxes,” these Rapid DNA machines - portable, about the size of a desktop printer, highly unregulated, far from fool-proof, and so fast that they can produce DNA profiles in less than two hours - allow police to go on fishing expeditions for any hint of possible misconduct using DNA samples.

    Judge rules Iowa's 'fetal heartbeat’ abortion law is unconstitutional - A state judge has ruled that Iowa's “fetal heartbeat” abortion law is unconstitutional. Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert ruled against the restrictive measure on Tuesday in a nine-page ruling, according to The Des Moines Register. Huppert cited a previous ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court where the justices stated that "a woman's right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution." The law would have forced a ban on nearly all abortions as soon as a heartbeat was detected, making it the most restrictive piece of legislation regarding abortion in the U.S. Heartbeats can reportedly be detected within six weeks of a pregnancy. Critics of the bill said many women don't even know they are pregnant at the six-week mark in their pregnancy. The law, known as the "fetal heartbeat" bill, was set to take effect in July 2018. But a judge temporarily blocked it from becoming law until a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union was resolved. Huppert wrote in his decision that defenders of the law didn't provide a compelling state interest in banning abortions after a heartbeat is detected, according to The Register. The Associated Press reported that supporters of the bill will likely request that the state Supreme Court hear an appeal.

    Millions of Americans Flood Into Mexico for Health Care — the Human Caravan You Haven’t Heard About - The Trump administration is trying to convey panic that there’s an immediate crisis on the southern border, pointing to caravans of desperate people who have traveled thousands of miles. It’s true that Latin and Central Americans are coming to the US fleeing violence and poverty, much of it caused by destructive US trade policy over the course of decades. But there’s another massive “border crossing” phenomenon afoot — and Trump has not said a word about it. We’re talking about thousands of US citizens crossing the border each day in search of affordable health care. At just one checkpoint in Yuma, Arizona, up to 6,000 Americans cross the border every day and enter the bustling Mexican town of Los Algodones, seeking heath care. Unlike the Trump administration that seeks to build a wall between the countries, Los Algodones welcomes Americans seeking dental care with open arms. Los Algodones has to be seen to believed. There are more dentists per capita than anywhere else in the world. It seems like every square foot of public space wall is covered with advertisements promising quality and affordable dental care, vision care and prescription drugs. The community’s economy is built to serve the flood of “dental refugees” — mostly senior citizens from the US and Canada seeking major dental care they cannot afford in their own countries, even with insurance. The statistics are jarring. Approximately 74 million people in the US have no dental insurance, according to the National Association of Dental Plans.. But the problem is much larger than people lacking dental insurance. Dental insurance is not really insurance.   Most dental plans don’t cover much at all beyond regular check-ups, cleaning, X-rays and fillings. Beyond that, patients are expected to fork over much of the cost of large but common procedures like crowns, root canals and implants..

    Experts Declare Physician Burnout ‘a Public Health Crisis’ – and Health IT a Significant Pathogen naked capitalism; Yves here. Replying on the work of the health care and IT experts writing at Health Care Renewal, we have been writing about how electronic health care records are a danger to sound medical practice. Among other things, they are designed for billing, not diagnosis or treatment, force doctors to waste time dealing with pages of mechanical drop-downs, and distract them from paying attention to patients. One of many examples over the years: the ECRI Institute puts health care information technology as the top risk in its 2014 Patient Safety Concerns for Large Health Care Organizations report. Note that this ranking was based on the collection and analysis of over 300,000 events since 2009. Experts declare physician burnout ‘a public health crisis’ - Experts from leading U.S. health organizations deemed physician burnout “a public health crisis” in a recent report.  “Physician burnout has received some attention in recent years, but not enough. As a result, it is both poorly understood and getting worse,” Andrew R. Iliff, MA, JD, lead writer and program manager at Harvard Global Health Institute, told Healio Psychiatry. “Like the blind man describing an elephant, people have described the challenges in front of them, including unhelpful electronic health records and a looming physician shortage,” he continued. “We believe it is important to frame this as a systems problem, requiring systemic solutions in order to avoid further adding to ballooning health care costs and undermining the provision of care.”In their paper, experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association recommended ways to address the prevalence of burnout among physicians and other health care providers

    US drug company payments to doctors linked to opioid overdose deaths -- A study published last week in JAMA Network Open found that counties where doctors received payments from drug companies later experienced higher rates of overdose deaths from opioids. A number of previous studies have established a link between drug company payments (even as small as purchasing a lunch) and doctor prescribing behavior. Some prior research has examined the marketing of opioid products and mortality rates.The JAMA Network Open study, however, is the first to link mortality rates with the total marketing of opioid products based on US county-level data, although the researchers are careful to note that they have only established an association, not causation. The study drew data from three national databases. Data on overdoses for all counties was derived from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiological Research Restricted-Use Mortality Files. Data on drug company payments to doctors came from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Open Payment database. Finally, data on opioid prescribing rates dispensed at retail pharmacies came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. According to the study, drug companies made 434,754 payments (totaling $39.7 million) to 67,507 doctors for non-research-based opioid marketing between August 1, 2013 and December 31, 2015.

    Seafood processing water is a surprising source of nutrients - When fish and crustaceans are taken from the ocean for eating, they are held and/or processed in tanks filled with seawater. A one-ton batch of pickled herring requires up to 8,000 litres of water to process, and 50,000 litres is needed for either 1 ton of peeled shrimp or 3 tons of unpeeled. Afterward, this water is treated and disposed of, often at a fairly high cost to fisheries. (One study says fisheries in India pay between US$500 and $1,500 per day.) But researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, led by Dr. Ingrid Undeland, have found that seafood processing water could actually be a valuable resource. The leftover water is filled with protein, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, lipids, and antioxidants. Its composition can contain up to 7 percent protein and 2.5 percent fat. Dr. Undeland told Seafood Source that, when herring is processed, up to 15 percent of its protein leaches into the water. There's no reason why this source of nutrients couldn't be used to feed humans and animals a second time around. Her team set out to extract the nutrients and experiment with various uses. "Using a two-step process, the research team managed to recover up to 98 percent of the protein and 99 percent of the omega 3-rich fats. The process resulted in a semi-solid biomass and a nutrient-rich liquid. After dehydration, biomass from shrimp boiling water was shown to contain 66 percent protein and 25 percent fat." These byproducts have been used in several ways. The biomass was fed to salmon, which are carnivores and typically eat a diet of ground-up fish and other sea animals when farmed. The nutrient-rich liquid was used to 'glaze' frozen fish, which helps to preserve this. Usually this is done with water, but this liquid was found to be even better at extending the product's lifespan. Finally, the liquid was used to grow two types of algae (another great sustainable source of protein) and did "enhance" its production. 

    New York Confronts Its Worst Measles Outbreak in Decades - Through the fall, traveler after traveler arrived in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York from areas of Israel and Europe where measles was spreading. They then spent time in homes, schools and shops in communities where too many people were unvaccinated. Within months, New York State was facing its most severe outbreak of the disease in decades, with 182 cases confirmed by Thursday, almost exclusively among ultra-Orthodox Jews. Health officials in New Jersey have reported 33 measles cases, mostly in Ocean County, driven by similar conditions.  In 2018, New York and New Jersey accounted for more than half the measles cases in the country. Alarmed, health officials began a systematic effort to bring up vaccination rates and halt the disease’s spread. But while there has been progress, the outbreak is not yet over. Health officials said part of the problem has been resistance among some people in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to fully cooperate with health workers, get vaccinations and promptly report infections.“Sometimes they hang up and they don’t want to open the door,” said Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the health commissioner of Rockland County, northwest of New York City, where the worst of the outbreak has been, with 116 confirmed cases. “It’s hard to break an outbreak if you are not getting cooperation.”  Measles is one of the most contagious infections and can live for up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person breathed, coughed or sneezed. Some 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed in proximity to an infected person will get it.

    Officials in anti-vaccination ‘hotspot’ near Portland declare an emergency over measles outbreak - A quickly escalating measles outbreak around Portland, Ore., has led health officials in nearby Clark County, Wash., to declare a public health emergency as they warn that people infected with the highly contagious virus have visited schools and churches, a dentist’s office, a Costco, an Ikea and an Amazon locker pickup station.Someone with measles was at Concourse D of the Portland International Airport on Jan. 7, the county’s public health department advised. An infected person attended a Portland Trail Blazers home game Jan. 11. At the beginning of last week, there were only a handful of confirmed cases. On Friday, the day the emergency was declared, there were 19. By Sunday, that number had grown to 21. The latest update came Tuesday, when county officials said they had confirmed 23 cases and were investigating two more suspected cases. The vast majority of those who have fallen ill had not been immunized. The outbreak makes concrete the fear of pediatric epidemiologists that a citadel of the movement against compulsory vaccination could be susceptible to the rapid spread of a potentially deadly disease. State data shows that 7.9 percent of children in Clark County were exempt in the 2017-2018 school year from vaccines required for kindergarten entry, which includes the two-dose course for measles that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is 97 percent effective. Only 1.2 percent of the children had a medical dispensation, meaning that nearly 7 percent were not immunized for personal or religious reasons. Nationally, about 2 percent of children went without required immunizations for nonmedical reasons. The high rate of nonmedical exemption for vaccines is what makes the Portland area, which sits across the Columbia River from Clark County, a “hotspot” for outbreaks, according to Peter J. Hotez, a professor of pediatrics and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “This is something I’ve predicted for a while now,” he said of the public health emergency in Clark County. “It’s really awful and really tragic and totally preventable.”

    Kindergartens to close early for Lunar New Year amid deadly flu outbreak -- All kindergartens and childcare centres in Hong Kong will shut for the Lunar New Year holiday about a week earlier than planned in an attempt to curb the spread of flu, the government said on Thursday. About 1,000 facilities will begin their holidays on Saturday after flu outbreaks hit more than 35 per cent of them. Some 384 kindergartens and childcare centres have already been told to suspend classes for seven days owing to the rampant spread of influenza. Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee made the announcement at around noon on Thursday after chairing an interdepartmental government meeting in the morning. “We believe this decision will be a preventive measure for the current flu situation, in particular in kindergartens and childcare centres,” Chan said. The minister said a basket of factors had influenced the decision, including the number of kindergartens and childcare centres hit by flu and admissions to paediatric wards at public hospitals. The first day of Lunar New Year is on February 5, but some schools break up for the holiday earlier. 

    Mainstream Media Is Literally Making People Sick - Caitlin Johnstone - A new, updated data set is now available on a psychological phenomenon that has been labeled “Trump Anxiety Disorder” or “Trump Hypersensitive Unexplained Disorder,” and it says that the phenomenon only got worse in 2018. The disorder is described as a specific type of anxiety in which symptoms “were specific to the election of Trump and the resultant unpredictable sociopolitical climate,” and according to the 2018 surveys Americans are feeling significantly more stressed by the future of their country and the current political environment than they were last year. Pacific Standard reports as follows: “As the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency became more and more certain—the contours of the new age of American anxiety began to take shape. In a 2017 column, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank described this phenomenon as “Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder”: Overeating. Headaches. Fainting. Irregular heartbeat. Chronic neck pain. Depression. Irritable bowel syndrome. Tightness in the chest. Shortness of breath. Teeth grinding. Stomach ulcer. Indigestion. Shingles. Eye twitching. Nausea. Irritability. High blood sugar. Tinnitus. Reduced immunity. Racing pulse. Shaking limbs. Hair loss. Acid reflux. Deteriorating vision. Stroke. Heart attack. It was a veritable organ recital. Two years later, the physiological effects of the Trump administration aren’t going away. A growing body of research has tracked the detrimental impacts of Trump-related stress on broad segments of the American population, from young adults to women, to racial and LGBT communities. The results aren’t good.”  I do not for one second doubt that Americans are feeling more stressed and suffering more health-degrading symptoms as a result than they were prior to Trump’s election. But Pacific Standard and its “growing body of research” ignore the most obvious and significant culprit behind this phenomenon which is tearing people’s health to shreds: the mass media which has been deliberately fanning the flames of Trump panic.

    New technology uses lasers to transmit audible messages to specific people - Researchers have demonstrated that a laser can transmit an audible message to a person without any type of receiver equipment. The ability to send highly targeted audio signals over the air could be used to communicate across noisy rooms or warn individuals of a dangerous situation such as an active shooter. In The Optical Society (OSA) journal Optics Letters, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory report using two different laser-based methods to transmit various tones, music and recorded speech at a conversational volume. "Our system can be used from some distance away to beam information directly to someone's ear," said research team leader Charles M. Wynn. "It is the first system that uses lasers that are fully safe for the eyes and skin to localize an audible signal to a particular person in any setting." Creating sound from air The new approaches are based on the photoacoustic effect, which occurs when a material forms sound waves after absorbing light. In this case, the researchers used water vapor in the air to absorb light and create sound.

    Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Vegetarian Environmental Activist Criticized For Traveling Via Private Jet - Today in liberal hypocrisy news, Norwegian billionaire Gunhild Stordalen, who is behind a campaign to save the planet by reducing meat consumption, is being criticized for recently buying a £20 million private jet and regularly using it to fly to exotic destinations around the world. As many of Elon Musk’s critics have also pointed out, pollution created by air travel is a major contributor to global warming.  Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs told the Mirror: "The hypocrisy of this is breathtaking. This is a campaign telling ordinary people they should be eating less than half a rasher of bacon per day for the sake of the environment, while the patron is flying people around the world in private jets creating one enormous carbon footprint. This is a classic case of do as I say not as I do. Militant environmentalists can’t resist the chance to tell people how to live their lives and demonise everyday items of food." Stordalen is a former model who is now a doctor. She recently provided the bankroll for the EAT-Lancet study, which concluded this week that people should, on a daily basis, eat no more than two thirds of a fish finger, a quarter of a chicken breast or a penny-sized beef burger.  Stordalen has been an active campaigner for the green agenda and a outspoken vegetarian, who founded the EAT foundation in 2013. The study itself had quite a carbon footprint, too. It involved 37 experts from 16 countries who were flown around the world to dozens of different locations to try and unveil the plan this week. She is also active on Instagram, recently posting photos of herself vacationing in Greece, Mexico, Costa Rica and Cuba. Recently, Stordalen had also been photographed in a post where she was lecturing people to cut meat from their diets.

    This Common Preservative in Processed Food May Be Making You Tired -- Is it hard to motivate yourself to get off the couch and go exercise? Well, a common food additive you're unknowingly consuming in large quantities might be to blame. New research sheds light on inorganic phosphate—an additive and preservative found in up to 70 percent of the foods in the common diet in the U.S.—and the impact it could be having on your health. The study, published in the journal Circulation, aimed to look at the adverse impacts of consuming too much phosphate in one's diet by examining lab mice that were given a high-phosphate diet. The researchers measured the rodents' oxygen uptake during exercise, showing not just less capacity for movement but also the inability to produce enough fatty acids needed to feed their muscles. While the mice were being observed for a 12-week period, the researchers wanted to draw a comparison to humans, so they looked at the data of people who were enrolled in the Dallas Heart Study. These individuals ranged from 18 to 65 years old, were not on any medications, and had no history of kidney or heart issues. They wore physical activity monitors for seven days, which tied higher phosphate levels in their diets to less time spent carrying out moderate to vigorous exercise. As with the mice, inactivity increased when phosphate levels were higher.

    Toxic substances found in diapers in France- government agency (Reuters) - A variety of potentially toxic substances, including the widely-used weed-killer glyphosate, has been found in babies’ diapers in France, according to a study on Wednesday by the French environment agency ANSES. The study said research had found substances including butylphenyl methylpropional used in beauty products and certain aromatic hydrocarbons as well as glyphosate. All of them pose potential risks. The French government said manufacturers and retailers should ensure that the substances are removed from diapers. The agency said health risks could not be excluded, although French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said the current situation regarding how diapers were made did not pose dangers to the health of babies. Buzyn, Environment Minister Francois de Rugy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire issued a joint statement calling on manufacturers and retailers to take measures within the next 15 days to eliminate those substances from babies’ diapers. “Along with Bruno Le Maire and Francois de Rugy, we are calling on the companies to take all necessary measures to make sure nappies are as safe as possible,” wrote Buzyn on Twitter. “There is no immediate, serious risk to the health of children, but it is paramount to take precautions,” she added. Glyphosate, which is off-patent and marketed worldwide by dozens of chemical groups, is due to be phased out in France within three years, although farmers are exempt from the ban where there is no credible alternative to the pesticide. 

    Glyphosate and Other Toxic Chemicals Detected in French Diapers -- In a study said to be the first of its kind worldwide, French health agency Anses has found potentially dangerous chemicals in disposable diapers. The substances they discovered include glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller, BBC News reported.Anses said it "detected a number of hazardous chemicals in disposable diapers that could migrate through urine, for example, and enter into prolonged contact with babies' skin." Some of the chemicals were found at levels above safety limits while others, like glyphosate, were found at lower levels.The report, published Wednesday, was based on tests of 23 samples of diapers on sale in France between 2016 and 2018, including brands billed as "ecological," The Guardian reported. The agency did not name specific brands, but said the tests were representative of the market as a whole. Some French diaper brands are also sold in other countries, BBC News pointed out. French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn, Environment Minister Francois de Rugy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire have called on French diaper makers and sellers to develop a plan to remove these substances within 15 days.  Companies will be allowed a delay of six months in changing procedures to eliminate the chemicals, BBC News reported. The study found 60 chemicals in all, some of which have been banned in the EU for more than 15 years, The Guardian reported. Anses also said that some exceeded limits for safe exposure based on a "realistic" use estimate of 4,000 diapers for a child during their first three years of life.

    China confirms birth of gene-edited babies, blames scientist Jiankui for breaking rules - The Chinese authorities are holding scientist He Jiankui wholly responsible for creating the world’s first gene-edited babies.He had announced their birth in November, after which the authorities announced an investigation into the matter.A team of investigators told the official Xinhua news agency on Monday that a preliminary investigation had concluded that He had “organised a project team that included foreign staff, which intentionally avoided surveillance and used technology of uncertain safety and effectiveness to perform human embryo gene-editing activity with the purpose of reproduction, which is officially banned in the country”. Between March 2017 and November 2018, He forged ethical review papers and recruited eight couples to participate in his experiment, resulting in two pregnancies.One of the mothers gave birth to twins nicknamed “Lulu” and “Nana”, the investigators said. Another woman is still carrying a gene-edited fetus. They also said that He, his staff and organisations related to his project would be punished according to laws and regulations.The Guangdong government will keep the twins under medical observation.

    Death Penalty Likely for Chinese Scientist Who Created World’s First Gene-Edited Babies — The rogue scientist who created the world’s first genetically modified babies was forcefully denounced by Chinese authorities on Monday for defying numerous laws and committing fraud for the sake of “personal fame and gain” and will face severe repercussions, with many of his colleagues believing he is likely to face capital punishment.  On Monday, investigators in Guangdong province announced that they had completed their preliminary investigation of He Jiankui, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. According to Xinhua news agency, the officials found that the researcher had knowingly skirted supervision, faked laboratory work, forged papers, raised funds and organized scientists to assist in the illegal genetic editing of human embryos.Xinhua reports:  “In June 2016, He started the project and organized a team that included some overseas members. He conducted the gene-editing activities using technologies without safety and effectiveness guarantee.With a fake ethical review certificate, He recruited eight volunteer couples (the males tested positive for the HIV antibody, females tested negative for the HIV antibody) and carried out experiments from March 2017 to November 2018.As HIV carriers are not allowed to have assisted reproduction, He asked others to replace the volunteers to take blood tests and asked researchers to edit genes on human embryos and implant them into the females’ body.… The activities seriously violated ethical principles and scientific integrity and breached relevant regulations of China, according to the investigation.” The lead investigators told Xinhua that He and “other relevant personnel and organizations” would be “seriously dealt with according to the law,” according to the Wall Street Journal. In November, He shocked the world and earned the reputation of a “mad scientist” and “China’s Frankenstein” after formally announcing to the International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong that he had successfully used the CRISPR/Cas9 targeted genome editing tool to modify two twins’ embryos and switch off an HIV-related gene to prevent them from contracting the virus, which their father has.

    Climate change will affect the ratio of male-to-female newborns, scientists say - Global warming will have a variety of effects on our planet, yet it may also directly impact our human biology, research suggests.Specifically, climate change could alter the proportion of male and female newborns, with more boys born in places where temperatures rise and fewer boys born in places with other environmental changes, such as drought or wildfire caused by global warming. A recent study in Japan found a link between temperature fluctuations and a lower male-to-female sex ratio at birth, with conceptions of boys especially vulnerable to external stress factors, wrote Dr. Misao Fukuda, lead study author and founder of the M&K Health Institute in Hyogo. Last summer, Fukuda and his colleagues published a separate study looking at births in areas hit by environmental events that caused extreme stress. They included Hyogo Prefecture after the Kobe earthquake of 1995; Tohoku after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 (and subsequent nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daichii power plant); and Kumamoto Prefecture after the 2016 earthquakes.Nine months after these disasters, the proportion of male babies born in these prefectures declined by between 6% and 14% from the previous year. This data supports the idea that major stress affects gestation, which in turn alters the newborn sex ratio, Fukuda and his co-authors wrote. Stress stemming directly from "climate events caused by global warming" might also affect the sex ratio, Fukuda wrote in an email. Though scientists do not know how stress affects gestation, Fukuda theorizes that the vulnerability of Y-bearing sperm cells, male embryos and/or male fetuses to stress is why "subtle significant changes in sex ratios" occur.

    Supreme Court declines to hear case about toxic burn pits on military bases overseas – PBS Newshour –audio & transcript -The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from veterans who had sued defense contractors over claims that toxic smoke from open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan caused them serious health problems. One of the contractors, KBR, countered that waste elimination procedures were directed by the military itself. As Hari Sreenivasan reports, the afflicted soldiers have no remaining legal recourse.

    Whitmer- Flint needs bottled water until pipes replaced - — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday she is committed to ensuring Flint residents continue getting free bottled water until the city finishes replacing its lead service lines.  But she declined to say whether she’ll push to resume state funding when donated supplies run out.  “I think at this juncture, it’s too early to answer that question with any specificity,” Whitmer told reporters at an unrelated event in Lansing. “What I will say is that until all the pipes are replaced, we’ve got to make sure that people have clean water to drink.”  Nestle Waters North America is expected to provide free bottled water to Flint residents through April as officials work to replace underground lead pipes in the wake of the city’s water contamination crisis. As a candidate, Whitmer criticized a 2018 permit renewal that allows Nestle to pump up to 400 gallons of Michigan groundwater per minute for its Ice Mountain bottled water brand. She also vowed to help cities across the state replace lead water pipes, a process that Flint is currently undertaking, and restore bottled water service to Flint. As of December, the city had replaced nearly 7,000 out of 18,300 lead or galvanized steel water pipes it had identified, and Mayor Karen Weaver said Flint hopes to complete the work by the end of 2019.

    More Salt in Our Water Is Creating Scary New ‘Chemical Cocktails’ - Gene Likens has been studying forest and aquatic ecosystems for more than half a century. In that time he's seen a change in the chemistry of our surface waters—including an increase in the alkalinity and salinity of waterways—something he and his colleagues have dubbed "freshwater salinization syndrome."Likens coauthored a report published last month that found that not only is salinity increasing in many surface waters, but when you add salt to the environment it can mobilize heavy metals, nutrient pollution and other contaminants that are combining to create new "chemical cocktails" in rivers, streams and reservoirs.These cocktails can be a danger to our drinking water, wildlife and riverine ecology. And they've already contributed to a public health crisis in at least one U.S. city."I didn't expect the massive scale of change across the lower 48 that we found—or the magnitude of change," said Likens, who is president emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a distinguished research professor at the University of Connecticut. Lead poisoning was the top headline from the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, but salt played a key role in the tragedy. When the city switched sources of water to the highly polluted Flint River, the water had a much higher salinity because of runoff from road salts, which, without proper treatment, increased the corrosivity of the water. "That change in the chemistry of the water flowing through the pipes liberated lead from the pipes or lead-soldered connections," explained Likens. Lead was the villain, but salt was its enabler.

    Cost of Polluter Penalties at 20-Year-Low Under Trump’s EPA -- Civil fines charged to polluters by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump administration fell 85 percent during the last fiscal year when compared to the average annual amount charged over the past two decades, The Washington Post reported Thursday. That makes last year the lowest average year for penalties since 1994. The numbers come from an analysis of agency data conducted by former EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance head Cynthia Giles, who served the agency during the Obama administration and is now a guest fellow at the Harvard Environmental and Energy Law Program. Giles and other former officials warned that a decline in fines put America's environment and health at risk, since high fines help ensure it is costlier for industry to break the law than follow it. "The public expects EPA to protect them from the worst polluters," Giles told The Washington Post. "The Trump EPA is not doing that. What worries me is how industry will respond to EPA's abandonment of tough enforcement."  Over the past two decades, the EPA charged an average of more than $500 million a year in fines, adjusted for inflation. During the last fiscal year, that number fell to $72 million. The cost of complying with EPA regulations also fell last fiscal year, from an average of $7.8 billion over the past two decades to $5.6 billion.The analysis was reviewed by the Environmental Integrity Project, whose executive director, Eric Schaeffer, said it was a good snapshot of the Trump EPA's approach, since it covered the first fiscal year when only Trump had been in charge and fewer cases would have carried over from the Obama administration.

    A New Way to Curb Nitrogen Pollution: Regulate Fertilizer Producers, Not Just Farmers - Nitrogen pollution is produced by a number of interlinked compounds, from ammonia to nitrous oxide. While they have both natural and human sources, the latter increased dramatically over the past century as farmers scaled up food production in response to population growth. Once these chemicals are released into the air and water, they contribute to problems that include climate change and "dead zones" in rivers, lakes and coastal areas.Reducing nitrogen pollution around the globe is an urgent environmental goal, but extremely challenging—in part because the main human source is agriculture. Environmental policies are especially hard to enforce onfarms because there are many of them over broad areas, which makes it difficult to confirm that farmers are complying. And powerful agricultural interest groups often push back against them. Even for farmers who want to do a better job, managing nitrogen use is challenging. Nitrogen is a key nutrient that helps plants and livestock grow, but it escapes readily into the environment. My research focuses on nitrogen and its many environmental impacts. In a recent study, Princeton University research scholar Tim Searchinger and I lay out a new strategy that targets fertilizer companies as well as farmers. Five companies currently control over 80 percent of North American production capacity for urea, an inexpensive form of nitrogen fertilizer, and ammonia, the main ingredient for all types of nitrogen fertilizers. Four of these companies either produce a more environmentally friendly fertilizer or provide a service to help farmers use nitrogen more efficiently. But these greener offerings occupy a very small niche in the fertilizer market. For example, Nutrien, which makes the most popular environmentally friendly fertilizer, Environmentally Smart Nitrogen, devotes less than 5 percent of its nitrogen production capacity to this product. Nor are these options widely used by farmers. First, suppliers could be required to increase sales of more environmentally friendly fertilizers as a percentage of total sales. Second, their products could be required to achieve a specific performance level where more nitrogen is available to crops rather than lost to the environment.

    “Below 1%”: The Monarch Butterfly Is Approaching Total and Irreversible Extinction  — The monarch butterfly, the majestic black-and-orange pollinator that once covered winter trees like leaves from the Baja California Peninsula up to California’s Central Coast, is facing a sharp population decline that could spell its irreversible doom.According to a new survey conducted by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the iconic North American butterfly, which migrates thousands of miles across the continent on an annual basis, is now hovering inches away from extinction. In 1980, the monarch butterfly population reached about 4.5 million. By the mid-2000s, the count dropped tobarely 100,000 and last year, the number of western monarchs fell to a staggering 28,429 – a 99.4 percent decline that Xerces Society conservation biologist Emma Pelton described to the San Francisco Chronicle as “this other order of magnitude drop.”  “It’s mind-boggling. We’re now down below 1 percent of the historic population,” Pelton explained to the Chronicle. Continuing, the biologist explained that the death of the monarch species could have a knock-on effect on other insects such as bees and insectivorous bird species: “There’s a tight link in a loss of insects and our songbirds, which rely on insects. We have declines in songbirds, and I think that links directly to declines in insects.” By now, the process of extinction could prove inexorable, plunging the monarch into an “extinction vortex” wherein the species will be unable to replenish its numbers through its natural reproductive process. The cause of the monarch’s steep and rapid decline has forced biologists to look for answers as to why the die-off has occurred. A variety of factors could be involved, all of which are tied to human economic activities ranging from logging and sprawling urbanization to pesticide and herbicide use on industrial corn and soybean crops as well as the plowing of the monarch’s milkweed habitat along the route by which it migrates.

    'George' the Snail Marks First Documented Species Extinction of 2019 -- On January 2, a snail named George shriveled up and died in his tank at the University of Hawaii. He was 14 years old, which for a land snail is pretty long in the tooth (or in George's case, radula). But in all of his years, George never sired any offspring. There were simply no mating partners to be found. In fact, George was the last known member of his species, Achatinella apexfulva. And the moment he slimed off this mortal coil, 2019 experienced its first documented extinction.  While George's death came as a bit of a surprise (it's tough to tell when a snail is ill), the extinction of his species has been a long time coming. "Researchers and conservationists have been looking for this species [in the wild] for over 20 years and haven't had any luck with finding them," says wildlife biologist David Sischo, the coordinator of Hawaii's Snail Extinction Prevention Program. Scientists actually thought A. apexfulva had already gone extinct back in the 1990s, until 10 of them were found in 1997 and brought under the university's care. The idea was to set up a captive population whose progeny researchers could one day release into the wild. Unfortunately, none of the baby snails hatched in the lab lasted very long—except George, who was named after the late "Lonesome George," the Pinta Island tortoise who was also the last of his kind. While A. apexfulva has the distinction of being the first to die out this year, it is one of several hundred land snails to disappear from the Hawaiian Islands over recent decades. The archipelago was once home to about 750 land snail species—as many as you'd find in all of continental North America, says Sischo. Unfortunately, only around 10 percent remain, all of which are federally protected.

    Many coffee species threatened with extinction (Reuters) - Climate change and deforestation are putting more than half the world's wild coffee species at risk of extinction, including the popular commercial coffees Arabica and Robusta, scientists warned on Wednesday. Research published by experts at Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew found that current conservation measures for wild coffee species are not enough to protect their long-term future. Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Kew, who co-led the work, said that among coffee species threatened with extinction are some that could be used to breed and develop the coffees of the future, including some that have resistance to disease and that can withstand worsening climatic conditions. He said targeted action is urgently needed in specific tropical countries, particularly in Africa and particular in forested areas which are being hit hard by climate change. "As temperatures increase and rainfall decreases - the suitable area for growing ... diminishes,"  The researchers, whose work was published on Wednesday in the journals Science Advances and Global Change Biology, said their findings are a concern for Ethiopia in particular. Using computer modelling, the researchers projected how a changing climate would affect wild Arabica in Ethiopia. They found what they described as "a bleak picture" for the species, with the number of locations where it grows decreasing by as much as 85 percent by 2080. 

    The contiguous United States just lost its last wild caribou - The last caribou known to inhabit the contiguous United States has been removed from the wild. This week, a team of biologists working for the Canadian province of British Columbia captured the caribou—a female—in the Selkirk Mountains just north of the U.S.-Canada border. They then moved it to a captive rearing pen near Revelstoke as part of a controversial, last-ditch effort to preserve highly endangered herds. The female caribou is believed to be the last member of the last herd to regularly cross into the lower 48 states from Canada.  The 14 January capture of the caribou was “like losing a piece of the tribe in some way,” says Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel tribe in Usk, Washington. It is one of two indigenous nations in the United States that have been pushing governments to maintain the cross-border caribou herd and protect its habitat. In about a month, the British Columbia biologists plan to release the caribou—along with two other animals from another endangered herd—back into the wild, into a larger and more stable Canadian herd. The ultimate fate of these animals, however, is unclear. They are mountain caribou, a distinct ecotype of caribou found only in a forested swath of northwestern North America, which have become endangered because of habitat loss and other factors. Conservation efforts have failed to reverse population declines or prevent the complete extirpation of some herds at the southern end of the mountain caribou’s range, where they inhabit inland temperate rainforests. And biologists can’t say whether any caribou will again inhabit the contiguous United States.

    Alaska Poachers Sentenced for Killing Mother Bear and 'Shrieking' Cubs - Two Alaska hunters will face jail time and other penalties after fatally shooting a denning black bear sow in front of her two "shrieking" cubs, and then shooting the newborns dead. Wasilla resident Andrew Renner was sentenced to five months in jail with two months suspended, a fine of $20,000 with $11,000 suspended and the forfeiture of his 22' Sea Sport ocean boat and trailer, 2012 GMC Sierra pickup truck, two rifles, two handguns, two iPhones, and two sets of backcountry skis that were used in the offenses, according to a press release from Alaska's Department of Law. His hunting license was revoked for 10 years.Owen Renner, Andrew's son, was sentenced to suspended jail time, community service and will be required to take a hunters safety course. His hunting license was suspended for two years.The men will also have to pay $1,800 in restitution, the amount set by statute for killing black bears.The defendants were sentenced Tuesday at the Anchorage District Court. The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Aaron Peterson, told the court that this was "the most egregious bear cub poaching case his office has ever seen" and urged the court to impose a sentence to dissuade others from committing similar offenses in the future.The Renners made headlines in August after they were charged with several felony and misdemeanor crimes for shooting and killing the mother bear and the two newborns in April on an island in Prince William Sound.They tried to cover up their actions but did not realize the bears were part of an observation program by the U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The den was monitored by motion-activated camera, meaning the slayings were caught on video and audio. The younger Renner can even be heard saying, "they'll never be able to link it to us," according to court documents obtained by KTVA.  According to Alaska's Department of Law, the recordings show the Renners skiing to a remote den. Owen Renner fires at least two shots at the denning sow. Not long after the fatal shots, the newborn cubs start "shrieking" and the elder Renner fires several shots, killing the young bears. The men then butchered the mother's body, placed it in game bags and skied away.

    Record cocaine levels in Thames probably not making fish high, experts say  - Londoners’ cocaine habit may show no signs of lessening, but the high levels of the drug detected in the Thames is not harming its wildlife, an expert has said. New research by a team from King’s College London (KCL) examined the water overflowing into the river from sewers during storms.They found the class A drug, which was present in users’ urine and then flushed into the sewage system, could be easily detected in the Thames in the 24 hours after a sewer overflow.  The levels in London were noticeably higher than other cities which have been tested and a marine wildlife expert said cocaine would have a similar effect on fish as humans. “Drugs which affect us will almost always affect all animal life, and invertebrates a little bit more because their biochemistry is much more sensitive,” said James Robson, a senior curator at the SEA LIFE London aquarium.  “Essentially everything in the water will be affected by drugs like these. A lot of the triggers and the ways that cocaine affects the system is really primal.” A study published last summer found critically endangered eels could be made “hyperactive” by the traces of drugs flushed into Britain’s waters. Eels deliberately exposed to cocaine-infused water by biologists at the University of Naples Federico II not only appeared hyperactive but also saw the drug accumulate in their brains, muscles, gills and skin. But Mr Robson said this did not mean animals living the Thames were getting high: The doses used in the Italian study were significantly higher than those detected in London’s waters, he explained.

    Mega water crisis ahead, says expert  - India is staring at a dangerous drought situation ahead unless there is provision of water by March, warns senior journalist Mr P. Sainath The national average rain deficit India registered in 2018 was around 10 per cent. In the post-monsoon period (from October to December 21) the deficit stood at -44 per cent. There could be many livestock deaths unless there is provision of water by March, warned Mr Sainath.  He was speaking at a talk organised by Manthan Samvaad, a city-based forum that promotes intelligent conversation and public disclosure. “In Maharashtra, sowing of Rabi crop has decreased by 42 per cent, which means fodder availability in the market will drop this year, leading to less food for livestock,” Mr Sainath said on the possible drought scenario ahead. “The situation ahead is nothing less than a nightmare, following the drastic climatic conditions witnessed over the years. The IMD is in complete denial on climate change. It instead calls it extreme weather condition. But the reality is, India is in trouble. There will be a serious drought situation ahead. Rainfed farmers will land in deep trouble. Even a good monsoon in 2019 might not be helpful, except for providing initial relief. The situation ahead can worsen and these are all man-made crises.”  According to experts, India is likely to face a mega water crisis and the primarily reason is transfer of water from rural to urban, agriculture to industry, livelihood to lifestyle. “We see that 69 per cent of Indians who live in rural India face water scarcity and in the urban areas we have builders promoting their ventures, which have swimming pools on each floor. Is it not time when each individual measures personal use of water to save wastage,” Mr Sainath asked.

    Desalinated water affects the energy equation in the Middle East – IEA - Perhaps more than in other parts of the world, in the Middle East energy and water are closely intertwined. Any discussion about the outlook for electricity in the region also becomes a discussion about water. As we examined in detail in the latest WEO special report, Outlook for Producer Economies, this is largely because of the way that the Middle East has turned to desalination to help narrow the gap between freshwater withdrawals and sustainable supply.  But this reliance on water desalination comes at a significant cost. In 2016, desalination accounted for just 3% of the Middle East’s water supply but 5% of its total energy consumption.   Countries in the Middle East already have some of the lowest water availability levels on a per-capita basis in the world. And economic and population growth in the region are set to increase demand for water over the coming decades, a period during which rising temperatures in the region could impose further constraints on water supply. Moreover, the consistent under-pricing of both water and energy has encouraged the inefficient use of water and contributed to unsustainable levels of withdrawals from non-renewable groundwater resources. While roughly 85% of the region’s water withdrawals are for agriculture, the value added to the region’s GDP from the sector is less than 5%. The growing reliance on desalination in the Middle East underlines the importance of effective management of the water-energy nexus, with knock-on implications for energy and water security. How things play out in the next decade will depend a lot on the policies and technologies that are put in place. Membrane technologies that use electricity, such as reverse osmosis, are the most common desalination technology installed worldwide. But the Middle East is an exception. The low cost of oil and gas and the prevalence of co-generation facilities for power and water means the region relies heavily on fossil fuel-based thermal desalination (such as multi-stage flash or multiple-effect desalination).

    ‘It’s like hell here’: Australia bakes as record temperatures nudge 50C - It was 48.9C last Tuesday in Port Augusta, South Australia, an old harbour city that now harvests solar power. Michelle Coles, the owner of the local cinema, took off her shoes at night to test the concrete before letting the dogs out. “People tend to stay at home,” she said. “They don’t walk around when it’s like this.” It’s easy to see why: in the middle of the day it takes seconds to blister a dog’s paw or child’s foot. In Mildura, in northern Victoria, last week gardeners burned their hands when they picked up their tools, which had been left in the sun at 46C. Fish were dying in the rivers. Almost every day last week a new heat record was broken in Australia. They spread out, unrelenting, across the country, with records broken for all kinds of reasons – as if the statistics were finding an infinite series of ways to say that it was hot. The community of Noona – population 14 – reached the highest minimum ever recorded overnight in Australia – 35.9C was the coldest it got, at 7am on Friday. It was 45C by noon. A record fell on Tuesday in Meekatharra in Western Australia – the highest minimum there ever recorded (33C). Another fell on Wednesday, 2,000 miles away, in Albury, New South Wales – their hottest day (45.6C). It was 45C or higher for four consecutive days in Broken Hill – another record – and more than 40C for the same time period in Canberra, the nation’s capital. Nine records fell across NSW on Wednesday alone. Back in Port Augusta, Tuesday was the highest temperature since records began in 1962. In South Australia, they declared a “code red” across Adelaide, the state capital. Homelessness services were working overtime and the Red Cross started calling round a list of 750 people who were deemed especially vulnerable.

    'Horrific Mass Grave' of Wild Horses Found in Australia Amid Extreme Heat - About two dozen wild horses were found dead in central Australia last week, Australia's national broadcasterABC News reported.The decomposing horses were strewn along a 100-meter stretch by a dried-up waterhole called the "Deep Hole" near the remote community of Santa Teresa in Australia's Northern Territory.It's not yet clear why the animals died, but locals have tied the grisly incident to the region's sweltering heat wave. “The family of wild horses, including Orreea (Stallions), Marla (Mares), and Ambaa-Agooga (Foals) are likely to have perished from dehydration accompanied by the overwhelming heat," according to a Facebook postfrom the neighboring town of Alice Springs.  The area has baked from nearly two weeks of temperatures above 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ABC noted.  "The prospect of any living creatures perishing in this way has left many locals devastated. All feral animals need to be managed with effective strategies to minimize their impact on the environment and to alleviate any suffering," the post continued. "I just couldn't believe something like that happened out here, first time it happened like that," he added. Australia is currently melting in a record-breaking heat wave. In South Australia, large colonies of heat-stressed bats and pups are literally falling out of trees. In New South Wales, more than a a million fish have died this month alone. The cause of the fish deaths is not yet known, but experts have pointed fingers at drought, climate change and mismanagement.

    When the river runs dry: the Australian towns facing heatwave and drought - As all of Australia suffered through a brutal heatwave last week, locals in the outback New South Wales towns of Walgett and Lightning Ridge were better prepared than most. Almost every day in summer is 40C or above here. Usually, the rivers provide relief: swimming in cool water, fishing for golden perch or Murray cod or seeking the solace of a big sleepy red gum that lines the banks. But this year there are no rivers. With the mercury in the mid-40s, the Narran, the Namoi and the Barwon – all tributaries of the vast Murray-Darling river system – are dry, or reduced to a series of green, stagnant weir pools. The mighty red gums, roots exposed, are hanging on for dear life. Heritage-protected lakes and wetlands are empty, and with them have gone the breeding grounds of native birds and fish.  Australia has endured a searing summer of drought and extreme heat. Hundreds of feral animals have died of thirst or faced culling as they encroached on properties in search of water. All-time temperature records have been broken in South Australia, with Adelaide reaching 46.6C, while Melbourne had its hottest day since the catastrophic 2009 bushfires, and more fires swept through Tasmania.The Murray-Darling basin, which stretches from Queensland, through New South Wales and Victoria before emptying into the Southern Ocean near Adelaide, should be the lifeblood of the continent in such times. But things have gone very wrong on the rivers. At Menindee, near Broken Hill, thousands of fish were found dead on 6 January, including giant Murray cod up to 40 years old. Government ministers blamed the drought that set in across eastern Australia from April 2017. The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, said the environmental disaster was down to the fact it “just hasn’t rained”. “We are experiencing a very, very dry period of unprecedented proportions,” he said. “And when it rains, it will come down in such torrents people will probably be saying ‘what are we going to do with all the water?’ That’s Australia.”

    Record-breaking heatwave triggers power cuts on Australia's stressed grid (Reuters) - Blistering heat triggered power outages on Australia’s strained grid on Friday as demand for air-conditioning soared and coal-fired generators struggled to meet the surge in consumption. To shore up the grid, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) cut power to Alcoa Corp’s Portland aluminum smelter, the biggest consumer in the state of Victoria, for nearly two hours on Thursday evening and on Friday. The record-breaking heatwave over the past week sent power prices soaring across southeastern Australia. Wholesale power prices in Victoria hit the market cap of A$14,500 ($10,298) per megawatt hour (MWh) before midday on Friday, earlier than expected, then dropped to A$300, National Electricity Market data showed. (bit.ly/2W9A7A2) Supply was tight, with a total of 1,800 megawatts (MW) of generation offline in the country’s east, AEMO Chief Executive Audrey Zibelman said on Australian Broadcasting Corp TV. AGL Energy’s Loy Yang power plant and EnergyAustralia’s Yallourn, both in Victoria, were among those with units down. Transmission links from the states of Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia were transferring power to Victoria at full capacity, Zibelman said. “With all of that, however, we found ourselves short...for up to the next two hours,” she said. “We may have to do more over the course of the afternoon, as the demand continues to increase.” The AEMO has ordered cuts of 200 MW, which would affect about 60,000 Victorian customers. Temperatures in the South Australian capital of Adelaide rose to just shy of 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, a record high. Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, was set to hit 44C on Friday, before a drop of about 15 degrees expected mid-afternoon. 

    2018 was the fourth warmest year on record -- and more evidence of a ‘new normal,’ scientist group reports -- The year 2018 is likely to have been the fourth warmest year on record, a scientific group pronounced Thursday -- and joins three other extra-hot years since 2015 that suggest a leap upward in warmth that the Earth may never return from in our lifetimes. The warmest year on record for the Earth’s land and oceans was 2016 -- by a long shot, thanks to a very strong El Nino event. That’s followed by 2017, 2015, and now 2018, said Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist with Berkeley Earth, which released the findings. “2018 is consistent with the long term warming trend,” Hausfather said. “It’s significantly warmer than any of the years before 2015. There’s still this big bump up after 2014, and 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 are all in a class of their own.” While expert groups have sometimes divided on such annual temperature rankings -- and not all assessments are yet in -- Berkeley Earth’s findings appear unlikely to be disputed. The Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European Union body, has also proclaimed 2018 the fourth warmest year on record earlier this month. And Kevin Cowtan, a researcher at the University of York who also keeps an influential temperature dataset, agreed with the ranking, though he noted by email that he is only able to track data through November of last year due to the U.S. government shutdown, leaving his assessment one month short at present. “Our results to November clearly put 2018 in 4th place, significantly warmer than 2010 in 5th,” said Cowtan. “The 11 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2005.” 

    Earth’s 39 Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters of 2018: 4th-Most on Record -Earth was besieged by 39 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2018, the fourth-highest inflation-adjusted number of billion-dollar weather events on record, said insurance broker Aon (formerly called Aon Benfield) in their annual report issued January 22. Only 2011, with 44 billion-dollar weather disasters, and 2010 and 2013, with 41 each, had more. The annual average of billion-dollar weather disasters is 25 since 1990 (see Figure 1 below). The U.S. had the most billion-dollar weather disasters in 2018 of any country, with 16. That's their second highest total on record, behind the 20 billion-dollar weather disasters of 2017. NOAA has not yet released their final list of billion-dollar disasters for the U.S. in 2018, due to the government shutdown. China had seven billion-dollar weather disasters in 2018. The combined economic losses (insured and uninsured) from all 394 weather and earthquake disasters catalogued by Aon in 2018 was $225 billion (2018 USD), which is 33% above the 1980 - 2017 inflation-adjusted average of $169 billion. The great bulk of the 2018 total came from weather-related disasters ($215 billion of the $225 billion). Seven billion-dollar droughts hit Earth in 2018, the highest number on record. The previous record was six, in 1999 and 2015.  Total damages from drought in 2018 were in excess of $27 billion, the highest total since 2013. The most expensive wildfire in world history occurred in 2018: the Camp Fire, which devastated Paradise, California, killing 86 and causing $15 billion in damage. The previous costliest fire in world history was 2017's Wine Country fire in California, which killed 43 and did $13 billion in damage. The world's third costliest fire in history also occurred in 2018--the Woolsey fire in Malibu/Thousand Oaks, California, which did $5.8 billion in damage.

    Shortage of sand may affect global construction industry — Report - A new report says the shortage of sand may likely affect the pace of activities in the global construction industry this year. The report noted that urbanisation and infrastructure development were resulting in a global shortage of sand, the second most extracted natural resource after water. It also stated that increasing sand prices due to scarcity would continue to cause construction strains in many African countries. According to the report by the A.T. Kearney Global Business Policy Council’s Year-Ahead Predictions 2019 report, two-thirds of construction material is concrete, which itself is composed of two-thirds sand. It added that “The global construction boom is therefore having a significant impact on global sand prices. To get a sense of scale, China used more sand between 2011 and 2013 than the United States did during the entire 20th century. In India, the construction boom is fueling not only a price spike—with reports of price increases between 100 and 150 per cent in the past two years—but also a sand mafia that has become notorious for violence. “There are similar criminal groups operating in Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia. US prices for cement and concrete rose nearly 70 per cent between 2004 and mid-2018, driven in part by sand-intensive hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the oil and gas sector. Even desert-based construction hotspots such as Dubai must import construction-grade sand, often taken from beaches, riverbeds, and lakebeds across the world. “This rising sand demand is having devastating environmental effects, including rapidly intensifying the erosion and degradation of water-based ecosystems around the world.”

    Shares of Brazilian mining giant Vale plunge after a company-owned dam breaks - Shares of mining giant Vale plunged after the company reported a dam breach at an iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil that sent mud flowing into a neighboring community.The stock came under renewed pressure after the local fire brigade said it was still searching for 200 people. The brigade said scores of people are trapped in the area due to sludge flows, Reuters reported.Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman later said most of the missing are Vale employees. Schvartsman said bout 300 people were working at the site when the dam burst, and about 100 of those workers have been located, Dow Jones reported.The number of people still unaccounted for raises the prospect of casualties in the region, which was devastated by a fatal 2015 dam break at a mine owned by Vale and BHP Billiton.AFP reported there are "several" deaths in an area outside of the city of Belo Horizonte, citing a local fire service official. CNBC could not immediately confirm the report of fatalities. A statement by Vale — which has not been updated since the company issued it several hours ago — said there is no confirmation of any injuries.

    Hundreds missing after Brazil dam collapse - An earth-filled dam has burst in southeastern Brazil, releasing a river of sludge that destroyed and damaged homes in Minas Gerais state. Some 300 people are missing and nine victims have been found, authorities said.Brazilian authorities were evacuating the area near the Corrego de Feijao mine in the country's southeast after the mine's dam that holds residual waste burst on Friday. The cause of the rupture was not immediately clear. Brazilian paper Folha de S.Paulo tweeted a video showing a river of mud.Some 300 people were missing, firefighters said in a statement. Previously, officials warned that scores were trapped by the river of sludge. Fire brigade spokesman Pedro Aihara said that among the missing were 100 employees of the Vale SA mining company, who were having lunch in the dam's administrative area when the dam burst.Television footage shared by news outlet Universo Online showed firefighters pulling survivors from the mud.Authorities did not immediately release a death toll, but later said nine bodies had been pulled from the mud by firefighters. Officials urged the residents in the low-lying areas of the town of Brumadinho to evacuate. Aerial images from the affected area showed homes damaged and destroyed by the sludge.Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said that he had deployed three of his cabinet ministers to the site.  Our biggest concern at this moment is attending to any victims of this grave tragedy," he added.

    Jump-Starting the Dam Removal Movement in the U.S. -- New eras often start with a bang. That was the case in September when explosives blasted a hole in a concrete dam that had barricaded Maryland's Patapsco River for more than 110 years.Like so many defunct and outdated dams in the United States, Bloede Dam's impact on the Patapsco far outweighed its usefulness. Bloede produced electricity for less than 20 years. By then, so much sand and rock clogged its turbines that the dam became impossibly expensive to maintain. Instead, the power companyshut it down. But for more than 100 years, Bloede stood as a monolith, blocking migrating fish, costing taxpayers millions in upkeep and drowning at least 10 people who couldn't escape the underwater whirlpool at its foot. Excavators are currently removing Bloede's last vestiges. Soon, native shad, alewives and herring will migrate from the Chesapeake Bay to the shoals where their ancestors have spawned for millennia. Boaters and swimmers will reconnect with their local river. The Patapsco River will come alive and boost the entire Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.  Removing unused dams, like Bloede, is one of the most important things we can do for rivers and the ecosystems they support."Think of rivers as the veins and arteries of our country," said Bob Irvin, president and CEO of American Rivers, a national river conservation organization, which also employs this writer. "Just like in our bodies, our veins and arteries work best when they are free and clear of obstructions." A free-flowing river supports abundant fish and wildlife and provides intangible benefits, such as a place to rest and reflect. Rivers also supply two-thirds of Americans' drinking water. While dams can provide benefits in the form of hydroelectricity and water storage, they can also be ecologically disastrous. In addition to blocking fish migrations, human-made structures can destroy seasonal pulses of water that keep ecosystems working properly. Some dams—especially those used for power—can withdraw all the water from streams, leaving entire stretches of river bone dry.

     Shutdown leaves communities near toxic Superfund sites on edge - About a week after the start of the partial government shutdown last month, Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel were told they would no longer be able to reach officials they normally spoke with at the EPA’s regional office near Kansas City. They worried about what would happen if there were an accident at the nearby landfill contaminated with radioactive waste dating back to the World War II-era Manhattan Project. Just as recently as November, a surface fire broke out near the nuclear dump. Steven Cook, a top-level Trump official at the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Response, assured them that the agency’s emergency spill line would still be manned throughout the shutdown. But, he added in an email Chapman provided to The Post, “Please be mindful that we may be limited in our ability to provide a substantive response depending on the issue involved.” Communities living near toxic Superfund sites like West Lake in Missouri feel on edge and in the dark during the shutdown that has paralyzed normal functions at agencies like the EPA. The shutdown is cramping efforts by Trump officials to revitalize the nearly 40-year-old Superfund program -- designed to clean up more than 1,300 hazardous sites around the country -- and put many residents waiting years for a federal response at ease. "It's so crazy that a site can be listed like ours, and then overnight we lose contact with the federal agency responsible for overseeing it," Chapman said in an interview. "It's like they have officially just gone away."

    A teen scientist helped me discover tons of golf balls polluting the ocean -  Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.  As a scientist researching marine plastic pollution, I thought I had seen a lot. Then, early in 2017, I heard from Alex Weber, a junior at Carmel High School in California. Alex emailed me after reading my scientific work, which caught my eye, since very few high schoolers spend their time reading scientific articles. She was looking for guidance on an unusual environmental problem. While snorkeling in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary near the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Alex and her friend Jack Johnston had repeatedly come across large numbers of golf balls on the ocean floor. As environmentally conscious teens, they started removing golf balls from the water, one by one. By the time Alex contacted me, they had retrieved over 10,000 golf balls – more than half a ton.Many popular golf courses dot the central California coast and use the ocean as a hazard or an out-of-bounds. The most famous course, Pebble Beach Golf Links, is site of the 2019 U.S. Open Championship.   Alex wanted to create a lasting solution to this problem. I told her that the way to do it was to meticulously plan and systematically record all future golf ball collections. Our goal was to produce a peer-reviewed scientific paper documenting the scope of the problem, and to propose a plan of action for golf courses to address it.   In total, we collected 50,681 golf balls from the shoreline and shallow waters. This represented roughly 2.5 tons of debris – approximately the weight of a pickup truck. By multiplying the average number of balls lost per round played (1-3) and the average number of rounds played annually at Pebble Beach, we estimated that patrons at these popular courses may lose over 100,000 balls per year to the surrounding environment.  Modern golf balls are made of a polyurethane elastomer shell and a synthetic rubber core. Manufacturers add zinc oxide, zinc acrylate and benzoyl peroxide to the solid core for flexibility and durability. These substances are also acutely toxic to marine life.

    Oceans Are Getting Louder, Posing Potential Threats to Marine Life - Slow-moving, hulking ships crisscross miles of ocean in a lawn mower pattern, wielding an array of 12 to 48 air guns blasting pressurized air repeatedly into the depths of the ocean. The sound waves hit the sea floor, penetrating miles into it, and bounce back to the surface, where they are picked up by hydrophones. The acoustic patterns form a three-dimensional map of where oil and gas most likely lie. The seismic air guns probably produce the loudest noise that humans use regularly underwater, and it is about to become far louder in the Atlantic. As part of the Trump administration’s plans to allow offshore drilling for gas and oil exploration, five companies have been given permits to carry out seismic mapping with the air guns all along the Eastern Seaboard, from Central Florida to the Northeast, for the first time in three decades. The surveys haven’t started yet in the Atlantic, but now that the ban on offshore drilling has been lifted, companies can be granted access to explore regions along the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. And air guns are now the most common method companies use to map the ocean floor. “They fire approximately every 10 seconds around the clock for months at a time,” said Douglas Nowacek, a professor of marine conservation technology at Duke University. “They have been detected 4,000 kilometers away. These are huge, huge impacts.” The prospect of incessant underwater sonic tests is the latest example cited by environmentalists and others of the growing problem of ocean noise, spawning lawsuits against some industries and governments as well as spurring more research into the potential dangers for marine life. Some scientists say the noises from air guns, ship sonar and general tanker traffic can cause the gradual or even outright death of sea creatures, from the giants to the tiniest — whales, dolphins, fish, squid, octopuses and even plankton. Other effects include impairing animals’ hearing, brain hemorrhaging and the drowning out of communication sounds important for survival, experts say.

    Antarctica's krill shift south as icy waters warm (Reuters) - Krill are shifting south towards Antarctica as the oceans warm, disrupting stocks that are eaten by penguins and whales and caught by industrial trawlers, scientists said on Monday. Main populations of the shrimp-like crustaceans, which grow to 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) long and form vast swarms, have moved about 440 km (275 miles) south in the past 90 years, they wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change. “It’s often predicted that species will move towards the poles as the climate warms. It’s already happening with krill,” co-lead author Angus Atkinson, at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in England, told Reuters. “The climate is becoming increasingly unhealthy for krill to reproduce,” he said. Almost 200 nations promised in 2015 under the Paris climate agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Waters in the southwest Atlantic, home to most krill, have warmed 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) over the past 90 years, and krill are concentrating into a narrowing band towards the coast of Antarctica, the scientists said. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reckons krill are among the most abundant creatures on Earth with an estimated total of 780 trillion, excluding larvae and eggs. Krill are food for whales, seals, penguins and other predators. Monday’s study, based on catch data from 1926-2016, also said the average krill was getting bigger, apparently because young krill were less likely to survive. Krill can live for about 6 years in waters around the frozen continent. “Our analysis reveals a species facing increasing difficulty in replenishing itself and maintaining high numbers at the northern edge of the Southern Ocean,”

    World’s permafrost gets warmer; Siberia rises the most   — Scientists say the world’s permafrost is getting warmer, with temperatures increasing by an average of 0.3 degrees Celsius (0.54 Fahrenheit) over a decade. A study published Wednesday found the biggest rise in Siberia, where frozen soil temperatures rose by 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.62 Fahrenheit) between 2007 and 2016. Researchers working on the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost collected usable data for the entire period from 123 boreholes in the Arctic, Antarctic and high mountain ranges of Europe and Central Asia. The temperature rose at 71 sites, sank at 12 and remained unchanged at 40. Scientists say the increases track global warming generally. They noted that thawing permafrost — already recorded at five of the sites — contains organic matter that can release greenhouse gases, further stoking climate change. 

    Greenland Melting 4x Faster Than in 2013, and From an Unexpected Source - Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise."We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"The study comes a week after another study found that ice melt in Antarctica had increased sixfold in the past 40 years and included consistent loss from East Antarctica, a region previously believed to be more stable.The Greenland study also found that ice melt was coming from an unexpected place: Greenland's southwest region, which is not home to iceberg-calving glaciers like the more studied southeast and northwest. But the most consistent ice loss between 2003 and 2012 came from ice melting directly from this understudied region into the ocean."We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers," Bevis said. "But now we recognize a second serious problem: Increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea." The paper found that the region "will become a major contributor to sea level rise" within two decades, The New York Times reported.

    Greenland’s Melting Ice Nears a ‘Tipping Point,’ Scientists Say - Greenland’s enormous ice sheet is melting at such an accelerated rate that it may have reached a “tipping point,” and could become a major factor in sea-level rise around the world within two decades, scientists said in a study published on Monday.  The Arctic is warming at twice the average rate of the rest of the planet, and the new research adds to the evidence that the ice loss in Greenland, which lies mainly above the Arctic Circle, is speeding up as the warming increases. The authors found that ice loss in 2012, more than 400 billion tons per year, was nearly four times the rate in 2003. After a lull in 2013-14, losses have resumed. The study is the latest in a series of papers published this month suggesting that scientific estimates of the effects of a warming planet have been, if anything, too conservative. Just a week ago, a separate study of ice loss in Antarctica found that the continent is contributing more to rising sea levels than previously thought. Another new analysis suggested that the oceans are warming far faster than earlier estimates. Warming oceans are currently the leading cause of sea-level rise, since water expands as it warms. Current projections say that if the planet warms by two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial times, average sea levels will rise by more than two feet,and 32 million to 80 million people will be exposed to coastal flooding. Much of the previous research on Greenland’s ice has dealt with the southeast and northeast parts of the island, where large chunks of glacial ice calve into the sea. The new paper focuses on the ice-covered stretches of southwest Greenland, which has few large glaciers and was not generally considered as important a source of ice loss.  But as the earth warms, the paper concludes, the vast plains of southwestern ice will increasingly melt, with the meltwater flowing to the ocean. Within two decades, it says, the region “will become a major contributor to sea level rise.”

    Greenland is approaching the threshold of an irreversible melt, and the consequences for coastal cities could be dire Greenland's ice is melting four times faster now than it was 16 years ago.In 2012, Greenland lost more than 400 billion tons of ice — almost quadruple the loss in 2003. Except for a one-year lull between 2013 and 2014, those losses continue to accelerate.A recent study used data from satellites and a GPS network on the ground to determine that Greenland's ice is melting faster than we thought. The authors wrote that within the next 20 years, that melt "will become a major future contributor to sea-level rise." What's more, the study highlighted risks in Greenland's southwestern region, which isn't typically known to be a source of ice loss. Most melt comes from other areas, where icebergs slough off glaciers and float out to sea. Greenland's southwestern region doesn't have many such glaciers, but it's responsible for more meltwater in the ocean than other parts of the island, Quartz reported."This is going to cause additional sea-level rise," Michael Bevis, lead author of the paper and a professor at Ohio State University, told National Geographic. "We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point." This news comes in the wake of another ominous study published earlier this month, which found that Antarctica's ice melt is also speeding up. In the 1980s, Antarctica lost 40 billion tons of ice annually. In the last decade, that number jumped to an average of 252 billion tons per year. Recent research has also revealed that oceans are heating up 40% faster than experts thought, and that 2018 was the warmest year on record for ocean temperatures. Roughly 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles) in size, the Greenland ice sheet covers an area almost three times the size of Texas. Together with Antarctica's ice sheet, it contains more than 99% of the world's fresh water, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. If the entire Greenland ice sheet were to melt — granted, this would take place over centuries — it would mean a 23-foot rise in sea level, on average. That's enough to submerge the southern tip of Florida.

    Scientists Melt a Mile-Deep Hole in Antarctica to Study Climate Change - A group of scientists and engineers led by the British Antarctic Survey dug a 1.3-mile deep hole through the ice sheet in West Antarctica—the deepest hole ever made in the region using hot water, according to BBC News.By reaching the base of the Rutford Ice Stream, the researchers hope to understand how the area responds to a warming climate, according to a press release.The project, called Bed Access, Monitoring and Ice Sheet History (BEAMISH), comes after 20 years of planning. Another hole was attempted in 2004 but failed.But on Jan. 8, after 63 hours of non-stop drilling in temperatures as low as low as -22°F, the team broke through to the sediment 7,060-feet below the surface. A series of instruments were then threaded through the borehole to record water pressure, ice temperature and deformation of the surrounding ice. "I have waited for this moment for a long time and am delighted that we've finally achieved our goal," lead scientist Andy Smith said in the press release. "There are gaps in our knowledge of what's happening in West Antarctica and by studying the area where the ice sits on soft sediment we can understand better how this region may change in the future and contribute to global sea-level rise."

    For 20 Years, US Carbon Emissions Have Been Dropping. Last Year, They Spiked. --The signals are blaring: Dramatic changes to our climate are well upon us. These changes — we know thanks to a steady drumbeat of alarming official reports over the past 12 months — could cripple the U.S. economy, threaten to make vast stretches of our coastlines uninhabitable, make basic food supplies scarce and push millions of the planet’s poorest people into cities and across borders as they flee environmental perils.  And so it stings particularly badly to learn from a new report released this week by the Rhodium Group, a private research company, that U.S. emissions — which amount to one-sixth of the planet’s — didn’t drop in 2018 but instead skyrocketed. The 3.4 percent jump in CO2 for 2018, projected by the Rhodium Group, would be second-largest surge in greenhouse gas emissions from the United States since 1996, when Bill Clinton was president.    The report notes that Americans consumed significantly more electricity in 2018 than in years past, and that demand for trucking (think shipping) and jet fuel (lots more people flew) also grew substantially. More alarming are the large jumps in U.S. emissions from industry and from buildings — which the report’s authors note are largely “ignored in clean energy and climate policymaking.” Heating and cooking-related emissions from old, often-inefficient buildings jumped 10 percent, in part due to a growing population and despite a warmer-than-average winter. As manufacturing was buoyed by the strong economy, the emissions the sector produced jumped by nearly 6 percent. The Rhodium Group forecasts those emissions will continue to grow.  Until now, it had seemed we were making modest, if insufficient, progress, largely, many experts declared, as coal-fired power plants were phased out and replaced with natural gas, which burns cleaner out of the smokestack. For two decades, U.S. emissions had been steadily dropping, chipping off more than 1 percent annually in most years since peaking in 2007. This week’s emissions forecast is a reminder that, as John McArthur, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution recently wrote, “Every new unit of economic gain is still cranking out a corresponding unit of environmental pain.”

    2019 Atmospheric CO2 Increase ‘Will Be One of the Biggest on Record’ -- In 2019, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will make one of their highest leaps in the past 62 years of measurement, the UK's Met Office predicted Friday.This is because the tropical Pacific ocean is expected to be warmer this year, which leads to hotter and drier conditions that make it more difficult for plants to grow and absorb the excess carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels, which is fueling climate change.Professor Richard Betts of the Met Office Hadley Center explained in depth:"Since 1958, monitoring at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii has registered around a 30 per cent increase in the concentration of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. This is caused by emissions from fossil fuels, deforestation and cement production, and the increase would have been even larger if it were not for natural carbon sinks which soak up some of the excess CO2. This year we expect these carbon sinks to be relatively weak, so the impact of record high human-caused emissions will be larger than last year."The Met Office predicted that average atmospheric carbon dioxide levels recorded at Mauna Loa in 2019 will be around 2.75 parts per million more than those recorded in 2018. This would make 2019's rise one of the highest on record, lower only than those observed during the El Niño years of 1997-1998 and 2015-2016. "The year-on-year increase of CO2 is getting steadily bigger as it has done throughout the whole of the 20th century," the Met Office's Dr. Chris Jones told BBC News. "What we are seeing for next year will be one of the biggest on record and it will certainly lead to the highest concentration of CO2."

    Record Number of Americans See Climate Change As a Current Threat - More Americans are very worried about global warming and say the issue is personally important to them than ever before, according to a new poll released Tuesday.  The polling may indicate that extreme weather events — coupled with a series of grim scientific findings — over the past year are starting to change peoples' minds about climate change, which could have significant implications for any significant climate legislation passing Congress.  The key finding from the new survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication is that Americans increasingly view global warming as a present-day threat to them, rather than an issue that will affect future generations. Nearly half of Americans (46%) said they personally experienced the effects of global warming — a 15-point spike since March 2015.

    • In addition, 48% of Americans think people in the U.S. are being harmed by global warming "right now," an increase of 16 points since March 2015, and by nine points since the previous survey in March 2018.
    • This message also comes through in a separate poll released Tuesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, which found that Americans' experience with extreme weather events in their backyard helps determine their views on climate change.
    • About 7 in 10 Americans (72%) say the issue of global warming is either "extremely," "very," or "somewhat" important to them personally, which is a record high in the Yale-George Mason poll.
    • The proportion of Americans who view global warming as personally important has increased by 16 points since March 2015, and by nine points since the groups' previous survey in March 2018.
    • More than half of Americans (57%) understand that most scientists agree that global warming is happening, the highest level since 2008.
    • About seven in 10 Americans say they are at least "somewhat worried" about global warming. About three in 10 are "very worried" about it, the highest level since 2008.
    • About 65% of Americans think global warming is affecting weather in the U.S., including 58% who either think global warming is affecting U.S. weather "a lot" or "some."

     Pentagon report says bases face climate risks, but critics say it’s short on details - Dozens of military installations around the country already are experiencing the impacts of climate change, and rising seas, wildfires and other climate-fueled disasters are likely to cause increasing problems for the armed forces, the Defense Department said Thursday in a report to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.The 22-page document comes in response to a request from Congress in an annual funding bill, which required defense officials to provide a list of the 10 most vulnerable sites that each military branch faces over the next two decades, and an analysis of what could be done to protect them.The document affirms a longstanding sense that the U.S. military, with massive energy needs and bases flung around the globe – including some on low-lying islands -- is well attuned to how the planet is changing due to the burning of fossil fuels.But while the report calls climate change “a national security issue” and highlights individual bases that face potential impacts, it did not include such a list of the most at-risk installations -- an omission that drew quick criticism on Friday.“It seems like they have not made it past anecdote to analysis,” said John Conger, director of the C enter for Climate and Security and former acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and the environment. “It’s concerning to me because Congress was looking for the department’s best judgment on how to prioritize the risks.”

    Ocasio-Cortez calls climate change ‘our World War II,’ warns the world will end in 12 years - Speaking at an event commemorating Martin Luther King Day, Ocasio-Cortez expressed how the issue of climate change is a “generational” issue that younger people are more focused on. “Millennials and people, you know, Gen Z and all these folks that will come after us are looking up and we’re like: ‘The world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change and your biggest issue is how are we gonna pay for it?' Ocasio-Cortez said. The Democratic Socialist said the fight against climate change is war and that it’s “our World War II.” While a steady stream of international reports have raised alarm about climate change, they stop markedly short of predicting the end of the world. A widely publicized study last fall by a United Nations panel said the world should take “unprecedented” actions to cut carbon emissions in the next decade – this, to avoid rising past 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. 

    Climate scientists refute 12-year deadline to curb global warming - Prominent climate scientists are pushing back against the view, promoted by media coverage of recent science reports as well as climate advocates, that we have only 12 years to act on global warming or face an existential threat to humanity. This do-or-die framing has found a powerful advocate in Democratic freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said on Monday that millennials understand that we only have 12 years or "the world is going to end." She is pushing a broad policy proposal to address climate change, known as the Green New Deal.: During the past year, several scientific reports have been released that underscore the urgency of slashing emissions of greenhouse gases to avoid facing severe consequences from global warming.A particularly influential report was published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018. It found that global warming could still be held to 1.5°C, or 2.7°F, of warming relative to preindustrial levels, especially if: Net human-caused carbon dioxide emissions decline by 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, and reach "net zero" by roughly mid-century.  While there were only 12 years left till 2030 when the IPCC report came out, the reality is that we have a diverse array of choices before us in terms of how soon to make emissions cuts and how significant and costly they are, top climate scientists told Axios. Their comments were about the framing of a rigid 12-year timetable in general, not specifically in reaction to Ocasio-Cortez's remarks.   "12 years isn't a deadline, and climate change isn't a cliff we fall off — it's a slope we slide down," said Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at NASA. "We don't have 12 years to prevent climate change — we have no time.  It's already here. And even under a business-as-usual scenario, the world isn't going to end in exactly twelve years."

    Google and Facebook Backed an Event Denying Climate Change Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have publicly acknowledged the dangers of global warming, but last week they all sponsored a conference that promoted climate change denial to young libertarians.All three tech companies were sponsors of LibertyCon, the annual convention of the libertarian group Students for Liberty, which took place in Washington, DC. Google was a platinum sponsor, ponying up $25,000, and Facebook and Microsoft each contributed $10,000 as gold sponsors. The donations put the tech companies in the top tier of the event’s backers. But the donations also put the firms in company with some of the event’s other sponsors, which included three groups known for their work attacking climate change science and trying to undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Among the most notable was the CO2 Coalition, a group founded in 2015 to spread the “good news” about a greenhouse gas whose increase in the atmosphere is linked to potentially catastrophic climate change. The coalition is funded by conservative foundations that have backed other climate change denial efforts. These include the Mercer Family Foundation, which in recent years has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to right-wing think tanks engaged in climate change denialism, and the Charles Koch Institute, the charitable arm of one of the brothers behind Koch Industries, the oil and gas behemoth. In the LibertyCon exhibit hall, the CO2 Coalition handed out brochures that said its goal is to “explain how our lives and our planet Earth will be improved by additional atmospheric carbon dioxide.” One brochure claimed that “more carbon dioxide will help everyone, including future generations of our families” and that the “recent increase in CO2 levels has had a measurable, positive effect on plant life,” apparently because the greenhouse gas will make plants grow faster.

    Record private jet flights into Davos as leaders arrive for climate talk  - David Attenborough might have urged world leaders at Davos to take urgent action on climate change, but it appears no one was listening. As he spoke, experts predicted up to 1,500 individual private jets will fly to and from airfields serving the Swiss ski resort this week. Political and business leaders and lobbyists are opting for bigger, more expensive aircrafts, according to analysis by the Air Charter Service, which found the number of private jet flights grew by 11% last year. “There appears to be a trend towards larger aircraft, with expensive heavy jets the aircraft of choice, with Gulfstream GVs and Global Expresses both being used more than 100 times each last year,” said Andy Christie, private jets director at the ACS. This is partly due to the long distances travelled, he said, “but also possibly due to business rivals not wanting to be seen to be outdone by one another”. Last year, more than 1,300 aircraft flights were recorded at the conference, the highest number since ACS began recording private jet activity in 2013. Countries with the highest number of arrivals and departures out of the local airports over the past five years included Germany, France, UK, US, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, according to ACS.  The World Economic Forum’s global risk report, released ahead of this week’s meeting, identified environmental challenges, including the failure to mitigate climate change, as top of the list of dangers facing the world economy.

    The new elite’s phoney crusade to save the world – without changing anything  -  Today’s titans of tech and finance want to solve the world’s problems, as long as the solutions never, ever threaten their own wealth and power. Conferences and ideas festivals sponsored by plutocrats and big business – such as the World Economic Forum, which is under way in Davos, Switzerland, this week – host panels on injustice and promote “thought leaders” who are willing to confine their thinking to improving lives within the faulty system rather than tackling the faults. Profitable companies built in questionable ways and employing reckless means engage in corporate social responsibility, and some rich people make a splash by “giving back” – regardless of the fact that they may have caused serious societal problems as they built their fortunes. Elite networking forums such as the Aspen Institute and the Clinton Global Initiative groom the rich to be self-appointed leaders of social change, taking on the problems people like them have been instrumental in creating or sustaining. A new breed of community-minded so-called B Corporations has been born, reflecting a faith that more enlightened corporate self-interest – rather than, say, public regulation – is the surest guarantor of the public welfare. A pair of Silicon Valley billionaires fund an initiative to rethink the Democratic party, and one of them can claim, without a hint of irony, that their goals are to amplify the voices of the powerless and reduce the political influence of rich people like them.

    Erin Brockovich to lead protest against PG&E bankruptcy at Capitol in Sacramento. - Erin Brockovich, the activist whose crusade against PG&E spawned a hit movie, will appear with wildfire survivors at the Capitol in Sacramento to protest the utility’s plans to file for bankruptcy. The rally is set for noon Tuesday on the south steps of the Capitol, according to an announcement Friday by a consortium of law firms suing PG&E on behalf of wildfire survivors. PG&E announced it plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of January because it doesn’t have the money to pay an estimated $30 billion in potential liabilities from the 2017 wine country fires and last November’s Camp Fire. The blaze destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 86 people, making it the deadliest fire in California history. Bankruptcy would turn wildfire claimants into unsecured creditors, along with bondholders holding billions in PG&E debt. It’s unlikely that the fire survivors would get paid in full, legal experts say. Noreen Evans, a Santa Rosa lawyer working with Brockovich, noted that the Legislature approved a partial bailout plan last year that could force ratepayers to absorb at least some of the costs of the 2017 fires. But the law, SB 901, says nothing about the 2018 fires, leaving Camp Fire victims potentially holding the bag as the utility’s finances deteriorate. 

    PG&E Is Cleared in Deadly Tubbs Fire of 2017 - NYT — Pacific Gas and Electric Company, with billions of dollars of potential wildfire liabilities pushing it toward bankruptcy, has been cleared of responsibility for one giant 2017 fire in Northern California, brightening its financial outlook.   The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Thursday that private electrical equipment at a home was responsible for starting the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County in October 2017. The exact cause could not be determined, however, because much of the equipment was destroyed in the fire, which eventually killed 22 people and destroyed over 5,600 buildings.After the department made the announcement, PG&E’s stock soared, closing up 75 percent on Thursday at $13.95. Even so, the shares remain much lower than where they were before last November, when a new wave of devastating fires swept through the utility’s vast service territory.  PG&E, facing an estimated $30 billion of liability for fires in 2017 and 2018, said last week that it planned to seek bankruptcy protection by the end of the month. California officials say the company’s equipment caused at least 17 of 21 major 2017 wildfires in the state.

     PG&E says it might have to quintuple rates if it's forced to clear trees and inspect electric grid - California utility company PG&E said in a court filing Wednesday that it can't afford a federal judge's order to inspect its energy grid and clear trees that could fall into its power lines, work it estimates would cost between $75 billion and $150 billion.The company told the U.S. District Court in San Francisco that the judge's so-called vegetation management plan would force it to dramatically increase the rates it charges customers to employ more than 650,000 full-time workers."PG&E would inevitably need to turn to California ratepayers for funding, resulting in a substantial increase — an estimated one-year increase of more than five times current rates in typical utility bills," it said in the filing.The work was proposed in a Jan. 9 order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup. "The work that would be required is so labor-intensive and costly that compliance is technically and operationally infeasible," PG&E said in the court filing. "PG&E would be required within less than five months to remove or trim trees and branches that could bend, break or fall into powerlines, poles or electric equipment in high-wind conditions." PG&E faces at least $30 billion in potential liability costs stemming from wildfires in 2017 and 2018, many allegedly started by the company's equipment, that have led state officials to doubt the safety of the company's electric distribution system. Investigators have already determined PG&E's equipment was liable in at least 17 major wildfires in 2017. State investigators are still working to determine if the company's equipment was partly responsible for November's Camp Fire, which killed at least 86 people and destroyed about 14,000 homes, making it the state's deadliest fire.

    US shutdown stalls training, other prep for wildfire season -— Just two months after a wildfire wiped out Paradise, California, officials are gearing up for this year’s fire season and fear the government shutdown could make it even more difficult than one of the worst in history. The winter months are critical for wildfire managers who use the break from the flames to prepare for the next onslaught, but much of that effort has ground to a halt on U.S. land because employees are furloughed. Firefighting training courses are being canceled from Tennessee to Oregon, piles of dead trees are untended in federal forests and controlled burns to thin dry vegetation aren’t getting done. Although the furloughs only affect federal employees, the collaborative nature of wildland firefighting means the pain of the four-week-long shutdown is having a ripple effect — from firefighters on the ground to federal contractors and top managers who control the firefighting strategy. State and local crews who need training classes, for example, are scrambling without federal instructors. Conservation groups that work with the U.S. Forest Service to plan wildfire-prevention projects on federal lands are treading water. Annual retreats where local, state and federal firefighting agencies strategize are being called off. The fire season starts as early as March in the southeastern United States, and by April, fires pop up in the Southwest. Last year’s most devastating fire leveled the Northern California town of Paradise just before Thanksgiving, leaving just a few months to prepare between seasons. “I think a lot of people don’t understand that while there’s not fire going on out there right now, there’s a lot of really critical work going on for the fire season — and that’s not getting done,” said Michael DeGrosky, chief of the Fire Protection Bureau for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

    Judge Dismisses Company’s Racketeering Claims Against Greenpeace -- A U.S. judge on Tuesday dismissed the most serious claims in a lawsuit brought by a Canadian logging company that accused Greenpeace and another advocacy group of running a criminal enterprise to damage the company.The case, and a similar one filed later by the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, had gained the attention of civil liberties and environmental advocacy organizations who warned it could set a dangerous precedent if it were allowed to proceed. These groups argued that the lawsuit, filed by Resolute Forest Products, aimed to silence legitimate advocacy by characterizing the basic elements of activists' campaign work as a criminal conspiracy.By invoking the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, a federal conspiracy law that was devised to ensnare mobsters, the lawsuit threatened the defendants with a lengthy and complex legal battle and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. "The judge's decision to throw out the abusive racketeering charges is a positive development and a win for advocacy," said Tom Wetterer, general counsel for Greenpeace USA, in a statement. "From day one, it was clear Resolute intended to bully legitimate advocacy organizations and forest defenders by abusing laws designed to curtail the mafia." While U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar dismissed the racketeering claims, he also ruled that defamation and unfair competition claims against Greenpeace could continue. All of the claims again the other organization, Stand.earth, were dropped.

    Exxon Reps Pose as Reporters to Query Lawyer Leading Climate Lawsuit Against the Company - Two public relations strategists representing Exxon recently posed as journalists in an attempt to interview an attorney representing Colorado communities that are suing Exxon for climate change-related damages.The strategists—Michael Sandoval and Matt Dempsey—are employed by FTI Consulting, a firm long linked with the oil and gas industry. They did not deny they represent Exxon. The duo are listed as writers for Western Wire, a website by the Western Energy Alliance, a regional oil and gas association that includes Exxon as a member and an Exxon executive sits on its board.Their call to Marco Simons, general counsel for EarthRights International, who represents the city and county of Boulder and the County of San Miguel in a lawsuit the communities filed last year seeking climate damages from Exxon, potentially runs afoul of ethics rules for both the legal and public relations industries, and appeared to be a fishing expedition for information about Simons’ clients in that suit.On the call to Simons, which was recorded and released by EarthRights, the two men pressed for an interview even though Simons quickly said he couldn’t talk to them if they represented Exxon in any way. When they evaded the question, Simons refused to comment.  Western Wire, which bills itself as the “go-to source for news, commentary and analysis on pro-growth, pro-development policies across the West,” is staffed with strategists from FTI Consulting, a public relations firm that also provides staff to Energy In Depth, a pro-fossil fuel “research, education and public outreach campaign” and a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. It was founded in 2009 with funding fromXTO Energy, which is now an Exxon subsidiary.

    U.S. copper projects gain steam thanks to electric vehicle trend (Reuters) - Once seen as a laggard in the global mining industry, U.S. copper deposits have quietly drawn more than $1.1 billion in investments from small and large miners alike as Tesla and other electric carmakers scramble for more of the red metal. Four U.S. copper projects are set to open by next year - the first to come online in more than a decade - with several mine expansions also underway across the country, home to the world’s fifth-largest copper reserves, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The rising popularity of electric vehicles - which use twice as much copper as internal combustion engines - and increasingly pro-mining policies in the U.S. while other nations exert greater control over their mineral deposits are fueling the spending, according to mining executives and investors. “Fifteen years ago, U.S. mining was thought to be a dead industry, but now it’s a profitable area for us,” said Richard Adkerson, chief executive of Freeport-McMoran Inc. The Phoenix-based miner, which last month relinquished majority control of the world’s second-largest copper mine under pressure from the Indonesian government even though it will remain the project’s operator, is set to open a $850 million expansion of one of its Arizona copper mines next year. “The U.S. is really the core for our future growth,” Adkerson said. The U.S. is home to half of Freeport’s reserves. The buildouts are expected to boost U.S. copper production by at least 8 percent in the next four years, according to data from the International Copper Study Group and DBS, with Nevada Copper Corp, Taseko Mines, THEMAC Resources Group and Excelsior Mining Corp aiming to open copper mines by the end of 2020. The development trend has gone largely under the radar, with copper industry customers like Tesla Inc - rather than miners themselves - grabbing the headlines. The prospect of a copper boom in the U.S., where the Trump administration is pushing for mining permit approvals to be approved five times faster and where resource nationalism fears are largely absent, is starting to draw major institutional investors. 

    IEA Chief: EVs Are Not The End Of The Oil Era - Electric vehicles (EVs) today are not the end of global oil demand growth, nor are they the key solution to reducing carbon emissions, Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said during the ‘Strategic Outlook on Energy’ panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday. According to Birol, analysts need to put things into perspective and consider that five million EVs globally is nothing compared to 1 billion internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. “This year we expect global oil demand to increase by 1.3 million barrels per day. The effect of 5 million cars is 50,000 barrels per day. 50,000 versus 1.3 million.” “Cars are not the driver of oil demand growth. Full stop,” Birol said. The drivers of oil demand growth are trucks, the petrochemical industry, and planes, with Asia just starting to fly, the IEA’s head said. “To say that the electric car is the end of oil is definitely misleading,” Birol noted. “Electric cars today are not the end of the oil era,” he reiterated. EVs are not the ultimate solution to the climate change problem because most of the electricity used to charge the vehicles comes from fossil fuels, Birol added.

    EIA forecasts renewables will be fastest growing source of electricity generation - EIA expects non-hydroelectric renewable energy resources such as solar and wind will be the fastest growing source of U.S. electricity generation for at least the next two years. EIA’s January 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) forecasts that electricity generation from utility-scale solar generating units will grow by 10% in 2019 and by 17% in 2020. According to the January STEO, wind generation will grow by 12% and 14% during the next two years. EIA forecasts total U.S. electricity generation across all fuels will fall by 2% this year and then show very little growth in 2020. EIA projects that the share of total U.S. electricity generation produced by all renewables other than hydropower will increase by three percentage points during the next two years, from 10% of total generation in 2018 to 13% in 2020.  This projected growth is a result of new generating capacity the industry expects to bring online. About 11 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity is scheduled to come online in 2019, which would be the largest amount of new wind capacity installed in the United States since 2012. EIA expects electricity generated from wind this year will surpass hydropower generation. An additional 8 GW of wind capacity is scheduled to come online in 2020. The share of total U.S. generation from wind is projected to increase from 7% in 2018 to 9% in 2020. Solar is the third-largest renewable energy source in the United States power sector, having surpassed biomass in 2017. The U.S. electric power sector plans to add more than 4 GW of new solar capacity in 2019 and almost 6 GW in 2020, a total increase of 32% from the operational capacity at the end of 2018. Because of this increase, solar is forecast to contribute slightly more than 2% of total utility-scale generation in 2020. In addition to utility-scale solar in the electric power sector, some residences and businesses have installed small-scale solar photovoltaic systems to supply some of the electricity they consume. EIA forecasts that small-scale solar generating capacity will grow by almost 9 GW during the next two years, an increase of 44%.

    State utility regulators seek to address backlog in solar development -- The Michigan Public Service Commission has started what could be a two-year process to govern how renewable energy projects are connected to the electric grid. The plan to make new interconnection rules seeks to resolve an unprecedented backlog of requests from independent power producers to build solar projects at a time when utility customers increasingly are turning to solar for self-generation. The interconnection process between developers and utilities is a fundamental first step before beginning plans, whether for large projects or smaller residential installations. Utilities have to prepare the distribution system for new generation that comes online, but the problem is they haven’t seen hundreds of requests come in virtually at once, as recently happened. Late last year, the MPSC opened a docket seeking input from interested parties before it officially begins a rulemaking process, which takes about 18 months. The MPSC says Michigan’s interconnection rules are outdated based in part on new federal guidelines and Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers standards, as well as new state energy laws passed in 2016. More immediately, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have hundreds of megawatts of proposed solar projects from developers waiting in their interconnection queue. “We’re looking at a system to handle maybe five or six (projects) in a year,” said Paul Proudfoot, director of the energy resources division at the MPSC. “Now we have hundreds of projects.” 

    Wood, not corn, may be New York's renewable fuel future - A Georgia company is buying the largest corn ethanol refinery in the state and vowing that it one day will use the state's abundant forests, rather than food, to make the next generation of renewable energy. Attis Industries is paying $20 million to fossil fuel giant Sunoco for a 90-acre facility near Fulton in Oswego County, according to the company on Tuesday.  Attis CEO Jeff Cosman said the company plans to invest up to $100 million over the next two years to transform the plant into a "first-of-its-kind, major renewable energy campus" that will explore how to gain energy, plastics and other products from wood wastes.  Attis has businesses in the healthcare, medical waste, and environmental technology sectors. This would be the company's first biorefinery.  Sunoco has been making corn ethanol in Fulton since acquiring and rebuilding the property, a former Miller brewery, in 2009. The plant now consumes about 22 million bushels of corn a year from as far away as Ohio to make about 85 million gallons of ethanol, which is later blended into gasoline.

    Region’s power generators using more oil, coal -- FRIGID CONDITIONS led the region’s power generators to use more oil and coal than usual over the last few days, but as temperatures edged up Tuesday the fuel mix is expected to return to normal. Typically, coal and oil each account for less than 1 percent of the region’s power generation fuel mix and natural gas is at 41 percent. But when temperatures plummet and the use of natural gas for heating rises, pipeline constraints often lead to shortages of natural gas, prompting some generators to switch to fuels that can be stored on site. Higher use of coal and oil is problematic for the region because those fuels generate more greenhouse gas emissions than natural gas. Over the last few days, the fuel mix of the region’s power generators has shifted a bit, with oil use rising occasionally into the 11 percent range and coal use hovering in the 5 to 6 percent range, according to real-time statistics gathered by ISO-New England, the region’s power grid operator. Last winter, a 15-day cold spell put severe pressure on generators who relied on natural gas. The deep freeze prompted a lot of fuel switching, with the region burning more oil during that short period than it did in all of 2017 and 2016 combined.

    Indianapolis Power & Light looking to build coal inventory at Petersburg plant — Indianapolis Power & Light is trying to build up the coal inventory at its 1,700-MW Petersburg station in Pike County, Indiana, but is encountering some transportation challenges, according to a regulatory filing. Expert witnesses for the Indiana Office of Utility Consumers Counsel, the state's consumer watchdog, discussed the AES Corp.'s coal-fired plant status in a filing with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission late last week. Greg Guerrettaz, an accountant, said IP&L's existing coal stockpile at Petersburg is in the range of 25 to 50 days. The utility, he said, "is trying to build supply to prepare for inclement weather," adding, however, it is facing "several challenges with available transportation" that have slowed progress. Guerrettaz did not detail the challenges and IP&L officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. This winter has been colder than normal in the Indianapolis area, with forecasts of the coldest weather of the year this weekend. Meanwhile, Michael Eckert, assistant director of the OUCC's electric division, said the about 670-MW Petersburg-3 unit is scheduled to restart commercial operations by the end of January. The unit has been on an extended outage for repairs since September 15. Petersburg's four coal units came online between 1967 and 1986. The plant burns in excess of 4 million st of Illinois Basin coal from mines in the surrounding region.

    After campaign pledge, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper faces test on coal ash -- North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper won his election in 2016 pledging to protect the state’s environment and drinking water from coal ash. This is the year the Democrat’s promise will be put to the test. Duke Energy, the statewide utility that generates a third of its electricity from coal, owns 14 ash dumps that are perched near major rivers and leaking contaminants into the groundwater below. Before Cooper took office, the company was already legally bound to close these sites and excavate eight of them. What happens to the other six is now up to his administration, in a decision anticipated before the end of 2019. “This is the first big opportunity for the Cooper administration to make good on his commitments to coal ash cleanup,” said Dave Rogers, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign representative in the Carolinas. Cooper officials are starting to air cleanup options, this month visiting six communities around the state for an initial round of public meetings. Duke proposes leaving at least some ash in unlined pits at all the sites in question, while environmental advocates, local communities, and many scientists say the toxic waste should be dug up and moved away from water supplies and into dry, lined landfills. “This is the turning point,” said Ridge Graham, field coordinator for the Boone-based advocacy group Appalachian Voices. It’s a chance for the Cooper administration, he said, “to be different from the previous administration and not just go along with what Duke asks.”

    Court packing in coal country - If a pending bill passes in West Virginia, Republican Gov. Jim Justice — a billionaire former coal company executive — will appoint 82 percent of the state's appellate judiciary in just his first term. The bill, which would create a new appeals court, is likely to pass the state Senate, but the state Housedeclined to take up a similar bill last year. West Virginia's five-member Supreme Court of Appeals, as the high court is known, is currently its only appellate court.In the last few months, Justice has appointed replacements for three Supreme Court justices who resigned in the wake of a scandal involving lavish renovations and overspending. Two former justices face criminal charges, and another resigned in the wake of the state legislature's impeachment of the entire high court. The impeachment trials were halted for violating the separation of powers by a substitute state Supreme Court assembled due to the justices' conflict of interest. The substitute court criticized the impeachment process as "a rush to judgment to get to a certain point without following all of the necessary rules." By that point, three seats had already been vacated. Justice appointed a majority of the court in the span of a few months. The legislature is now considering a bill to create an Intermediate Court of Appeals, and it would allow Justice to appoint all six members of the court, which would be divided into two districts. If the bill passes, the governor will have appointed nine of the 11 judges on the state's appellate judiciary.  This radical re-shaping of West Virginia's judiciary is happening as the state's high court hears a lawsuit over noise and air pollution from fracking, as well as other oil and gas cases. A local attorney recently argued that a new appellate court isn't necessary because the state's "population is declining, new case filings are down, and the number of appeals to our Supreme Court continues to decline." 

    Coal miners have been inhaling deadly silica dust for decades. Now they’re dying (PBS NewsHour – video & transcript) Judy Woodruff: It is easy to lose sight of how dangerous working in a coal mine can be. A new investigation by "Frontline" and NPR that airs tonight called "Coal's Deadly Dust" sheds fresh light on that. It turns out that, for decades, thousands of miners were exposed to a toxic dust that led to a deadly form of black lung disease. John Yang tells has the story.  For decades, coal miners have been inhaling silica dust on the job. The extremely fine particles, generated when the quartz-rich limestone surrounding coal seams is cut, lodge in the lungs, obstructing respiration. According to a Frontline/NPR report, both the industry and the government understood the hazard for decades but did little to contain it. Howard Berkes of NPR joins John Yang.

    Calls for Change Follow FRONTLINE/NPR Black Lung Investigation - Thousands of coal miners are dying from an advanced form of black lung disease, and federal regulators could have prevented it if they’d paid closer attention to their own data. That’s the conclusion of a joint FRONTLINE and NPR investigation that aired last month, and continues tonight, Jan. 22, on PBS. The regulatory system that is supposed to protect coal miners from exposure to toxic silica dust failed to prevent dangerous exposures more than 21,000 times since 1986, according to data collected by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and analyzed by NPR/FRONTLINE. And while the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) counted 115 cases of advanced black lung nationwide through its monitoring program from 2010 to 2018, NPR and FRONTLINE identified more than 2,300 cases by contacting health clinics across Appalachia. Federal regulations for silica dust in coal mines haven’t changed in decades, even as mining has changed. But since the FRONTLINE/NPR report, some are calling for a new response. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the chair of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, says he will schedule congressional hearings on the epidemic of advanced black lung disease and the regulatory failures cited by the NPR/FRONTLINE investigation.  “There are people literally working in the mines right now, hundreds of them … that have complicated black lung that do not have a clue.” NIOSH is generally limited by law to testing working miners only, and the program is voluntary. Nationwide, only a third of working coal miners get tested. In Kentucky, just 17 percent show up. Mandatory testing was long opposed by miner advocates because, they reasoned, no one should be forced to undergo a medical procedure against their will. Miners also told NPR they feared losing their jobs if coal companies learned of positive signs of the disease. The epidemic has softened that resistance, to a point. The United Mine Workers union now supports mandatory testing as long as results remain confidential. The mining industry wants mandatory testing of all miners at regular intervals. 

    Coal ash cleanup bill wins bipartisan backing in Virginia  — Dominion Energy would have to clean up four coal ash ponds around Virginia — some dating to the 1930s, all of them leaking — under legislation that Gov. Ralph Northam, a bipartisan group of legislators and the utility backed Thursday. The company would have to fully excavate the unlined ponds, which collectively hold more than 27 million cubic yards of the toxic ash and which environmentalists say are polluting ground­water. Coal ash, which is generated when coal is burned to create electricity, contains significant amounts of arsenic, mercury and heavy metals. The bill requires that 25 percent of the ash be recycled into a cleaner form for use in concrete and other building materials. The rest would be moved to modern, lined landfills. The legislation also would limit how much of the cost Dominion could pass on to rate payers to about $5 a month per customer. Dominion, the state’s largest utility and most prolific political donor, has stored coal ash in ponds in four sites around the state — in Prince William, Chesterfield and Fluvanna counties and the city of Chesapeake. Environmentalists have contended for years that the ponds were sending toxins into the groundwater, posing a danger to people and wildlife. Monitoring wells near the company’s Possum Point power plant, near the Potomac River in Prince William, have shown elevated levels of nickel, boron and other metals in the groundwater. Dominion has been under federal orders since 2014 to safely dispose of the pollutant. The company had sought permission to leave the coal ash in place and cap it, but now it has agreed to a more lasting solution 

    Queensland coal exports hit record high - Queensland's coal exports have reached a record high and yearly totals are predicted to continue growing, the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) says. The peak mining body said 223 million tonnes of coal was shipped from Queensland ports to 30 different countries and territories last year, trumping the previous record set in 2016 by 2 million tonnes. QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said big players and new entrants to the state's coal industry had driven billions of dollars in investment. "There is a very strong demand out there which is underpinning our economic strength at the moment in Queensland," he said. Mr Macfarlane said based on early figures, demand and job numbers for this year were promising. "It'll depend on how that demand holds up but even at this early stage we're seeing very strong demand, both for metallurgical coal and for thermal coal out of Queensland, we're still seeing lots of job advertisements for people," he said. "We have a number of projects on the drawing boards in Central Queensland right across the Central Highlands and the Galilee Basin as well, so we are seeing very strong investment and very strong jobs growth that goes with it. "We do have those extreme green activists who continually say coal is in decline but these figures clearly show that that is a lie, and the reality is that coal is continuing to grow and continuing to play an important part in our economy." 

    China firms funding coal plants offshore as domestic curbs bite: study (Reuters) - China has become a key backer for coal-fired power globally, funding more than a quarter of all new plants being developed outside its borders even as it clamps down on the polluting fuel at home, a study published on Tuesday said. The top destinations are Bangladesh, Vietnam, South Africa and Pakistan, and about a quarter of the proposed capacity would use technology no longer allowed in China, the report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a U.S.-based think-tank, said. “China is taking very forceful steps to slow down the increase in coal-fired power facilities in China, but is looking to take that capacity and sell it overseas,” said Melissa Brown, IEEFA’s energy finance consultant and an author of the report. China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, has been investing heavily in alternative fuels in order to cut its dependence on coal, a major source of smog as well as climate-warming carbon emissions. It has closed down ageing mines and power plants, with the aim of cutting the fuel’s share of total energy consumption from 69 percent in 2011 to 58 percent by next year. But even as it slashes coal use within its borders, its financial institutions have committed or offered funding of $35.9 billion for 102 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power now being developed outside the country, the report said. While overseas financial institutions like the World Bank aim to restrict new coal investments, Chinese state-owned enterprises and policy banks are becoming “lenders of last resort” for coal-fired power, it said. 

    China’s Belt and Road Coal Links Are Crumbling - When a giant infrastructure project in an emerging country doesn’t make sense these days, you can usually count on China’s Belt and Road to be on hand with a bailout check.For the global coal industry, that prospect has been one of the last great hopes for demand growth. Chinese policy banks have committed some $45 billion to coal projects overseas since 2000, according to a Boston University database. That pattern may be starting to crack. Pakistan, which has been working on an aggressive expansion of new coal power plants under the Belt and Road’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is getting cold feet. The country’s planning minister has told Beijing that it’s not interested in developing the Rahim Yar Khan plant, a potential 1.32 gigawatt project that would probably have left the country’s grid well over capacity.While the big beasts of potential coal development are China and India, smaller second-ranked markets such as Pakistan are likely the tougher nuts to crack to wean the world from its most polluting fossil fuel.  Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and the Philippines together have about 144,729 megawatts of coal plants that are between initial announcements and their first concrete pour, according to CoalSwarm, a group that tracks project activity. That’s more than the 139,656 megawatts of projects at the same stage in China and India.

     Hitachi freezes UK nuclear project as energy supply crunch looms -- Japan’s Hitachi Ltd (6501.T) put a $28 billion nuclear power project in Britain on hold on Thursday, dealing a blow to the country’s plans for the replacement of aging plants. Hitachi’s UK unit Horizon Nuclear Power failed to find private investors for its plan to build a plant at Wylfa in Anglesey, Wales, which was expected to provide about 6 percent of Britain’s electricity. “We’ve made the decision to freeze the project from the economic standpoint as a private company,” Hitachi said, adding it had booked a write-down of 300 billion yen ($2.8 billion). Chief executive Toshiaki Higashihara said Hitachi could seek to withdraw completely from the project and sell the Horizon unit, depending on discussions with the British government. Hitachi shares have risen 13 percent since Japanese media first reported the possible suspension last week. The Japanese company had urged the UK government to boost financial support for the planned power station. Higashihara, however, denied turmoil over Britain’s impending exit from the European Union had any impact on Hitachi’s decision to freeze the project. People close to the matter had previously said it had limited the government’s capacity to devise plans. The withdrawal of the Japanese conglomerate could leave the nuclear newbuild industry open to Russian and Chinese state-owned companies as Western private firms struggle to compete.

    Massachusetts lawmakers seek delay in Seabrook, New Hampshire, nuclear plant license renewal --Questions about degraded concrete at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station have prompted three Massachusetts lawmakers to call for a delay in the coastal New Hampshire facility's federal relicensing. In a Jan. 18 letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren joined U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton to ask that a license amendment for Seabrook be stayed until a hearing can be held this summer on the concrete problems and whether they pose a safety hazard. "There is no reason why the Seabrook license amendment should be approved before the hearing occurs," the letter reads. Seabrook operator NextEra is expected to receive a 20-year operating license renewal from the commission at the end of January. NextEra needs a separate license amendment -- related to the concrete -- which it will receive sometime this week, the commission announced on Jan. 11. Structural concrete at the plant suffers from alkali-silica reaction, or ASR, a condition made worse by exposure to moisture. The swelling and cracking was identified by plant operators in 2009. Over the years, NextEra submitted plans describing how it would monitor and manage the problem while continuing to operate the atomic reactor. In a final safety evaluation report issued in September, the federal commission said it was satisfied with the proposal. 

    PSEG Drives Home Vow to Shutter Nuclear Plants Unless Public Subsidizes Them - Absent financial help, PSEG Nuclear vows to close its nuclear units in South Jersey within three years, saying the plants are not projected to cover hundreds of millions of dollars in annual expenditures, according to applications submitted to the state.But the energy company provided no financial information to back up that assertion — at least to the public — in voluminous filings, most of which will remain confidential except to the Board of Public Utilities, its staff and consultants, as well as the Rate Counsel and PJM Independent Market Monitor.The company contends the redacted financial information — detailing the three units’ finances going back five years and projections by PSEG through 2030 — demonstrates the plants qualify for up to $300 million in annual subsidies from ratepayers for the next three years.The proposed subsidies, dubbed zero emission credits, were part of a c ontroversial bill signed into law last spring by Gov. Phil Murphy after PSEG successfully pushed through legislation to prop up its Hope Creek and Salem 1 and Salem 2 nuclear units, which face stiff competition from plants burning cheap natural gas. The bill faced opposition from consumer advocates, environmentalists and business groups who argued PSEG failed to demonstrate the plants are not profitable.

    What does PG&E filing for bankruptcy mean for Diablo Canyon? -- News that San Luis Obispo County’s largest private employer plans to declare bankruptcy in the coming days had some officials worrying Monday, with many noting PG&E’s plans could put the decommissioning of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in jeopardy.“I am very concerned about layoffs that could affect employees who live in our community, and I remain concerned that the plant operate to the end of its licenses,” county Supervisor Adam Hill said in an email to The Tribune on Monday. “There are no (greenhouse gas)-free replacements that could make up for the power the state’s grid needs. It would be very bad for the state to allow it to go offline sooner than its licensed end.”John Geesman, legal counsel for the San Luis Obispo-based activist group Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, said “this is a period of enormous uncertainty.”“The bankruptcy process is going to result in questions being asked in a bankruptcy court that no one could have foreseen prior to the bankruptcy proceeding,” he said. “For example, is the Diablo Canyon power plant a marketable asset?” “PG&E expects that the Chapter 11 process will, among other things, support the orderly, fair and expeditious resolution of its potential liabilities resulting from the 2017 and 2018 Northern California wildfires, and will assure the company has access to the capital and resources it needs to continue to provide safe service to customers,” read a news release on the company’s website Monday morning. PG&E intends to file bankruptcy on or about Jan. 29, according to the release. The company will not go out of business as a result of the filing, it said, and it does not expect any impact to natural gas or electrical service for customers.

    AEP Ohio solar farm hearings begin - Times Gazette - At the first week of an evidentiary hearing at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) offices, expert witnesses provided compelling testimony in support of the largest clean energy project in Ohio’s history. The case will determine if American Electric Power (AEP) Ohio’s application to prove the need to build at least 900MW of Ohio renewable energy projects, which include 400 MW of solar powered generation to be located in Highland County, will be approved. In addition to AEP Ohio, expert testimony was provided by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy (OPAE), with the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition set to testify in support later this week. These experts explained in detail the benefits that would be brought to Appalachian Ohio and AEP’s electricity customers. Opponents to AEP’s plan were also expected to make their case this week, starting Wednesday. PUCO commissioners will make the ultimate decision and determine renewable energy’s role in Ohio’s energy future after all testimony concludes. AEP Ohio’s experts kicked off the hearing by providing an overview of the renewable energy projects and made the case for the need in Ohio. These experts noted that large corporations now have aggressive renewable energy procurement goals, driven by both the environmental benefits as well as the economic savings and fuel price risk hedging benefits of renewable energy. They also explained how, for years, the Ohio has failed to produce enough electricity within the state to meet usage requirements. The gap between supply and demand inside Ohio continues to widen and with recent retirement announcements from other Ohio utilities, more coal and nuclear plants will shut down and this gap will become even larger. Ohio currently depends on energy produced in other states to be brought in to meet the needs of its people, businesses and industry. 

    Deal could keep Davis-Besse online until at least May 31, 2020 — FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. said Wednesday it has struck a tentative deal with its creditors to keep its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant and its other power-generating facilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania online at least through their previously announced shutdown dates. Davis-Besse — Ottawa County’s largest employer and one of Ohio’s largest sources of tax revenue — is scheduled to shut down no later than May 31, 2020. Other nuclear facilities — the Perry nuclear plant east of Cleveland and the twin-reactor Beaver Valley complex west of Pittsburgh — are scheduled to be phased out before the end of 2021 while the remaining FES coal-fired power plants are still destined to be permanently shut down by mid-2022. The proposed agreement will form the basis of a reorganization plan that is subject to approval by Judge Alan M. Koschik of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Akron. The plan is expected to be filed by Feb. 8, the company said. During a conference call with The Blade following the announcement, David Griffing, FirstEnergy Solutions vice president of governmental affairs, said company officials are “working like crazy trying to extend the lives of those plants” but continue to get little response to its calls for legislative relief on the state or federal levels. “I would say there’s still a lot of heavy lifting to do,” Mr. Griffing said. No signs of a buyer or bailout have emerged yet. FES and its parent, FirstEnergy Corp., have lobbied for relief from record-low natural gas prices for years.

    15 Permits Awarded in the Utica Shale; Rig Count at 16 - – The Ohio Department of Natural Resources awarded 15 new permits for horizontal wells across eastern Ohio’s Utica shale during the week ended Jan. 19, the agency reported.  Ascent Resources was awarded eight permits for wells in Harrison County, while Eclipse Resources secured four new permits in Guernsey County, ODNR said. EM Energy Ohio LLC was awarded three permits for wells in Monroe County, ODNR said.  The number of rigs operating across the Utica shale stood at 16 for the week. As of Jan. 19, ODNR had issued 2,982 permits for horizontal wells, of which 2,514 are drilled and 2,137 are in production. ODNR did not issue permits for wells in Mahoning, Columbiana, or Trumbull counties in the Utica’s northern tier. Also, no well permits were issued in neighboring Lawrence and Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

    Enbridge Gas Pipeline Fire Causes Damage in Ohio - First responders were called to a fire at an Enbridge Inc. natural gas pipeline in Noble County, Ohio Monday, several news outlets reported. A tweet posted to Enbridge’s Twitter page Monday afternoon stated that Enbridge personnel were responding to an “incident” on its Texas Eastern pipeline system. According to Reuters, who quoted Chasity Schmelzenbach, emergency management director for Noble County, Ohio, as of 2 p.m. CST, the explosion appeared to have destroyed two homes. Schmelzenbach said they received reports of flames shooting up to 200 feet and could be seen from up to 15 miles away. She added that one person was taken to a hospital with what appeared to be minor injuries. The primary fire on the pipeline had been extinguished. Enbridge has said it will provide updated details as they become available. 

    Enbridge Gas Pipeline Explodes in Ohio - A natural gas pipeline owned by Enbridge exploded in Noble County, Ohio at approximately 10:40 a.m. on Monday.At least two people were reportedly injured and two homes are believed to have been damaged in the incident."We got reports flames were shooting (up) 80 feet to 200 feet (25-60 meters)," Chasity Schmelzenbach, emergency management director for Noble County, Ohio, told Reuters. "You could see it upwards of 10-15 miles (16-24 km) away. Lots of people thought it was in their backyard because it does appear large."The Canadian energy transportation company confirmed that the incident occurred on its 30-inch Texas Eastern pipeline. The pipeline was built in 1952-53 and an in-line inspection was performed in 2012, "and no remediation was needed," Enbridge said.The fire has been contained and residents near the incident have been evacuated, the company said, adding that "field operations immediately started to shut in and isolate that section of pipeline.""Our first concern is for the safety of the community and our employees," Enbridge said. "We have activated our emergency response plan and are cooperating with authorities in our response." The 9,029-mile Texas Eastern pipeline carries natural gas from the U.S. Gulf Coast and Texas to high demand markets in the northeastern U.S., according to the operator's website. It's not yet clear if the shut-in will impact its customers, Reuters noted. In October, another Enbridge-owned pipeline exploded in rural land north of Prince George, British Columbia, forcing 100 people to evacuate from the nearby Lheidli T'enneh First Nation. Enbridge is the same company behind the proposed Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota and the contentious Line 5 oil pipeline, which is notable for a section that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.

    Enbridge gas pipeline explosion causes fireball in Ohio (Reuters) - An explosion of an Enbridge Inc natural gas pipeline in Ohio on Monday created a fireball of flame and damaged homes, prompting the evacuation of nearby residents. The explosion occurred on Enbridge’s Texas Eastern pipeline system and appeared to have destroyed two homes, said Chasity Schmelzenbach, emergency management director for Noble County, Ohio. “We got reports flames were shooting (up) 80 feet to 200 feet (25-60 meters),” Schmelzenbach said. “You could see it upwards of 10-15 miles (16-24 km) away. Lots of people thought it was in their backyard because it does appear large.” Enbridge later said that two people were injured and two structures damaged in the incident, which occurred at 10:40 a.m. EST (1540 GMT). It said the fire had been contained, but that residents near the incident had been evacuated. The Calgary-based company said it had “immediately started to shut in and isolate that section of pipeline” and was cooperating with authorities in its response. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has been notified about the explosion and has dispatched an investigator to the scene, an agency spokesman said. Enbridge’s Texas Eastern pipeline carries natural gas from the U.S. Gulf Coast and Texas to high-demand markets in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, according to Enbridge’s website. It was not immediately clear if the shut-in would impact customers in some of the most densely populated areas in the United States during a particularly severe cold snap. A fire on an Enbridge gas pipeline in northern British Columbia late last year led to supply disruptions throughout the Pacific Coast, forcing a number of Washington state refineries to temporarily shut or curb operations. 

    Pipeline explosion in Noble County injures one, destroys 2 homes - — At least one person has been injured and two homes are believed to have been destroyed by a gas line explosion Monday morning on Smithberger Road in Noble County.“The fire (in the line) is dissipating and firefighters are fighting secondary fires in the area,” said Noble County Emergency Management Agency Director Chasity Schmelzenbach. “We also have one confirmed injury and the victim was transported to the hospital (in Marietta).”Fire departments with firefighters at the scene include the Caldwell, Summerfield and Lewisville departments.The name of the victim who reportedly suffered burns as a result of the fire was not available as of press time. He was taken to a Marietta hospital by United Ambulance.The explosion was reported at 10:40 a.m.A Noble County resident who lives approximately a mile out of Caldwell — and seven miles from the scene — reported the explosion knocked items of the wall at her home.“Our house shook so bad things came off the walls,” said Trina Moore. “Pictures came off the wall and it shook for about 15 seconds, but it felt like forever. All of the neighbors ran outside.”Scanner traffic from emergency responders in Noble County indicated the ground was shaking after the explosion. A Noble County sheriff’s sergeant responding to the scene reported via radio that flames were shooting an estimated 80 feet into the air. The fire was visible for miles around the scene.

     Enbridge's TETCO Ohio pipe blast causes gas flows to decline (Reuters) - The flow of natural gas through parts of Enbridge Inc's Texas Eastern (TETCO) pipeline dropped on Tuesday following an explosion in Noble County in southeast Ohio on Monday. The explosion, which occurred on TETCO's 30-inch (76.2 cm) line about two miles south of Summerfield, Ohio, at around 10:40 a.m. EST (1540 GMT), injured two people living nearby and damaged three homes, Enbridge said in a statement on Tuesday. The Calgary-based company said it was working with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to identify the cause, monitor repairs and evaluate environmental impacts. On Tuesday, however, flows through TETCO in Monroe County fell to 1.3 bcfd. One billion cubic feet is enough gas for about 5 million U.S. homes for a day. Flows also declined in Athens and Scioto Counties in southern Ohio and Bath, Monroe and Boyle Counties in eastern and south central Kentucky, according to the Refinitiv data. In addition, flows reversed direction in Greene County in southwest Pennsylvania. Greene County is one of the state's biggest gas producing counties. Officials at Enbridge could not immediately say which direction the gas was flowing through the damaged pipeline. They said there were three pipes in the area of the blast. The 9,029-mile (14,531-km) TETCO pipeline was designed to carry gas from the U.S. Gulf Coast and Texas to high-demand markets in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Over the past five years or so, TETCO became bi-directional, which means it can also carry gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, where production is growing rapidly, to markets in the U.S. Midwest and the Gulf Coast. 

    Enbridge TETCO Ohio pipe blast cuts US Marcellus, Utica natgas output - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas output in the Marcellus and Utica shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia dropped by 7 percent on Wednesday, following an explosion on Enbridge Inc's Texas Eastern (TETCO) pipeline on Monday. The blast, which injured two people who lived nearby and damaged three homes, occurred on TETCO’s 30-inch (76.2 cm) line about two miles south of Summerfield in Noble County in southeast Ohio at around 10:40 a.m. EST (1540 GMT), the Calgary-based company said in a statement. Before the incident, drillers were producing about 30 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas in the Marcellus and Utica region. That dropped to just 28 bcfd on Wednesday, according to Refinitiv, a financial data provider. One billion cubic feet is enough gas for about 5 million U.S. homes for a day. At the time of the blast, gas was flowing through TETCO from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields south toward the Gulf of Mexico, according to gas traders. The amount of gas moving through TETCO south of the damaged pipe in Athens and Scioto Counties in southern Ohio dropped from around 1.2 bcfd on Monday to less than 0.1 bcfd on Wednesday, according to Refinitiv data. In Bath, Monroe and Boyle Counties in Kentucky, flows also fell from over 1.0 bcfd on Monday to about 0.1 bcfd Wednesday. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, flows in Greene County in the southwest corner of the state reversed direction from 0.6 bcfd moving West on Monday to 0.4 bcfd heading east on Wednesday. Greene County is one of Pennsylvania’s biggest gas producing counties. Officials at Enbridge could not say when the damaged section of pipe would return to service. The Calgary-based company said it was working with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to identify the cause, monitor repairs and evaluate environmental impacts. Enbridge said the damaged section of pipe was built in 1952-53 and an inspection of the line was performed in 2012 with no remediation needed.

    US natgas pipeline flows reversed after Enbridge TETCO Ohio pipe blast (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc reversed the direction of natural gas flows on its Texas Eastern (TETCO) pipeline in Ohio after an explosion on one of its lines there on Monday, according to financial data provider Refinitiv. Before the blast, which injured two people and damaged three homes, gas was flowing south through the damaged section of pipe from the Marcellus and Utica shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia toward the Gulf Coast, according to Refinitiv and gas traders. After the explosion, however, small amounts of gas started moving north from the Gulf Coast on southern sections of the pipe. This would allow the pipeline to serve customers in states like Tennessee and Kentucky who stopped receiving gas after the explosion. Enbridge said it isolated two other gas pipes near the damaged 30-inch (76.2 cm) line near Summerfield in Noble County in southeast Ohio so crews can safely investigate the integrity of those two lines prior to returning them to service. The Calgary-based company did not estimate when it would return the pipeline to service. Before the incident, drillers were producing over 30 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas in the Marcellus and Utica region. That dropped to around 29 bcfd on Monday-Thursday, according to Refinitiv. One billion cubic feet is enough gas for about 5 million U.S. homes for a day. In counties south of the damaged pipe, like Athens and Scioto in southern Ohio and Bath and Boyle in Kentucky, about 1.2 bcfd of gas was flowing south on TETCO toward the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, according to Refinitiv. But since the blast, almost 0.1 bcfd has been flowing north on the pipe through those counties on Tuesday-Thursday. On the eastern side of the damaged pipe, flows in Greene County in southwest Pennsylvania also reversed direction. About 0.6 bcfd of gas was moving toward the Gulf Coast on Sunday before the blast. Since then, however, about 0.5 bcfd has been heading east toward New Jersey. Greene County is one of Pennsylvania’s biggest gas producing counties.

    Enbridge expects to restore part of damaged Ohio TETCO pipe next week - (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc said it plans to restore southbound natural gas flows on part of its Texas Eastern (TETCO) pipeline in Ohio by the middle of next week following an explosion on one of three lines there this week. The shutdown on Monday forced drillers using the pipe to reduce output in the Marcellus and Utica shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, the nation's biggest gas producing region, a week before a polar vortex is expected to freeze the eastern half of the country. Total output in the Marcellus and Utica slipped from 30 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) before the blast to around 29 bcfd on Monday-Friday, according to financial data provider Refinitiv. TETCO told customers in a notice late Thursday it was working to return at least one of the undamaged pipes in the area of the blast and increase north-to-south flows there to around 1 bcfd between Jan. 28-30 from zero now. That would be just days ahead of the forecast deep freeze, which is expected to bring the coldest weather in over a decade to parts of the Midwest and very low temperatures in the Northeast and Southeast, according to meteorologists at Radiant Solutions. Before the blast, which injured two people and damaged three homes near Summerfield in Noble County in southeast Ohio, about 1.2 bcfd of gas was flowing south on TETCO from Ohio toward the Gulf of Mexico, according to Refinitiv. After the explosion, TETCO started moving up to 0.2 bcfd of gas north into Kentucky and Ohio. On the eastern side of the damaged pipe, flows in Greene County in southwest Pennsylvania also reversed direction. About 0.6 bcfd was moving toward the Gulf Coast before the blast. Since then, about 0.5 bcfd has been heading east toward New Jersey. Greene County is one of Pennsylvania's biggest gas producing counties.

    2019 Outlook- Experts predict an increase in production for Marcellus Shale region - 2018 shale production is expected to rise between seven and eight percent from 2017, according to E&P, and into 2019, growth predictions aren’t slowing down. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. is predicting production to increase 20 to 25 percent in 2019, in accordance with increased natural gas demand and prices.The price of natural gas rose nearly 17 percent to $2.36 per thousand cubic feet according to Oil & Gas Investor.The Marcellus is playing a significant role in the USA’s total gas production. Rig count for unconventionals across the US increased by 17 percent year- over-year from 748 in Nov. 2017 to 877 as of Nov. 16, 2018. Much of this increase was driven by the Marcellus shale region, where rig counts are up from 38 to 42 percent as of Nov. 2017 to 58 as of Nov. 16, 2018. Natural gas production has been increasing for more than a decade with the Marcellus and Utica shale region, Permian Basin, and Haynesville shale region collectively accounting for 15 percent of total natural gas production in 2007. Just over ten years later, the regions account for more than 50 percent of total production—according to the EIA. Tom Murphy, the co-director of the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research at Penn State University provides his insight into how development in the Marcellus region will unfold, and how factors including recent elections and climate change may play a role in the natural gas 2019 outlook. (interview transcript)

     US natgas production to jump roughly 1 Bcf/d: Dpr - Natural gas production in the Lower 48 U.S. states’ seven most prolific basins/plays will jump 849 million cubic feet per day (Mmcf/d) from January to February, federal data shows. The Energy Information Administration’s just-released January Drilling Productivity Report (Dpr) projects total gas production from the seven so-called regions will reach 77.56 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), from 76.71 Bcf/d in January. All seven regions are expected to see a month-to-month increase in natural gas production, led by Appalachia, the combination of the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays. Appalachia production will jump 232 million cubic feet per day (Mmcf/d), to 31.57 Bcf/d, from 31.34 Bcf/d, the Dpr states. Not far behind is the Permian Basin, which will see a jump in associated gas production due to the tremendous crude oil production in West Texas/southeast New Mexico. Natural gas production will rise by 221 Mmcf/d in the Permian, to 13.18 Bcf/d in February, up from 12.96 Bcf/d in January, Kallanish Energy projects. The Haynesville Shale play is the third of the seven regions projected to see a triple-digit jump in production. The play’s gas production will rise by 149 Mmcf/d, to 10.07 Bf/d, from 9.92 Bcf/d in January. The Eagle Ford Shale play is expected to see natural gas production increase by 98 Mmcf/d, to 7.14 Bcf/d in February, from 7.05 Bcf/d in January. Natural gas production in the Anadarko, Niobara and Bakken combined will rise by 149 Mmcf/d, the Dpr projects. .

    Environmental Groups Appeal Ohio Cracker Air Quality Permit - A coalition of environmental groups is challenging an air quality permit issued to a proposed petrochemical plant along the Ohio River. Ohio EPA issued the air quality permit to the PTT Global Chemical America project, proposed for Belmont County, Ohio,  in late December.The plan, called an ethane cracker, would use high heat to break down 1.5 million tons of ethane each year into smaller molecules used in plastics and chemical manufacturing.Ethane is brought up during natural gas fracking.The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks and Freshwater Accountability Project filed an appeal of the air quality permit Friday to the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission.They argue the state underestimated the amount of pollution the plant will emit should have required more effective technology to reduce those emissions.The permit would allow the cracker to release almost 400 tons of volatile organic compounds each year and produce the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions of putting about 365,000 cars on the road.At a public hearing in November, state EPA officials said air quality and public health would not be impacted by the plant. Dozens of local residents and environmental groups testified they had concerns.The plant would be the second cracker built in the Ohio Valley.

    Energy Department Hires a Top Cheerleader for Petrochemical Hub Before Issuing Report Favoring It – – Steve Horn - Near the end of 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) hired the leading promoter within academia of a massive and multi-faceted petrochemical complex proposed for West Virginia. A month later, the agency issued a report favoring the construction of such a complex. On November 9, the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) named as its new director former West Virginia University Professor Brian Anderson. NETL, which spearheads federal energy-related research and development (R&D) efforts, is currently deciding whether to grant $1.9 billion in R&D money toward building out the proposed petrochemical complex, known as the Appalachian Storage Hub.  Those alarmed by the prospect of the hub point to the fact that towns along the Gulf of Mexico have higher rates of cancer. Some call that dense stretch of petroleum refineries and petrochemical plants near the Gulf the “Petrochemical Corridor,” while locals call it “Cancer Alley.”  Critics also say the project could further drive up demand for hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — of natural gas within the nearby Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale basins. As DeSmog has reported in an ongoing investigative series titled “Fracking for Plastics,” the Appalachian hub is just one piece of a broader plan for the petrochemical industry's ambitions to transform the Appalachian region into a cutting-edge, fossil-fueled storage and refining epicenter. That could spell serious consequences for worsening the impacts of climate change. Just a few short weeks after announcing Anderson's hiring, the Energy Department published a report titled, “Report to Congress: Ethane Storage and Distribution Hub in the United States,” and mandated by the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill of 2017. “The Department is directed to issue a report on the feasibility of establishing an ethane storage and distribution hub in the United States, given the increased production of natural gas liquids (NGLs) from shale developments and recognizing that ethane is the largest component of those NGLs,” the 2017 bill reads. “The report should examine potential locations, economic feasibility, economic benefits, geologic storage capabilities, above ground storage capabilities, infrastructure needs, and benefits to energy security.”

     Appalachian Underground Gas Storage Hub Gov. Justice's 'No. 1 Economic Focus' -- West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said a major underground natural gas liquids storage facility proposed for the Ohio Valley is a top economic priority for his office. Speaking at the annual winter meeting of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia in Charleston Wednesday, Justice said administration officials spoke this week to a “major player” involved in the development of the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub, although he did not offer specifics. Justice said he would be reaching out to federal officials shortly to continue advocating for its development. "The number one economic focus on my office today is the natural gas hub," Justice said. If built, the hub would allow more natural gas liquids to remain in Appalachia. Storage is a key infrastructure investment needed to attract petrochemical manufacturers to the region. Justice touted his relationship with President Donald Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry as reasons why he was confident storage hub, which has been in development for almost a decade, would be built. He said the hub is crucial to the state’s future prosperity. "The hub ensures, the hub ensures job boom in West Virginia forever," he said. "It ensures our security forever, the way I see it. Forever. " The project would be built with a combination of private investment and a $1.9 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, which is being applied for by the project's developer, the Appalachia Development Group, LLC. ADG's CEO Steve Hendrick told meeting attendees he had growing confidence in the hub becoming a reality. "Something that many people may have thought was a pipedream just a few years ago, no pun intended," he said. "Something that many may still think is a dream, well I'm here to tell you, and any doubters who might be still out there, that the hope I've carried with me since we got this started and enganged in the effort, which shockingly was some nine years ago, this hope is based in reality and opportunity that is right on the tips of our fingers."

    How Trump Could Burn West Virginia, Causing It To Lose An $84 Billion Gas Deal With China - West Virginia may personify the trade war with China — a state with $84 billion on the line and money that would transform the area. State officials and economic developers are working hard behind the scenes. But they are hampered by something completely out of their hands — the actions taken by Donald Trump to start levying tariffs on certain goods coming out of China.  In November 2017, China Energy Investment Corp. signed a non-binding trade agreement with the state of West Virginia that would pump billions into its economy. In return, China would get access to the plethora of shale gas that rest below the state’s land, all to feed its own chemical and manufacturing base.  “The Chinese are right at our doorsteps,” West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said at a press event. “As are the people from Qatar. As are other foreign investments coupled with U.S. investment. They are truly friends. But they are working through this tariff stuff and trade imbalance. They can’t pull the trigger until this done. It will be settled. We will not get in an all-out trade war with China.”    West Virginia is thus fighting a two-front a war — one of which it has the power and the other of which it does not. Or does it? In 2016, the state voted overwhelmingly for Trump. And if Governor Justice weighed in and leveraged that support, that could help settle this trade conflict. After all, the purpose of the World Trade Organization is to hear trade disputes, all to avoid disrupting global markets. If China, for example, enters into new long-term contracts with other countries to provide everything from soybeans to natural gas, American businesses lose. And China, too, could suffer if this drags on, which is why it promised last week to pare down its trade surplus to zero by 2024 by, in effect, requiring the purchase of more American goods — empty words, because the government there can’t force its consumers to buy U.S. products. But the biggest victim here would be West Virginia. Insiders told this reporter at the state capitol that Governor Justice doesn’t expect talks to get back on track for at least a year. That’s a long time for a state that is bleeding population and where the gross domestic product fell in 2016 by 0.9%.

    State issues initial Line 5 tunnel project permit amid Nessel review - The state of Michigan has issued its first permit to Enbridge Energy for a controversial Line 5 tunnel construction project, even as the governor and attorney general have questioned the legality of the construction agreement. Weeks prior to the passage of legislation enabling the project, Enbridge submitted permit applications to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers to begin taking rock and soil samples from the area, said Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy. The DEQ on Tuesday issued the permit. A public hearing on the permit application was held Nov. 27, more than two weeks before Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law creating the tunnel's oversight body, the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority. Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel started a review of the legislation and other agreements Jan. 2 at the request of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to resolve "any legal uncertainty." Nessel is expected to issue an opinion by "early March at the latest," spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said. Nessel has said there were “serious and significant concerns” about the law and warned interested parties that "in no way should any entity rely on this act to move forward unless and until these matters have been resolved." The DEQ will continue "to handle permit applications as per state regulations,” said DEQ spokesman Scott Dean. The Army Corps of Engineers received a permit application from Enbridge, but is awaiting additional information from the Canadian company and input from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is delayed by the partial government shutdown, said Army Corps spokeswoman Lynn Rose. The permitted borings are part of the geotechnical phase of the project and “will aid in the design and construction of the tunnel,” Duffy said.  The four-mile dual pipeline span beneath the Straits of Mackinac has long been a source of concern to environmentalists, who worry about the catastrophic effects of a Great Lakes oil spill.

    Mariner East pipelines can keep flowing as PUC rejects shutdown request -  The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday upheld a judge’s decision not to block operations of the controversial Mariner East pipelines after southeastern Pennsylvania residents contended they were unsafe.Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes denied an emergency request by seven Delaware and Chester county residents on Dec. 11 to block the startup of Sunoco Pipeline’s Mariner East 2 pipelines and to shut down the older Mariner East 1.The five-member Public Utility Commission unanimously affirmed the judge’s ruling. Commissioner David Sweet called it “thorough and well-reasoned” and said there was not sufficient evidence to reverse it.Mariner East 2 started service on Dec. 29.Sunoco used a 12-inch, 1930s-era pipeline that previously carried petroleum products as a link around unfinished sections of the new pipeline where regulators shut down construction after the project caused sinkholes and disrupted drinking water supplies. The $5 billion cross-state pipeline project is designed to move natural gas liquids, like ethane, propane and butane, from southwestern Pennsylvania’s shale gas wells to the Marcus Hook industrial complex and port near Philadelphia. The residents argued that the new and existing pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids through densely populated southeastern Pennsylvania are inherently dangerous, too shallow and close to homes, and that the company has not developed proper emergency management plans in case of a failure. Judge Barnes — who had previously ordered a temporary shutdown of the pipelines in a different case — ruled against the residents, saying they had not proven that the pipelines posed a clear danger to life or property that justified an emergency shutdown until the full case can be resolved. The 350-mile pipeline project across southern Pennsylvania is among the largest infrastructure projects in the state in decades. Its progress has been hampered by hundreds of permit violations for spills, water supply disruptions and ground subsidence, as well as safety concerns and mounting public opposition. Most recently, Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan opened a criminal investigation into the pipelines’ construction, which Sunoco has called baseless.

    Mariner East 2 worker’s ‘obscene’ comments draw ire of Chesco DA - The embattled Mariner East 2 pipeline set the stage for an “obscene” war of words between a Chester County resident and a pipeline worker, county District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan said Wednesday.  Hogan railed against the out-of-town worker in a statement, calling his use of a demeaning word and a sexist epithet in a social media exchange “inappropriate and unprofessional.” “We will not allow our citizens to be bullied," Hogan said, adding that he had discussed the incident with Sunoco Pipeline LP, the pipeline’s operator, and Pipeliners Local 798, the union representing the worker. Hogan’s statement came weeks after he initiated a criminal investigation into Sunoco, which started pumping natural gas liquids through the pipeline last Dec. 29. The incident in December unfolded on Instagram, when the worker posted the slurs in a comment on a post from an outspoken critic of Mariner East 2. She responded by raising concern about welds along the pipeline, specifically mentioning “manipulated data” and the integrity of the pipes used.The worker sent a second message assuring her his welds “were fine.”“But if my weld was bad, I hope it’s in your backyard so I can watch your house burn down on the news,” he added, apparently referring to when a similar pipeline exploded in Beaver County, Pa., last year.The woman, who spoke with the Inquirer and Daily News on the condition of anonymity because she said she feared retaliation, said this was the second time a pipeline worker had sent her harassing messages, after a similar incident last summer on Twitter.“These are the very same workers whom the safety of my family and my community relies on,” said the woman, who lives with her children near the pipeline. “This type of behavior is unacceptable. These are also the workers whose jobs are being given a priority over our safety and our environment.”

    Another Sinkhole Opens Along Controversial Mariner East Pipeline Route --Sunoco's controversial Mariner East pipeline project in Pennsylvania is beginning 2019 on unstable ground, literally. A sinkhole opened in the suburban development of Lisa Drive in Chester County Sunday, exposing the old Mariner East 1 pipeline built in the 1930s.Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, repurposed the older pipeline to carry up to 70,000 barrels of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region to a refinery in Marcus Hook each day. It was shut off for two months in 2018 when sinkholes developed in the same development, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. John Mattia lives 60 feet from the new sinkhole, which is about five feet wide by 10 feet deep."I find it alarming to say the least that in an area that they say they already remediated there is a new sinkhole," Mattia told StateImpact Pennsylvania. "To have this happen again and to expose the pipeline completely, I find despicable."Sunoco has said that there was "no impact" to the pipeline from the sinkhole. However, it agreed to shut down the pipeline and purge it of natural gas while the subsidence is filled in. The Public Utilities Commission's (PUC) Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement said Sunday the pipeline would not be able to restart without its approval. The incident comes four months after another Energy Transfer Partners pipeline exploded in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, possibly because of a landslide.

    Another sinkhole appears, exposing Mariner East pipeline - A sinkhole related to the Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids pipeline opened in the backyard of a Chester County, Pennsylvania, home Sunday, authorities said. The five-foot wide, 10-foot-deep sinkhole appeared less than a year after the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission ordered Mariner East pipeline operations to stop when sinkholes were found in the same neighborhood of single-family homes. The pipeline resumed operation last May. On Sunday, a broken water-drainage system associated with Mariner East 1 caused the sinkhole, exposing a portion of the pipeline, the Chester County Department of Emergency Services told the Philadelphia Daily News newspaper. Police were called around 4:30 p.m. The pipeline was shut off. “We are working in coordination with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement and its consultants to perform activities to ensure the area remains stable," according to a statement from Energy Transfer LP, which manages the pipeline. "It is too early to know additional details at this time.” The eight-inch line began operating in 1931 to flow gasoline from east to west across Pennsylvania, and was repurposed as a natural gas liquids pipeline in 2014 by Sunoco Logistics, an Energy Transfer unit. The line flows 70,000 barrels per day of ethane and propane from Marcellus and Utica Shale plays in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Eastern Ohio to destinations in Pennsylvania, including the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex on the Delaware River near Philadelphia. Officials with Sunoco and the PUC responded to the sinkhole on Sunday and Monday to evaluate the situation and “work together to come up with a game plan” to seal the hole with concrete, said Bill Turner, Chester County deputy director for emergency management. Locals said there was little mystery to the sinkhole. “It’s riddled with caves of various sizes,” Eric Friedman, the spokesperson for Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, told the Daily News Monday of the area’s geologic makeup. .

    Sunoco to ‘purge’ part of Mariner East 1 after new sinkhole opens at Lisa Drive - Energy Transfer said late Monday it would “purge” a section of its Mariner East 1 pipeline of natural gas liquids while filling new subsidence that opened up on Sunday on a pipeline construction site at Lisa Drive in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township.The planned action followed the appearance of a new sinkhole at the suburban development where  sinkholes in early 2018 prompted regulators to halt the operation and construction of the Mariner East pipelines because of concerns about public safety.The company, which shut off the pipeline in response to the new sinkhole, said it had agreed with the Public Utility Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement to remove the product while the area is stabilized. It said the pipeline will be “purged of product while the subsidence is filled with specialized grouting to ensure it remains stable and geophysical testing is performed.”At the same time, pipeline crews will “actively monitor” all rights of way used by Mariner East in the area “to ensure they remain safe and secure.”The PUC said in a news release Monday night that its investigation and enforcement bureau will have to approve a re-start of ME1.On Sunday, Sunoco/Energy Transfer confirmed the existence of the hole at Lisa Drive, where critics argue the geology is too unstable to support new and existing pipelines that are part of the controversial Mariner East project. The new hole exposed Mariner East 1, a 1930s-era pipeline that has been repurposed to carry natural gas liquids along the same route where two new Sunoco pipelines are being built.

    Remainder of Mariner East 1 Pipeline Shut Down as Sinkhole Investigation Continues - Less than a week after being partially exposed by a sinkhole, the remainder of a controversial pipeline through Chester County, Pennsylvania, has been shut down.A sinkhole developed over the weekend along Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township that exposed a section of the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which is operated by Sunoco Pipeline LP. Workers used flowable fill material and sand to secure the secured section of the pipeline. Sunoco then made the decision to shut down the remainder of the line after a discussion with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement.  Sunoco is purging a 44-mile section of the pipeline, from Beckersville, Berks County, to Marcus Hook, Delaware County, in order to fully isolate the Lisa Drive location for testing, officials said."Following discussions with the PUC’s I&E, the remainder of ME1 has been “shut down” by SPLP (since Jan. 21), meaning no product is flowing in this pipeline anywhere in Pennsylvania," a spokesperson for the PUC wrote. "SPLP is not permitted to resume the transportation of product through ME1 until approval is received from I&E."The construction of the gas pipeline through Chester County, Pennsylvania, has been a contentious issue for years, but the sinkhole added a bizarre twist over the weekend. An armed constable from central Pennsylvania, 100 miles from the Philadelphia suburbs, flashed a badge at an actual local detective Sunday when the investigator arrived to look into residents' complaints of the sinkhole, according to the Chester County district attorney.   "The Detective, who is familiar with all of the Chester County constables, asked the armed man who he worked for. The man then finally identified himself as a constable from Northumberland County in central Pennsylvania. When pressed further by the Detective, the man admitted that he had been hired as security by Sunoco."

    Chesco D.A. accuses Sunoco of hiring armed, out-of-county 'muscle' - — Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, who has already announced a criminal investigation into construction of the Mariner East pipeline, now is questioning what he says is a move by Sunoco and parent company Energy Transfer Partners to hire constables from outside the county as “hired muscle showing up to intimidate our citizens.” The district attorney’s office said in a prepared release that it had discovered that Sunoco has apparently hired armed constables from outside the county to act as a private security force around the pipelines, while “holding themselves out as acting in an official capacity to people approaching the area of the pipelines.” In early January, Hogan launched a criminal investigation of Sunoco. He said he was moving to protect concerns of residents and suggested state officials had failed to do so. He wonders what it will take to get the attention of Gov. Tom Wolf and the Public Utility Commission. “All of this is happening on their watch,” Hogan said.  The D.A. said that when a new Jan. 20 sinkhole appeared, Chester County detectives were dispatched to the scene.When a detective in plain clothes approached the scene, “an armed man flashed a badge” and identified himself as a constable.The detective didn’t recognize him and personally knows all the constables. He asked the guard who he worked for.The man then “finally identified himself” as a constable from Northumberland County in central Pennsylvania.The detective subsequently informed the man that he was not permitted to claim any official authority or use his badge for such a purpose. Hogan also said he will be calling the constable’s boss.

    The Bliss of the Knife -- Do the destroyers of the Earth do it for energy and profit? Fracking has bad fundamentals and no long-term future but leaves behind everywhere a toxic desert and wrecked communities. Yet the elite consensus exalts it and the people tolerate it. It seems that energy and profit aren’t the real collective reasons civilization is fracking to death its own basis for life, fracking to death the water, air, soil, the all-comprehending environment.Since there’s no rational or practical basis for turning much of America and Europe and the rest of the globe into fracking death zones, since even by their own productionist measures they could instead subsidize alternatives which are more effective and less destructive, we’re left with the conclusion that the real purpose of the fracking onslaught is destruction for the sake of destruction. They do it for the bliss of the knife. And the economic civilization as a whole, “growth” aka cancer, and the science cult, historically are grounded in the Christian dominion theology, Man vs. Nature, the reclamation of Earth from the wilderness of Satan (and before that the long, bitter Hebrew monotheist struggle against the Canaanite Asherah cult), destruction for the sake of destruction, waste for the sake of waste, ecocide for the sake of ecocide. It wants the bliss of the knife.

    National Grid: 7,100 customers without heat due to gas outages - Newport Public Schools will be closed for the rest of this week, and Gov. Raimondo has declared a state of emergency in Newport County, following a National Grid outage that's left 7,100 customers without natural gas. Crews are currently working to fix the issue, which is on Aquidneck Island. A spokesperson for the company warned customers in Newport and Middletown that they might lose gas service Monday evening, which thousands later did. Newport Public Schools announced following the outage that schools would be closed Tuesday, later announcing that the schools would be closed for the entire week.  Newport firefighters told ABC6 that the outage has impacted nearly all National Grid customers in the city, including some in Middletown. National Grid officials assure residents this low pressure issue doesn’t pose a danger, unlike what happened in Massachusetts back in September.  "It is not like the overpressurization in the Merrimack Valley. This is an underpressure issue," said Horan.

    Explosion at Ohio pipeline happened moments before Newport gas incident— An explosion at a gas pipeline more than 600 miles away occurred minutes before a dramatic drop in pressure forced energy officials to shut down natural gas to the lower portion of Aquidneck Island on Monday.According to a news release from Enbridge - a Canada-based energy supplier - a gas pipeline ruptured in Noble County, Ohio (outside of Columbus) that sparked an explosion, destroying several homes and injuring two people. Enbridge supplies gas to Algonquin which supplies the northeast. The explosion in Ohio happened at 10:40 a.m. About 20 minutes later, National Grid President Tim Horan said they noticed a dramatic loss in pressure in their gas lines. Citing safety concerns, Horan said they decided to shut down the gas feeding the lower portion of the island. It could be days or weeks before they are able to restore service to all of their customers. A spokesperson for National Grid said they are aware of the explosion in Ohio. A contact at Enbridge did not return an email asking if the incidents were connected. At a news conference Tuesday, Horan said a valve feeding gas to Rhode Island malfunctioned. A National Grid spokesperson later said that valve is located in Weymouth, Mass. In their news release, Enbridge said the rupture caused two fires and public safety officials had to shut down area roadways. Aerial footage of the blast shows a scorched field with dozens of hay bales smoldering.  Algonquin spokeswoman Marylee Hanley said a temporary reduction in available natural gas in the supply led to the disruption in service in Newport County.  "Safety and operational reliability remain our top priority. Natural gas pipeline capacity in New England remains an ongoing concern, particularly during severe cold conditions." A spokesperson later said the two events were not connected but it is still unclear what led to the reduction in natural gas.

    Trump Eyes Action to Limit States' Powers to Block Pipelines - The Trump administration is considering taking steps to limit the ability of states to block interstate gas pipelines and other energy projects, according to three people familiar with the deliberations. The effort, possibly done through an executive order, is aimed chiefly at states in the Northeast U.S., where opposition to pipeline projects has helped prevent abundant shale gas in Pennsylvania and Ohio from reaching consumers in New York and other cities. New York used a Clean Water Act provision to effectively block the construction of a natural gas pipeline being developed by Williams Partners LP to carry Marcellus shale gas 124 miles (200 km) to New England. The project got the green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but ran into obstacles in New York, where regulators denied a water quality permit. While mostly targeted toward boosting limited pipeline capacity in the Northeast, the initiative could help drive permitting and construction of other energy projects, including coal export terminals. For instance, Lighthouse Resources’ proposed coal export terminal in Longview, Washington, was ensnared when the state’s Department of Ecology denied a critical Clean Water Act permit, citing concerns about air quality and increased railroad traffic to serve the site. The new initiative dovetails with expectations that President Donald Trump would use his State of the Union address to tout efforts to accelerate permitting and construction of oil and gas pipelines, though he’s postponed the speech and the exact timing of any announcement remains unclear. The potential White House action was earlier reported by Politico. Pipeline advocates who say states are abusing their authority under the Clean Water Act have advanced ideas for reining it in.

    EIA expects relatively flat natural gas prices, continued record production through 2020 -  EIA’s January 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) expects several U.S. natural gas market trends from 2018 to continue into 2019 and 2020, including relatively stable Henry Hub natural gas prices and increasing natural gas production and exports. According to the STEO, total U.S. natural gas consumption is expected to increase slightly through 2020, with increases in the electric and industrial sectors offsetting decreases in the residential and commercial sectors. EIA expects the U.S. benchmark Henry Hub natural gas spot price to average $2.89 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2019 and $2.92/MMBtu in 2020, about 25 cents lower than the 2018 average of $3.15/MMBtu. Prices in the forecast are expected to be comparable with recent years as production growth largely keeps pace with demand and export growth. NYMEX trading during the five-day period ending January 10, 2019, suggests that a range of $1.85/MMBtu to $4.80/MMBtu encompasses the market expectation for Henry Hub prices in December 2019 at the 95% confidence level. EIA expects record-high dry U.S. natural gas production to continue to grow through 2020, from an estimated 83.3 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2018 to 90.2 Bcf/d in 2019 and 92.2 Bcf/d in 2020. Most U.S. production will come from the Appalachian Basin in the Northeast, followed by the Permian Basin in western Texas and eastern New Mexico and the Haynesville shale formation in eastern Texas. Factors supporting continued production growth include improved drilling efficiency and cost reductions in drilling and well completions, as well as increased takeaway capacity from the highly productive Appalachia and Permian production regions. Total U.S. natural gas consumption remains relatively flat compared with 2018 levels in the STEO forecast, increasing 1.3% in 2019 and 1.1% in 2020 to a total of 83.6 Bcf/d in 2020. EIA anticipates that the United States will continue to export more natural gas than it imports during the coming years as production continues to outpace domestic consumption. Most of the increase in natural gas exports will come from additional liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity additions at the Cameron LNG and Freeport LNG facilities located along the Gulf Coast, and the Elba Island LNG facility in Georgia. EIA expects LNG exports to increase from an estimated 3.0 Bcf/d in 2018 to 5.1 Bcf/d in 2019 and up to 6.8 Bcf/d in 2020, more than double 2018 levels.

    Natural Gas Crushed On Weaker Physical Prices And Long-Range Warmth - (graphics) It was a slaughterhouse at the front of the natural gas strip today, with the February contract settling almost 13% lower from its Friday settle.  Weaker cash prices certainly played a role, as traders were looking for cash to provide some strength for the market and instead it led the way lower this morning.  The result was by far the most losses at the front of the strip on the day.  The February/March spread set a new low on the day with such February-concentrated selling.  This pulled the G/H spread right back into the historical range.  Much of the cash weakness today appeared to be due to looser balances. We outlined these looser balances for clients today in our Note of the Day and again in our live chat, where we looked at a large recent dip in LNG exports.  We also outlined how we expect weather model guidance to trend through the coming week in our flagship Natural Gas Weekly Update, and observed Climate Prediction Center forecasts tick warmer again this afternoon for Week 2.  Then in our Afternoon Update we summarized the latest 12z weather model changes and how we see natural gas risk skewed into next week.

    Warmer American Weather Model Guidance Reverses Gas Mid-Day --February natural gas prices were initially strong this morning, as overnight model guidance trended colder before afternoon models generally warmed in the long-range. This pressured the prompt gas contract quite a bit, leading it to settle down around 2% on the day.  After the February contract led this morning, it lagged the most along the strip into the settle too.  In fact, later contracts caught a bid into the settle, pulling the March/April H/J contract spread back to within a couple cents of its recent lows back early in January.   Meanwhile, we can clearly see the warmer trend across the South on afternoon GEFS weather model guidance that shot prices lower (image courtesy of Tropical Tidbits).  This came as traders were positioning ahead of what should be the largest reported natural gas storage withdrawal of the heating season thus far.  A large withdrawal is expected in the East particularly, where both DTI and TCO announced their combined largest storage withdrawal of the winter thus far.  Yet there is little doubt that forward weather forecasts will matter more to traders than the EIA print tomorrow unless it misses significantly from consensus, as it was the warmer Week 2 risks across the South that really hit prices today.  Either way, we expect an active day tomorrow with significant weather forecast changes and an important EIA gas storage number to be announced.

    Natural Gas Futures Not Phased by Slightly Larger-than-Expected EIA Storage Pull -- The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Thursday reported a slightly larger-than-expected 163 Bcf withdrawal from U.S. natural gas stocks, prompting only a modest reaction from a futures market focused on the impact of upcoming polar vortex-influenced cold.The 163 Bcf withdrawal, recorded for the week ended Jan. 18, falls on the bullish side of major surveys but is bearish versus the five-year average 185 Bcf pull and the 273 Bcf withdrawal EIA recorded in the year-ago periodThe figure didn’t provoke a pronounced reaction from the futures market, at least not right away. Prior to the report, February Nymex futures had been trading in a range from around $3.060-3.110. As EIA’s report hit trading screens at 10:30 a.m. ET, the front month traded as high as $3.120 and as low as $3.075 before hovering around $3.075-$3.095 for the next 10 minutes or so, in line with the pre-report trade.By 11 a.m. ET, futures were trading around $3.071, up 9.1 cents from Wednesday’s settle.Estimates prior to the report had pointed to a withdrawal slightly smaller than the actual figure. A Bloomberg survey had showed a median expectation for a 155 Bcf pull, while a Reuters survey had showed an average 154 Bcf withdrawal. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at a withdrawal of 160 Bcf. “February gas prices are not particularly impressed with this number, but with cold weather only confined to the East on the week and a large draw both in the Midwest and in the South Central we see this print as indicating significant upside risk on any return of colder weather into the middle of February,” Bespoke Weather Services said.  “With a colder February our end-of-draw expectations have dipped below 1.2 Tcf and can fall further if forecasts cool more than expected; we of course need cold risks on model guidance to rally, but we expect those to build over the coming week and support prices.” Total Lower 48 working gas in underground storage stood at 2,370 Bcf, 305 Bcf (11.4%) below the five-year average but 33 Bcf (1.4%) higher than last year’s stocks, according to EIA. By region, the largest withdrawal occurred in the Midwest at 56 Bcf, while 54 Bcf was pulled in the East. The Pacific region withdrew 11 Bcf for the week, while 6 Bcf was pulled from Mountain region stocks. The South Central saw a net 38 Bcf withdrawal, including 29 Bcf from nonsalt and 8 Bcf from salt stocks, according to EIA.

    Major LNG Buyers' Uncontracted Demand to Quadruple by 2030 - Energy consultants Wood Mackenzie’s latest research reveals that uncontracted demand, by the world’s seven largest LNG buyers, could quadruple from 20 million metric tons today to 80 by 2030. Buyers of LNG based in north-east Asia including Japan, China, South Korea, India and Taiwan account for more than 50 percent of today’s global LNG market of 308 million metric tons. However, by 2030, global LNG demand will reach 450 million metric tons forecasts Bloomberg NEF. This projected increase of contracted and uncontracted demand from Asian buyers is very good news for both traditional LNG exporters such as Qatar and Australia, the newcomers in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Russia’s Yamal as well as upcoming Mozambique. LNG is going to be the chief beneficiary of the climate agenda, to contain the global rise in temperature to below 2 degrees Centigrade, economic development in emerging economies and parallel action against visible and destructive air pollution, most notably in China. As Nicholas Brown, Wood Mackenzie research director, has stated, "as China pushes on toward a lower-emission economy, its demand for gas and LNG has grown significantly and we expect the trend to continue in the longer term." It is not only the world’s leading purchasers of LNG in Asia that are looking for new supplies of this cleaner energy resource but also buyers from other parts of the world, most notably Europe including Italy’s Enel, Britain’s Centrica and France’s EDF. This is especially the case as legacy LNG supply contracts of 20 years will expire soon, prompting the need to secure new supplies. It is likely that these new purchases will be both contract and spot market based, with an eye for low average costs and good security of supply. Wood Mackenzie expects a record number of final investment decisions on LNG projects in 2019, potentially raising production by an additional 220 million metric tons per year. This represents a large and rapid forthcoming expansion in world LNG supply when compared to the early years, when supplies increased from 200 million tonnes in 2000 to 300 million tons in 2018, according to BP’s Energy Outlook for 2018. Amongst the multiple large-scale projects that are likely to be given final investment decision approval are Russia’s $27 billion Novatek's Arctic 2 LNG project, at least one of Anadarko’s Mozambique schemes and possibly three or more American-based expansion projects. There are also proposed expansion schemes in the Pacific region including Australia’s Gorgan and Woodside and in Papua New Guinea, which are expected to get the green light soon. It is clear, according to Brown, that “Asia’s major buyers will be at the forefront in ensuring this next generation of LNG supply is brought to market.” 

    Pipeline wars arrive at Supreme Court. What's next? - Legal fights over the expansion of natural gas pipelines across the East Coast are starting to make their way to the Supreme Court. Since October, pipeline challengers have filed at least three petitions that have reached the country's most powerful bench. More are expected. Each case targets oversight of natural gas pipeline projects that have proliferated across the nation as a result of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus, Utica and other Appalachian shale plays. And each shows critics are becoming more savvy in their challenges, particularly against approvals by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Pipeline opponents have won some of their challenges in federal court. Notable victories include 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that scrapped forest-crossing and species take permits for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast gas pipeline through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Recent court orders have halted construction on the project. Pipeline critics have also suffered some losses, including three cases the Supreme Court could consider. "Because of fracking, there's been so much natural gas pipeline-building activity for the last 10 years," said Alexandra Klass, an energy law professor at the University of Minnesota. "A lot of that is now happening in states on the East Coast where there's more organized opposition to building pipelines, versus places like Texas. "You also have much more concerns these days about climate impacts, particularly in that part of the country," she added. One pipeline-related petition is up for review Friday. The Supreme Court takes up just a tiny fraction of the thousands of cases it receives each year. Here's a look at the projects and questions at the heart of the cases:  

    U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear challenge of Mountain Valley Pipeline - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case in which a group of landowners argued that their property was illegally taken through eminent domain laws for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In October, about a dozen landowners along the pipeline’s route asked the high court to reverse the dismissal of their lawsuit, heard in Roanoke’s federal court, that challenged the way developers of the natural gas pipeline were allowed to obtain forced easements through their property. In an order filed Tuesday, the Supreme Court did not explain why it is not taking the case. Mia Yugo, one of three Roanoke attorneys who asked the court to consider the appeal, said it would have been “extremely rare” for the case to have actually made it to the floor of the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court agrees to hear oral arguments and render a decision in only about 80 of the approximately 8,000 cases that get filed each year. Among the constitutional questions raised by the lawsuit was whether eminent domain — a power normally invoked by governmental bodies for projects such as highways and power lines — should be awarded to a private company in pursuit of profits. In what the lawsuit called “a government sanctioned-land grab,” Congress through the Natural Gas Act has allowed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to delegate the power of eminent domain to companies like Mountain Valley, once it determines there is a public need for the natural gas they plan to ship through massive buried pipelines. U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon dismissed the lawsuit in December 2017, saying she lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her ruling in a decision that the landowners then appealed to the Supreme Court. 

    Roanoke attorneys seek criminal investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline -- Crews building the Mountain Valley Pipeline may have violated civil and criminal laws by continuing construction in streams and wetlands after a permit was suspended, two Roanoke attorneys say in asking for a federal investigation. Charlie Williams and Tom Bondurant told The Roanoke Times this week that they have shared with the Environmental Protection Agency a “substantial body of evidence” gathered by Preserve Bent Mountain, an organization they represent. After reviewing photographs and other documentation from the group, which spent weeks monitoring pipeline construction, Williams and Bondurant asked the EPA in a Nov. 26 letter to conduct a formal investigation. “We concluded there was enough evidence of violations of criminal law, particularly the Clean Water Act, that we could make a good-faith submission to the EPA,” said Williams, who specializes in environmental law at the firm of Gentry Locke. Bondurant, a Gentry Locke attorney and former federal prosecutor, said that it could be a criminal offense for Mountain Valley to continue work in water bodies after its stream-crossing permit was suspended last October by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was unclear if an investigation has begun. Officials with the EPA did not return calls or respond to emailed questions Monday and Tuesday. A Mountain Valley spokeswoman declined to comment.

    Trump administration seeks to pull back more Atlantic Coast Pipeline permits facing challenge — The Trump administration is seeking to pull back another permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that is facing a legal challenge -- a US Army Corps of Engineers authorization governing water crossings in parts of West Virginia. The Corps' motion Friday in the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals followed a similar request by the administration January 16 for voluntary remand of a National Park Service permit for ACP that was also being challenged by environmental groups in the same court. Both actions highlight the difficulties in the 4th Circuit for federal agency permits for the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d project, one of several meant to move Appalachian gas to Mid-Atlantic markets. Still, one analyst suggested the requests for remand could help speed the regulatory process along, keeping control of the timeline with the agencies, rather than the court. "While both requests came from the government, they are both positive developments for the project because it likely means the time period to a sustainable affirmative decision will be shortened," said LawIQ Director of Research Gary Kruse. In the case of the water crossing permit, the Corps justified its request by pointing to the same court's decision in November striking a similar permit for the neighboring Mountain Valley Pipeline. In that case, the court found that West Virginia's waiver of the requirement for a more site-specific individual state water quality certification was invalid and that therefore the verifications of water crossings by the Corps' Huntington District were arbitrary and capricious. The Corps, in its recent motion, asserted that an order granting remand in the ACP case is appropriate because the court already has found that a state waiver "under similar circumstances," in the MVP case, was invalid or procedurally deficient." It asked the court to vacate the verifications and remand the matter to the Corps (Sierra Club v. US Army Corps of Engineers, 18-1743). In both cases, environmental groups have argued that the pipelines should not have been allowed to use a type of permit known as Nationwide Permit 12 because the projects failed to meet certain special conditions set by state -- for instance that a crossing must be completed within a 72-hour period. As part of an effort to get the projects back on track, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has since sought to change some of the special conditions for using the nationwide permit -- including some at issue in the ACP litigation. Earlier this month, the DEP extended the public comment period on those proposed changes until March 4.

    Judge Halts Seismic Testing Permits During Shutdown -   A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse. The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown. Although Judge Richard Gergel of the U.S. District Court in South Carolina granted the stay on Friday, at the same time, he effectively halted federal workers from moving forward on any oil-drilling matters until the government re-opens and is funded, as the Southern Environmental Law Center explained in a celebratory press release. "The government was trying to have its cake and eat it too, and we're pleased the Court did not allow that to happen," said Laura Cantral, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, one of the groups suing to stop seismic blasting in the Atlantic, in the press release.  Environmentalists have been angered about the federal government giving Big Oil a bye during the shutdown, after the Department of Interior recalled Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) workers to continue permitting onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling and testing. But as Gergel wrote in his order: "The Court hereby enjoins the federal defendants, BOEM, and any other federal agency or entity from taking action to promulgate permits, otherwise approve, or take any other official action regarding the pending permit applications for oil and gas surveys in the Atlantic."

    Tellurian's Driftwood LNG project takes step forward with positive final environmental review -  — Tellurian's proposed Driftwood LNG export terminal reached a milestone Friday as US regulators issued a positive final environmental review for the Louisiana project. Because liquefaction terminals take about four years to complete, many of the active developers such as Tellurian will need to reach final investment decisions this year to be able to start up in the 2023-24 timeframe during which LNG buyers are expected to have the greatest need for new supply.The conclusions in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's final environmental impact statement keep Tellurian on track to reach a final investment decision and begin construction in the first half of 2019, subject to the agency issuing a permit certificate for the project. The FEIS said approval of the project, with the mitigation measures recommended, would result in a less than significant level of environmental impacts. "We look forward to receiving the agency's order granting authorization to site, construct and operate our Driftwood project," CEO Meg Gentle said in a statement. "Tellurian will then stand ready to make a final investment decision and begin construction in the first half of 2019, with the first LNG expected in 2023."Among other things, FERC's recommended mitigation measures state that Tellurian shall not start construction until the developer consults with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether proposed project activities could affect the eastern black rail -- a small marsh bird -- or its habitat, and files copies of all correspondence with the agency's secretary. Investors are eagerly awaiting proof of commercial viability for the terminal and three feedgas pipelines Tellurian also plans to build. Commercial success will determine how many of the second wave of US LNG export projects move forward in 2019 in what will be a critical year for decision-making. Tellurian has pitched a different business model than its peers to finance construction, asking customers to pay an up-front fee for an equity interest in Driftwood Holdings, which will consist of entities including the terminal, that will then give them the right to lift 1 million mt/year of LNG from Driftwood for the life of the terminal.

    US to become a net energy exporter in 2020 for first time in nearly 70 years, Energy Dept says - The boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production will make the U.S. a net energy exporter in 2020 — a feat the country has not achieved in nearly 70 years, the Department of Energy's statistics bureau said on Thursday. The U.S. will start exporting more energy products than it imports as U.S. crude output continues to grow and domestic oil consumption declines, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its latest Annual Energy Outlook. Growing shipments of natural gas and petroleum byproducts will also boost the country's role as a major energy exporter.The report, which makes projections for the next 50 years, marks the latest revision to EIA's timeline for the U.S. to become more energy independent. Last year, EIA forecast the U.S. would become a net exporter by 2022. In 2017, it said the nation would achieve the status in 2026. Last week, EIA said the U.S. will start exporting more crude oil and petroleum products than it imports by the final quarter of 2020. After that it would remain a net oil exporter for years to come. Towards the end of its 50-year forecast period, EIA expects the U.S. to once again start importing more petroleum products than it exports, as economic growth fuels demand for gasoline.EIA expects U.S. oil production to continue setting new records each year for nearly another decade. The bureau sees American oil output hitting a new annual high through 2027, when booming production starts to level off. Last year, the nation's drillers pumped an average 10.9 million barrels a day, breaking the annual record going back to 1970. Once production cracks 14 million barrels a day in the coming years, EIA expects the U.S. output to stay above that level through 2040.  The shale drilling will also support a rise in natural gas liquids production, which yields byproducts like ethane, propane and butane. These NGLs are used to make a wide range of products and chemicals, including plastics. EIA says NGL output could account for about a third of total liquids production through 2050. The country will remain a net coal exporter through 2050, but EIA does not see shipments growing due to competition from other nations better positioned to serve big importers.

    Undistracted, Kinder Morgan staying in gas exports-focused lane — Kinder Morgan will stick to its targeted growth plans to serve strong demand for US natural gas exports and won't let concerns among some shareholders about the pipeline operator's lackluster stock performance push it to make expensive investments that don't fit its strategy, executives said Wednesday. The comments during a series of presentations to analysts come as the Houston-based company inches closer to starting up its Georgia liquefaction project and continues to develop two new Texas gas pipelines that would boost takeaway capacity from the Permian Basin by approximately 4 Bcf/d. With its vast network of pipelines and storage facilities throughout North America weighted heavily to natural gas, Kinder Morgan benefits from fixed fees and take-or-pay contracts that significantly limit its overall exposure to commodity price fluctuations. That market position hasn't stopped its shares from falling 6%, on a dividend-adjusted basis, over the last 12 months, raising questions about its outlook. "There's a lot of capital chasing midstream energy projects," CEO Steve Kean said during his presentation, which was webcast. "It would be easy to lose your discipline and try to win projects just to win them. We don't do that, and we haven't done that." He added, "We don't have to build everything from scratch." That's not to say Kinder Morgan won't build - when it believes it makes sense. The 0.4 Bcf/d LNG export terminal being built at Elba Island near Savannah, Georgia, is a brownfield project that involves converting a facility that was originally built to receive LNG cargoes and regasify the fuel into pipeline-ready gas. Kinder Morgan asked US regulators on Wednesday for permission to introduce hazardous fluids to loading pumps at the terminal as it inches closer to startup of the first liquefaction train, currently expected at the end of March. The project is supported by a 20-year offtake contract with Shell.   Kinder Morgan has proposed two gas pipelines to boost takeaway capacity from the Permian in West Texas, to demand centers, including the Texas Gulf Coast. Permian Highway Pipeline will be designed to transport up to 2 Bcf/d of from the Waha area to the Gulf and Mexico markets. Gulf Coast Express is a 1.98 Bcf/d project.

    Analysis- Slowing LNG demand growth in Asia clouds market outlook for US exporters - — Slowing LNG import growth in Asia is taking its toll on global prices this winter, leaving the Platts JKM this month at its lowest in three years, in a sign of rising headwinds for US LNG exporters. In December, LNG imports to South, Southeast and Northeast Asia totaled the LNG equivalent of 1.07 Tcf, which was actually the highest monthly import volume on record, data compiled by S&P Global Platts Analytics shows. In China, an ongoing conversion of the residential heating market in favor of natural gas saw import volume surpass 289 Bcf in December - its second-highest monthly volume on record. In November, the country actually briefly surpassed Japan as the world's largest LNG importer, taking over 291 Bcf. Despite those headline import numbers, some of the region's other large buyers, including Japan, India and Taiwan, saw cargo deliveries decline last month, compared to December 2017 levels. In Japan, LNG imports last month were down about 4% compared to December 2017, driven partly by warmer temperatures, but also by a spate of nuclear restarts at previously shuttered facilities. In Taiwan, warmer weather was likely to blame for lower import volumes. Weaker demand from some of Asia's legacy importers is keeping prices in check this winter. From December 1 to date, the prompt-month Platts JKM, the benchmark price for Asian LNG imports, has averaged just $8.69/MMBtu - its lowest for the peak-winter period since 2015-2016. On Wednesday, the contract tumbled to $8.044/MMBtu for March-delivered cargoes and is now hovering just above a recent eight-month low, S&P Global Platts data shows. While late-winter LNG prices in Northeast Asia typically decline along with seasonal gas demand in the region, this year's downturn has come much earlier than usual, and appears likely to stick.

    Europe tops buyers for U.S. LNG with winter cargo influx (Reuters) - Energy companies are flooding Europe with U.S. natural gas, establishing a foothold in a market dominated by Russia and seen as a key battleground in Washington’s efforts to curb Moscow’s energy influence. Europe is now the top buyer of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) after a near fivefold spike in U.S. LNG sales to the continent this winter, overtaking South Korea and Mexico, a Reuters analysis showed. Profit rather than politics is driving the increase, despite pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump for Europe to wean itself off Russian gas. (Graphic: Total U.S. LNG exports by destination- tmsnrt.rs/2S34mcL) Energy companies have switched sales to Europe after prices in Asia fell sharply on lower-than-expected demand. Prices in Europe, traditionally seen as a market of last resort, have held firm. “It’s all about commercial reasons,” said James Henderson, director of the natural gas research program at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. “U.S. LNG will go where there is the biggest margin.” “There is no political motive here.” U.S. LNG shipments to Europe totaled 3.23 million tonnes, or 48 cargoes, in October to January, compared to 0.7 million tonnes, or nine cargoes, a year ago. The United States is currently second only to Qatar, the world’s largest LNG producer, as an LNG supplier to Europe, Refinitiv Eikon data showed. The figures have not previously been reported. (Graphic: Total European LNG imports by source - tmsnrt.rs/2RUgIEb) LNG is natural gas frozen to a liquid state so that it can be transported in tankers. The industry is burgeoning, buoyed by demand from China, where the government is pushing to cut carbon emissions, partly by swapping from coal-generated power to gas. Traders had expected Chinese demand to soar again this winter but Beijing had bought cargoes well in advance and so far, a mild winter has kept stocks high. A 10 percent tariff imposed by Beijing on U.S. LNG imports during a trade war also hurt. Awash in supply, sellers of U.S. LNG have pivoted to Europe, where pipeline gas from Russia dominates. Gazprom pumps 190 billion cubic meters, or the equivalent of 145 million tonnes a year (mtpa) to Europe, four times the current capacity of all U.S. LNG export terminals. A new pipeline, Nord Stream 2, will allow Russia to export even more gas to Germany, the largest consumer, although Washington is trying to halt work on the project. LNG offers countries an alternative to piped gas and forces Russia to compete on price. 

    Europe Now #1 Customer For US LNG; Overtakes South Korea And Mexico -- From SeekingAlpha market newsEurope is top buyer of U.S. LNG with winter cargo influx - Reuters

    • Europe is now the top buyer of U.S. liquefied natural gas after a near 5x spike in U.S. LNG sales to the continent this winter, overtaking South Korea and Mexico, according to a Reuters analysis, after prices in Asia fell sharply on lower than expected demand while prices in Europe, traditionally seen as a market of last resort, have remained steady.
    • U.S. LNG shipments to Europe totaled 3.23M metric tons, or 48 cargoes, in October to January, compared to 700K tons, or nine cargoes, in the year-ago period, bringing the U.S. to second place behind only Qatar as an LNG supplier to Europe.
    • U.S. LNG also offers countries an alternative to piped gas and forces Russia to compete on price; Russia's Gazprom  pumps 190B cm, or the equivalent of 145M metric tons/year to Europe, 4x the current capacity of all U.S. LNG export terminals.
    • last year, 700K metric tons = 9 cargoes
    • one year later, 3.23 million metric = 45 cargoes

    Big Oil's Strategy For A Global Energy Transition - “While the speed, timing, and details of the transition are highly uncertain, the direction should be clear: toward a low-carbon future,” David Koranyi wrote in a report for the Atlantic Council.  Oil companies are responding in different ways with varying levels of urgency.  One key strategy from the oil majors is to make big bets on natural gas. The prospect of plateauing demand for oil in transportation has oil executives eyeing natural gas, which they view as a safer long-term investment due to the resilience of demand for gas in the electricity sector as coal phases out. Most oil companies are also investing heavily in chemicals and petrochemicals. Environmental groups would correctly note that this is hardly a strategy for a clean energy transition, but oil executives (and analysts including the IEA) see demand for plastics, fertilizers and other petrochemical products as a larger source of demand growth going forward than the transportation sector. Shell is building a massive ethane cracker in Western Pennsylvania to build plastics from shale gas, for instance. ExxonMobil and others are doing the same on the Gulf Coast. Another strategy for the oil majors is to invest in short-cycle shale rather than conventional, offshore or other long-term projects such as oil sands. Shale drilling can return capital within a matter of weeks or months; an offshore project has a multi-decade time horizon. Due to the enormous uncertainty over peak demand, shale is seen as comparatively low risk. For example, Chevron just announced that it would spend $9 to $10 billion on short-cycle investments through 2022. “Most of our assets are competitive when tested against aggressive scenarios,” Chevron said in a presentation, referring to the possibility of an early onset of peak demand. Finally, the oil majors – in fits and starts and to varying degrees – are beginning to invest in renewables. The European oil majors in particular have their hands in solar, offshore wind and electric vehicles.

     US refiners processed record crude oil volumes in 2018 - Record runs allowed U.S. refiners to continue a multiyear streak of strong margins in 2018 despite higher crude prices during the first three quarters and a weaker fourth quarter after product prices tanked along with crude in October. While rising crude prices threatened refinery margins, a high Brent premium over domestic benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) kept feedstock prices for U.S. refiners lower than their international rivals. The availability of discounted Canadian crude also helped produce stellar returns for Midwest, Rockies and Gulf Coast refiners that are configured to process heavy crude. Product prices only weakened in the fourth quarter when gasoline inventories began to rise. Today, we highlight major trends in the U.S. refining sector during 2018 and look forward to 2019. This blog is based on analysis originally published by Morningstar Commodities and Energy Research. U.S. refiners processed record volumes of crude in 2018. After processing an average 16.6 MMb/d of crude in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. refiners upped their game to input an all-time high of about 17 MMb/d in 2018. Increased throughput in 2018 came with minimal additions to operable capacity and represents an annual average utilization rate just above 93% based on weekly EIA data. The 2018 refinery input levels were consistently above the prior 10-year average.

     US refined products build likely to continue as refinery runs remain strong- analysts - — The buildup in US refined product stocks likely continued last week as refinery runs held substantially above historic averages, according to analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts Tuesday. Nationwide gasoline stocks likely rose 2.9 million barrels to around 258.5 million barrels in the week that ended January 18, a consensus of the analysts surveyed showed. Distillate stocks were expected by analysts to increase 900,000 barrels to around 143.9 million barrels last week. The expected gasoline build would mark the eighth consecutive inventory increase and would push stocks to nearly 5.8% above the five-year average, according to US Energy Information Administration data. An expected fifth straight distillate build would put stocks less than 1% below the five-year average. A steady increase has pared the deficit to the five-year average from a peak of nearly 11% in mid-December. But the pace of refined product inventory builds has notably slowed. Last week's gasoline stocks increase was expected to be the smallest since mid-December and less than half the more than 7.5-million barrel jump EIA reported for the week prior. The expected distillate build was also the smallest in four weeks and less than a third of a nearly 3 million barrel build in the week that ended January 11. Refiners likely dialed back run rates by 0.2 percentage points to around 94.4% of total capacity, analysts said. While the expected decline would put utilization rates 2.8 percentage points lower than a late December peak, likely contributing in part to the slower product build, run rates remain historically very strong. Last week's dip would put nationwide utilization 3.5 percentage points above the year-ago level and more than 7.5% above the five-year average. The budding gasoline supply overhang has begun to weigh on refining cracks. NYMEX front-month gasoline cracks dropped to average $7.26/b in the week that ended January 18, compared with $7.50/b a week earlier. But distillate cracks are steady, even as stocks have reverted to the average. Continued below-average temperatures along the Atlantic Coast last week likely maintained this level of demand. New York City totaled 243 heating degree days during the seven-day period that ended January 18, up from 199 heating degree days in the week prior, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.

    Brent-WTI spread spurs gulf coast crude shipments to PADD 1 refineries. - Earlier this decade, East Coast refineries found it cost-effective to ramp down their crude imports and turn to the price-advantaged U.S. shale oil they could rail in from the pipeline-constrained Bakken or send up by tanker from the crude-saturated Gulf Coast. Things changed, though. New southbound crude pipelines out of the Bakken came online, the ban on most crude exports was lifted — providing a new outlet for Texas crude production — and the economic rationale for railing or shipping in domestic crude to PADD 1 refineries withered. Now, things have changed again. Most important perhaps, is that the price spread between WTI and Brent has widened, and once more it can make financial sense for these refineries to revert to crude-by-rail out of the Bakken and to shipping in crude on Jones Act tankers from Corpus Christi and other Gulf Coast ports. Today, we discuss these recent trends, what’s driving them, and how long they might last. The nexus of East Coast refineries’ crude supply, including CBR from North Dakota (PADD 2) to PADD 1 refineries, and shipments of Eagle Ford, Permian and other light, sweet crude from the Gulf Coast to PADD 1, has been a frequent topic in the RBN blogosphere — especially in the early years of the Shale Era. As we said in While CBR Gently Weeps, Bakken production growth in the early 2010s far outpaced the addition of new pipeline capacity, and building rail-loading terminals represented a logical, near-term fix. For one thing, these terminals could be constructed quickly and at relatively modest cost; for another, using the rails gave shippers destination flexibility (allowing oil to be moved to wherever the netbacks were highest). The East Coast turned out to be a logical market — refineries there were set up to process light, sweet crude, the vast majority of which they imported from West Africa and other foreign sources, generally at prices tied to the Brent benchmark. If the delivered cost of price-discounted Bakken crude (including the cost of transportation by rail) was lower than the cost of imported crude — and it was — why not rail in more Bakken crude and back off on the volumes being imported?

    Shale Slowly Choking Off Historic Gasoline Trade  -- The rise of U.S. shale oil is choking off a historic gasoline trade, dealing a blow to European refineries that for decades have relied on American drivers to buy their excess supplies.  Over the past month, tankers shipping European gasoline to the world’s biggest consumer detoured to Venezuela and Caribbean islands. There’s even been a rare jump in shipments in the opposite direction. Imports from Europe fell to the lowest since November earlier this month and remain well below last year, according to customs data and ship-tracking.  A surge in U.S. shale oil production, which is rich in gasoline, is a major contributor to the diminished flows because refineries are running the hardest in more than 15 years. That’s led to a fundamental shift in the nation’s stockpiles of the road fuel, now at their highest seasonally since at least 1990, thereby depressing demand for resupply from Europe. "Shale oil production is going through a dream phase and the U.S. is going to make more gasoline,” said Olivier Jakob, managing director at Petromatrix GmbH. The slump in cross-Atlantic flows is being caused by a combination of more shale oil refining and weak demand in the U.S., he said. So far, Europe’s refiners have managed to send a little more to alternative markets like Latin America, West Africa, the Middle East, Asia and as far away as even Australia, although Jakob says those markets are oversupplied too. Gasoline shipments and blending components to Asia from Europe jumped more than 80 percent to about 70,000 barrels a day this month from December, while exports to the Middle East are at their highest since October, according to preliminary data from oil analytics and tanker-tracking firm Vortexa. And those markets are only going to become increasingly competitive, particularly with China exporting more last year -- and adding refining capacity in 2019 -- to add to regional supplies.

     US gasoline glut hits new record, crude stocks up – EIA - (Reuters) - U.S. gasoline inventories jumped to a record high in the most recent week even as refiners cut back activity, the Energy Information Administration said on Thursday, while crude stocks rose sharply. Gasoline stocks rose for an eighth consecutive week, by 4.1 million barrels to a record 259.6 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.7 million-barrel gain. Crude inventories rose by 8 million barrels in the week to Jan. 18, compared with analysts' expectations for a decline of 42,000 barrels. Refining output pulled back in the most recent week after a period where refineries have been running at high capacity to meet seasonal needs for diesel and heating oil and to feed export demand. But that has produced a glut of gasoline that could potentially spur refiners to back off in coming weeks and as heating oil season recedes. Gasoline futures dipped on the news, falling 0.2 percent to $1.383 a gallon. U.S. crude futures were modestly higher, however, causing the refining margin, or crack spread, for gasoline (RBc1-CLc1), to fall by 5 percent. "Gasoline demand remains anemic, causing a further rise in those inventories. U.S. crude oil production remains near record levels, as well," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital Management in New York. U.S. crude oil futures gained 24 cents to $52.86 a barrel as of 11:24 a.m. EST (1624 GMT), while Brent lost 18 cents to $60.96 a barrel. Refinery crude runs fell by 174,000 barrels per day, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates fell by 1.7 percentage points, but remain relatively strong, running at 92.9 percent of capacity. "It says less product will be coming down the pipe but we are already dealing with very high inventories in gasoline and distillates for this time of year," Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 617,000 barrels, versus expectations for a 229,000-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.

    Gasoline Overproduction Leads To Negative Margins - Excess supply of gasoline coupled with slow demand has pressured refiners margins, Reuters reports, noting refining margins for the fuel in the United States sank to US$45.70 a barrel yesterday. The drop follows the fourth weekly increase in gasoline inventories in the U.S., all of them quite hefty, leading to an all-time high of gasoline supplies, at 259.6 million barrels as of January 18. Over the last four weeks, the Energy Information Administration reported gasoline inventory builds reaching a combined 26.6 million barrels. However, the United States is not the only large gasoline hub where inventories are rising as demand remains sluggish. According to the Reuters report, inventories in the Netherlands, Japan, and Singapore are also at multi-year highs, with the annual increase in their combined level at 21 million barrels, data from consultants FGE has shown. The U.S. shale oil boom has yielded predominantly light crude, from which gasoline is made, so the most recent surge in production has resulted in more production of the light fuel. However, U.S. refiners have also upped their gasoline output levels as they increase distillate fuel production as well, as it fetches higher margins. “Overproduction of gasoline ensued and now you’re in a situation where in various parts of the world gasoline cracks are basically zero or negative,” Wood Mackenzie analyst Zachary Rogers told Reuters.  The prospects for gasoline demand don’t seem too bright, either. Worry about a global economic slowdown persist despite reports from Asia that governments are preparing for stimulus measures. Also, Wall Street seems to be unanimous in its expectation of a slowdown during the so-called “late-cycle” stage that precedes a recession.

    Venezuela Sanctions Likely to Hit Some US Refiners -- Refiners in Texas and Louisiana would be hard hit by sanctions on Venezuelan crude under consideration at the White House, a move that would leave U.S. oil companies struggling to find alternative supplies. President Donald Trump recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela on Wednesday in the most provocative move yet against the leftist regime of Nicolas Maduro. Maduro responded by breaking diplomatic relations with the U.S., giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. The Trump administration has drafted a slate of sanctions but hasn’t decided whether to deploy them, said people familiar with the matter. Earlier this month, White House officials warned U.S. refiners that sanctions were being considered, and advised them to seek alternative sources of heavy crude. Some U.S. refiners worried about sanctions experimented with alternatives last year before ultimately returning to Venezuelan crude. The hardest-hit would be Citgo Petroleum Corp., the refining arm of Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, the state-run oil company. Citgo imported the most Venezuelan crude in the first 10 months of 2018, followed by Valero Energy Corp.  Marathon Petroleum Corp., Total SA and Motiva Enterprises LLC cut intake by more than a half during that period, and as Venezuelan oil production slumped to the lowest levels seen since the 1940s. Oil companies have urged the Trump administration not to limit imports of Venezuelan oil, warning the action could disadvantage Gulf and East Coast refiners designed to handle the country’s heavy crude, while also causing gasoline prices to rise. Shutting off Venezuela imports would exacerbate a drought of the heavy, high-sulfur oil that’s preferred by Gulf Coast refiners and normally sells at a discount to higher-quality crude. Prices are already surging, after OPEC and its allies cut supply and the Canadian province of Alberta forced producers to do the same to stem global and regional gluts. Mars Blend crude rose to a five-year high versus the U.S. benchmark Wednesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, while the profit margin for processing Mexican Maya oil sank to the lowest in four years. Alternatives aren’t readily available. Mexico, whose production is mired in a prolonged slump, has already increased shipments to the U.S. Gulf, surpassing Venezuela last year as the region’s top supplier. Meanwhile, Ecuadorean and Colombian crude often heads to the U.S. West Coast, leaving American refiners competing with each other. Refiners have told allies in the White House and on Capitol Hill that a unilateral crude oil ban will disadvantage U.S. refiners without advancing U.S. policy objectives in Venezuela, because India, Russia and China will continue buying the country’s oil.

    Citgo Suspends Oil Refinery Unit In Texas -- Venezuelan PDVSA’s crown jewel, U.S.-based refiner Citgo, has idled a gasoline production unit at a small refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, Reuters reports, citing sources in the know. The sources said the closure had been motivated by economic reasons, since the unit was not making any profit, while Citgo itself said in a regulatory filing it had idled the unit for “non-operational reasons.” Citgo, Reuters notes, has been running its refineries at lower than usual rates as a result of lack of spare parts, underinvestment, and low flows of light crude that refineries need to mix with Venezuelan heavy crude to produce fuels and other products. Citgo has been in the spotlight recently as the only profitable unit of the troubled Venezuelan oil company, which a Canadian miner is seeking to take control of in lieu of financial compensation for the forced nationalization of its operations in Venezuela by the late Hugo Chavez’ government. 

    2018 Year-End Oil Price Declines Won't Stop Texas Oil Industry Growth -- After 23 consecutive months of growth, the Texas Petro Index (TPI) declined in November and December, Texas oil economist Karr Ingham told news reporters Jan. 23. The decline comes in response to the sharp drop in crude oil prices at the end of 2018 which he said “spooked producers.” Still, he maintains that the recent declines in the TPI doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the current cycle of growth and expansion for Texas’ upstream oil and gas economy. “It has virtually always been the case that a decline in the TPI signaled the onset of a contraction of some magnitude, but that may not be the case this time,” said Ingham. “A series of geopolitical market events may have been the primary culprit in that particular price event, and the market seems to be working through those in early 2019.” Ingham said numbers from the Texas Workforce Commission reveal that oil and gas employment declined by about 500 jobs. However, he says that’s more of a coincidence rather than a direct result of falling oil prices. “Employment never responds to oil price declines that quickly. It was coincidental,” he said. Ingham goes on to highlight the record production numbers in Texas and the United States in 2018. “Texas really flexed its muscle in 2018,” he said. The state’s crude oil production made up 40 percent of total U.S. crude production in 2018. Texas is on track to provide 45 percent of U.S. production by year-end 2019. 

    Crude oil production rises, latest DPR projects - Crude oil production from the seven most prolific plays/basins in the Lower 48 U.S. states is expected to increase by 62,000 barrels per day from January to February, federal data shows. The just-released January Drilling Productivity Report (Dpr), produced by the Energy Information Administration, shows total crude production from the seven so-called regions will climb to 8.18 million barrels per day (Mmbpd), from 8.12 Mmbpd. Six of the seven regions will see a production increase from this month to next. The biggest month-to-month increase is projected for the Permian Basin, up 23,000 Bpd, to 3.85 million barrels per day (Mmbpd) in February, from 3.83 Mmbpd in January. (All numbers are rounded.) The Niobrara and Eagle Ford were next, expected to see 12,000 Bpd and 11,000 Bpd increases, to 681,000 Bpd and 1.44 Mmbpd, respectively, Kallanish Energy finds. The Anadarko, Appalachia (the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays combined) and Bakken regions combined will see a 16,000 Bpd January-to-February production jump. The Haynesville Shale play will see no movement in production from January to February, remaining flat at 43,000 Bpd, the DPR reveals. . 

    Huge Backlog Could Trigger New Wave Of Shale Oil -- The number of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs) in the U.S. shale patch has skyrocketed by roughly 60 percent over the past two years. That leaves a rather large backlog that could add a wave of new supply, even if the pace of drilling begins to slow.  The backlog of DUCs has continued to swell, essentially uninterrupted, for more than two years. The total number of DUCs hit 8,723 in November 2018, up 287 from a month earlier. That figure is also up sharply from the 5,271 from the same month in 2016, a 60 percent increase. The EIA will release new monthly DUC data on January 22, which will detail figures for December. Some level of DUCs is normal, but the ballooning number of uncompleted wells has repeatedly fueled speculation that a sudden rush of new supply might come if companies shift those wells into production. The latest crash in oil prices once again raises this prospect.  The calculus on completing wells can cut two ways. On the one hand, lower oil prices – despite the recent rebound, prices are still down sharply from a few months ago – can cause some E&Ps to want to hold off on drilling new wells. That may lead them to decide to complete wells they already drilled as a way of keeping production aloft while husbanding scarce resources. Companies that are posting losses may be desperate for revenues, so they may accelerate the rate of completions from their DUC backlog.  On the flip side, producers don’t exactly want to bring production online in a market that is subdued. “The lower oil price raises some questions about whether you go ahead with completing these wells,” Tom Petrie, head of oil and gas investment bank Petrie Partners, told S&P Global Platts. “Some companies want to get them in a producing mode; others say they won't get an adequate return right now, so they'll wait.”   However, the pipeline bottleneck in the Permian – which, to be sure, has eased a bit as some additional capacity has come online in recent months – could prevent a sudden rush of DUC completions. After all, the soaring number of DUCs was itself at least in part the result of the pipeline bottleneck.

    Permian Basin output to drive record-setting oil output for decades- US EIA –- — Record-breaking US oil production is expected to continue for decades, driven largely by the Permian Basin, the US Energy Information Administration said in its Annual Energy Outlook Thursday. In the outlook's reference case, EIA forecasts US oil output, which averaged 10.93 million b/d in 2018, will climb to nearly 15 million b/d by 2027 before flattening out and falling below 12 million b/d by 2050. But in its high oil and natural gas resource and technology case, the upper end of the EIA's forecast, the agency sees oil production climbing above 20 million b/d by 2040. In its low oil price case, however, EIA forecasts US oil output will peak just below 13 million b/d within five years and gradually fall to about 8.3 million b/d by 2050. "The size of resources and the pace of technology improvements to lower production costs translate directly to long-term total production," EIA said. "Much higher oil prices can boost near-term production, but cannot sustain the higher production pace." Shale production in the Lower 48 states will account for nearly 70% of domestic production over the next three decades, according to the report. The majority of the growth will take place in the Permian, according to Meg Coleman, leader of EIA's exploration and production team. The report looked at potential oil and gas production in some areas being opened by the Trump administration, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where it sees some output coming online in the 2030s. But the EIA did not consider potential production from new offshore areas the administration is looking to open, particularly the Atlantic Ocean, Coleman said. The report forecasts that recent deepwater discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico will boost offshore output to 2.4 million b/d in 2022. "Many of these discoveries resulted from exploration when oil prices were higher than $100/b before the oil price collapse in 2015 and are being developed as oil prices rise," EIA said. "Offshore production then declines through 2035 before flattening through 2050 as a result of new discoveries offsetting declines in legacy fields." EIA forecasts that the US will become a net energy exporter in 2020 and remain so through at least 2050, due largely to rapid growth of domestic crude, gas and NGLs output and a slowdown in US consumption growth.

     Frac Water Demand in US Skyrockets - The demand for frac water in the United States is about to skyrocket, according to new research by Rystad Energy. While U.S. shale oil production is hitting record levels, Rystad has found that frac water demand has more than doubled since 2016. The demand in the Permian alone currently exceeds all of U.S. demand of 2016. The future for frac water demand also looks positive, with Rystad predicting demand to grow by an additional 6 percent in 2019. The Permian will see demand surpass 2.5 billion barrels by 2020. “Frac water demand has sky-rocketed. This surge is driven by both increased activity and higher proppant intensity,” said Rystad Energy senior vice president Ryan Carbrey. “But even with such steep growth, market concerns about sourcing challenges and bottlenecks appear to be minimal.” Rystad noted strong growth for the water treatment market in 2018, with a 28 percent expansion to 1.4 billion barrels last year. The market is forecast to double 2016 totals by 2020. The Permian will see substantial treatment growth, according to Rystad, surpassing 800 million barrels by 2021. “Water disposal is not currently an issue across the Permian as a whole, but some operators are having local difficulties,” added Carbrey. “We expect the water disposal market in 2021 will be tighter due to significant water production increases from the Permian-Delaware. More infrastructure would be needed beyond 2021.” 

    Weld County oil and gas spill report for Jan. 20 -- The following spills were reported to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in the past two weeks. Information is based on Form 19, which operators must fill out detailing the leakage/spill events.

    • • CRESTONE PEAK RESOURCES OPERATING LLC, reported Jan. 11 a well spill about 5 miles northeast of Fort Lupton, near Weld County roads 20 and 39. About 10 barrels of condensate spilled. Crews believe a pipe got stuck in sand in the well while they pulled production string with a workover rig. The rig pulled on the string, which suddenly released, and jumped about 12 inches out of the hole. When the tubing came out, the condensate blew out of the well and misted north, onto a swath of ground inside the sound walls. Condensate also misted over the sound walls, covering about 1.75 acres of farmland. The soil will be scraped and disposed of, and the topsoil will be replaced.
    • • NOBLE ENERGY INC, reported Jan. 11 a flowline spill about 9 miles southeast of LaSalle, near Weld roads 40 and 55. About one barrel of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. The flowline from the wellhead to the tank battery developed a pinhole leak during production, spilling fluid to the ground surface.
    • • KERR MCGEE OIL & GAS ONSHORE LP, reported Jan. 10 a tank battery spill about 2 miles southeast of Mead, near Weld roads 30 and 11. Between one and five barrels each of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. Waters of the state were impacted or threatened. A separator fire tube corroded. Lab results indicated groundwater from about 11 feet below ground surface had benzene and toluene concentrations above COGCC standards.
    • • KERR MCGEE OIL & GAS ONSHORE LP, reported Jan. 10 a historical tank battery spill about 2 miles northeast of Erie, near Weld roads 12 and 3. Less than five barrels of oil, produced water and condensate spilled. Waters of the state were impacted or threatened. Crews found historical impacts during abandonment. Groundwater was encountered 15 feet below ground surface within the excavation.
    • • PDC ENERGY INC, reported Jan. 10 a tank battery spill about 1 mile southwest of Ault, near Weld roads 82 and 33. Between five and 100 barrels of oil and an unknown amount of produced water spilled. The tank header pipe broke, spilling fluid inside secondary containment.
    • • KP KAUFFMAN COMPANY INC, reported Jan. 8 a historical flowline spill in Frederick, near Weld roads 16 and 15. Less than a barrel each of oil and produced water spilled. Crews found the spill while cleaning a non-reportable release caused by high line pressure in a flowline. Historical contamination is being excavated and disposed of at a landfill.
    • • AKA ENERGY GROUP LLC, reported Jan. 7 a gas compressor station spill about 1 mile west of Gilcrest, near Weld roads 42 and 27. Between one and five barrels of condensate and less than a barrel of produced water spilled. A third-party truck driver transferred condensate to the incorrect tank battery, which was already full, spilling about two barrels of condensate and produced water inside secondary containment and two barrels of the mix outside secondary containment.
    • • DCP OPERATING COMPANY LP, reported Jan. 7 a pipeline spill about 2 miles north of Fort Lupton, near Weld 20 and U.S. 85. Between one and five barrels of condensate spilled. A six-inch gas gathering pipeline developed a leak.

    Why “orphan” oil and gas wells are a growing problem for states - The Denver Post — When Bill West drives his weed sprayer over wheat and hay fields at his ranch northwest of Gillette, Wyo., he bumps into the occasional debris from the more than a hundred defunct natural gas wells on his 10,000-acre property.The company that owned the wells went out of business four years ago, leaving behind fuse boxes, internet boxes and thousands of feet of underground pipe.“They just walked away and left everything sitting,” said West, 85. “It’s up to the state to take care of it now.”So-called “orphan” oil and gas wells, which have been abandoned by defunct companies that cannot pay to plug them, are a growing problem in many states thanks to a recent slump in energy prices that has forced marginal operators out of business. Adam Peltz, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, said he heard officials from 10 states highlight their work on orphan wells at a spring meeting of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. “It’s probably the issue that was raised by the most number of states.” Peltz said that dealing with orphan wells is a cyclical issue — more wells become the state’s responsibility after a downturn — but it’s getting worse over time, as states struggle with a backlog of wells that dates back decades.Nobody knows how many orphan and abandoned drilling sites litter farms, forests and backyards nationwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than a million of them. Unplugged wells can leak methane, an explosive gas, into neighborhoods and leach toxins into groundwater.Methane leaking from abandoned wells caused explosions at a Colorado construction site in 2007 and at a Pennsylvania home in 2011.In 2014, an Ohio elementary school had to be evacuated because of a gas leak traced to an abandoned well underneath the gym. Near the West Texas town of Imperial, effluence from decades-old oil wells has created a “lake” of salty, sulfurous water.

    Gas leaks reach surface in Garfield County - Cleanup efforts are continuing following two recently reported leaks from oil and gas facilities into surface waters in Garfield County. State officials say one of them reached Parachute Creek, which was the site of a major spill discovered in 2013 involving a Williams pipeline, and the new leak there also involves a Williams pipeline. A report filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said a buried 16-inch diameter natural gas gathering line owned by Williams subsidiary Bargath ruptured Friday, creating a large hole near an irrigation ditch and spraying fluids across an agricultural field and Garfield County Road 215, or Parachute Creek Road, about six miles north of Parachute. Williams initially estimated that five barrels, or 210 gallons, of natural gas condensate leaked, but now is estimating the total to be less than 30 barrels, or 1,260 gallons. The COGCC reported that hydrocarbons, in the form of rainbow sheens, were visible at a drainage's confluence with Parachute Creek, but downstream in the creek no sheens are visible and no hydrocarbon odors have been detected. Booms have been deployed in the drainage and the creek in an effort to contain the spread of any potential contaminants, and water samples have been taken in the creek. Communities with drinking water supplies downstream of Parachute Creek have been notified of the spill. The second leak involves a Caerus Oil and Gas pipeline facility in the Una area along the Colorado River southwest of Parachute. The leak was reported to Caerus by an operator for Summit Midstream who saw it Jan. 14. An unknown amount of produced water, initially estimated at between 42,000 and 126,000 gallons, that contains benzene and other contaminants leaked, with some of it reaching gravel pit waters along the Colorado River, according to reports filed with the COGCC. Greg Deranleau, environmental manager for the COGCC, said that agency has environmental staff on the ground overseeing the cleanup efforts and response.

    Anti-fracking activist sues outgoing Lafayette Mayor Christine Berg over alleged First Amendment violation - Lafayette resident and founder of anti-fracking group East Boulder County United Cliff Willmeng filed a lawsuit Thursday against the city's outgoing Mayor Christine Berg, alleging she violated his First Amendment rights by blocking and removing critical comments of his on her official Facebook page.  It comes just months after Willmeng, who was joined by Marine Corps reservist Eddie Asher, sued Thornton Mayor Pro-Tem Jan Kulmann for essentially the same thing, alleging that the elected official — who was a proponent of oil and gas interests — violated free speech rights by censoring her government social media page. "The case is almost identical," Willmeng said Thursday. "(Berg's) political party is different (from Kulmann's), but the principles are all the same. "She has been the mayor for some time and played a central role in weakening the community response to oil and gas," he added, suggesting a long-reiterated belief among local activists that the city's efforts to update its drilling regulations translates as dealings with the industry.. The lawsuit suggests that Berg maintains an official Facebook page as mayor and has repeatedly deleted critical posts. "Plaintiff Clifton Willmeng is a concerned citizen who has posted comments critical of Defendant Berg on her Facebook page," attorneys Darold W. Killmer, Andrew McNulty and Tania Valdez of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP —who are representing Willmeng in his suit — wrote in Thursday's filing. "For that, Defendant Berg removed his comments and blocked him from posting any further messages. Defendant Berg's practice of stifling Mr. Willmeng's valid criticism of her is unconstitutional, and this suit seeks to end it."

    Scientists ask Minnesota governor to stick with Line 3 suit (AP) — A group of scientists on Thursday urged Gov. Tim Walz to join them in opposing Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace the stretch of its Line 3 crude oil pipeline that cuts across northern Minnesota. Walz, who took office this month, has said he will examine all aspects of the proposed project before deciding whether to press on with a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of it. The lawsuit was brought by the state Commerce Department during the administration of Walz’s predecessor, fellow Democrat Mark Dayton. More than 50 people, including scientists from the liberal activist group Science for the People, gathered in the governor’s reception room to say the science is clear that the Line 3 upgrade will aggravate climate change by facilitating further use of fossil fuels. They called on Walz to continue with the lawsuit and for a face-to-face meeting with him and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. “Nowhere is the call for science-based decision-making so urgent as around the need for rapid climate action,” said Christy Dolph, a University of Minnesota researcher. The governor’s deputy chief of staff for communications and scheduling, Kristin Beckmann, welcomed the scientists, took detailed notes and said she’d convey their concerns. But she did not commit to granting the meeting. Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge says Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, needs replacing because it is deteriorating. It says the project would restore full capacity and ensure reliable deliveries of crude to Midwestern refineries. James Doyle, a physics professor at Macalester College, noted that Line 3 would carry Canadian tar sands oil, which takes a lot of extra energy to extract and transport. He pointed to research showing that those oilfields are among the world’s top generators of carbon dioxide. House Republican leader Kurt Daudt countered with a statement saying the science shows that Line 3 needs replacement and that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil.

    Oregon a Battlefield Again for Fracked Gas Pipeline and Jordan Cove LNG Terminal -   Oregon's residents are working to hold Democratic Governor Kate Brown to task over what they see as the most pressing climate issue facing the state: the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal and its Pacific Connector Gas pipeline. Backed by the Canadian company Pembina Pipeline Corporation, the project would transport natural gas extracted via hydraulic fracturing (fracking) from Colorado to Oregon's coast, where it would be super-cooled into liquid form and loaded on ships to international markets. Gov. Brown has remained neutral on Jordan Cove, prompting a range of efforts from activists to sway her against it. For example, Jordan Cove opponents interrupted her 2019 swearing in ceremony and took to the streets with protests. In addition, since the new year, thousands of residents have flooded Department of State Lands regulatory hearings to oppose the project, which they say would jeopardize major fresh waterways and marine areas in the state. According to Rogue Climate, which has helped mobilize opposition to the project, more than 3,000 residents, including landowners, ranchers, tribal members, youth, local businesses and representatives of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, attended hearings in opposition.Klamath Tribal Council Chairman Don Gentry told DeSmog that the tribal council believes "we need to exhaust every administrative opportunity that we have to express our opposition to the project and hopefully the permits and licensing will be denied."The Tribe has participated in the regulatory process throughout, he says, and brought up a host of concerns at the most recent hearings. Those concerns include the pipeline's "potential to disturb human remains and cultural sites" (such as a historic village on the Klamath River), "risks to the [Klamath] River itself," the Tribe's effort to rehabilitate the river's salmon run, risks to wildlife and generally, the perils the pipeline in particular poses for tribal aboriginal territory, as protected by U.S. treaty.

    Despite Shutdown, Trump Administration Continues Push to Open Western Arctic - At the 11th hour on Jan. 22, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quietly extended the initial public comment period in an environmental review process aimed at creating a new management plan (the Integrated Activity Plan or IAP) for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). Already, BLM has rescheduled public meetings with little notice, plus the government shutdown is still going strong and the agency has only extended the public process for one week. BLM's current rush job, meant to cater to ConocoPhillips and the oil industry, is unforgivable, especially when compared to the extensive work that went into—and broad stakeholder support that was garnered for—the current management plan. This IAP process seeks to undo the existing management plan that was put in place under the Obama administration less than five years ago. As part of this effort, BLM is seeking to eliminate important protections for key ecological Special Areas in the Reserve that Alaska Wilderness League and others have fought tirelessly for decades to protect. And as with many oil and gas projects across the country and offshore, the agency is continuing to press forward despite the current government shutdown. On Jan. 17, the Alaska Wilderness League—along with several of our partners—sent a request to BLM asking the agency to extend the public comment period due to the unavailability of staff to answer questions or serve as a public resource. What we've received is one additional week with no notice of the extension, and still no end to the shutdown in sight. The current management plan, approved in 2013, received strong public support and put in place sensible conservation protections for 11 million acres in the Reserve, setting aside five Special Areas of exceptional wildlife and wilderness value: Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Utukok River Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay. President Obama's Department of the Interior (DOI) spent years working with tribal communities, local governments, the state of Alaska, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and the public on this plan. Alaska Wilderness League, along with our partners, was integral to seeing this plan put in place with strong ecological protections. We worked diligently to advocate for key protections within the Reserve—helping to collect and deliver 400,000 public comments, collect 30 regional and local tribal resolutions representing 90 villages across Alaska, and organize dozens of events across the country to educate the public on the importance of Reserve Special Areas.

    Arctic Refuge Oil Surveys Put Polar Bears in the Crosshairs - Send an army of industry workers into remote polar bear territory in the dead of winter, and things are not going to end well.Yet that's just what the Trump administration would open the door to as it prepares for oil and gas drilling and moves to authorize seismic testing, a precursor to drilling in the Arctic Refuge.Earthjustice has long worked to defend the Arctic Refuge, which now faces the greatest threat in decades asthe Trump administration barrels forward with plans for an oil and gas lease sale as early as next year. Members of the public have until Feb. 11 to comment on a draft plan to hold a lease sale.  Congress opened the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to industry leasing for the first time ever in December of 2017, by tacking a drilling provision onto a federal tax bill to avoid a filibuster. Most Americans are against drilling in the Arctic Refuge because the wilderness has extraordinary ecological value that warrants the highest safeguards. Bipartisan opposition has historically prevented industry from harming this cherished landscape. Polar bears on the coastal plain will be especially vulnerable to harm from seismic operations and drilling. Proposed oil exploration activities pose substantial risks of death or serious injury to denning mother and cub polar bears, according to the analysis of Dr. Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International. Polar bears, classified as marine mammals, are already struggling. Sea ice is vanishing, a consequence of warmer winter temperatures, and polar bears cannot survive without it. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, reduced sea ice could result in the loss of approximately two-thirds of the world's polar bears within 50 years. The agency predicts Alaska's polar bears will be "extirpated under current emission scenarios"—which means they will go extinct if nothing is done to address climate change.  As ice melts away, polar bear mothers are increasingly going on land, to the coastal plain, to build their dens—and they are particularly vulnerable to disturbance while denning. The combination of having more polar bears on shore and more people conducting seismic testing operations means there will be more interactions between people and bears, resulting in greater risks to bears.

    BP Drills Gas Hydrate Test Well on North Slope -  Rigzone - BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. successfully drilled a research well on the North Slope in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey to collect samples and gather knowledge about gas hydrate, a potential long-term unconventional gas energy resource. The stratigraphic test well enabled BP and the Department of Energy to gather core, log, reservoir performance and fluid data from an ice pad location at Milne Point. The drilling began Feb 3. Field teams began pulling hydrate core samples on Feb. 10. Extensive well logging and wireline formation testing was completed between Feb. 14-18. "With this project, we have significantly increased our understanding of gas hydrate-bearing formations on the Alaska North Slope," said Scott Digert, BP resource manager and the project's technical adviser. "The results also illustrate the value of collaborative research," he said. This test well is part of the ongoing research partnership between BP and the Department of Energy, which began in 2002. Known deposits of methane hydrate in Alaska and other parts of the world are enormous. However, the challenge is finding the technology to unlock the energy, to separate the natural gas from the solid gas-water-ice "clathrate" in which it occurs. The DOE has identified gas hydrate as a research target and funded the estimated $4.6 million cost of drilling the Milne test well. BP contributed seismic data, staffing and program oversight. The on-site coring and data team included scientists from the USGS, DOE, Oregon State University and an observer from India's hydrate program. Drilling crews and research team members collected about 430 feet of core samples. The cylindrical core segments, about 3 inches in diameter, were initially subsampled and analyzed on site due to the time-and temperature-dependent data requirements. They will be shipped to Anchorage for temporary storage before being distributed to gas hydrate researchers around the country. Subsequent data collection and analysis will continue for several months. A report of findings will be released thereafter. 

    Crude Inventory Data Shows Surprise Build of 7.97 Million Barrels -- U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 17.0 million barrels per day during the week ending January 18, 2019, which was 174,000 barrels per day less than the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 92.9% of their operable capacity last week. Gasoline production increased last week, averaging 9.6 million barrels per day. Distillate fuel production decreased last week, averaging 5.2 million barrels per day. U.S. crude oil imports averaged 8.2 million barrels per day last week, up by 664,000 barrels per day from the previous week. Over the past four weeks, crude oil imports averaged about 7.7 million barrels per day, 2.1% less than the same four-week period last year. Total motor gasoline imports (including both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components) last week averaged 561,000 barrels per day, and distillate fuel imports averaged 355,000 barrels per day. U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) increased by 8.0 million barrels from the previous week. At 445.0 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are about 9% above the five year average for this time of year. Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 4.1 million barrels last week and are about 6% above the five year average for this time of year. Finished gasoline and blending components inventories both increased last week. Distillate fuel inventories decreased by 0.6 million barrels last week and are about 2% below the five year average for this time of year. Propane/propylene inventories decreased by 3.7 million barrels last week and are about 2% above the five year average for this time of year. Total commercial petroleum inventories increased last week by 6.7 million barrels last week. Total products supplied over the last four-week period averaged 20.3 million barrels per day, down by 1.1% from the same period last year. Over the past four weeks, motor gasoline product supplied averaged 8.7 million barrels per day, down by 0.1% from the same period last year. Distillate fuel product supplied averaged 3.8 million barrels per day over the past four weeks, down by 3.5% from the same period last year. Jet fuel product supplied was down 4.9% compared with the same four-week period last year.

     EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2019 projects growing oil, natural gas, renewables production  - EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2019 (AEO2019), which will be released later this morning, includes projections of U.S. energy markets through 2050 based on a Reference case and six side cases that include different assumptions regarding prices, economic activity, and technology and resource estimates. AEO2019 projects continued development of U.S. shale and tight oil and natural gas resources. Natural gas and natural gas plant liquids (NGPLs) experience the highest production growth of all fossil fuels, and NGPLs account for almost one-third of cumulative U.S. liquids production through the 2050 projection period. In the Reference case, U.S. crude oil production continues to set annual records through the mid-2020s and remains greater than 14.0 million barrels per day (b/d) through 2040. The continued development of tight oil and shale gas resources, particularly those in the East and Southwest regions, supports growth in NGPL production—which reaches 6.0 million b/d by 2030—and dry natural gas production. Dry natural gas production reaches 43.4 trillion cubic feet by 2050.  Growth in drilling in the Southwest region also drives natural gas production from tight oil formations in the Reference case. Because drilling activity in oil formations primarily depends on crude oil prices rather than natural gas prices, the increase in natural gas production from oil-directed drilling puts downward pressure on natural gas prices. Sustained low natural gas prices and declining costs of renewable power enable the shares of electricity generated by natural gas and renewables to increase. The natural gas share increases from 34% in 2018 to 39% in 2050, and the renewables share increases from 18% in 2018 to 31% in 2050. The Reference case is not intended to be the most probable prediction of the future, but it instead forms a baseline for estimating the effects of new policy or technology changes in the future. The other six cases show the effect of changing other key model assumptions.  Other significant findings in AEO2019 include:

    • The United States becomes a net energy exporter by 2020. In the Reference case, the United States becomes a net exporter of petroleum liquids in 2020 as U.S. crude oil production increases and domestic consumption of petroleum products decreases. The United States continues to be a net exporter of natural gas and coal (including coal coke) through 2050.
    • U.S. net exports of natural gas continue to grow as liquefied natural gas becomes an increasingly significant export. In the Reference case, U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and pipeline exports to Canada and to Mexico increase until 2030 and then flatten through 2050 as relatively low, stable natural gas prices make U.S. natural gas competitive in North American and global markets.
    • Natural gas and renewable energy shares grow in U.S. electric generation. EIA’s Reference case highlights the impact of sustained low natural gas prices and declining costs of renewables on the electricity generation fuel mix. The natural gas share maintains its lead and continues to grow, increasing from 34% in 2018 to 39% in 2050. The renewables share, including hydroelectric generation, also increases from 18% in 2018 to 31% in 2050, driven largely by growth in wind and solar generation. Renewables grow to become a larger share of U.S. electric generation than nuclear and coal in less than a decade.
    • Increasing energy efficiency across end-use sectors keeps U.S. energy consumption relatively flat, even as the U.S. economy continues to expand. Delivered U.S. energy consumption grows across all major end-use sectors, with electricity and natural gas consumption growing fastest.

    US oil and gas firms are ready to spend as confidence grows, survey says - Executives in the U.S. oil and gas industry are said to be much more optimistic about growth in the sector, compared to last year. In its annual study, DNV GL, claimed that 85 percent of American executives questioned believed there were reasons to expect an increase in drilling in 2019. In the corresponding figure for 2018, the figure was 60 percent. U.S. oil and gas executives appeared to be more bullish than the global average of positive voices which DNV GL recorded at 76 percent. Click chart to view The group, which acts as a technical advisor to the oil and gas sector, added that almost half of U.S. companies were preparing for "significant increases" in spending on projects over the coming months. "There are brighter prospects for activity and investment across the value chain this year and beyond," DNV GL's Americas Regional Manager Frank Ketelaars said in a press release. Ketelaars added that expensive "Deepwater projects" could thrive thanks to reduced cost measures, while newer sources such as shale oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) were also set to grow. Possible barriers to growth of U.S. oil and gas were the lack of skilled workers at the industry's disposal as the survey revealed that more than a third (37 percent) of U.S. executives expect to increase their company headcount in 2019. That number was just 20 percent in the same survey last year. Global confidence in the outlook for the oil and gas sector for 2019 sits at 76 percent, more than a doubling from the 32 percent recorded in 2017. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) traded at around $76 a barrel last October but had slumped to around $42 by December. Meanwhile, in a similar slump, Brent crude has fallen almost 30 percent since climbing to a peak of $86.29 in early October last year.

    Oil and gas executives expect to boost spending this year: survey (Reuters) - The majority of senior energy industry executives expect to maintain or increase spending this year to meet demand for oil and gas after years of austerity, a survey by DNV GL shows. DNV, a technical adviser to the energy industry, surveyed 791 senior professionals from firms with annual revenue ranging from $500 million or less to those earning $5 billion and more. BP (BP.L), Shell, and many other companies cut capital spending and costs in 2016 after the price of benchmark Brent crude fell to a 12-year low of below $30 a barrel. Helped by output cuts by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, Brent climbed to an average price of $70 last year compared to $50 for the period 2015 to 2017. It was trading above $62 a barrel on Monday. DNV’s annual outlook of the global oil and gas industry showed 70 percent of respondents planned to maintain or increase capital spending in 2019, compared to 39 percent in 2017. Those expecting to sustain or increase operating expenditure also grew to 65 percent in 2019 from 41 percent in 2017. In addition, 67 percent believed more large, capital-intensive oil and gas projects would be approved this year. “Despite greater oil price volatility in recent months, our research shows that the sector appears confident in its ability to better cope with market instability and long-term lower oil and gas prices,” said Liv Hovem, who heads DNV’s oil and gas division. “For the most part, industry leaders now appear to be positive that growth can be achieved after several difficult years,” she added. 

    Go Big Or Go Home, Part 2 - Will Large-Scale Pad Drilling Buoy Crude Output? -- When crude oil prices crashed in the second half of 2014 and 2015, producers survived by becoming leaner and more efficient. That transition included drastic reductions in the rates paid to services companies while wringing ever more oil and gas out of each well and, in the process, permanently altering the economics of drilling and completion. This year, producers are again facing a lower-price environment; since early October (2018), crude prices have dropped more than 30%. In the current, more conservative investment environment, can producers do it again? Can additional value be squeezed out with bigger well pads and longer laterals? Today, we continue a series exploring the benefits and risks of these highly concentrated and highly complicated operations.  In the first episode of this series, we explored the origins of pad drilling and the factors that catalyzed its widespread adoption across the oil patch. By splitting the substantial infrastructure, logistical, and rig-mobilization costs among multiple wells, pad drilling helped improve efficiency the last time crude prices dropped. That blog’s focus was on Northeast gas producers. Now we turn our attention to the crude-focused Permian. We’ll start with a look at a “mega-pad” with more than 60 wells and a couple of somewhat smaller pads, then conclude with a high-level analysis of the pros and cons of “going big.”

    U.S. shale boom set to cool in 2019: Kemp (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil production will continue to grow through 2019 and 2020, but at a much slower pace than in 2018, according to the latest forecasts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. crude and condensates production is estimated to have risen by almost 1.6 million barrels per day last year, according to the agency, the largest annual increase in history.But the agency forecasts growth will slow to just over 1.1 million barrels per day in 2019 and less than 0.8 million bpd in 2020 (“Short-Term Energy Outlook”, EIA, Jan. 15).Growth from the Lower 48 states excluding federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to slow even more sharply from almost 1.6 million bpd in 2018 to 0.95 million bpd in 2019 and 0.5 million bpd in 2020. Surging U.S. production, mostly from onshore shale plays, contributed to the oversupply which emerged in the oil market during 2018 and the consequent fall in prices during the fourth quarter. Slower growth from the shale plays will therefore have to play an important role in rebalancing the market during 2019 and 2020, even if the global economy avoids a recession (https://tmsnrt.rs/2Ho3ICn). “The dramatic fall in oil prices in the fourth quarter was largely driven by shale production surprising to the upside as a result of the surge in activity earlier in the year”, oilfield services firm Schlumberger told investors last week.

    US E&P capex likely to remain flat to down on year in 2019: Schlumberger — US onshore E&P capital investments in 2019 are likely to be flat to slightly down from last year, with international activity outside North America picking up slowly over the next several months, Schlumberger's top executive said Friday. Paal Kibsgaard, CEO of the world's largest oilfield service company, said during a fourth-quarter earnings call that US land activity should also start slowly but pick up gradually in the second half. "In this scenario, it is likely that the E&P operators would gradually lower drilling activity and instead focus on drawing down the large inventory of drilled uncompleted wells," Kibsgaard said. Assuming WTI oil prices "reasonably" recover to average roughly 2018 levels of at least $60/b, operator focus on some of the thousands of drilled but unproduced wells (DUCs) would still drive US production growth, but at a rate "substantially" lower than the 1.9 million b/d in 2018, Kibsgaard said. On Friday, NYMEX WTI for February closed at $53.80/b. In November, there were 8,723 DUCs in the US, 46% of which were in the Permian Basin, US Energy Information Administration data showed. Permian DUCs have grown relatively rapidly, from 1,127 in August 2016 to 4,039 in November 2018.   On the other hand, Schlumberger's projected "solid" year-over-year revenue growth in 2019 from markets outside North America. Increases are expected in mid-single digits during the first half of the year, signaling operators' intentions to spend more money in those arenas, Kibsgaard said. Those companies will probably start the year at "conservative" spending levels in view of global oil prices that fell in Q4 2018 and remain $10-$20/b lower than last year, he added. ICE Brent closed Friday at $62.73/b. Activity pickups internationally will be led by Latin America, Asia and Africa as new investment programs are kicked-off in those regions, with more nominal activity growth in the North Sea, Russia and the Middle East. "The underlying decline from the aging production base in key oil producing countries like Norway, the UK, Brazil and Nigeria are being offset by new project startups, as well as more exploration activity," Kibsgaard said.

    Warning Signs Flash For U.S. Shale - The largest oilfield services company in the world says that shale drilling activity is slowing, creating an uncertain outlook for 2019. The recent volatility in oil prices has created “less visibility and more uncertainty” on spending by shale companies in 2019, Schlumberger’s CEO Paal Kibsgaard said on an earnings call on January 18.Shale drillers are “generally taking a more conservative approach to the start of the year, again delaying the broad based recovery in the E&P spend that we expected only three months ago,” he said. Kibsgaard said that spending from the shale industry could be flat or down this year relative to 2018. That could translate into lower drilling activity, while E&Ps focus on drawing down the enormous backlog of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs). Companies working through DUCs could keep production aloft even as drilling slows, but output would likely fall relative to 2018, while decelerating further in 2020.Schlumberger’s chief executive also warned that the shale industry could see other problems going forward that could be even more significant. Shale drilling suffers from a precipitous decline in output soon after a well is completed. After an initial burst in output, wells see a rapid decline in production. This is not news; it has characterized shale drilling for years.But this dynamic appears to be a growing problem, one that could soon catch up with the industry. “It is also worth noting that with the continued growth in U.S. shale production, an increasing percentage of the new wells drilled are being consumed to offset the steep decline from the existing production base,” Kibsgaard told shareholders and analysts on Schlumberger’s earnings call. “The third party analysis shows that in 2018, this number was 54% of total CapEx and is expected to increase to 75% in 2021, clearly demonstrating the unavoidable treadmill effect of shale oil production.”  Beyond that, well interference is also a mounting problem. Drilling wells too close to one another can cannibalize production, raising costs and leading to less overall output. That becomes a larger problem over time after companies pick over the best acreage. Additionally, the length of laterals and the use of frac sand and other proppants have reached the limits of what they can achieve. “We could be facing a more moderate growth in U.S. shale production in the coming years than what the most optimistic views have been suggesting,”

     Shale Pioneer Hamm- Output Growth Could Fall By 50% - U.S. shale production growth could slow by as much as half this year, according to one industry titan. Continental Resources’ Harold Hamm said that shale growth could decline by as much as 50 percent this year compared to 2018, although he added that it was just a “wild guess.” Hamm said that a lot of shale E&Ps are trying to keep spending within cash flow. This newfound mantra of capital discipline has been imposed on the shale industry after a decade or so of a debt-fueled drilling frenzy. “Producers have become more disciplined in their approach to capex,” Hamm said at the Argus Americas Crude Summit in Houston this week. “Several years back growth was a huge consideration. That consideration has been much less. The peak consideration now has been — are you overspending cash flow. Are you living within cash flow?”The signs of a shale slowdown have been mounting. The rig count fell sharply in recent weeks. Production growth has already begun to slow. Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, has warned that it is already seeing shale companies pulling back on drilling activity. In the latest Drilling Productivity Report, the EIA forecasts that U.S. shale production will grow by 62,000 bpd in February compared to a month earlier. That is the slowest rate of growth in nearly a year, and down from the prior monthly production increases that have consistently exceeded 100,000 bpd. Related: Can Mexico Stop Its Oil Production Decline? Argus, using Barclays data, points out that North American onshore might only tick up by about 9 percent this year, down from the 18 percent jump in 2018. That could quickly translate into slower output growth. “Production is a direct response of capex today with this industry,” Hamm said at the Argus summit. “The more money that you inject the more you are going to extract.” Hamm said that the “sweet spot” for the shale industry is about $70 per barrel, which is high enough for growth by not so high as to overheat.

    It’s Terrible Out There - Lack Of Greater Shale Fools Leaves Private Equity In A Bidless Panic -- On one hand the US shale industry has never had it better: following dramatic technological and efficiency improvements in recent years, US oil output is not only at an all time high at 11.9MMb/d, but is the highest of any OPEC or non-OPEC nation in the world. Oil production is so high, in fact, that as of October 2018, the US is now energy independent. Alas, this production glut blessing is also a curse, and according to one industry titan, US production growth could slow by as much as half this year.  Continental Resources’ Harold Hamm said that shale growth could decline by as much as 50% this year compared to 2018, OilPrice reported. Hamm said that a lot of shale E&Ps are trying to keep spending within cash flow. This newfound mantra of capital discipline has been imposed on the shale industry after a decade or so of a debt-fueled drilling frenzy. “Producers have become more disciplined in their approach to capex,” Hamm said at the Argus Americas Crude Summit in Houston this week. “Several years back growth was a huge consideration. That consideration has been much less. The peak consideration now has been — are you overspending cash flow. Are you living within cash flow?” The signs of a shale slowdown have been mounting. The rig count fell sharply in recent weeks. Production growth has already begun to slow. Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, has warned that it is already seeing shale companies pulling back on drilling activity. Meanwhile, even though the broader junk bond market has thawed, and new bond deals are once again coming to market, the same is not true for US energy companies. In fact, companies in the E&P sector have not held a single bond sale since the start of November, according to Dealogic, while share sales have also slowed. The data suggest that after a record-breaking boom in US oil output in 2018, growth will be weaker this year... much weaker if Hamm is correct. Of course, for much of the past decade the US shale industry relied heavily on debt to finance its growth, with exploration and production companies raising about $300bn from bond issuance over the past 10 years. However, as crude prices started to slide last October, that source of capital was choked off, with just three bond sales by exploration companies that month, and none at all since November, according to the FT.

    Nearly $1B Awarded for Canada LNG Project - Contracts and subcontracts totaling more than 937 million Canadian dollars (CA$) (US $705.3 million) have been approved for the LNG Canada export facility in Kitimat, British Columbia, as of December 2018, LNG Canada reported late Monday. “What these contracts and subcontracts represent, is tremendous opportunity for individuals to find employment on the LNG Canada project through our contractors and subcontractors,” Susannah Pierce, LNG Canada’s external relations director, said in a written statement emailed to Rigzone. According to LNG Canada, the above figures correspond to the first three months of construction for the project. Of the approximately CA$937 million approved, more than one-third of the contracts and subcontracts (CA$330 million [US $248.4 million]) has been awarded to local First Nations and other Kitimat-area businesses, the LNG Canada statement noted. “For First Nations communities, it is delivering on the opportunities we have committed to that will assist the Nations address issues of poverty, unemployment and skills development,” stated Pierce. “For local communities, it is the opportunity for young people to find employment that allows them to remain living in the North.” LNG Canada – a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell plc (40 percent), Petronas (25 percent), PetroChina Co. Limited (15 percent), Mitsubishi Corp. (15 percent) and Korea Gas Corp. (five percent – will initially include two LNG trains and related infrastructure. Unlike other North American LNG export terminals, the British Columbia facility will boast a direct transpacific shipping route to Asian markets. “There are no choke or strategic shipping points in this route such as the Panama Canal, straits of Hormuz and the straits of Malacca,”  “West Coast Canada is the closest non-Asian supplier to the north Asian demand centers of China, Japan and Korea.” 

    Oil-Sands Companies Throw New Tech at Old Foe -- In their quest to make one of the most expensive methods of producing crude more profitable, Canada’s oil-sands companies have been ramping up efforts to get their peanut butter-like bitumen to flow through pipelines more easily and cheaply. MEG Energy Corp. threw a spotlight on those efforts on Tuesday, when it said that it’s working with a financial adviser on strategic alternatives for its HI-Q partial upgrading technology. The company is betting that there may be a lucrative market for the method, which cuts out the need for costly diluting agents that take up precious pipeline space. Producers in the prolific oil sands -- the world’s third-largest petroleum reserves -- typically use natural gas condensate to turn their sticky heavy crude into something pipelines can carry. While much of it is produced from Alberta and British Columbia’s Montney shale formation, some diluent is imported from the U.S. as well. That condensate tends to trade on par with the price of light, sweet West Texas Intermediate or even at a premium to that grade, which itself trades at a premium to Western Canadian Select heavy crude. And to flow through a pipeline, bitumen needs to be about 30 percent condensate. Technology to reduce those requirements would go a long way toward making the historically costly oil-sands more competitive, and it would free up the pipeline space that has become so scarce that the Alberta government needed to mandate province-wide oil-production cuts. “The removal of that diluent obviously would not only impact the bottom lines of producers, but also could improve overall market sentiment in Western Canada, given the pipeline-access issues,” said Dinara Millington, vice president of research at the Canadian Energy Research Institute. MEG says its HI-Q technology allows bitumen to be shipped through pipelines without blending with lighter hydrocarbons. The technology employs a process that entails removing and recycling some diluent used in its initial processing, separating out the lighter and heavier portions of the bitumen, then removing solid materials known as asphaltenes. 

    Pollution at fracking protest site rises despite lack of fracking - A shale gas company’s lorries, police vehicles and protesters’ wood fires have combined to drive up air pollution levels near a gas well in the north of England, despite fracking failing to get started at the site. Operations at the Kirby Misperton well in North Yorkshire have been delayed after the operator Third Energy ran into financial problems, but the project’s local pollution impact has been revealed by government-backed research. Alastair Lewis, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York, said his air quality monitoring project found a group of pollutants had increased in the vicinity of the site to levels normally seen in a city rather than a rural area. The cause was lorries supplying the well, opposition by campaigners and the resulting police operation. “The largest, most visible detectable impacts above the surface are on nitrogen oxides (NOx), from the use of compressors, generators and truck movements,” Lewis said. “And, strangely, in the case of Kirby Misperton, from policing, from [police] vehicles and protest camps. It’s a slightly unusual situation in that the activity of protesting itself is a large source of pollution.” He said protest tactics such as slow walking in front of lorries supplying the site would have driven up NOx levels, and police vehicles had been a “significant” source of the pollutants. North Yorkshire police spent more than £600,000 on policing protests at the site over the autumn and winter of 2017-18. Lewis said monitoring had also detected particulate pollution that he expected had come from the burning of wood by protest camps.

    Fracking Wasn't Supposed to Cause Quakes in U.K. But Then the Ground Shook — Last fall an energy company began a hydraulic fracturing operation in northwest England that it hoped would be a milestone in creating a new, domestic source of natural gas for Britain — in much the same way that fracking has taken hold in the United States. Three months later, after regularly causing earthquakes, the fracking has stopped, and the company has begun pulling some equipment from the site. The company, Cuadrilla Resources, says it will continue to work in the cow pasture near Blackpool in Lancashire, seeking to extract natural gas economically and safely from the shale rocks. But so far, its results have failed to win over skeptics. Some gas has bubbled up through the fracking liquids in its well, demonstrating that the rock formation Cuadrilla was exploring, known as the Bowland Shale, indeed contains some fuel. But the company was forced to suspend fracking at least four times when the work led to earthquakes that exceeded a magnitude of 0.5, the upper limit set by British regulators. There were also many smaller tremors. This stop-and-go added to the company’s costs while doing little in Britain to improve the public image of fracking, which involves injecting special fluids under high pressure to free up gas trapped in shale rock. Cuadrilla is also running behind its original schedule: The company indicated in October that it planned to drill and frack two wells in three months, but has so far fracked just one. With fracking halted, trucks have been taking pumps and other heavy fracking gear off the site, leading to local speculation that Cuadrilla might be throwing in the towel, something that the company denies.Cuadrilla said in an email that it was shifting its focus from fracking to testing how much gas can be coaxed from the well. Such flow rates are important in determining whether shale gas drilling is commercially viable. The company said it was returning equipment that was not needed for this purpose.

    Experts say it's safe to raise limit for tremors at Britain's fracking sites - Fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site in Lancashire, northwest England was halted several times last year after seismic activity exceeded limits put in place under Britain’s traffic light regulation system. Under the system work at fracking sites must be halted for 18 hours if seismic activity of magnitude 0.5 or above is detected. Cuadrilla, the only company to have fracked for gas so far in Britain, has said the current seismic regulations are too stringent and could thwart the industry. “Existing regulations are quite conservative and are set at a level that is unlikely to be felt,” Brian Baptie, head of Seismology at the British Geological Survey, said at a briefing with journalists. He said the limit could safely be raised to magnitude 1.5 since this is a level similar to vibrations caused by a heavy bin lorry going past, and would not pose a risk to buildings or people. “(Magnitude) 1.5 would still be a conservative level,” Ben Edwards, specialist in engineering seismology at the University of Liverpool said at the same briefing. The seismologists warned that raising the limit could lead to higher magnitude so called trailing events, which can occur after fracking has stopped, but said these would still likely be too small to cause any damage. The government has said there are no plans to change the traffic light system. “If we are to take forward what could be a very valuable industry, it is only right that we do so with the toughest environmental regulations in the world,” Britain’s energy minister told parliament earlier this month. Fracking, or hydraulically fracturing, involves extracting gas from rocks by breaking them up with water and chemicals at high pressure. It is fiercely opposed by environmentalists who say extracting more fossil fuel is at odds with Britain’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They have also raised concerns about potential groundwater contamination.

    Huge diesel oil spill into River Avon near Keynsham - The River Avon in Hanham has been hit by a massive diesel pollution incident. Boaters complained of headaches after the Avon was left looking like a "river of oil" from a huge spillage of diesel. The pollution affected River Avon residents in Hanham and Keynsham and an investigation has been launched by the Environment Agency. The agency said it was considering enforcement action against a company after they traced the source of the pollution up a tiny tributary stream, Bristol Live reports. People living on the water said they were left with headaches and nausea after the river around them suddenly became covered in diesel fuel on Tuesday evening this week. The river has taken days to recover, with each high tide washing the diesel back and forth.  One boat resident, Beatrice FitzGerald, said her family and her neighbours were left shocked by the level of pollution and how it affected them. “I noticed it first at around 6pm on Tuesday, and it was pretty immediate,” she said. “It absolutely stunk out the whole river, our boat, inside and outside. “I saw on the river this cover of diesel. It wasn’t even a rainbow sheen, it was thick - the river looked like a river of oil, it was that bad,” she said. “We all had headaches and felt sick. We raised the alarm,” she added. The Canal and Rivers Trust, the Environment Agency and the Bristol Harbourmaster came to investigate, and the following day, in daylight, the effect on wildlife was apparent. “The next day it was noticeable that there were no ducks, in fact, nothing," Ms FitzGerald said. The river here is normally quite busy and noisy with wildlife, but it was so quiet, no birds. "I saw a dead fish floating past, and others saw dead fish too. It all went silent.” After a couple of days, people living on the river said they saw Environment Agency officials had located the source of the leak, which had come from a tiny tributary brook to the south of the main River Avon. A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said they had installed a small boom to stop further leaks.

     Extremely Disturbing Footage Of Deadly Mexico Pipeline Explosion Surfaces - Mexican authorities have released a Sunday morning casualty update from Friday's chilling fireball that burst from an illegal gas pipeline tap near a small town north of Mexico City, which occurred just three weeks after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador involved the country's military in an initiative to combat gas thieves.Authorities have raised the death toll from the blast to 78, while 81 have been hospitalized with injuries.Here's more from the Associated Press' latest update:  Perez recalls telling his son: "Let's go ... this thing is going to explode." And it did, with a fireball that engulfed locals scooping up the spilling gasoline and underscored the dangers of an epidemic of fuel theft from pipelines that Mexico's new president has vowed to fight. By Sunday morning the death toll from Friday's blaze had risen to 79, with another 81 hospitalized in serious condition, according to federal Health Minister Jorge Alcocer. Dozens more were missing. 'Perez and his son escaped the flames. On Saturday, he returned to the scorched field in the town of Tlahuelilpan in Hidalgo state to look for missing friends. It was a fruitless task. Only a handful of the remains still had skin. Dozens were burned to the bone or to ash when the gusher of gasoline exploded. Just a few feet from where the pipeline passed through an alfalfa field, the dead seem to have fallen in heaps, perhaps as they stumbled over each other or tried to help one another as the geyser of gasoline turned to flames. Several of the deceased lay on their backs, their arms stretched out in agony. Some seemed to have covered their chests in a last attempt to protect themselves from the blast. A few corpses seemed to embrace each other in death. Lost shoes were scattered around a space the size of a soccer field. Closer to the explosion, forensic workers marked mounds of ash with numbers.

    Death toll reaches 85 in Mexico fuel pipeline fire horror - People in the town where a gasoline explosion killed at least 85 people say the section of pipeline that gushed fuel has been a habitual gathering site for thieves, repeatedly damaged and patched like a trusty pair of jeans. On Friday, amid countrywide fuel shortages at gas stations as the government attempts to stem widespread fuel theft, this particular section of pipeline had come back into service after being offline for nearly four weeks when somebody punctured the line again. Word quickly spread through the community of 20,000 people that gas was flowing. Come one, come all. Hundreds showed up at the spigot, carrying plastic jugs and covering their faces with bandanas. A few threw rocks and swung sticks at soldiers who tried to shoo them away. Some fuel collectors brought their children along. At first the gasoline leak was manageable, locals say, emitting a tame fountain of fuel that allowed for filling small buckets at a time. But as the crowd swelled to more than 600, people became impatient. That's when a man rammed a piece of rebar into a patch, according to Irma Velasco, who lives near the alfalfa field where the explosion took place, and gasoline shot 20 feet (6 meters) into the air, like water from a geyser. A carnival atmosphere took over. Giddy adults soaked in gasoline filled jugs and passed them to runners. Families and friends formed human chains and guard posts to stockpile containers with fuel. For nearly two hours, more than a dozen soldiers stood guard on the outskirts of the field, warning civilians not to go near. Officials say the soldiers were outnumbered and their instructions were to not intervene. Only a week earlier, people in a different town had beaten some soldiers who tried to stop them from gorging on state-owned fuel. The lure of free fuel was irresistible for many: They came like moths to a flame, parking vehicles on a nearby road. The smell of gas grew stronger and stronger as thousands of barrels spewed. Those closest to the gusher apparently became delirious, intoxicated by fumes. Townspeople stumbled about. The night filled with an eerie mist, a mixture of cool mountain air and fine particles of gasoline.The fireball that engulfed those scooping up gasoline underscores the dangers of the epidemic of fuel theft that Mexico's new president has vowed to fight. By Sunday evening, the death toll blaze had risen to 79, with 58 others hospitalized, federal Health Minister Jorge Alcocer said. Dozens more were listed as missing. Soldiers formed a perimeter around an area the size of a soccer field where townspeople were incinerated by the fireball, reduced to clumps of ash and bones. Officials suggested Sunday that fields like this, where people were clearly complicit with the crime of fuel theft, could be seized by the government. But Attorney General Alejandro Gertz ruled out bringing charges against townspeople who merely collected spilled fuel, and in particular those hospitalized for burns. "Look, we are not going to victimize the communities," he said. "We are going to search for those responsible for the acts that have generated this tragedy."

    Ninety three dead and dozens in critical condition from Mexico pipeline explosion - At least 93 people have died and dozens were severely wounded in an explosion of a gasoline pipeline with a leak in the community of San Primitivo in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, just over 50 miles north of downtown Mexico City.  The victims are being treated in hospitals across Mexico and the United States, most of them with severe burns and fighting for their lives, according to the Secretary of Health. This includes one 12-year-old boy. Four died from their injuries on Tuesday. The explosion and the enormous human toll are an indictment and a direct result of the reactionary and militaristic policies of the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) to accelerate the privatization of the country’s oil. On Sunday, the state governor, Omar Fayed, announced that most of the remains of those killed in the blast are unidentifiable and will take days or even months to identify by way of genetic samples provided by their families. Hours before the explosion, a leak was reportedly opened deliberately, creating a 22-foot fountain of gasoline that up to 800 neighbors approached during the afternoon to fill bottles for their families to use. At the time of the fire, about 200 people were reportedly in the immediate surroundings. Shortly after, harrowing images appeared everywhere on social media and the news stations showing dozens of men and women running away from what had become a giant wall of fire. Family members nearby, calling out the names of their loved ones and telling people on fire to roll on the ground, captured with their phones the moments victims approached them, pleading, “Help me, I’m dying.” The deadly fire took place in the context of a new supply and distribution system implemented by the recently-elected National Regeneration Movement (Morena) government of López Obrador to prevent the stealing of gasoline from pipelines. The government’s “strategy,” implemented the first week of 2019, has consisted in deploying more than 5,000 members of the military and police to Pemex installations—including six refineries, 39 storage and distribution terminals and others—and closing down 1,050 miles of pipelines until they can be policed by the armed forces or repaired.

    AMLO Doubles Down to End Fuel Theft after PEMEX Explosion -- Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is doubling down on a controversial strategy to end fuel theft at Petroleos Mexicanos after a pipeline explosion caused by an illegal tap left at least 89 people dead and many injured. He joins a long line of presidents who have tried to fix Mexico’s struggling state oil producer -- with little to show for it. The leftist leader who took office on Dec. 1 has sought to combat the $3.5 billion trade in illicit fuel by increasing pipeline surveillance, improving technology and using more tanker trucks to transport gasoline. Lopez Obrador said the explosion won’t sway him from his strategy to end fuel theft. “Rather than stopping the strategy, the fight against the illegality and theft of fuel will be strengthened,” the president, known as AMLO, told reporters following the incident. Hundreds of people ignored orders from soldiers and gathered in Tlahuelilpan, in the central state of Hidalgo, to steal gasoline from a pipeline leak when it caught fire on Friday. The situation swiftly became unmanageable as crowds swelled and the army was unable to control it even after sending in reinforcements. A nearly four-hour lag between the leak alert and the closure of the valves was due to protocols at Pemex, the government said. There is an investigation into whether there was corruption or negligence in Pemex’s downstream control center, Lopez Obrador told reporters during his daily press conference on Monday. ‘Broken’ ModelThe blast is the latest in a series of problems facing Pemex, which has seen oil output decline every year since 2004 and is Latin America’s most indebted borrower. Pemex reports as many as 41 illegal pipeline taps a day and the fact that the blast occurred in spite of the government fuel theft crackdown “continues to show that the model is broken,” said John Padilla, managing director of energy consultant IPD Latin America LLC. “Every administration comes in with their magic bullet solution and they’ve all systematically failed,” he said. 

    Maduro illegitimacy declaration sparks confusion in US oil sector - The US on Wednesday declared the presidency of Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and recognized Guaido, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, as the country's legitimate president. Other countries, including Canada, followed the US with similar declarations. Trump administration officials and supporters of the move said it was aimed at cutting off the Maduro regime from oil revenues. What "we're trying to do today is look at the issues involved in disconnecting the illegitimate Maduro regime from its sources of revenues and finding ways to transfer those revenues to the new, legitimate government" of Guaido, John Bolton, President Trump's national security adviser, said in an interview with Fox Business Network on Thursday morning. The "natural resources of Venezuela belong to the people of Venezuela not the dictator Maduro," Senator Marco Rubio, Republican-Florida, tweeted Thursday. "Valero & Chevron should work with President Guaido to make sure payment for oil [reaches] people not Maduro regime." But sources said the Trump administration has offered no guidance on legal obligations in commercial dealings with Venezuela going forward, complicating crude and refined product trading, joint ventures with PDVSA and investments in the South American country's oil sector. "Unless there's some kind of formal sanction, I don't think it creates legal trouble," said Joe McMonigle, an analyst with Hedgeye Risk Management. "But, it could present other exposure and risk that private companies just don't want to take." Treasury may issue formal guidance on sanctions compliance obligations related to Guaido's designation. But Treasury is unlikely to issue such guidance if it may be quickly overtaken by potential new sanctions, despite a push from US business interests for additional clarity. "Treasury is very careful and they're not going to move before they know what is going on, even if they understand there's a screaming urgency from the financial services and energy community to tell them what is going on," she said. "If they're waiting in the wings with a sanctions action, they're not going to show their cards right now," one source said Thursday. A Treasury spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Maduro's illegitimate status in the US could be particularly problematic for the roughly 500,000 b/d of crude imported by US refineries owned by Chevron, Valero, PBF Energy and Citgo, which is owned by PDVSA. It is also unclear how Chevron's oil production operations in Venezuela may be impacted, sources said. "Chevron has no comment on the current situation in Venezuela," Isabel Ordonez, a Chevron spokeswoman, said in a statement. "Chevron operations in Venezuela continue and the company is committed to the country's energy development in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations." Spokesmen for Valero, PBF and Citgo did not respond to requests for comment. 

    U.S. sanctions on Venezuela would reroute crude, leave refiners short (Reuters) - Potential U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s crude oil exports would cut off the nation from Gulf Coast refiners that are among its biggest customers, likely forcing it to send more crude to China, India or other Asian countries, traders said on Wednesday. U.S. refineries that depend on Venezuela’s heavy crude would have even more trouble securing supplies as Canadian and Mexican crudes are often not as discounted and are limited in availability. The United States is considering moves to cripple Venezuela’s oil shipments, which account for nearly all of the country’s exports, in response to the reelection of President Nicolas Maduro that was widely viewed as a sham. Washington has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president as protests against Maduro erupted across the country. It is also considering sanctions on oil deliveries, a move it has until now resisted, energy company sources told Reuters on Wednesday. Venezuela, on average, exported about 500,000 barrels of crude a day to the United States in 2018, according to U.S. Energy Department data. Those shipments fell in November to an estimated 358,000 barrels per day, however, according to a report by Caracas-based consultancy Gas Energy Latin America seen by Reuters. Those deliveries are being made largely through oil-for-debt repayment structures as output from state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., known as PDVSA, has slumped to near 70-year lows in a nationwide economic crisis. Venezuela’s output has been cut in half since 2016 to less than 1.2 million bpd, according to figures from OPEC secondary sources. Shipments to the United States account for about 75 percent of the cash Venezuela gets for crude shipments, according to a Barclays research note published last week. In the wake of sanctions, the country could seek additional deals with Turkey, India or other Asian nations, one trader of Venezuelan crude said. “It will be costly for Venezuela but eventually they’ll be able to sell that oil to Asia at a discount. There will be a period in the middle in which they have difficulty selling those barrels,” 

    Venezuela’s US-Backed Coup Leader Immediately Targets State Oil Company and Requests IMF Money - The right-wing opposition leader that the United States is trying to undemocratically install as Venezuela’s president immediately set his sights on the country’s state-owned oil company, which he is hoping to restructure and move toward privatization. He is also seeking money from the notorious International Monetary Fund (IMF) to fund his unelected government.On January 23, U.S. President Donald Trump recognized the little-known, U.S.-educated opposition politician Juan Guaidó as the supposed “interim president” of Venezuela. Within 48 hours, Guaidó quickly tried to seize control of Venezuela’s major US-based oil refiner and use its revenue to help bankroll his US-backed coup regime.Guaidó is attempting to fire the directors of Citgo Petroleum, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, and seeks to appoint his own new board.   Reuters described Citgo as “Venezuela’s most important foreign asset”; Bloomberg calls it “the crown jewel of PDVSA’s assets.”Citgo is the largest purchaser of Venezuelan oil, although crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration have prevented the company from sending revenue to Venezuela, starving the government of funding.Citing US officials, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration’s strategy “is to use the newly declared interim government as a tool to deny Maduro the oil revenue from the United States that p rovides Venezuela virtually all of its incoming cash.”The oil reporting agency S&P Global Platts reported that, in the immediate wake of the U.S. anointing Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s supposed “president,” the opposition leader already drafted “plans to introduce a new national hydrocarbons law that establishes flexible fiscal and contractual terms for projects adapted to oil prices and the oil investment cycle.”This plan would involve the creation of a “new hydrocarbons agency” that would “offer bidding rounds for projects in natural gas and conventional, heavy and extra-heavy crude.” In other words, these are rapid moves to privatize Venezuela’s oil and open the door for multinational corporations.

    Public urged to stay away from New Plymouth beach after spill - An investigation is under way after an estimated 100 litres of a diesel-type substance spilled from a stream and into the sea at New Plymouth's Ngāmotu Beach. Taranaki Regional Council staff at Ngamotu Beach after the spill on Monday morning.Earlier on Monday the Taranaki Regional Council warned the public to stay away from the swimming beach as a clean-up began. The flow of the unidentified hydrocarbon substance has been stopped. Taranaki Regional Council compliance manager Bruce Pope said trained oil spill responders were at the site and deployed booms to contain and recover the material at the stream outlet. Booms were put on the sand as part of the clean-up.Booms were also used in the Breakwater Bay marina area, near the lee breakwater, east of the beach. The council were alerted to the spill by a member of the public around 11.30am on Monday morning, he said. There was no visual evidence of a heavy slick on the water but the material had a strong diesel-like smell, witnesses said. The discharge was stopped late afternoon and the source was being investigated, Pope said. The clean-up will continue into the evening and the public is advised to steer clear of the beach in the meantime.Pope said the response team were assessing the nature of the material and the potential for any wider impacts. The investigation was ongoing and there was no clear evidence of what type of hydrocarbon material, although it was believed to be diesel, had been spilled, he said. The spill came from a small stream which drains at the end of the beach next to Port Taranaki property. 

    South Korea's Hyundai Oilbank to receive Iranian South Pars in mid-February - — South Korea's Hyundai Oilbank will receive its first cargo of Iranian South Pars condensate in mid-February, a company trading source with direct knowledge of the matter said Tuesday. The cargo will arrive in a one million-barrel parcel. Altogether, Hyundai will take delivery of 6-7 million barrels of South Pars condensate from mid-February until end-April, the source said. Hyundai Oilbank's purchase comes as South Korea's other main South Pars condensate buyers, Hanwha Total and SK Innovation, are set to or have already taken delivery of their first cargoes of South Pars condensate, S&P Global Platts earlier reported. The Iranian Suezmax vessel Silvia I discharged around 1 million barrels of Iranian South Pars condensate at Incheon on January 19 for SK Innovation's subsidiary SK Incheon Petrochem, which runs a 100,000 b/d condensate splitter there, an industry source based in Seoul with direct knowledge of the matter said. SK Innovation will take its second delivery of another 1 million barrels of South Pars condensate at Incheon on January 31 onboard the Iranian Suezmax vessel Sana, the source added. Hanwha Total meanwhile is set to take delivery of around 3-5 million barrels of South Pars condensate in February. Price levels for Hyundai Oilbank's term South Pars cargoes were unclear, though traders said it was likely done at similar levels to where Hanwha Total inked its term South Pars deal, at a discount of around $2.50/b to Platts Dubai crude assessments on a delivered basis.

    European fuel oil market boosted by Saudi crude exports, tight supply— The loss of Iranian fuel oil exports is supporting the high sulfur fuel market as Saudi Arabia compensates for the disappearance of Iran in the oil market by exporting its crude and instead running fuel oil in its power generation plants, boosting demand for imports from Europe. Saudi Arabia in November exported its highest volumes of crude oil in two years, the latest figures from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative showed Monday, as the kingdom boosted its supplies to offset the reimposition of sanctions on Iran by the US. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude exporter, shipped 8.235 million b/d of crude in November, a 534,000 b/d increase from October. It was the highest Saudi export volume since November 2016, just before OPEC instituted a production cut deal that began January 2017, according to the JODI data. "Yes, Saudi Arabia is running fuel oil," a fuel oil trader confirmed Tuesday morning. Refinery runs in November rose to 2.836 million b/d, up 21,000 b/d from October, while direct crude burn for power generation fell to 328,000 b/d, down 5,000 b/d, the JODI data showed. Iranian sour crude produces an ample amount of high sulfur fuel oil when processed in the crude distillation unit, therefore the loss of fuel oil barrels from Iran added to supply concerns. Further supply crunches have come from Russia, Mexico and Venezuela, and this has squeezed cracked fuel oil availability. Falling Russian exports and refinery upgrades in preparation for the International Maritime Organization's sulfur cap in 2020 tightened the European market in particular, translating into a counter-seasonally strong backwardation on the 3.5% FOB Rotterdam barge curve through 2019.

    Saudi Arabia in Talks to Build Refinery in South Africa -- Saudi Arabia is in talks to build an oil refinery in South Africa as part of a pledge to invest as much as $10 billion in Africa’s most developed economy. Joint studies for a refinery and petrochemical complex will be conducted by state oil giant Saudi Aramco and South Africa’s Central Energy Fund, energy ministers from the two countries said in Pretoria on Friday. The negotiations mark a step forward in South Africa’s plans to add a refinery, which it has been considering for about a decade. Saudi Arabia made its spending pledge last July as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa sought investment to revive a flagging economy. Although South Africa has struck previous agreements to develop a new refinery -- including with China in 2011 -- the project is yet to get off the ground. With Saudi Arabia supplying about 40 percent of South Africa’s crude, ties between the two countries are close. South African Energy Minister Jeff Radebe has called for an increase in domestic refining to cut reliance on fuel imports. But the pending introduction of clean-fuel standards has, if anything, prompted refiners to stall rather than expand, with Sasol Ltd. considering selling a plant. Radebe and his Saudi counterpart Khalid Al-Falih signed a declaration of intent Friday to cooperate in oil and gas. Talks between the two have also broached the possibility of Saudi Aramco using the vast oil-storage tanks in Saldanha Bay, a harbor north of Cape Town offering a strategic location for trading. “We believe that South Africa will grow economically” and additional projects may follow those currently under discussion, Al-Falih said, suggesting that Aramco could also help supply South Africa with natural gas.

    Saudi Arabia: We’ll Pump The World’s Very Last Barrel Of Oil - Saudi Arabia isn’t buying the peak oil demand narrative. OPEC’s largest producer continues to expect global oil demand to keep rising at least by 2040 and sees itself as the oil producer best equipped to continue meeting that demand, thanks to its very low production costs. Saudi Arabia will be the one to pump the last barrel of oil in the world, but it doesn’t see the ‘last barrel of oil’ being pumped for decades and decades to come. “I don’t see peak [oil] demand happening in 10 years or even by 2040,” Amin Nasser, president and chief executive officer of Saudi oil giant Saudi Aramco told CNN Business’ Emerging Markets Editor John Defterios on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. “There will continue to be growth in oil demand … We are the lowest cost producer and the last barrel will come from the region,” Nasser told CNN. For several years, Nasser has been saying that peak oil demand is nowhere in sight, that petrochemicals will drive oil demand growth through 2050, and that all the ‘peak oil demand’ and ‘stranded resources’ talk is threatening an orderly energy transition and energy security. Saudi Arabia—which has just announced that its huge oil reserves are slightly higher than previously estimated—looks to diversify its economy away from heavy dependence on crude oil, but one of the goals of its Vision 2030 diversification plan is to use less oil in domestic power generation to free up more barrels for exports.

     Russia seals position as top crude oil supplier to China, holds off Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Russia came in as China’s largest crude oil supplier in December, cementing the top spot for all of 2018 for a third year in a row ahead of rival Saudi Arabia, customs data showed on Friday. Imports from Russia reached 7.04 million tons, or 1.658 million barrels per day, in December, up 40 percent from 5.03 million tons a year earlier, according to the data from the General Administration of Customs. For the full year, Russian imports rose to 71.49 million tons, or 1.43 million bpd, up 19.7 percent from 59.7 million tons in 2017. Demand for Russian crude was supported by a rise in throughput by China’s private refiners, who favor Russian grades such as ESPO, while geopolitical uncertainties also forced China to import less from countries such as Iran and Venezuela. Russian oil giant Rosneft has also marketed its ESPO grade more aggressively, signing new long term supply deals with state oil companies such as ChemChina and PetroChina. Saudi Arabia supplied China with 6.97 million tons in December, or 1.64 million bpd, up 48 percent from 4.71 million tons a year earlier. For 2018, OPEC’s top supplier boosted shipments to China by 8.7 percent to 56.73 million tons, or 1.135 million bpd. That means Russia’s lead over Saudi Arabia in supplying China almost doubled to 295,000 bpd in 2018 from 150,000 bpd a year earlier. U.S. shipments to China - which have been hit by a trade war between the two nations - came in at zero in December. Imports for 2018 were up 24.8 percent from 2017 at 245,616 bpd. Chinese oil trader Unipec plans to resume U.S. crude shipments to China by March, Reuters reported in December. Venezuelan supplies to China tumbled 24 percent in 2018 to 16.63 million tons, or 332,600 bpd, after the OPEC member’s production fell to a seven-decade low amid a lack of investment, mismanagement and fleeing workers. Iranian imports were at 2.14 million tons in December, or 503,896 bpd, down 12 percent from a year earlier. Full year Iranian imports dropped to 29.274 million tons, or 585,475 bpd, down 20 percent from 2017 after the United States imposed sanction on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program. 

    China's CNOOC boosts spending target to 5-year high, increases domestic drilling (Reuters) - China’s state-owned offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC Ltd said it is confident of achieving its spending target this year, the highest since 2014, as its responds to a call to build up the nation’s petroleum output and reserves. The company plans to spend 70 billion to 80 billion yuan ($10.3 billion to $11.8 billion) on exploration and production, CNOOC said in a press release on Wednesday, compared with an expected 63 billion yuan in capital spending for 2018. Beijing has called on the state oil giants to increase domestic exploration to help meet strong crude demand and counter falling output from maturing fields. This came after President Xi Jinping urged oil companies in August to improve national security by boosting domestic production and reserves. In response to the government’s call, CNOOC pledged last week to double its exploration activities and proven oil and gas reserves in China over the next seven years. The company is allocating more spending this year on domestic exploration and production, which will make up 62 percent of total expenditures versus last year’s 51 percent. “Our main focus will be exploring for large- to medium-sized oil and gas fields ... and will speed up exploration of natural gas,” the company said in a presentation of its plans published on its website. Domestic exploratory drilling will take up 12 billion yuan, or 76 percent of total exploration spending, while overseas work will account for the remaining 24 percent. The 12 billion yuan compares with 10 billion yuan estimated in 2018 and is nearly double to that of 2016. In global exploration, CNOOC will speed up spending on the Stabroek block offshore Guyana, where an Exxon Mobil-led consortium that includes the Chinese company has tapped recoverable reserves of 5 billion barrels of oil equivalent. 

    China's CNOOC to double proven reserves, exploration by 2025 (Reuters) - China’s CNOOC Group said it aims to double its exploration projects and proven oil and gas reserves in seven years, the company said on Friday via its official Wechat account. The announcement was a direct response to President Xi Jinping’s call to improve the country’s national security by boosting domestic production and reserves, CNOOC said in the post. The offshore producer is expected to make a record investment to boost exploration projects and reach its target, according to CNOOC’s chairman Yang Hua. The company is due to release details of its production target and capital expenditure at the strategic outlook meeting on Jan. 23. “We faced adverse geological conditions as offshore oil and gas fields age. More exploration projects are being moved to deep water area, but these are both risky and costly,” said Xie Yuhong, head geologist, CNOOC, adding that the volatility in global oil prices added pressure on CNOOC to rein in expenses. The oil and gas explorer reported 2.613 billion barrels of oil equivalent in net total reserves by 2017-end, the best level seen since 2008.

    IEA Sees Oil Demand Growth Defying Slowing Economy-- Global oil demand remains on course to be stronger this year than in 2018 as a boost from lower fuel prices counters slowing economic activity, according to the International Energy Agency. “We have seen prices fall very significantly since the peak at the beginning of October, and that is providing some relief to consumers,” Neil Atkinson, head of the IEA’s oil industry and markets division, said in a Bloomberg television interview on Friday. Still, in its monthly report the agency acknowledged “the mood music in the global economy is not very cheerful” and the outlook could change. Crude prices remain almost 30 percent below the four-year peak reached in October amid concerns over economic growth in China and the U.S., the world’s two biggest oil users, who remain locked in a trade dispute. To prevent markets tipping into oversupply, the OPEC cartel and its partners have announced substantial production cuts. Oil consumption will expand by 1.4 million barrels a day -- about 1.4 percent -- in 2019, slightly higher than last year’s expansion of 1.3 million, according to the Paris-based IEA, which advises most of the world’s major economies on energy policy. Brent crude traded near $62 a barrel in London on Friday, having surpassed $86 in October. Faltering manufacturing and slumping exports have stirred concerns that China’s economy, the oil market’s engine of growth for more than a decade, is slowing. A prolonged trade battle with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is only darkening the outlook. “Our expectation for slightly faster global demand growth in 2019 is maintained even though economic growth is likely to be slower than in 2018,” the agency said. “The impact of higher oil prices in 2018 is fading, which will help offset lower economic growth.”

    Hedge funds buy oil amid greater optimism on economy: Kemp - (Reuters) - Hedge funds have started to accumulate bullish positions in crude oil and diesel once more, amid rising optimism about the outlook for the global economy in 2019. Hedge funds and other money managers increased their net long position in Brent crude futures and options by 15 million barrels to 173 million barrels in the week to Jan. 15. Portfolio managers have raised their net long position in Brent in five of the last six weeks, by a combined 36 million barrels since Dec. 4, according to exchange data. Funds also boosted their net long position in European gasoil by 6 million barrels to 11 million barrels, the second small weekly increase in a row, after twelve large consecutive declines (tmsnrt.rs/2S2rQP2). In both cases, most of the new buying came from the closure of existing short positions rather than opening fresh long ones. It follows the largest sell-off ever recorded in crude and gasoil during the fourth quarter and suggests many fund managers sense prices have found a floor, at least temporarily. The new wave of buying in crude and gasoil is still small and net positions are still a fraction of the 500 million barrels of Brent and 126 million barrels of gasoil held in September. But it comes amid increasing optimism among investors about a future trade deal between the United States and China that could help avert a feared recession. The same optimism that has boosted the U.S. S&P 500 share index by 14 percent since Dec. 26 and South Korea’s trade-exposed KOSPI-100 index by 8 percent since Jan. 4 is helping reverse some of the recent losses in oil prices.

    Rig Count Sensitivity And WTI Crude Price Fluctuations - WTI crude prices averaged $66.77 per barrel over the first three quarters of 2019 and peaked at around $75 per barrel at the opening of 4Q18. But as we all know, prices were punished over the rest of the quarter shedding about $30 per barrel (from the peak) by the year’s end as traders began to worry that global crude production appeared to be on a near term trajectory to outpace demand. ​ A growing question culminating from the recent slump in prices is, “How will producers adjust their drilling campaigns now that the price environment has changed so dramatically?” Anecdotally we note that recent press releases by Diamondback and Chesapeake both announced these companies’ intentions to reduce the size of their drilling fleets in 2019. Plans for drilling by other publicly traded producers will likely also get announced in the weeks ahead as companies report their financial results for the fourth quarter. In the meantime, the introductory table provides a rough sensitivity analysis of how rig demand may shape up under certain crude pricing conditions over the next year. Comparing domestic crude prices alongside rig activity illustrates a strong linkage (i.e. correlation) between oil prices and rig counts. ​ Without adjusting for lag (i.e. thetypical span before rig activity reacts to the change in price), the correlation between the rig count and the WTI crude price was 0.8796, which is already a strong relationship. However, factoring in a three month lag, improves the relationship by +855 basis points to a correlation of 0.9651 adjusted. 

    To boost confidence in oil cut, OPEC issues quota list - OPEC on Friday published a list of oil production cuts by its members and other major producers for the six months to June, an effort to boost confidence in the move designed to avoid a supply glut in 2019. In a statement, an OPEC and non-OPEC ministerial panel also called on participating members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies to “redouble their efforts in the full and timely implementation" of the move. In the first half of 2019, OPEC and its allies will cut oil output by 1.195 million bpd to 43.874 million bpd. The full OPEC+ group will meet on April 17-18 in Vienna to decide whether to extend the agreement beyond June. The list of quotas is the same as one seen by Reuters and other news services in December and is as listed below. For the six months to June 2019:

    Algeria 1,057 -32 = 1,025
    Angola 1,528 -47 = 1,481
    Congo 325 -10 = 315
    Ecuador 524 -16 = 508
    Eq. Guinea 127 -4 = 123
    Gabon 187 -6 = 181
    Iraq 4,653 -141 = 4,512
    Kuwait 2,809 -85 = 2,724
    Nigeria 1,738 -53 = 1,685
    Saudi Arabia 10,633 -322 = 10,331
    UAE 3,168 -96 = 3,072
    Azerbaijan 796 -20 =776
    Bahrain 227 -5 = 222
    Brunei 131 -3 = 128
    Kazakhstan 1,900 -40 = 1,860
    Malaysia 627 -15 = 612
    Mexico 2,017 -40 = 1,977
    Oman 995 -25 = 970
    Russia 11,421 -230 = 11,191
    Sudan 74 -2 = 72
    South Sudan 132 -3 = 129
    Total OPEC 26,749 -812 = 25,937
    Non-OPEC 10 18,320 -383 = 17,937
    Total 45,069 -1,195 = 43,874

    Oil firms as China's economic slowdown was not as big as some expected - Oil rose on Monday, reversing earlier losses, as investors latched on to positive supply-side drivers for the market, although concern about the wider economy simmered in the background after data pointed to a slowdown in China. Brent crude oil futures were up 12 cents at $62.82 a barrel by 1520 GMT, while U.S. crude futures were up 9 cents at $53.89 a barrel.Analysts said a more robust backdrop for financial markets, together with the prospect of slower crude production growth, were the major drivers behind the rally in oil."The stock market performance is one of the reasons why oil keeps marching higher. There also seems to be a general belief that the agreed cut in OPEC+ production will be sufficient to balance the market," PVM Oil Associates said in a note.Global equities fell after data pointed to a slowdown in Chinese economic growth in 2018 to a 28-year low. The numbers fed concern that the outlook for global growth may be darkening, particularly given U.S.-China trade tensions. But stocks are still up nearly 8 percent so far this month, which in turn has given oil investors more confidence to bet aggressively on a rise in crude prices.

    Oil Prices Steady Following China GDP Data; OPEC Supply Cuts Remain in Focus - Oil prices steadied on Monday in Asia after official data showed China’s economic slowdown was in line with expectations and not as sharp as some analysts had feared. China's economy grew 6.4% in the fourth quarter of 2018 from a year earlier, as expected, official data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed. In 2018, the country’s economic growth came in at 6.6%, also in line with expectations. Oil prices firmed following the release of the data, with Brent Oil Futures trading at $62.83 per barrel at 1:06 AM ET (06:06 GMT), up 0.2% from their last close, while Crude Oil WTI futures were at $54.2 a barrel, up 0.3%.Meanwhile, traders are awaiting further news on U.S.-China trade frictions. Oil futures rallied around 3% on Friday following reports suggesting both countries were considering concessions ahead of a Washington visit from Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Jan. 30 and 31 for talks aimed at resolving the ongoing trade standoff between the two countries.Elsewhere, Baker Hughes reported Friday that the number of domestic rigs drilling for oil fell by 21 to 852 in the week to Jan. 11.It was the third straight weekly decline in the rig count and the largest weekly drop since February 2016, suggesting a slowdown in domestic crude production. That followed a report Thursday from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which revealed that the group‘s output fell by 751,000 barrels to 31.6 million barrels a day in December.

    Oil prices edge down as global growth worries threaten demand - Oil prices fell more than 1 percent on Tuesday on signs that an economic slowdown in China was spreading, stoking concerns about global growth and fuel demand. The gloomy news from the world's second-largest economy and top importer of oil pulled down financial markets across Asia. International Brent oil futures were at $61.94 per barrel at 0950 GMT, down 80 cents or 1.28 percent. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $53.16 per barrel, down 1.19 percent or 64 cents. China reported the lowest annual economic growth in nearly 30 years on Monday. Its state planner warned on Tuesday that falling factory orders pointed to a further drop in activity in coming months and more job losses. While China's oil imports have so far defied the economic slowdown, hitting a record above 10 million barrels per day (bpd) in late 2018, many analysts believe the country has reached peak energy growth, with its thirst set to wane. "Slowing manufacturing activity in China is likely weighing on demand," said Singapore-based tanker brokerage Eastport, adding that industrial slowdowns tended to be leading indicators that fed gradually into lower demand for shipped oil products. In a sign of spreading economic weakness, growth in South Korea's export-oriented economy slowed to a six-year low of 2.7 percent in 2018, official data showed on Tuesday. The International Monetary Fund on Monday trimmed its 2019 global growth forecast to 3.5 percent, from 3.7 percent in last October's outlook. "This was the second downturn revision in three months, and we can still see further downgrades in the near future if trade tensions escalate, the UK exits with a no-deal from the EU, or China's economic growth drops more sharply,"  Despite the darkening outlook, oil prices have been getting some support from supply cuts since the beginning of this month by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

    Oil prices drop on renewed global growth fears - Oil futures traded sharply lower Tuesday, under pressure after a warning from the International Monetary Fund and weak economic data out of China underlined concerns about global economic growth and energy demand. West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery fell $1.93, or 3.6%, to $51.87 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract expires at the day’s settlement. March WTI CLH9, -2.72% which becomes the front-month contract, traded at $52.17, down $1.87, or 3.5%.    March Brent  lost $1.94, or 3.1%, to trade at $60.80 on ICE Futures Europe.“Oil prices are under pressure due to new economic concerns. The IMF yesterday lowered its forecast for global economic growth this year, particularly because of the less dynamic growth expected in Europe. The NDRC, the state planning agency in China, sees a risk of a further cooling of the Chinese economy,” wrote analysts at Commerzbank, in a note.The IMF on Monday said it expects the global economy to grow 3.5% in 2019, down from a previous forecast of 3.7% in October and a growth rate of 3.7% in 2018. The fund cited growing trade tensions and rising U.S. interest rates. Earlier Monday, China reported its economy expanded by 6.6% in 2018, the slowest pace since 1990.Most U.S. financial markets were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Brent crude rose 4 cents Monday in London.The Commerzbank analysts noted the International Energy Agency late last week confirmed its forecast for global oil demand despite an increasingly gloomy economic outlook, calling for demand to increase by 1.4 million barrels a day in 2019 thanks to the positive impact of lower prices.“If demand develops as the IEA predicts, the oil market will become gradually rebalanced during the course of the year. For this to happen, OPEC+ will need to consistently implement the agreed production cuts. OPEC has now published a detailed breakdown of the contribution required from each country,” they said. In other energy trading, March natural-gas futures NGH19, -7.59%  dropped 9.6% to $3.148 per million British thermal units, continuing to see high volatility on the back of changing weather forecasts.

    What's Driving Oil Prices Down? - Oil prices started Tuesday down on gloomy economic news, with mounting fears that economic growth will slow in 2019.  The International Monetary Fund warned on Monday that economic growth could slow this year. “While global growth in 2018 remained close to post-crisis highs, the global expansion is weakening and at a rate that is somewhat faster than expected,” the Fund said. The IMF lowered its global growth estimate to 3.5 percent this year, down 0.2 percent from its October estimate. The Fund said that the downward revision is modest, but that downside risks are rising. “While financial markets in advanced economies appeared to be decoupled from trade tensions for much of 2018, the two have become intertwined more recently, tightening financial conditions and escalating the risks to global growth.” After hitting a two-month high in recent days, oil prices have taken a breather on renewed concerns of an economic slowdown generally, and in China more specifically. On Monday, China reported its 2018 GDP growth rate at 6.6 percent, the weakest in nearly three decades.. Oil price discounts in Midland have narrowed sharply, converging towards WTI in Houston. The discount is now at its smallest since March 2018. Discounts once traded nearly $20 per barrel below WTI in Midland, but the discount has now fallen to roughly $2.25. Some midstream capacity has been added in recent months, while production growth hit a rough patch this month because of cold weather.  Schlumberger saw its share price jump over the last few trading days after reporting upbeat guidance for 2019. However, the oilfield services giant also said that its fourth quarter revenue fell by 12 percent quarter-on-quarter, the result of slowing drilling activity in the U.S. shale patch. “We could be facing a more moderate growth in U.S. shale production in coming years,” Schlumberger’s CEO Paal Kibsgaard told investors on an earnings call.

    US shale's full impact still hasn't hit oil markets, IEA director says - Shale oil's impact will have "huge implications" for global energy markets for many years, Fatih Birol, executive director at the International Energy Agency, told CNBC on Tuesday.Oil prices have been trading sharply lower amid growing concerns that an economic slowdown in China could temper demand. And even as some producers cut their output, prices have been put under further pressure by a growing supply from the United States."(If) anybody thinks we have seen the full impact of the shale revolution in the United States, then he or she is making a big mistake," Birol told CNBC's Steve Sedgwick at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland."We will see huge implications of shale, both for oil and gas, for many years to come."OPEC and its production allies have officially implemented a fresh round of supply cuts, which will see 1.2 million barrels per day removed from the market from the start of January.Birol said that despite those cuts, prices in 2019 should face renewed pressure with Permian Basin output in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico set to ramp up. "A huge amount of pipeline capacity is coming in the Permian, 66 percent growth compared to previous years, so the U.S. oil industry's ability to react to the market is much faster and bolder now," he said.

    Oil Holds Losses Near $53 -- Oil held its losses from Tuesday at near $53 a barrel as pessimism over the prospects for a U.S.-China trade deal clouded the global economic outlook. Futures in New York were little changed after falling on Tuesday, when they dropped with risk assets including global equities. The swoon was sparked by concerns that tensions between the world’s biggest economies will persist even after President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser denied a report that the U.S. has canceled preliminary talks with Chinese officials. The concerns over the world economy were exacerbated by disappointing U.S. housing data and the International Monetary Fund cutting its global growth forecasts this week. That’s threatening oil’s rally after prices got off to their best start to a year since 2001 on hopes the OPEC+ group of producers will cut enough output to shrink a global glut. While Mohammad Barkindo, the secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, said the group and its allies are beginning to make “very sharp reductions,” the energy ministers of Saudi Arabia and Russia both canceled their plans to attend and hold a bilateral meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, skipping an opportunity to reassure investors.  West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery traded 20 cents up at $53.21 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 7:46 a.m. in London. The February contract expired on Tuesday after slumping 2.3 percent to $52.57. Brent for March settlement was 32 cents higher at $61.82 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange after dropping 2 percent on Tuesday. The global benchmark crude was at an $8.56 premium to WTI. 

    Oil prices steady as slowdown worries offset outlook for lower supply - The oil market gave up early gains on Wednesday as a widespread economic slowdown, which may dent growth in demand for fuel, weighed on energy prices. Crude futures earlier got a boost from hopes that Japan and China would take fiscal stimulus measures to stem the slowdown. Prices got further support from expectations that U.S. crude stockpiles fell last week and official data indicated slowing growth in U.S. shale oil output in the coming years. International Brent crude oil futures dipped 6 cents to $61.44 per barrel at 10:55 a.m. ET (1555 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures 15 cents lower at $52.86 per barrel. Oil prices fell by 2 percent on Tuesday as financial markets reeled from concerns about a global economic slowdown and the heavy losses spooked investors into safe-haven assets such as government bonds or gold. A litany of poor economic data worldwide sapped Asian markets, though some optimism emerged as China and Japan said they would use fiscal spending to boost growth. Chinese finance ministry officials on Wednesday said that the government would step up spending to support its economy, which last year registered its lowest growth rate since 1990. The Bank of Japan said it would keep the ultra-easy monetary settings that have been running since 2013. Oil prices have been supported by production cuts led by OPEC to rein in an emerging supply glut. Whether OPEC's efforts will be successful depend in part on the development of oil production in the United States.

    WTI Extends Losses After Big Surprise Crude Build - Crude prices fell to the lowest level in almost a week as China warned of “serious challenges” to the global economy and the U.S. government shutdown cast a pall over growth.“You still have the same old things hanging over us, particularly the question of a trade deal between the U.S. and China," said  Michael Hiley, head of OTC energy trading at LPS Futures in New York. API:

    • Crude +6.551mm (-500k exp)
    • Cushing +359k
    • Gasoline +3.635mm
    • Distillates +2.573mm

    After three weeks of dramatic product builds (and modest crude draws), it appears a record high production finally caught up with demand as API reported a major surprise crude build of 6.551mm barrels.  WTI was hovering around $52.60 ahead of the API data and extended the day's losses on the print...

    Oil slips as EU seeks to trade with Iran, U.S. gasoline prices fall (Reuters) - Oil prices slipped on Wednesday as the European Union seeks to circumvent U.S. trade sanctions against Iran, and on weaker U.S. gasoline prices. Brent futures fell 36 cents, or 0.6 percent, to settle at $61.14 a barrel, while the most active U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude contract for March fell 39 cents, or 0.7 percent, to settle at $52.62. France’s foreign minister said he expected a European-backed system to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran and bypass fresh U.S. curbs imposed after Washington quit a landmark nuclear deal, would be established in coming days. Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York said that EU announcement “knocked the wind out of oil prices.” Analysts also said falling U.S. gasoline prices and rising crude output in the United States were also pressuring the crude market. “We are paying particular attention to weakening NYMEX crack spreads where an increasingly heavy gasoline market is providing a limiter on near term WTI gains,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates in Chicago, said in a report. The crack, or spread, between U.S. gasoline futures and WTI crude RBc1-CLc1 fell to $5.97 a barrel, its lowest since 2013. Both U.S. crude and product futures extended their losses in post-settlement trade after an industry report showed that U.S. crude stockpiles rose sharply last week, while gasoline and distillate inventories built. [API/S] Data from the American Petroleum Institute showed crude inventories increased 6.6 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 42,000 barrels. Gasoline stocks rose by 3.6 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.7 million-barrel gain. Distillate fuels stockpiles gained by 2.6 million barrels, compared with expectations for a 229,000-barrel drop, the API data showed.

    U.S. oil firms tell OPEC their growth will slow (Reuters) - U.S. oil producers sought on Wednesday to soothe OPEC’s worries about losing market share, telling the group that investors in the U.S. firms wanted a reduction in growth and higher payouts. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC allies such as Russia have cut output since 2017 to support oil prices, while watching producers in the United States, which is not party to the cuts, drive up production. The United States has overtaken Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s biggest crude producer. Output is approaching 12 million barrels per day (bpd). OPEC’s forecasts and even U.S. government predictions have repeatedly underestimated U.S. output growth. The bosses of U.S. firms Occidental Petroleum and Hess Corp, attending a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said that growth of U.S. shale oil output would slow. The session was a rare occasion when U.S. producers and an OPEC representative, OPEC Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo, sat on the same panel. “I believe not as much money will be pouring into the Permian basin this time. I believe investors will hold companies accountable for returns and a lot of this didn’t happen previously,” Occidental Chief Executive Vicki Hollub said. Echoing her comments, Hess Corp founder and Chief Executive John Hess said shale production now accounted for about 6 percent of global production. “It will probably go up to 10 percent by mid-decade but then it flattens out,” he said. But he added that U.S. resources would start to degrade. “Shale is not the next Saudi Arabia. It is an important short-cycle component,” he said. Barkindo said OPEC aimed to balance supply and demand and had helped the United States by rescuing its oil industry from ultra-low oil prices. “The oil industry is under siege globally,” Barkindo said, adding that OPEC wanted to talk more regularly to U.S. producers to understand their industry better even if they could not participate in any OPEC-led production cuts. 

    Oil prices fall on worries fuel demand to stall amid slowing global growth - Oil prices fell on Thursday as concern over the global economy reasserted itself, reversing earlier gains on the potential for U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. Brent crude futures were down 46 cents at $60.68 a barrel around 8:30 a.m. ET (1330 GMT), while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures fell 26 cents to $52.36. An unexpected rise in U.S. crude inventories reported the day before eclipsed possible U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan oil sector. The American Petroleum Institute said on Wednesday U.S. crude inventories rose by 6.6 million barrels in the latest week, versus expectations for a fall of 42,000 barrels. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports official figures later on Thursday. "The chances for another down-day are not bad at all if you believe the confirmation of last nights (U.S. inventory) stats by the EIA this afternoon will actually put further downward pressure on prices. According to the API, all major categories built," PVM Oil Associates strategist Tamas Varga said. Investors at present perceive oil supply to be fairly tight relative to demand. But given concern over the longer-term outlook for global economic growth, bullish drivers have been short-lived in the last couple of weeks. Earlier, oil hit a session high of $61.38 after the United States said it could impose sanctions on Venezuela's crude exports as the Latin American country descends further into turmoil.

    Oil Algos Go Wild After Gasoline Inventories Hit Record High - Crude prices edged higher overnight amid Venezuela disruption concerns after falling to the lowest level in almost a week after a surprisingly large crude build reported by API and as China warned of “serious challenges” to the global economy and the U.S. government shutdown cast a pall over growth.The White House recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela on Wednesday, a move that carries the risk of further disruption to the nation’s oil exports."With the U.S. now clearly taking sides with the opposition, changes might be in the making," said Tamas Varga, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates Ltd. in London. "This would deal a further blow to U.S. refiners that rely on whatever Venezuelan oil is still available and as such would be short-term bullish." DOE:

    • Crude +7.97mm (-750k exp)
    • Cushing -190k
    • Gasoline +4.05mm
    • Distillates -617k

    The API reported a build across the board on nationwide crude, Cushing, gasoline and distillate inventories. We already saw large builds last week in products and that continued with crude also seeing an even bigger build than API... and Gasoline's 8th weekly build in a row pushed it to a record high... Production hit a new record high last week as the number of US oil rigs tumbled most in years. WTI crude futures chopped around between $52 and $53 ahead of the DOE data and kneejerked lower after the big surprise crude build...

    U.S. oil up one percent on Venezuela turmoil, but hefty stock build weighs - (Reuters) - U.S. oil prices rose by 1 percent on Thursday, boosted by the U.S. threat of sanctions on Venezuela, but gains were capped by record high gasoline inventories and an unexpected big build in crude stocks in the United States. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude (CLc1) futures rose 51 cents to settle at $53.13 a barrel, a 0.97 percent gain. Brent crude (LCOc1) futures fell 5 cents to settle at $61.09 a barrel. Washington signaled it could impose sanctions on Venezuela's crude exports as Caracas descends further into political and economic turmoil. The threat to reduce supplies supported futures prices. The United States, the top importer of Venezuelan crude, is seeking to ensure that the OPEC member's oil revenue goes to opposition leader Juan Guaido, who swore himself in as interim president, and to cut off money from President Nicolas Maduro, a top U.S. official said on Thursday. "The breakdown in diplomatic relations was interpreted as upping the possibility of a U.S. sanction on Venezuelan oil that would likely force U.S. refiners to seek alternative supplies at higher prices, hence the WTI gains," Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. Venezuelan oil is predominantly heavy crude, which requires extensive refining. It is frequently blended with lighter crudes to give refiners higher-value products. With Iran already crippled by U.S. sanctions, a drop in Venezuelan exports could squeeze global supply further. Geneva-based Petro-Logistics said on its website that Iranian crude and condensate exports in December "fell steeply" from November to less than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) due to U.S. sanctions - lower than some other estimates. Both Brent and WTI are both backed by light, sweet crudes, and are not directly linked to Venezuelan oil. But concern about the supply of heavy crudes is apparent in the U.S. physical market, where the price for Mars Sour (WTC-MRS), a medium crude, shot to its highest since early 2011.  For graphic on Venezuela's crude exports and US crude prices, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2S57l4p 

     Oil prices climb as US threatens sanctions against Venezuela - Oil prices rose on Friday as turmoil in Venezuela triggered concerns that its crude exports could soon be disrupted. Washington on Thursday signalled it could impose sanctions on Venezuela's oil exports as Caracas descends further into political and economic turmoil. Brent crude oil futures were at $61.62 a barrel at 0755 GMT, 53 cents, or 0.9 percent, above their last close. At one point earlier on Friday, the international benchmark crude rose as high as $61.92 a barrel. Brent, however, has shed about 1.8 percent this week and was on track to post its first week of losses in four weeks. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $53.70 per barrel, up 57 cents, or 1.1 percent. Amid violent street protests, Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president earlier this week, winning backing from Washington and large parts of Latin America, prompting Nicolas Maduro, the country's leader since 2013, to break relations with the United States. "The oil market is partially pricing in the risk to Venezuela's crude production, which has been plummeting in recent years and currently languishes just above 1 million barrels per day," Vandana Hari of Vanda Insights said in a note on Friday. Fundamentally, however, global oil markets are still well supplied, thanks in part to surging output in the United States, where crude production rose by more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) last year to a record 11.9 million bpd. Record U.S. production would likely offset any short-term disruptions to Venezuelan supply due to possible U.S. sanctions, Britain's Barclays on Thursday said in a note. The bank cut its 2019 average Brent crude oil forecast to $70 a barrel, down from $72 previously.

    Oil Prices Unmoved By Venezuela Turmoil - Oil was up in early trading on Friday and could close out the week with a slight gain, but benchmark prices were remarkably flat given the turmoil raging in Venezuela.   Venezuela has been rocked by turmoil this week, with the Maduro regime teetering on the brink of collapse. The U.S., clearly seeking regime change in Venezuela, recognized the head of the national assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the rightful president on Wednesday, which corresponded with massive nation-wide protests. However, by Thursday, the military stuck by President Maduro, which will provide the leader a lifeline. In the meantime, Venezuela’s oil production is expected to continue to decline. Guaidó has offered some details on new plans for the oil sector, including new picks to head up Citgo and PDVSA. He is trying to obtain control of the country’s oil assets, but with the military backing Maduro for now, there is no sign of an imminent downfall. Billions of dollars’ worth of investment from Russia and China are on the line. News reports suggest that the Trump administration is mulling harsh sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil sector. It is unclear if the administration will follow through, but if it did, sanctions would hit U.S. Gulf Coast refiners that depend on heavy oil from Venezuela, including Citgo, Valero, Chevron  and PBF Energy.. Russia was China’s largest oil supplier in 2018 for the third year in a row, cementing its top spot ahead of Saudi Arabia for. Russia sent 1.43 million barrels per day to China last year, up 19.7 percent from a year earlier. China’s private refineries stepped up processing, while at the same time, China had to turn to Russia to replace lost barrels from Iran and Venezuela.  Freight rates for dry-bulk container ships have declined sharply over the last six months, a sign of flagging trade and a broader global economic slowdown. The Baltic Dry Index, which measures ship transport costs, has fallen by 47 percent since mid-2018, according to Reuters. “The global economy and dry-bulk shipping market are showing us very real signs of distress,” said Jeffrey Landsberg, managing director of commodity consultancy Commodore Research.

    Modest Rig Count Gain Caps Oil Prices - Baker Hughes reported modest rise in the number of active oil and gas rigs in the United States this week. The total number of active oil and gas drilling rigs rose by 9 rigs, according to the report, with the number of active oil rigs increasing by 10 to reach 862 and the number of gas rigs decreasing by 1 to reach 197. The oil and gas rig count is now 112 up from this time last year, 103 of which is in oil rigs. WTI prices were trading up earlier on Friday as the crisis in oil-rich Venezuela deepens as opposition leader Juan Guaidó seeks to grab power from current president Nicolas Maduro, garnering him a backing from the United States to the ire of Maduro. Gains were capped, however, by the previous day’s EIA report that showed a major buildup in crude oil inventories for the week at 8 million barrels, bringing the total to 9% above seasonal limits. At 12:16pm EST, the WTI benchmark was trading up $0.52 (+0.99%) at $53.65—nearly flat week on week, with Brent crude trading up $0.40 (+0.65%) at $61.49 per barrel—down nearly $1 per barrel on the week. Canada’s oil and gas rigs increased by 23 rigs this week, after climbing by 25 rigs last week. Canada’s total oil and gas rig count is now 232, which is 106 fewer rigs than this time last year. The EIA’s estimates for US production for the week ending January 18 shows an increase at an average rate of 11.9 million bpd­—a record for the US—for the second week in a row.. By 1:06pm EDT, WTI had increased by 0.87% (+$0.46) at $53.59 on the day. Brent crude was trading up 0.61% (+$0.37) at $61.46 per barrel.

    Oil climbs on Venezuelan crisis despite surging US supply - The United States signaled on Thursday it may impose sanctions on Venezuelan exports after recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president this week, prompting President Nicholas Maduro to cut ties with Washington. But the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute and broader gloom over world economic growth put a check on prices. Brent crude oil futures ended the session at $61.64 a barrel, up 55 cents, or 0.9 percent. Brent, however, has shed about 1.7 percent since the start of trade on Monday and is on track to post its first week of losses in four weeks. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled at $53.69 per barrel, up 56 cents, or 1.05 percent. WTI futures fell about 0.2 percent on the week, also posting the first week of declines in four weeks. RBC Europe predicted that U.S. sanctions could nearly double projected output shortfalls from Venezuela. “Venezuelan production will decline by an additional 300,000-500,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year, but such punitive measures could expand that outage by several hundred thousand barrels,” it said. Still, some analysts said the possibility of immediate sanctions were unlikely. “We view a blockade on Venezuelan imports as low probability and a last resort measure that is likely weeks if not months away should it materialize,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. “The evolving situation in Venezuela appears capable of delaying our expected test of $50 support.” Global oil markets are still well supplied, however, thanks in part to a spike in U.S. output. Record U.S. production would likely offset any short-term disruptions to Venezuelan supply due to possible U.S. sanctions, Britain’s Barclays said in a note. The bank cut its 2019 average Brent forecast to $70 a barrel, from $72 previously.

    Analysis- OPEC cuts amplify supply side imbalances in crude oil - — Despite seemingly well supplied global crude oil inventories, prices for heavier, sour grades are starting to show a more nuanced dynamic in the oil market -- the imbalance between light and heavy crude oil supplies is growing, and price spreads between the two types of crude have narrowed as a result. There is an "assumption that oil is a homogeneous market. It is not," an analyst at a European refiner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. Output complications from Iran, Venezuela, Mexico and other producers of heavy sour crude oil barrels were thought to have been more than sufficiently offset by higher production from the US, Russia and OPEC, guiding perceptions of oversupply. However, the latter have released more volumes of lighter crude oil grades in the global market in recent months, compounding the disequilibrium between light and heavy crude supply. "At the moment, OPEC is cutting heavy crude, [while supply from] Mexico, Venezuela is lower, the European analyst said, adding that light crude supply from the US, and the North Sea as well as the Mediterranean in Europe was growing. As a result, the price premiums that lighter, sweeter crude grades typically command over heavier, higher sulfur ones has narrowed steadily in recent months. The disconnect can be seen most evidently in the Middle East crude oil price benchmarks, notably Dubai and Oman. Most crudes sold by Middle East producers, which make up the core of OPEC, are priced using one or both of these benchmarks as the underlying bases. The Dubai crude complex -- the spread between prompt Dubai swap and cash -- remained steadily in backwardation through the last quarter of 2018, despite both Brent and WTI seeing deep contango in their respective market structures during the same period. The spread between Brent futures and Dubai swaps averaged $2.58/b in Q3 of 2018, according to Platts data. The same spread narrowed to $1.86/b over Q4, and has narrowed even further to $1.16/b to date in January. A narrow Brent/Dubai EFS spread implies that medium to heavy sour Dubai-linked crude grades are getting relatively pricier compared to lighter, sweeter Brent-linked crude grades.  Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih and his OPEC counterparts have not detailed how they are distributing their output cuts across the different grades of oil that they produce, though heavier, sour grades typically get the first axe, given that they tend to trade at discounts to lighter, sweet crudes. But Falih acknowledged at the December OPEC meeting, in which the supply accord was agreed, that "the premium we used to get on lighter grades is falling fast," as differentials decline due to competition from ultralight US shale oil.

    Saudi Ritz-Carlton Purge “Creative and Efficient,” Says Morgan Stanley Boss — The detention of scores of Saudi royals and businessmen in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton, where some were reportedly tortured, may be one of the most creative and efficient ways of tackling corruption, Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman said on Thursday.Speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Gorman, CEO and chairman of the major investment bank, said businesses should not be dissuaded from engaging with Saudi Arabia despite the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was utterly unacceptable,” Gorman said as he responded to questions on a panel.“But what do you do? What part do you play in the process of economic and social change?”When probed about the detentions in the Ritz-Carlton, where more than 200 of the kingdom’s elite were held until they agreed to hand over a proportion of their assets to the government, Gorman said he did not judge any country’s attempts to root out corruption.Many of the country’s most powerful and successful businessmen were held in the luxury hotel, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has long had investments in major projects across the globe.Some of those detained were members of a branch of the Saudi royal family deemed a rival to the one in power.Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the son of the late King Abdullah and once seen as a possible crown prince, was tortured and beaten alongside other royals and businessmen, sources told Middle East Eye at the time.One Saudi general was reportedly tortured to death. Though framed as an anti-corruption drive, much of the cash raised from the detainees has flowed into the direct control of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the New York Times.

    Women detainees ‘being sexually assaulted and flogged’ in secret Saudi prisons - Female rights activists in Saudi Arabia have been sexually assaulted, tortured with electric shocks and flogged so hard they cannot stand,Amnesty has reported, as British MPs ratcheted up pressure on Riyadhto grant them access to the detainees. At least 10 rights defenders have been tortured, including being made to kiss each other while interrogators watched, Amnesty said in a report released on Friday.  One woman activist was wrongly told by an interrogator that her family members had died, a lie she was made to believe for an entire month. Others held in the secret prisons were tortured with electric shocks, flogged so hard they could not stand, or waterboarded, the human rights group said.  Among the women, who have all been held since a wave of arrests in May, are prominent rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul and Aziza al-Youssef, who campaigned for women’s right to drive and against the Kingdom’s oppressive male guardianship system which controls its female citizens. None has been officially charged or referred to trial, and most have no legal representation.The alarming reports come as a group of cross-party British MPs and international lawyers gave Saudi Arabia until the end of the month to grant them access to the women.

    Satellite Imagery Reveals First Ever Saudi Domestic Ballistic Missile Program - Is an arms race between enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran on the horizon? Saudi Arabia has been long dependent on the US and UK to import all of its weaponry, however, new satellite images suggest Riyadh has established its first ever ballistic missile factory, according to weapons analysts who spoke to The Washington Post. Jump-starting a new domestic ballistic missile program has international observers worried this could be a major step towards a future Saudi nuclear programespecially given the Saudis have long worried their Shia rivals across the Persian Gulf are hiding a nuclear program. Though Iran has long advanced its own domestic missile production capabilities, it's come under intense scrutiny over the past decade, whereas it's more likely that any Saudi aspirations would draw little attention. Despite multiple billion dollar weapons deals with the US over the past years, there's no evidence that Washington has ever sold ballistic missiles to Riyadh over fears it would be "destabilizing for the region". This has resulted in the Saudis increasingly looking to China and Pakistan for such procurement. Saudi Arabia may further be feeling the heat to acquire its own freedom of production amidst the war in Yemen, which has seen short-range missiles launched by Iran-backed Houthis, in addition to wanting to check the threat of Tehran's own ballistic missiles and launch tests.  According to The Washington Post the newly constructed Saudi production facility is located near an established missile base in al-Watah, southwest of Riyadh. One leading expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, which first discovered the satellite evidence for the facility, worried, "The possibility that Saudi Arabia is going to build longer-range missiles and seek nuclear weapons - we imagine that they can't. But we are maybe underestimating their desire and their capabilities."

    EU Adds Saudis To Terror-Funding List (As Iran-Sanction-Evading SPV Reaches Advanced Stage )Reuters reports that, according to two sources, the European Commission has added Saudi Arabia to an EU draft list of countries that pose a threat to the bloc because of lax controls against terrorism financing and money laundering.The move comes amid heightened international pressure on Saudi Arabia after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2.The EU’s list currently consists of 16 countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and North Korea, and is mostly based on criteria used by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body composed by wealthy nations meant to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.Saudi Arabia missed out on gaining full FATF membership in September after it was determined to fall short in combating money laundering and terror financing.The government has taken steps to beef up its efforts to tackle graft and abuse of power, but FATF said in September that Riyadh was not effectively investigating and prosecuting individuals involved in larger scale money laundering activity or confiscating the proceeds of crime at home or abroad.The provisional decision to add Saudi Arabia needs to be endorsed by the 28 EU states before being formally adopted next week.And this is where we get a little confused... because while Europe lists Iran as a state sponsor of terror, it is also, reportedly, at an "advanced stage" of completion of its special purpose vehicle to help European companies bypass U.S. sanctions on Iran.Citing three European diplomats, Bloomberg reports that the European Commission said it’s seeking to launch “very soon” with the official unveiling could come as early as Monday.“The SPV preparations have progressed; they are at an advanced stage,” the spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, told reporters in Brussels.“I hope that we can announce the launch very soon.”Progress had been slow as the EU, led by France, Germany and the U.K., has struggled to find a government willing to host the vehicle, which risks drawing criticism from the American administration.

    Pentagon Still Denies Training UAE Pilots Despite Their Own Documents  – Newly released Pentagon documents confirm that the United States’ role in the Saudi coalition bombing of Yemen has long been much deeper than previously acknowledged by defense officials. In fact they show that the repeated Pentagon line that the US is “not a participant in the civil war in Yemen nor are we supporting one side or the other,” as was stated just last month by Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a flat lie to shield the public from the truth. The new government documents, obtained from Air Force Central Command via FOIA and published days ago by national security reporter Nick Turse reveal the US has been training the Saudi-UAE coalition pilots conducting the air war over Yemen, which has resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths, as documented by the UN and other international monitoring organizations. This even as the Pentagon attempted to appease Congressional critics last November by announcing it would cease aerial refueling of coalition aircraft conducting airstrikes in Yemen. It was further found out that due to “accounting errors” the fuel was being provided to the Saudis and Emirates free of charge, or rather it was being shouldered by the unknowing American taxpayer. According to Turse’s report on the files he unearthed, they reveal the following: “U.S. and allied pilots — “assisted 150 airmen in challenging ex[ercise] to prepare for combat ops in Yemen.” .  “Unit fighter personnel advanced the UAE’s F-16 fighter pilot training program; 3 pilots flew 243 instructor sorties/323 hrs that created 4 new instructors & 29 combat wingmen who immediately deployed for combat operations in Yemen.” But amazingly the Pentagon has stood firm in its denials even after the internal Air Force command documents came to light. A Central Command spokesperson told Yahoo News when asked to comment on the damning military files that it has not “conducted exercises with members of the [Saudi-led coalition] to prepare for combat operations in Yemen.”

    Iran's General Soleimani Ramping Up Efforts To Counter Trump In Iraq And Syria - "Trump will pull out US forces in 30 days"… "Trump won’t withdraw now"… "Trump will pull out from Syria in four months"… "The US forces began withdrawing military equipment but not the personnel"… "Trump will maintain a 20 mile buffer zone in Syria"All these contradictory announcements have come from the White House in the last month or so, indicating some combination of the current occupant of the White House’s lack of experience in foreign policy, or lack of control of his own administration. Nobody in the Middle East believes Trump. Only President Erdogan confirmed the serious intention of the US to withdraw from Syria but was knocked down by Trump’s threat to “cripple the Turkish economy if Turkey attacks the Kurds”. But soon after Trump’s threat to Erdogan, he again changed his mind and suddenly announced a new plan for a buffer zone “to protect the Kurds”, Turkey’s worse enemies in the Levant. Trump is signaling a high degree of confusion about his intention to stay or leave Syria. It doesn’t matter if the world doesn’t understand what Trump’s plan is. There is no point in trying to analyse and predict the next step because Trump himself doesn’t seem to know what to do next. He wakes up with one decision and seems to change it hours later or the following day.Nevertheless, Trump’s continuously changing plans are not preventing his adversary the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in the al Quds Brigade which perceives itself responsible for supporting all movements of the oppressed peoples in the world, mainly the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi, Palestinian and Afghan groups, but others as well from making plans to counter Trump in Syria and Iraq.Well informed sources say “Soleimani is holding meetings with various of his allies’ groups in the Middle East to stand against US forces and push them away from Iraq and Syria”. According to these sources, neither Iran nor Russia believe in Trump’s declared intention to withdraw and both are convinced that at least some US forces will remain in the Levant. Soleimani is planning to move more aggressively with his allies once the last ISIS stronghold east of the Euphrates is reconquered.

    Iran Ready To Eliminate Israel From The Earth ; IDF Trolls Tehran Over Twitter - The head of Iran's air force said on Monday that the Islamic Republic's pilots are looking forward to facing Israel, and will "eliminate it from earth" after Israeli airstrikes on alleged Iranian targets inside Syria killed 11 people, including four Syrian soldiers.  Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh, commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) made the comments to the Young Journalist Club news agency following Israel's strike on munition storage facilities within Damascus International Airport, a military training camp and an Iranian intelligence site, according to The Independent. "The young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth," said Nasirzadeh.Israel claims it launched the strikes in retaliation for a surface-to-surface rocket fired on Sunday by Iran's Quds Force from within Syria at a ski resort in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which was intercepted by Israeli air defenses. "That’s a civilian site and there were civilians there," said Israeli army spokesman Lt. General Jonathan Conricus Monday morning, adding "We saw that as an unacceptable attack by Iranian troops, not proxies in Syria."  "In addition to that, the area from which the Iranians fired their missile is an area we have been promised that the Iranians would not be present in. We know it was not done in the spur of the moment, it was a premeditated attack."

    Inside Israel’s Secret Program to Back Syrian Rebels - Israel secretly armed and funded at least 12 rebel groups in southern Syria that helped prevent Iran-backed fighters and militants of the Islamic State from taking up positions near the Israeli border in recent years, according to more than two dozen commanders and rank-and-file members of these groups. The military transfers, which ended in July of this year, included assault rifles, machine guns, mortar launchers and transport vehicles. Israeli security agencies delivered the weapons through three gates connecting the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Syria—the same crossings Israel used to deliver humanitarian aid to residents of southern Syria suffering from years of civil war. Israel also provided salaries to rebel fighters, paying each one about $75 a month, and supplied additional money the groups used to buy arms on the Syrian black market, according to the rebels and local journalists. The payments, along with the service Israel was getting in return, created an expectation among the rebels that Israel would intercede if troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad tried to advance on southern Syria. When regime forces backed by Russian air power did precisely that this past summer, Israel did not intervene, leaving the rebel groups feeling betrayed. “This is a lesson we will not forget about Israel. It does not care about … the people. It does not care about humanity. All it cares about it its own interests,” said Y., a fighter from one of the groups, Forsan al-Jolan. Israel has tried to keep its relationship with the groups a secret. Though some publications have reported on it, the interviews Foreign Policy conducted with militia members for this story provide the most detailed account yet of Israel’s support for the groups.

    Israeli Warplanes Launch New Airstrikes on Damascus  — Israel’s military said it carried out strikes on Iranian targets in Syria early Monday after it intercepted a rocket fired from Syrian territory hours before. It said in a statement earlier that it was “currently striking” the Iranian Quds Force in Syria and warned Syria’s military against “attempting to harm Israeli territory or forces”, AFP said. It provided no further details on the raids.The Quds Force is in charge of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ overseas operations.Syrian state media cited a Syrian military source as saying Israel launched an “intense attack through consecutive waves of guided missiles”, but that Syrian air defences destroyed most of the “hostile targets”. Multiple explosions over #Damascus this evening as Syrian air defense attempts to respond against Israeli Air Force attacks on Iranian al-Quds sites. #Syria #Israel #Iranpic.twitter.com/RxdZkvXkrU —  Witnesses in Damascus said loud explosions rang out in the night sky for nearly an hour. The overnight strikes followed cross-border attacks on Sunday in which Syria said it repelled an Israeli air attack, Reuters reported. Israel then said it intercepted a rocket fired at the Golan Heights. “We have a permanent policy, to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in Syria and hurt whoever tries to hurt us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday. The Israeli army said a popular winter sports site on Mount Hermon in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights would be shut for the day. It added that otherwise things remained “routine” along the frontier with Syria.

    Israel Destroyed Eight Syrian Military Targets, Killed at Least 11 Troops — Despite claiming that their Sunday night airstrikes against Syria were exclusively targeting Iran’s Quds Force, Israeli airstrikes against Syria appear to have almost exclusively hit Syrian military targets, particularly the nation’s air defenses around Damascus airport.Israeli strikes destroyed eight Syrian air defense batteries, and killed at least 11 troops in the strikes. The batteries were mostly aging Soviet designs, the sort Syria has traditionally favored for targeting incoming Israeli missiles.The Syrian systems had some success, too, with Russia reporting that the Syrians had successfully intercepted more than 30 Israeli missiles during the attack. Conspicuously absent from the engagement, however, were the Russian S-300 systems recently provided to Syria.A highly advanced air defense system designed to control a much longer range, the S-300s have so far not been deployed in these Israeli attacks. Analysts say that Syria’s priority is intercepting missiles, and not engaging the attacking warplanes, which is where the S-300s would clearly be a vast improvement over the older systems. Yet as Israel continues to escalate strikes in Syria, and is clearly going after Syrian military targets no matter what they claim about Iran. This may ultimately convince Syria that they have to engage the Israeli warplanes just to achieve some deterrent from constant Israeli attacks.

    Syria threatens to attack Ben-Gurion, return to 'occupied' Golan - Syria threatened to attack Ben-Gurion Airport in response to Israel's aerial strike against a weapons storage site at Damascus International Airport earlier this week. The Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, warned of the possibility of such a retaliatory attack, when he spoke Tuesday at the UN Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Middle East in New York. “Isn’t it high time for this council to take the necessary measures to stop the repeated Israeli aggression against the territories of my country?” he asked. “Or should we attract the attention of the war makers in this council, by exercising our legitimate right to self-defense and respond to the Israeli aggression against the Damascus International Civil Airport by launching an aggression against the Tel Aviv airport." Ja’afari complained of the repeated Israeli aerial attacks against his country. Israel has executed repeated airstrikes in Syria to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in that country. The UNSC’s failure to act against Israel and the support it receives from permanent members of the UNSC has encouraged such “aggressions,” Ja’afari added. “These acts were not condemned. There were no calls to halt such acts by this UNSC, in light of the position of the US, Britain and France, who are partners and supporters of Israel in such aggression. He said that those countries "continue to play the role of false witness and prevent the UNSC from undertaking its responsibility." Syria intends to exercise its right to self-defense and to work to take back the Golan Heights, Ja’afari said. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and has since annexed it. Israel has asked the Trump administration to recognize its sovereignty over that area. 

    Israel Demands for U.S. Base Are a Hitch in Trump’s Syria Plans - U.S. troops in one small outpost in the south of Syria may be preparing for a longer stay, even as administration and military officials try to work out the details of President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw.The American base at Al-Tanf, originally established as a southern foothold against Islamic State and a training ground for Syrian rebels, has become one of the main obstacles to the president’s plan to leave. Israeli and some U.S. officials argue that a continued American presence there is critical to interrupting Iran’s supply lines into Lebanon, where Hezbollah -- Iran’s proxy and Israel’s enemy -- has been building up its arsenal.U.S. troops at the base established a 55-kilometer “deconfliction zone” including part of the strategic Damascus-to-Baghdad highway. The surrounding territory is controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who’s backed by Iran and Russia. The debate over what to do with Al-Tanf reveals U.S. goals in Syria that go beyond the official rationale of defeating Islamic State -- complicating Trump’s desire to exit. The administration also wants to constrain Iran’s influence, including by limiting its ability to use Syria as a launching point for operations against Israel.   “It all depends on Trump,”  “He ordered U.S. forces to leave Syria. There have been efforts to pare that back and to treat Tanf as separate from the northeast, but it’s unclear if the president will be convinced.”

    Russia calls on Israel to stop 'spontaneous' Syria strikes - Russia has urged Israel to stop its "spontaneous" airstrikes on Syria, days after the Israeli military carried out fresh strikes against targets near the Syrian capital, Damascus. Israel has repeatedly attacked Syrian government positions under the pretext that it's attacking Iranian military advisers, who are in the country on a request from President Bashar al-Assad to assist the Syrian Army in their fight against foreign-backed terrorists. "The practice of spontaneous strikes on the territory of a sovereign state, in this case Syria, must end," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday, according to Russia's TASS state news agency. Zakharova (pictured below) said such moves by Tel Aviv only fueled tensions in the region and harmed the long-term interests of all regional players, including Israel itself. "We should prevent turning Syria, which has suffered over the past years of the armed conflict, into an arena of settling geopolitical scores," she added. "And we urge everyone to think about the possible consequences of causing more chaos in the Middle East.” 

    The YPG Is Expected to Negotiate With Damascus “Within Days”   —— The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia believes talks with the government over the future of the northeast region will begin in days after a “positive” reaction from Damascus.Any deal between the YPG and President Bashar al-Assad’s state could piece together the two biggest chunks of a nation splintered by eight years of conflict.Dialogue attempts have revived in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the Kurdish-led region. “There are attempts to carry out negotiations … the Syrian government stance was positive,” the YPG commander Sipan Hemo told Reuters. “We believe they will start in the coming days.”   Hemo said there had been no direct talks with the state since, but Damascus had received the proposal, which focused on preserving Kurdish and minority rights, including education, as well as self-rule.

    Syria Ceasefire On Brink Of Collapse As Russia Blames Turkey For Terrorist Growth  - Four months after Syria and Russia agreed to call off its joint attack on HTS/al-Qaeda held Idlib province, opting amidst US threats to cut a ceasefire deal mediated with Turkey, Moscow now says Ankara has failed to live up to its end of the bargain, which included agreeing to clear Idlib of terrorists and extremist groups. This means a joint Syrian Army-Russia assault on Idlib could again be on the horizon, which was a major source of tension and threats with the United States previously in September.  The collapse of the prior 'deescalation' agreement comes at a time when the White House has vowed to stick to the planned US pullout, however, this could be yet a another major development to complicate or delay any possible withdrawal timeline. FT described current Turkish-Russian talks in Moscow as follows: Russia has accused Turkey of failing to live up to a promise to clear Syria’s Idlib of extremist militant groups and admitted that a landmark ceasefire agreement made last September had failed. Ahead of crunch talks between the leaders of the two countries in Moscow on Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry said the Islamist extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) had “full control” of Syria’s last remaining major opposition stronghold. The damning assessment came four months after Moscow agreed to postpone a planned military assault on the city in exchange for a promise from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to clear it of militants.

    Former US Envoy: Most ISIS Support Comes From Turkey-Syria Border – “I probably spent most of my time in our first year on the job … in Ankara because most of the material coming to fuel the ISIS war machine frankly was coming across the border from Turkey to Syria,” said former US envoy to the international anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, the Rudaw new website reported. He was interviewed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday evening.  The United States wanted to work more closely with Turkey to ensure the lasting defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria but found Ankara’s plans to be unrealistic, and it was impossible for the coalition to work with fighters Turkey backed in Syria linked to al-Qaeda, McGurk added.“Our interests in Syria in many fundamental ways really diverge,” he said. “And when President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan puts on the table proposals that might look good in concept, every time we send our best people, our best planners, to really dig into what we can actually do together, it never really pans out.”  When Barack Obama was US president, Washington and Ankara both had covert and overt programs to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States shifted to an ISIS-centric approach and abruptly ended its covert program against Assad after Donald Trump became president in 2016.  When ISIS quickly exploited the complexities in war-ridden Syria in 2014, McGurk began forming the international coalition, of which Turkey was not a party. The coalition supported the establishment of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which are primarily composed of the predominately-Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). Ankara refuses to work with the SDF.“The opposition groups that Turkey supports that you, for example, would send into a safe zone are simply not groups the United States have currently worked with. They are very closely tied with extremist groups,” said McGurk.  McGurk, who has worked in the Middle East since the US invasion of Iraq, abruptly left the Department of State in December, following Trump’s announcement that US forces would withdraw. “All the border crossings are controlled by al-Qaeda. It’s a very serious problem,” he added.

    Putin, Erdogan hash over Syria and US meddles in Venezuelan presidency TASS - Wednesday's talks in the Kremlin between Turkish and Russian Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin confirmed that Moscow and Ankara are determined to play a crucial role in achieving peace in Syria amid Washington’s decision to scale down its presence there. That said, Iran should become the third guarantor of the Syrian settlement, Kommersant writes. At the talks, the two leaders agreed on holding a new summit in the Astana format (Russia, Turkey and Iran) and also try to step up cooperation with Western partners, which are taking steps to sabotage the Astana group’s efforts, as Putin noted. The Turkish leader focused on the role of Russia and Turkey in ensuring security in Syria, calling the US planned withdrawal from Syria "a positive step."  However, Head of the Political Research at the Center for Modern Turkish Studies Yuri Mavashev told Kommersant that Washington’s exit from Syria would stonewall the efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran as part of the Astana trio. "From the very beginning, the war in Syria has been a story of shifting responsibility onto others. Now the sides won’t be able to share responsibility with anyone and this is a very important moment. Cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran will be complicated. If earlier they were allied against someone, now they will have to make efforts in order not to ruin this format," Mavashev said. Meanwhile, the two leaders signaled that there is no such threat at Wednesday's talks. One of the intrigues at the Kremlin-hosted negotiations was whether the two sides could agree on a possible military operation against terrorists in Idlib, the paper says. After the talks, Putin praised his counterpart for Turkey’s major efforts to eliminate the terrorist threat in Idlib. At the same time, he signaled that no terms have been outlined for a military operation, which Russia seeks to carry out jointly with Assad's forces. The Russian and Turkish defense ministers will continue drawing up additional joint measures, he said.

    US Airstrike Kills at Least 52 in Somalia  — Following reported al-Shabaab attacks on a pair of southern Somalia army bases, the US carried out an airstrike against a target in Jilib, near the site of the attacks, and is claiming to have killed 52 people, all described as “al-Shabaab extremists.” If confirmed, this is the deadliest US strike in Somalia since October. The US has been escalating attacks against targets inside Somalia since President Trump took office, and those strikes seem to remain on the upswing. Though the initial assumption was that the strike was connected to the recent al-Shabaab attack in neighboring Kenya, the Africom statement makes clear this was direct retaliation for the strikes on the Somali military bases, not for the Nairobi incident. Al-Shabaab issued its own statement on those attacks, claiming to have killed at least 41 Somali soldiers in the course of raiding two bases near the port city of Kismayo. Somalia has not commented on the casualties.

     Taliban kill 'more than 100 people' in attack on Afghan military base - The Taliban have launched a major attack on an Afghan military compound in central Maidan Wardak province, officials have said, with some putting the death toll at more than 100 people. Monday’s incident at a campus of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) is the latest in a series of deadly attacks in recent months by the Taliban, which has seized control of about half of Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities said the attack started on Monday morning, when a US-made armoured Humvee vehicle was driven into the compound and blown up. Gunmen also opened fire, before being killed by security forces. Government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have given differing estimates of the death toll. One said it could be as high as 126 people and another said yet more were thought to have been wounded. “Eight special commandos are among the dead,” said a senior member of Kabul’s defence ministry. An official from the Afghan public health ministry said the total of killed and wounded could be about 140 people. However, others offered a more conservative estimate. A senior NDS official in Kabul said at least 50 people were killed or wounded. Abdurrahman Mangal, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Maidan Wardak, said 12 people were killed and 12 were injured when the car bomb exploded near the Afghan special forces unit.

    Taliban Rejects Call to Meet US Negotiator in Islamabad - While the Pakistani media were reporting on Friday that a deal was in place to host the next round of Afghan peace talks in Istanbul, the Taliban was quick to correct the record over the weekend, saying that they have no intention of taking part in these talks. Talks between the US and Taliban have been on a rough footing, with US requests for long-term bases in post-war Afghanistan angering negotiators, as the previous condition was a US pullout. Which might’ve been reason enough that the Taliban were reticent to get back on board with direct talks with Zalmay Khalilzad, though Taliban officials say it is the plan to include the Afghan government that is derailing it. The Taliban has long insisted that there is no point to include the Afghan government in the talks, because they are not able to meet any demands. The US has at times insisted Afghan participation is essential, though recent talk has been that the US was planning to offer the Taliban representation in a new Afghan government.

    Palestinian rejects $100m Israel offer to buy his Hebron home - A Palestinian from Hebron has rejected a $100 million Israeli offer to buy his home. An inhabitant of the West Bank city of Hebron, Abdul Raouf Al-Mohtaseb rejected an Israeli offer worth $100 million for his house and shop, located in the centre of the old neighbourhood of Al-Sahla, Hebron, Arabi 21 reported on Friday. Al-Mohtaseb has rejected all previous Israeli offers made to him for his house and shop, which overlook Ibrahimi Mosque in the centre of the old city. “I rejected $100 million,” Al-Mohtaseb said, adding: “I will reject all the money on earth. I will not betray my land or my people. Money is fine, but only when it is clean.” Speaking to Al-Mayadeen TV, Al-Mohtaseb said that the offers started at $6 million, before rising to $40 million and eventually reaching $100 million. He stressed however that he would not change his position, but rather that he would remain a guard of the Ibrahimi Mosque.

    China's economy expands 6.6 pct in 2018 - (Xinhua) -- In the midst of a complex external environment, China's economy has ended 2018 on firm footing, with better quality and improved structure.The world's second-largest economy grew 6.6 percent year on year in 2018, above the official target of around 6.5 percent, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed Monday.The reading was lower than the 6.8-percent growth registered in 2017.Growth in the fourth quarter came in at 6.4 percent, down from 6.5 percent seen in the third quarter, NBS data showed.The country's economy has performed within a reasonable range in 2018, with economic growth being generally stable and improvement achieved in performance, Ning Jizhe, head of the NBS, said at a press conference.Contributing to nearly 30 percent of the world's economic growth, the country's economy has remained the largest contributor to global economic growth, Ning said.On a quarterly basis, the economy grew 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter, a notch down from a rise of 1.6 percent posted in the third quarter.Gross domestic product (GDP) totaled 90.0309 trillion yuan (about 13.28 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2018, with the service sector accounting for more than half of the total.The data also showed China's fixed-asset investment increased 5.9 percent year on year in 2018, down from a rise of 7.2 percent in 2017. Industrial output climbed 6.2 percent year on year last year, 0.4 percentage points lower than the previous year. Consumer price index rose 2.1 percent year on year in 2018, achieving the government's target of capping consumer inflation below 3 percent. Employment remained stable, with more than 13 million new jobs created in urban areas last year and the surveyed urban unemployment rate standing at 4.9 percent in December. 

     China’s Economy Slows to the Weakest Pace Since 2009 - China notched its slowest expansion since the 2009 financial crisis last quarter amid a debt cleanup and trade woes, while signs of stabilization in December suggest government efforts to cushion the deceleration are beginning to take hold.Gross domestic product rose 6.4 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier compared with 6.5 percent in the previous three-month period. In December, gauges of consumption and factory output accelerated, while investment held up. The world’s second-largest economy is on a long-term slowing trajectory as it shifts from the investment-led model of the past while carrying a heavy debt load. The government’s response with targeted stimulus measures is being tested by the standoff with U.S. President Donald Trump over trade at a time when the global expansion is already looking shakier. “Growth will improve from the second quarter onwards,” said Morgan Stanley’s Chief China Economist Robin Xing in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Hong Kong. “The greater the downward pressure on growth, the stronger the policy response will be.”

    China’s 2018 growth slows to 28-year low, more stimulus seen (Reuters) - China’s economy cooled in the fourth quarter under pressure from faltering domestic demand and bruising U.S. tariffs, dragging 2018 growth to the lowest in nearly three decades and pressuring Beijing to roll out more stimulus to avert a sharper slowdown. Growing signs of weakness in China — which has generated nearly a third of global growth in recent years — are fueling anxiety about risks to the world economy and are weighing on profits for firms ranging from Apple to big carmakers. Policymakers have pledged more support this year to reduce the risk of massive job losses, but have ruled out a “flood” of stimulus like that which Beijing has relied on in the past, which quickly juiced growth rates but left a mountain of debt. “The government has means to support the economy. They can expand infrastructure spending and they can cut banks’ reserve requirement ratio. So we don’t need to worry about capital spending,” said Naoto Saito, chief researcher at Daiwa Institute of Research in Tokyo.

    China Quietly Announces Quasi QE To Keep Ponzi Scheme Afloat - On Thursday, to little fanfare, China's central bank announced its latest liquidity injection scheme, which many analysts saw as a quasi Quantitative Easing program and a potential precursor to full-blown QE.Just like QE in the US, where financial system liquidity was boosted by the Fed injecting reserves into banks in exchange for sales of Treasurys and MBS, which fungible liquidity was then used for a variety of purposes including directly investing in risk assets as the JPM London Whale fiasco demonstrated, the PBOC announced that it will allow China's primary dealers to swap their holdings of perpetual bonds for central bank bills, and directly use those bonds as collateral to access certain PBOC liquidity operations.By directly intermediating in the market, and effectively backstopping securities issued by local banks, this measure will increase the appeal of perpetual bonds to be issued by banks making them riskless for all intents and purposes, which can then be used to bolster capital cushions and thereby help relax a key current constraint on credit supply.In other words, the PBOC just unveiled a roundabout way of injecting even more "risk-free" liquidity directly into the system, or as Rabobank's Michael Every (more below) writes "Chinese banks, desperate for cash to keep the Ponzi scheme afloat, can issue perpetuals that nobody in their right mind would want to hold; and the PBOC will swap them for its bills."  First, some background: In December, China's financial authorities permitted banks to issue perpetual bonds as a way to bolster their capital base, and on Thursday Bank of China, the country's fourth largest lender, launched the first ever batch of perpetual bonds - which are the functional equivalent of preferred equity as they never have to be repaid - issued by Chinese banks, with an officially approved quota at 40 billion yuan and yielding 4.5%. These bonds count toward banks' (non-core) tier 1 capital, thereby boosting the bank's capital cushion and allowing the bank to issue more loans into China's increasingly cash-starved system. Why did Beijing take this aggressive step? Because as Goldman explains, banks' increased consideration of their capital cushion had weighed on monetary policy transmission and loan extension. So, by adding to the banking system's capital buffer, the issuance of perpetual bonds should in turn help ease a main current constraint on credit supply.

    Rising costs of China’s stimulus addiction -  Suddenly, this president for life thing is looking less like a win for Xi Jinping as China loses altitude. Last year, he won the Communist Party’s approval to stay on indefinitely – all part of his plan to out-reform Deng Xiaoping. But as the world’s second-largest economy cools, Xi seems to be losing the plot on an array of fronts. Had he used his vast powers since 2013 to upend a state-owned enterprise model dating back to Deng’s day, China might not be stumbling into 2019. Had his team worked harder to recalibrate engines from exports to services, China might not be such an easy target in the trade war with the United States. Had Beijing been more confident, Xi might have realized a free press and internet are allies in eradicating corruption. Had he walked the walk on giving market forces a “decisive” role, Chinese stocks might not be stuck in a perpetual cycle of boom-bust-government-support-boom-bust, repeat. Now, Xi has one option, stimulate the hell out of 2019. And to do so in ways that add to China’s long-term risk profile – and the world’s. Asia’s year ahead is darkening by the day because of Chinese data. Look no further than recent export drops in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and, most recently, Japan. Figures released in neighboring economies belie Beijing’s claims to have grown at 6.6% in 2018. The slowest growth since 1990 surely understates the downshift in Chinese manufacturing. Numbers on fixed-asset investment, retail sales, property, autos (the biggest car market just shrank for the first time since 1990), construction and dollar-denominated debt coming due may have Xi wishing he had passed the baton on to another leader to eventually grapple with these, and other, challenges.

    The Middle East's largest public company isn't worried about China's growth slowdown - The Middle East's largest public company is expanding its investments in China despite an expected slowdown in the country's economic growth, its CEO said Monday. Speaking to CNBC during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Yousef Al-Benyan, chief executive of Saudi Arabian petrochemicals manufacturer SABIC, dismissed growing concerns about the future of the world's second-largest economy. "If you are a long-term player I think this is normal in any economy, they have to go through sometimes a bumpy road. And that is, I think, what we experienced with China today," Al-Benyan told CNBC's Hadley Gamble, referencing the ongoing trade war between China and the U.S. That, he said, "has really influenced some of the growth we expect out of China, but from a SABIC perspective we look at China as long term," he said. Investors and analysts have raised concern over China's growth outlook, which has been dampened by weakened domestic demand and the trade war with Washington that's hit exports. A recent Reuters poll found that the country's growth is expected to slow to 6.3 percent this year from an expected 6.6 percent in 2018, which would be the lowest in 29 years. That figure was 6.9 percent in 2017. But SABIC, which is also the fourth-largest petrochemicals producer in the world, plans to keep investing in China. "I think Asia is growing and China is really driving this growth," Al-Benyan said. "That is why we have improved our presence in China specifically, we are trying to put even more investment in China because we think the growth is there."

    China Sees Fewest Births in 2018 Since Mao's Great Famine - Births in China dropped to the lowest level in almost 60 years in 2018, signaling the country’s looser two-child policy has done little to reverse its slowing birthrate, and worsening the outlook for growth in the world’s second-largest economy.The number of babies born last year fell by some 2 million from 2017, to 15.23 million, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Monday. Demographer He Yafu said it was the least since 1961 and the third-lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.The demographics stand to fuel concerns about China’s economy, which is on a long-term slowing trajectory even as signs of stabilization suggest efforts to cushion its deceleration are taking hold. China’s expansion was the slowest since the 2009 financial crisis last quarter, as the government grapples with a debt cleanup and ongoing trade war with the U.S. Signs of a steep drop in birth numbers had already emerged, as China’s major cities disclosed their birth figures for 2018. Wenzhou, a manufacturing hub and wealthy coastal city, saw its birth number drop to the lowest level in 10 years. A neighboring city, Ningbo, estimated birthsdeclined by about 17 percent. A top Chinese research institution projected the population could start shrinking as soon as 2027 -- three years earlier than expected -- if the birth rate held steady at 1.6 children per woman. The population -- at 1.39 billion in 2017, and the world’s largest -- could fall to 1.172 billion by 2065, it said.

    Microsoft Bing Blocked in China as Tensions, Crackdown Intensify  - Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search engine has been blocked in China, rendering yet another Western internet service inaccessible to the world’s largest online population.The search engine, allowed to operate in China because it censors results, became inaccessible to many users Wednesday. The U.S. software giant confirmed Bing could no longer be accessed in China and that it was “engaged to determine next steps.”The surprise move comes as tensions with the U.S. escalate and China pursues the biggest digital crackdown in its history. The service was blocked on the instructions of the government, the Financial Times cited unidentified sources as saying. Any action against Microsoft could set off alarm bells for U.S. technology giants like Apple Inc. who now rely on the Chinese market, especially amid complaints that Beijing unfairly restricts market access to promote local champions. Bing was sporadically available for some users on Thursday but still offline for others. The block comes despite Microsoft’s efforts to build a local operation on Beijing’s terms. Unlike Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which pulled its search engine out years ago in part to avoid government censorship, Microsoft has toed the line and stops content deemed illegal from showing up in results. Its research division - Microsoft Research Asia - is also an established presence in Beijing with a new AI lab opening in Shanghai. It owns LinkedIn Corp., which also operates in the country by agreeing to censor content.

    China reportedly made an app to show people if they’re standing near someone in debt — a new part of its intrusive ‘social credit’ policy - A province in northern China developed an app to tell people whether they are walking near someone in debt, according to state media.The app, named the "map of deadbeat debtors," rolled out to people in Hebei, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported. They can access it on WeChat, the country's most popular instant-messaging platform. The program flashes a warning to show a user that they are within a 500-meter radius of someone in debt.It shows the debtor's exact location, according to a screenshot of the app.It's not clear whether the app displays a debtor's name, photos, or any other identity markers.It's also not clear how much money one must owe — or to whom — to be defined as a debtor.The app wants to get citizens to keep an eye on the so-called debtors. China Daily said it would let people "whistle-blow on debtors capable of paying their debts."

    Beijing tells cadres to prepare for the worst amid uncertainties of its high-stakes trade war with the US - The Communist Party wrapped up a four-day study session on risk controls on Thursday, an event analysts said underlined the leadership’s deep concern about growing external volatility and uncertainty amid its high-stakes trade war with the United States.At the session’s closing ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of top officials from across the country, Wang Huning, the party’s ideology guru and its fifth most powerful member, called on the cadres to fight “a tough battle” in controlling risks, according to state news agency Xinhua.Chinese President Xi Jinping and Wang both told cadres that they must develop “bottom-line thinking” or be prepared for the “worst-case situation”.Wang identified a long list of risks faced by Beijing, urging the cadres to safeguard Xi’s leadership and toe the party line. Wang also told the officials that they must follow up by showing what they had learned through “actions and results”.His call echoed Xi’s address to Monday’s opening session when he told the cadres to be vigilant for any risks that could jeopardise China’s stability and reforms.Xi specified “unpredictable international developments and a complicated and sensitive external environment”, a phrase invoked by Chinese leaders to refer to rising threats from China’s trade war with Washington.The four-day meeting gave the officials a better understanding of the “new risks and new problems” faced by China, according to Xinhua. Zhu Lijia, from the Chinese Academy of Governance, said Xi’s remarks and the study session highlighted Beijing’s concern about the fallout from the trade war.

     US Warships Again Enter Taiwan Strait, But This Time With Chinese Bombers Overhead - For the first time this year the United States has sailed two warships through the Taiwan Strait Thursday in yet another challenge to the 'One China' policy and in accord with the US Navy's "freedom of navigation" operations. It seems the US Navy is establishing this almost as "routine" given the number of times this provocative act has been done over the past number of months (3 times last year); however, this time China's air force was busy overhead flying H6 strategic bombers and reconnaissance planes in the vicinity since Thursday.  “The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman told USNI News, referring to the guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell and the USNS Walter S. Diehl. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

    Putin Takes Hard Line on Japan Island Dispute Before Abe's Visit  - As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heads for talks in Moscow this week in hopes of resolving a 70-year-old dispute over four small islands, President Vladimir Putin is showing him a deal won’t be painless.While Abe has pushed for progress in a dispute that has prevented the countries from formally ending their World War II hostilities, Russian rhetoric has turned strident ahead of what will be the 25th meeting between the two leaders Tuesday. A top Putin aide vowed not to surrender any territory and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered a pointed reminder of Japan’s defeat in 1945. “Japan is the only country in the world that cannot fully recognize the outcome of World War II,” Lavrov told reporters Wednesday. He repeated a demand that Tokyo first acknowledge Russian sovereignty over the four disputed islands before any deal. While the divide seems wide, the tougher Russian rhetoric could be a negotiating tactic ahead of the leaders’ meeting, according to a Russian government official and a Japanese diplomat who asked not to be named, given the sensitivities of the discussions.A Kyodo News report Monday, citing unidentified government officials, said Abe was ready to sign a peace treaty in return for two islands. The Mainichi newspaper said he was planning to visit Russia again in the coming months to press for a deal. “This is a problem that’s remained for more than 70 years since the war and it’s certainly not easy,” Abe told reporters before leaving for the airport. “I want to spend plenty of time talking frankly to President Putin in Moscow and make as much progress as possible in the peace treaty talks.”

    Vietnam Makes a Pitch as an Investor Safe Haven in Trade War - A red-hot economy, business-friendly policies and a Communist party led by free-traders: that’s the elevator pitch Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is delivering to global investors amid the U.S.-China trade war.“We are ready to grab the opportunity,” Phuc said in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Haslinda Amin, a few days before departing for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week. itself as a safe haven for manufacturers wary of getting caught in the crossfire of the tariff war between the U.S. and China. With a raft of free trade agreements, relatively cheap labor and close proximity to China, Phuc has a good story to tell global executives he’ll meet in Davos.“We are trying to increase exports in both quantity and quality of our products, especially in which we have advantages, such as seafood, commodities, footwear and electronics,” Phuc said. “We aim to become an export economy that can grow fast and provide more jobs with higher income for our people.” Nonetheless, the Southeast Asian nation is yet to see a flood of companies moving in from China, he said. And the economy has some serious challenges to overcome: inadequate infrastructure and a lack of skilled workers make it difficult to attract manufacturing beyond assembly-line work such as garment stitching. Global economic conditions are also worsening. The U.S.-China trade war and more subdued world growth is weighing on export demand, a threat to an economy like Vietnam where trade accounts for about twice the nation’s gross domestic product -- more than any country in Asia apart from Singapore. About a quarter of Vietnam’s total trade is with China.

    South Asia Tops the Ranks of World’s Highest Real Interest Rates -  Real interest rates in South Asia are among the highest in the world, raising the prospect of more dovish monetary policy in the region.Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India rank in the top five of the world’s major economies with the highest inflation-adjusted interest rates.  While negative real rates might be considered a sign of financial instability, a high inflation-adjusted benchmark interest rate is, on balance, a reason for central bankers to consider a looser policy stance.Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has already complained about high real rates, and economists are starting to price in the possibility of a rate cut as early as next month.The other economies in the top five are more of a mixed bag.  A political crisis in Sri Lanka, which has the highest real interest rate by far at 6.2 percent, forced central bankers there to turn their focus more to sluggish economic growth. The central bank kept the benchmark rate unchanged at the end of last year after one cut and one hike earlier in 2018. Egypt could be headed for an interest rate cut if inflation remains low. Pakistan took aggressive interest-rate action last year to curb a balance-of-payments crisis and may have more structural changes to make. In Turkey, things are more complicated as officials must weigh a need to defend the still-struggling lira versus the temptation to juice an economy that’s saddled with crippled growth.

    Indian teachers, government workers launch indefinite strike in Tamil Nadu - In another outbreak of massive working class struggles in India, about 700,000 teachers and state government employees in the southern state of Tamil Nadu have been on indefinite strike since Tuesday. They walked out over a list of demands that includes reversal of retirement pension cuts, pay increases and permanency for school teachers and anganwadi (day care centres) workers. More than 20,000 strikers have been arrested for participating in street demonstrations throughout the state, defying threats of disciplinary action by the right-wing communalist All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led state government. On Wednesday, the Madras High Court ordered them to return to work by today—a warning of further government retaliation. Just two weeks ago, workers across India joined a two-day strike on January 8 and 9 against the pro-investor “reform” and austerity measures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) government. Late last year, over 3,000 workers from three major auto factories in Oragadam, near the Tamil Nadu state capital Chennai—Yamaha, Royal Enfield and Myoung Shin India Automotive—participated in two-month-long strikes.Teachers and other state government employees want to roll back the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and reverse the imposition of the National Pension Scheme (NPS), which have cut salaries and placed their pension funds in the hands of the stock markets. The NPS, introduced by the last BJP-led central government, was imposed in 2014. Since then, all new central and state government employees have been deprived of the previous pension rights and 10 percent of their salaries have been diverted into a pension fund that fattens the profits of share market investors.

    Lockheed sees potential exports of 200 F-16 jets from proposed Indian plant (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin sees a potential export market of more than $20 billion for its F-16 fighter aircraft from an assembly line in India it has offered to set up in order to win a large Indian military order, a top executive said. The U.S. defense firm is competing with Boeing’s F/A-18, Saab’s Gripen, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and a Russian aircraft to supply the Indian air force with 114 combat planes in a deal estimated to be worth more than $15 billion. Lockheed Martin has offered to shift its F-16 production line from the United States to India, potentially the biggest boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make-in-India project to create a defense industrial base and generate jobs for the thousands of youth entering the workforce each month. Vivek Lall, the vice president of strategy and business development at Lockheed, told Reuters that the firm would make India the sole global production center for the F-16 that would meet the requirements for the Indian military but also overseas markets. “We see current demand outside of India of more than 200 aircraft. The value of those initial acquisition programs would likely exceed $20 billion,” Lall said. Bahrain and Slovakia had picked the F-16 Block 70 that had been offered to India, he said. “We are in discussions with Bulgaria, several other countries, 10 countries. There is a kind of a renaissance of the F-16.” India’s defense ministry is expected to issue an expression of interest over the next several months, followed by a request for proposals in a long, drawn out process for the air force contract. India’s military has said it wants 42 squadrons of jets, around 750 aircraft, to defend against a two pronged attack from China and Pakistan. But with old Russian jets like the MiG-21, first used in the 1960s, retiring soon, it could end up with only 22 squadrons by 2032, officials have warned. 

    Young, Angry and ‘Untouchable’ -- They were derided, despised and shunned for centuries. Now India’s lowest caste are making their voices heard—and Narendra Modi can’t afford to ignore them. Derided, despised and shunned for centuries, Dalits are increasingly willing to make their voices heard. And making up close to a sixth of the country’s population, they are a crucial swing vote. Jatav is hoping that determination and a wave of fresh anger helps rally Dalits against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this year’s election. Uttar Pradesh will be a key battleground: In 2014, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won 71 of 80 seats in India’s most populous state on its way to the country’s biggest election win in three decades. It also won almost half the 84 seats specifically reserved for Dalits, far outstripping the caste-based parties.This year, however, Modi may struggle to repeat that performance in the elections due by May. While there’s not much polling—one survey last May showed Dalit support for the BJP falling—Dalits are taking to the streets in protest at an increase in caste-related violence. Crimes and atrocities against Dalits rose in 2016, according to the most recently available government statistics, including a 25 percent jump in Uttar Pradesh alone. That rage could hurt Modi’s BJP, which is seen as a party of the upper caste and urban business elite. It may in turn help the electoral chances of Jatav’s Bahujan Samaj Party after it failed to take any seats in 2014 despite being led by Mayawati, a Dalit former chief minister. “Dalits are feeling alienated and betrayed—they will go against the BJP,” said Ghanshyam Shah, an author and retired professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who studies the Dalit community. “They are in a position that no party can afford to ignore them.”

    The World's Top 26 Billionaires Now Own as Much as the Poorest 3.8 Billion, Says Oxfam  -- Global wealth inequality widened last year as billionaires increased their fortunes by $2.5 billion per day, anti-poverty campaigner Oxfam said in a new report. While the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth dwindle by 11%, billionaires’ riches increased by 12%. The mega-wealthy have also become a more concentrated bunch. Last year, the top 26 wealthiest people owned $1.4 trillion, or as much as the 3.8 billion poorest people. The year before, it was the top 43 people. Oxfam’s annual study, released as political and business leaders prepare to descend on Davos for the World Economic Forum, emphasized that this growing inequality is compromising the fight against poverty.   Since the financial crisis almost a decade ago, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled, with a new one created every two days between 2017 and 2018. At the same time, the mega-rich and wealthy corporations are enjoying lower tax rates than they have in decades, the report said. “Governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education, on the one hand, while under taxing corporations and the wealthy,” Oxfam said. Women and girls are hit hardest by the growing wealth gap, according to Oxfam. “Girls are pulled out of school first when the money isn’t available to pay fees, and women clock up hours of unpaid work looking after sick relatives when healthcare systems fail,” it said.  In last year’s wealth report, Oxfam found that the richest 1% took in 82% of wealth created in 2017.

    Mexican woman jailed for miscarriage released after conviction is overturned - A Mexican woman who was sentenced to 16 years in jail after suffering a miscarriage in a department store bathroom has walked free after a court in the central state of Querétaro overturned her homicide conviction. Prosecutors had accused Dafne McPherson, 29, of murdering her newborn, but an appeal court judge found that the scientific evidence used to convict her was flimsy. The case highlights the criminalisation of women who suffer miscarriages in parts of Mexico with intensely conservative and Catholic cultures. Dafne McPherson was convicted in July 2016 of murdering her baby who died in a miscarriage. Dafne McPherson was convicted in July 2016 of murdering her baby who died in a miscarriage. Photograph: Supplied Mexico City decriminalised abortion a decade ago, but it remains illegal in much of the country, and women who suffer complicated births or spontaneous abortions are often targeted for prosecution.

    Without defense, indigenous Brazilians left to languish in jail (Reuters)- The plight of jailed indigenous Brazilians looked unlikely to change under President Jair Bolsonaro, campaigners said, despite a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation backing findings that many were locked up on dubious charges and without a lawyer. With the world’s third largest prison population, Brazil’s jails are overcrowded and violent but there are mounting concerns the situation is worse for indigenous inmates who can face unduly long sentences due to no linguistic and legal aid. On a rarely permitted visit to a prison in Dourados in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to five indigenous prisoners, all of whom said they did not have a lawyer when taken to jail. The prisoners also said vital medical supplies were withheld, they were threatened with violence by police, and some were forced to confess to crimes they had not committed. Public defender Neyla Ferreira Mendes said she had examined the proceedings of about 131 jailed indigenous in the 2,400-strong Dourados - and every one lacked an interpreter and an anthropological report, both of which are required by law. Alan Gomes, a Kaiowa Indian sentenced to 10 years for rape - according to court records seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation - said he had no clue what he was accused of. “No lawyer accompanied me ... I assumed (responsibility for) a crime I did not commit because they said they would hit me if I did not,” he said, recalling police questioning. “I did not understand what was written in the paper. I did not commit this crime,” said Gomes who has served two years in the prison with the largest indigenous population in the state. 

    Venezuela crisis: How the world sees it -- Venezuela's opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, stunned the world on Wednesday when he declared himself acting president. The move has split opinion in the international community, with some countries recognizing the 35-year-old as president, several voicing support for President Nicolas Maduro, and others calling for fresh elections:

    • United States: President Donald Trump declared Guaido the legitimate president via Twitter. He also pledged US economic and diplomatic power to "press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy."
    • Lima Group: Thirteen of the bloc's 14 members — Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia — recognized the move in a joint statement. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said: "In a note I have recognized Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president ... we will give all political support to take this process to an end."
    • Organization of American States: OAS President Luis Almagro welcomed Guaido's announcement on Twitter. The union includes all 35 independent countries in the Americas.
    • Canada: Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland declared her country's support for Guaido, telling DW that Canada "recognizes and expresses our full support for the interm presidency of Venezuela."
    • Cuba: Maduro's long-time socialist ally said it backed Maduro against the "coup attempt." Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the Venezuelan president would "prevail against the imperialist intervention."
    • Bolivia: Leftist President Evo Morales also wrote on Twitter: "The claws of imperialism are again trying to deal a death blow to democracy and self-determination."
    • Mexico: The government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refused to sign the Lima Group statement and instead said it would continue recognizing Maduro as president.
    • Russia: The Kremlin said Maduro was the legitimate president and warned that any external attempts to support regime change went against international law
    • Turkey: A presidential spokesman wrote on Twitter that Turkey stood by Maduro. He wrote: "My brother Maduro! Stay strong, we are by your side."
    • China: The foreign ministry said Beijing rejected external interference in Venezuela and fresh sanctions against Maduro's government. "China supports the efforts of the Venezuelan government to protect the sovereignty, independence and stability of the country," a spokesman said.

    'Guys with guns' will determine what happens next in Venezuela, former minister says - Venezuela is on the brink of a lasting change, according to Latin American leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. The South American country is embroiled in fast-moving political crisis, after an opposition leader stood in the streets of Caracas on Wednesday and declared himself as the rightful interim president. A flurry of world powers, including the U.S., immediately backed Juan Guaido, prompting a furious response from President Nicolas Maduro. The socialist leader broke diplomatic ties with President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday, ordering all U.S. diplomatic personnel to leave the country within 72 hours. Maduro also dismissed Guaido's claim to the presidency, saying it was part of an American-led conspiracy to orchestrate a coup from afar. "There is no doubt that the behavior of guys with guns will define much of what will happen in the coming days and shape politics in Venezuela," Moises Naim, a former Venezuelan minister now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said during a WEF panel session on Thursday. Naim described Venezuela as a "criminalized country," rife with local and transnational gangs "maybe even more lethal and more dangerous" than the military. 'It feels different this time' Guaido's declaration takes Venezuela into uncharted territory, with the possibility of the opposition now running a parallel government recognized abroad as legitimate but without control over state functions. Growing unrest in Venezuela follows years of economic mismanagement, repression and corruption. As a result, millions of people have been driven out of the country amid hyperinflation, power cuts and severe shortages of basic items — such as food and medicine.

    US coup bid pushes Venezuela closer to invasion or civil war --The US-orchestrated regime change operation continued to escalate tensions in Venezuela Friday, pushing the country closer to civil war or an outright US invasion.Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó, a leader of the right-wing Voluntad Popular party and president of the country’s National Assembly, who proclaimed himself the country’s “interim president” Wednesday with immediate backing from Washington, spoke simultaneously on Friday at different locations in Caracas .Maduro, speaking at a press conference in the Miraflores presidential palace, declared that his government was confronting “an advancing coup d’état promoted and financed by the United States of North America.” He charged that Guaidó was a puppet of Washington, who was incapable of taking any decisions without orders from the State Department.He revealed that on the eve of the right-wing politician’s self-proclamation as the “president,” Guaidó had met with two leading representatives of the government, including Diosdado Cabello, an ex-military officer and leader of the ruling PSUV party, who is widely seen as a rival of Maduro’s within the chavista camp, to discuss initiation of a dialogue.Guaidó had denied that any such meeting had taken place, but the government Friday released a videotape showing him and Cabello entering the meeting site.Maduro reiterated the appeal for a dialogue, both with the United States and Guaidó, while insisting that his announcement of a break in diplomatic relations with Washington would not stop Venezuela from selling oil to the US, which accounts for 75 percent of the cash Venezuela gets for crude shipments.US officials are reportedly discussing sanctions on the oil sector, which would have the effect of “making the economy scream,” the term used by the Nixon administration during the economic destabilization operations against Chile in advance of the fascist-military coup of 1973. For his part, Guaidó spoke at a rally in eastern Caracas, ruling out any dialogue with the present government, vowing that anti-government demonstrations would be called next week and calling for the military to support him and overthrow Maduro.

    Russian Military Contractors Arrive in Venezuela as Maduro Urges Supporters to Hit Streets  — Maduro, now backed by Russian military contractors, has urged his supporters to take to the streets to defend the legitimacy of his government. The Venezuelan leader has vowed that his country won’t turn into a “Syria or Libya” situation, and that the Venezuelan military must prepare for an invasion. As the international community splits along governments who continue to back embattled Venezuelan ruler Nicolas Maduro and governments, led by the US, who have officially recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate head of state, Reuters reported that a group of Russian mercenaries with ties to the Kremlin have been sent to Venezuela to provide security for Maduro as he struggles with the biggest threat to his rule in his six years in power. The contractors are believed to be from the Wagner Group, a group of private contractors who have performed secret missions on behalf of the government, including fighting in Syria and the Ukraine (which brings to mind this incident from last February when US-backed forces killed 100 Russian mercenaries in what was the closest thing to a direct proxy conflict between Russia and the US in Syria). It’s unclear when the contractors arrived, or when they intend to leave. Russia has offered to mediate the conflict between Maduro and Guaido, while joining with China to criticize the US for interfering in Venezuelan affairs. Russia, which has invested billions of dollars in the Maduro regime, pledged to stand by the embattled socialist leader this week. Yevgeny Shabayev, leader of a local chapter of a paramilitary group told Reuters he had heard the number of security contractors in Venezuela is roughly 400. Russia’s defense ministry and Venezuela’s information ministry haven’t responded to requests for comment. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said we have “no such information” when asked about the contractors.

     Survivors fear 170 migrants may be dead after two Mediterranean dinghy accidents - Up to 170 migrants are feared dead after two accidents in which dinghies sank in the Mediterranean after leaving North Africa for Europe. One of the vessels capsized off Libya after departing the country on Thursday, prompting the Italian navy to stage a rescue operation. But Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said that so far only three of the suspected 120 migrants on-board had been found alive. "The three survivors told us there were 120 when they left Garabulli, in Libya, on Thursday night," he said. "After 10 to 11 hours at sea, the boat started sinking and people started drowning. "Ten women including a pregnant girl were aboard and two children, one of whom was only two months old." An Italian military plane first spotted the sinking dinghy as it struggled in rough waters, and threw two safety rafts into the water before retreating due to a lack of fuel. Later, another helicopter was dispatched from a naval ship and recovered the three survivors, who were suffering from severe hypothermia and were taken to a hospital on the island of Lampedusa. Rear Admiral Fabio Agostini told Italian TV channel RaiNews24 that at least three people were seen in the water during the rescue, all of whom appeared to be dead. Libyan authorities also later ordered a merchant ship to go to the scene, but it left after its search for more survivors proved fruitless. In a separate incident, 53 migrants who left Morocco on another rubber dinghy went missing after what one survivor said was a collision in the Alboran Sea, in the western Mediterranean. The accident was reported by Spanish migrant organisation Caminando Fronteras.

    Another 170 immigrants drown in the Mediterranean - More than 250 immigrants have drowned in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year. The Italian government and European Union’s (EU’s) policies bear direct responsibility for this grim record. Last weekend alone, no fewer than 170 people lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean.On Saturday, the crew of Sea-Watch 3 managed to rescue 47 immigrants, including eight children, from a shipwrecked boat. The Sea-Watch 3 is currently the only NGO rescue ship still active in the Mediterranean. The Maltese government has refused to allow crews to be changed on another ship, the Professor Albrecht Penck owned by Sea-Eye, effectively preventing it from carrying out its work.One-hundred seventeen people reportedly drowned on Friday after trying to flee Libya from Garabulli, east of Tripoli. After 10 hours at sea, the boat, with 120 people on board, began to sink. Emergency calls for help were sent. Later that day, a helicopter with the Italian navy located three survivors around 94 kilometres from the Libyan coast. Another three were dead. Sea-Watch 3 also responded to the emergency call and arrived on the scene shortly after the navy, but found no further survivors. The three rescued by the navy were therefore the only survivors from a group of 120.The three men, from Sudan and Gambia, managed to survive in the water for several hours. The navy brought them to the island of Lampedusa. Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told the Adnkronos news agency that 10 women and two children, including a two-month-old baby, were among the 117 missing.Almost simultaneously, another attempted crossing from Morocco to Spain claimed the lives of 53. The announcement was made by the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) on Saturday. One survivor reported that after the boat had sunk, he floated helplessly in the water for 24 hours before a fishing boat picked him up and took him back to Morocco. Apart from him, everyone else drowned.

    11 Dead After 2 Ships Catch Fire In Kerch Strait, One Struck By A Blast - At least 11 sailors have died after two ships caught fire while moving through the Kerch Strait separating Crimea from mainland Russia  - the location of the latest escalation in tensions between Russia and Ukraine in November - after one of them was apparently rocked by an explosion the Russian Maritime Agency said. One vessel was "allegedly struck by a blast" RT reported, which caused the fire that then spilled over to another ship, an official with the Russian Maritime and River Transport Agency said.Clouds of black smoke could be seen billowing over a vessel engulfed by a blaze on YouTube footage, which shows the scene of the incident. Another ship can be seen floating nearby.The fire reportedly broke out as the two ships were transferring fuel from one to the other. According to RT, approximately three dozen sailors managed to escape the burning ships by jumping into the sea but at least 11 people died in the incident and 12 have so far been rescued from the sea.The crews of the affected ships included Turkish and Indian nationals, the emergency services said, adding that there were no Russian sailors. Turkey confirmed that 16 of its citizens were aboard the affected vessels. Emergency services said that between eight and ten ships have been sent to the rescue and are picking up the sailors. The explosion might have been caused by a safety rules violation during the fuel transfer, according to some reports.

    The Yellow Vest Movement Has Officially Gone Global —The Yellow Vest anti-government movement started in France on November 17, when over 300,000 people across France protested a carbon tax on fuel that French President Emmanuel Macron touted as evidence of France’s leadership when it comes to mitigating climate change. The Yellow Vest protests quickly evolved into a general anti-government movement – with hundreds of thousands of angry French citizens taking to the streets for ten straight weeks of mostly peaceful protests marked with pockets of violence, looting and mayhem. What’s more – the movement has gone worldwide – with perhaps the most notable protests outside France taking place in Belgium, where Brussels riot cops have dealt with week after week of protesters blocking oil depot and throwing hard objects at them. On December 8, Belgians attempted to breach a riot barricade while calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Michel, resulting in around 100 arrests. And while most of the protests outside of France happened last month, this is a good list to note where discontent is mounting.

    • Bulgaria: Yellow Vests began protesting the same weekend as the French movement – coming out in force on November 16 to protest in front of parliament and demand the resignation of the government.
    • Canada: Yellow Vest protests have taken place in more than a dozen cities across Canada – largely campaigning against the carbon price, Canada’s participation in the UN’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the Trudeau administration and other issues.
    • Croatia: Croatians came out in force on December 15, gathering in Ban Jelacic Square.
    • Egypt: An Egyptian A lawyer was arrested and jailed for 15 days after he posted a picture of himself wearing a Yellow Vest in support of the French protests.
    • Finland: Finns came out in force in mid-December as well, gathering in front of Parliament in opposition to the UN’s Global Migration pact.
    • Germany: Marching in solidarity with the French, German Yellow Vests similarly came out against the UN migration pact.
    • Iraq: Yellow Vests demonstrated in Basra, Iraq on December 5 to protest poor job opportunities among other things. They were reportedly fired upon with live ammunition by police.
    • Italy: There have been several ongoing Yellow Vest protests in Italy over the last several months, with some protesting the government’s hard-line stance against illegal migrants, and other pro-government activists protesting against the EU. In January, Italy’s ruling government came out in support of the Yellow Vest movement, which AFP noted was “extremely rare for European leaders to back anti-government protesters in a fellow member state.”
    • Netherlands: The Dutch joined the party at the beginning of December, blocking roads, roundabouts and tollbooths.
    • Pakistan: Hundreds of engineers came out in December to protest government services and pay.
    • Poland: Polish Yellow Vests protested in November and December, blocking the A2 motorway outside of Warsaw, demanding compensation for pigs they were required to slaughter, as well as the import of unlabeled Ukrainian agricultural products.
    • Portugal: On 21 December 2018, a “Coletes Amarelos” or “Yellow Vest” rally was held under the slogan “Vamos Parar Portugal”, roughly translating to “Let’s Bring Portugal to a Halt”.
    • Russia: Yellow Vests protested right before Christmas in Moscow’s Hyde Park against increased parking fees. “I’m a driver with 20 years of experience, and I can understand that the authorities want to free the city and make it accessible to pedestrians,” said resident Tamara Papuashvili, adding ” it’s just a disgrace. You can use the metro, but there are more and more people there, it just cannot cope.”
    • Serbia: Civil rights organisation “Združena akcija Krov nad glavom” began using yellow vests in its protests to show solidarity with the French protesters, as well as opposition to high fuel prices. Serbians have protested for six weeks in a row.
    • Taiwan: The Tax and Legal Reform League which has been protesting against high taxes since 2016 organized a yellow vest march on December 19.
    • Tunisia: A derivative group, the Gilets Rouges (Red Vests), called for protests over the ailing economy.
    • United Kingdom: UK Yellow Vests are mostly right wing, pro-Brexit groups who have held rallies in London and other UK cities.
    • Conspicuously absent from the list? The United States.

    The 'Gilets Jaunes' Are Unstoppable- Now, The Elites Are Afraid -- The gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement has rattled the French establishment. For several months, crowds ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands have been taking to the streets every weekend across the whole of France. They have had enormous success, extracting major concessions from the government. They continue to march. Back in 2014, geographer Christopher Guilluy’s study of la France périphérique (peripheral France) caused a media sensation. It drew attention to the economic, cultural and political exclusion of the working classes, most of whom now live outside the major cities. It highlighted the conditions that would later give rise to the yellow-vest phenomenon. Guilluy has developed on these themes in his recent books, No Society and The Twilight of the Elite: Prosperity, the Periphery and the Future of France. spiked caught up with Guilluy to get his view on the causes and consequences of the yellow-vest movement.

    A Weakening Global Expansion Amid Growing Risks – IMF blog - While global growth in 2018 remained close to postcrisis highs, the global expansion is weakening and at a rate that is somewhat faster than expected. This update of the World Economic Outlook (WEO) projects global growth at 3.5 percent in 2019 and 3.6 percent in 2020, 0.2 and 0.1 percentage point below last October’s projections.The downward revisions are modest; however, we believe the risks to more significant downward corrections are rising. While financial markets in advanced economies appeared to be decoupled from trade tensions for much of 2018, the two have become intertwined more recently, tightening financial conditions and escalating the risks to global growth. We have revised downwards our forecasts for advanced economies slightly, mainly due to downward revisions for the euro area. Within the euro area the significant revisions are for Germany, where production difficulties in the auto sector and lower external demand will weigh on growth in 2019, and for Italy where sovereign and financial risks—and the connections between them—are adding headwinds to growth.The US expansion continues, but the forecast remains for a deceleration with the unwinding of fiscal stimulus. Across advanced economies, we foresee growth to slow from 2.3 percent in 2018 to 2 percent in 2019 and 1.7 percent in 2020. This softening growth momentum has provided little lift to inflation. While core inflation is close to target in the United States where growth is above trend, it remains significantly below target in the euro area and Japan. Economic activity in emerging and developing economies is also projected to tick down to 4.5 percent in 2019, with a rebound to 4.9 percent in 2020. The projection for 2019 has been lowered (0.2 percentage point) from October mainly because of a large projected contraction in Turkey, amid policy tightening and adjustment to more restrictive external financing conditions. There is also a significant downgrade to growth in Mexico in 2019–20, reflecting lower private investment. The projected rebound in 2020 is due to an expected recovery in Argentina and Turkey.

     IMF Slashes Global GDP Forecast To 3 Year Low -  (table, graphs) Just as it warned it would several days ago, as part of its latest quarterly economic outlook report the IMF just slashed its forecast for 2019 global GDP to just 3.5% from 3.7% as of October, its lowest forecast in three years, while warning that trade tensions pose further downside risks to global growth. In its second growth downgrade in three months, the IMF blamed softening demand across Europe and recent stock market volatility, and while its US GDP forecast remained somewhat surprisingly unchange, still seeing a solid 2.5% in 2019 GDP growth, the IMF took a machete to its German GDP forecast, which the IMF now sees growth only 1.3% this year, down 30%, or 0.6% from its forecast last October. The Monetary Fund blamed soft consumer demand and weak factory production after the introduction of stricter emission standards for cars was behind the shift. To be sure, recent German economic data has been disastrous, and confirmed the sharp slowdown in the economy, and it will be up to Q1 data to confirm or deny whether a German recession has arrived.Despite seeing sharp slowdowns to other key European economies, including Italy, where it cited weak demand and higher sovereign borrowing costs, and France, where the so-called Yellow-Vest protests have hurt the economy... ... the overall outlook was somewhat more upbeat than some had feared especially as many investors openly fear a U.S-led slowdown taking hold, the fund left its projections for the U.S. and China unchanged and even anticipates a pickup in worldwide expansion to 3.6 percent next year.

    Global shipping rates slump in latest sign of economic slowdown (Reuters) - Freight rates for dry-bulk and container ships, carriers of most of the world’s raw materials and finished goods, have plunged over the last six months in the latest sign the global economy is slowing significantly. The Baltic Dry Index, measure of ship transport costs for materials like iron ore and coal, has fallen by 47 percent since mid-2018, when a trade dispute between the United States and China resulted in the world’s two biggest economies slapping import tariffs on each other’s goods. Dry-bulk commodities are taken as a leading economic indicator, because they are used in core industrial sectors like steelmaking and power generation, and analysts say the recent declines in activity point to a serious economic slowdown. ”Signs that the U.S. and China remain well apart in trade talks continued to weigh on sentiment in commodity markets,” ANZ bank said in a note on Friday. This was after U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday the United States and China were “miles and miles” from resolving their issues. “The global economy and dry-bulk shipping market are showing us very real signs of distress,” said Jeffrey Landsberg, managing director of commodity consultancy Commodore Research. “While dry-bulk rates often face at least some pressure during the early stages of a year, the magnitude of the declines being seen lately have been very rare,” he said. The Baltic index has lost a quarter of its value since the start of the year, and dry-bulk is not the only shipping market under pressure. The Harpex Shipping Index, which tracks container rates, has dropped by 30 percent since June 2018. As a measure of the demand for shipping manufactured goods from producers to consumers, container rates are also seen as a leading economic indicator. Their slump underscores weakening manufacturing data from Asia, Europe and North America. 

    Central Banks’ Window to Restock Ammo Is Closing - The window to restock monetary ammunition is closing for the world’s major central banks. With economic growth slowing and inflation lagging in big economies like the U.S. and euro area, a push to escape crisis-era policy settings that include rock bottom interest rates appears at risk of stalling. That will leave less firepower to fight off the next economic downdraft, threatening a prolonged downturn. “It’s hard to argue that there will have been significant reloading by the time the next recession hits,’’ said Ethan Harris, head of global economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York. The outlook for the global economy and its policy makers will be front and center at this week’s meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The International Monetary Fund is set to update its forecasts there on Monday, while Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda are among the delegates. Both the BOJ and European Central Bank will hold policy meetings this week. Neither is expected to change its stance. JPMorgan Chase & Co. economists illustrate the limited scope to re-arm. They estimate the average benchmark of developed-world central banks remains almost 2 percentage points below the pre-crisis level, and recent economic weakness and quiescent inflation has forced them to rein in forecasts for how much that gap will close. They now expect the Federal Reserve to raise rates just two times this year, not the four they thought previously; they’ve pushed back the European Central Bank’s first rate increase to December from September and cut their anticipated hikes next year to two from three; and they no longer see the BOJ lifting its 10-year yield target in 2020. Some analysts maintain central banks need to move quickly to normalize policy so that they’re better positioned to deal with the next downturn. But policy makers have generally rejected such a strategy, arguing that an economically unwarranted move to a tighter stance could bring about the very economic contraction they’re seeking to avoid. The upshot is there’ll be less ammo for next time, something likely to worry investors.

    ECB forecasting is a joke - Frances Coppola - Over at Bruegel, Zsolt Darvas takes the ECB to task for systematic forecasting errors in the last five years. He shows that the ECB has persistently overestimated inflation and underestimated unemployment, and on this basis he questions the ECB's decision to end QE in December 2018. I share his concern that the ECB has tightened too soon, though as the ECB's QE program is seriously flawed and very damaging, I am not sorry to see the back of it. But I think that in focusing on the last five years, he has underestimated the scale of the ECB's failure. Here is his lovely chart showing Eurozone inflation since the creation of the Euro: The ECB's persistently high forecasts in the last five years are painfully apparent. But what interests me is not the forecasts, but the outturns. The entire chart shows a marked downward trend. Inflation in the Eurozone has never been stable. Not once, in its entire history. What the chart shows is systematic policy failure by the ECB. It has never maintained inflation at its policy target of "close to but below 2%". Most of the time, inflation has been well below target and falling. And the few times inflation has crept up to anywhere near the policy target, the ECB pushed it down again. There has been a persistent deflationary bias in ECB policy decisions for the last 18 years. So the over-optimism Darvas notes in the forecasts for the last five years is not a post-crisis phenomenon. The ECB has from the start used forecasting models that systematically over-estimate inflation.The human cost of this deflationary bias is very high. This is Darvas's equally lovely unemployment chart: The ECB's persistent pessimism regarding unemployment is evident. But much more concerning is the baseline. Eurozone unemployment has been above 7% since 2002. Most of the time it has been much higher. The latest outturn on the chart is October 2018, when unemployment was 8.34%. By Eurozone standards, that is low. And although the ECB forecasts that unemployment will fall further, the lowest estimate (from Q1 2018) is 7.2% by November 2020, about the same as in 2008. Persistently high unemployment is deeply entrenched in the ECB's forecasting.

    Europe’s mightiest river is drying up, most likely causing a recession in Germany. Yes, really. - An unusual factor may have contributed to the German economy’s likely fall into a shallow recession at the tail end of 2018, a new report from the research house Pantheon Macroeconomics suggests.Writing on Tuesday, Pantheon’s eurozone economics team reports that the slump in Germany’s manufacturing sector in the final months of the year may have been exacerbated by the unusually low level of the Rhine river, which runs through Germany’s industrial heartland.Manufacturing is the big driver of the German economy, so when it falters, so too does Germany as a whole.One main factor behind the slump in the German manufacturing sector was the failure of inflation, particularly producer price inflation – which tracks cost increases in certain areas of manufacturing – to drop in line with the tumbling price of oil in recent months.  That’s in part, Pantheon says, because of what’s happening to the Rhine, which has seen its water levels drop after a drought during the summer and fall.  The Rhine is crucial for German industry because it provides not only an avenue for the distribution of raw materials to German manufacturers but also a means of transporting finished goods to Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam, which sits at the river’s mouth.  Low water levels in the Rhine, Pantheon says, effectively amount to a “supply shock in German manufacturing,” by lowering the availability of key goods needed for the sector, which come to factories situated on the river by barge. These barges need a depth of water to traverse the river above current levels.

    France And Germany Take Major Step Toward EU Army To Protect Europe Threatened By Nationalism - French President Emmanuel Macron's push for what he previously called "a real European army" got a big boost on Tuesday amid France and Germany signing an updated historic treaty reaffirming their close ties and commitment to support each other during a ceremony in the city of Aachen, a border town connected to Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. But the timing for the renewal of the two countries' 1963 post-war reconciliation accord is what's most interesting, given both the rise of eurosceptic nationalism, the uncertainty of Brexit, and just as massive 'Yellow Vests' protests rage across France for a tenth week.  Macron addressed this trend specifically at the signing ceremony with the words, "At a time when Europe is threatened by nationalism, which is growing from within... Germany and France must assume their responsibility and show the way forward."Germany's Angela Merkel agreed, adding in her own remarks: “We are doing this because we live in special times and because in these times we need resolute, distinct, clear, forward-looking answers.” The agreement, which is being described as sparse on specifics or detail, focuses on foreign policy and defense ties between Berlin and Paris.  “Populism and nationalism are strengthening in all of our countries,” Merkel EU officials at the ceremony. “Seventy-four years – a single human lifetime – after the end of the second world war, what seems self-evident is being called into question once more.”Macron said those “who forget the value of Franco-German reconciliation are making themselves accomplices of the crimes of the past. Those who... spread lies are hurting the same people they are pretending to defend, by seeking to repeat history.” And in remarks that formed another affirmation that the two leaders are seeking to form an "EU army" Merkel said just before signing the treaty: “The fourth article of the treaty says we, Germany and France, are obliged to support and help each other, including through military force, in case of an attack on our sovereignty.” The text of the updated treaty includes the aim of a “German-French economic area with common rules” and a “common military culture” that Merkel asserted could “contribute to the creation of a European army”.

    France Slaps Google With $57 Million Penalty Under New EU Law -  French regulators on Monday hit Google with a $57 million penalty—the first fine targeting a U.S. technology giant under Europe’s strict new data privacy rules. Implemented across the European Union (EU) in May of 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims to bar tech companies from relying on “long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese” to obtain and use data. Under the new rules, “the request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent.”  Responding to the €50 million penalty levied against Google, Ailidh Callander of Privacy International said, “This fine should serve as a wake-up call for all companies whose business models are based on data exploitation to take data protection and individuals’ data rights seriously.” France’s digital privacy watchdog, the National Data Protection Commission (CNIL), charges that although Google took some steps to comply with GDPR, it still fails to make data processing information “easily accessible for users” and does not validly obtain consent for showing users personalized ads. “The infringements observed deprive the users of essential guarantees regarding processing operations that can reveal important parts of their private life since they are based on a huge amount of data, a wide variety of services, and almost unlimited possible combinations,” a statement from CNIL said. “This is the first time that the CNIL applies the new sanction limits provided by the GDPR,” the statement noted. “The amount decided, and the publicity of the fine, are justified by the severity of the infringements observed regarding the essential principles of the GDPR: transparency, information, and consent.”

    EU Is Split Over Delaying Brexit By as Much as a Year, Diplomats Say - European Union governments disagree over how long they think the U.K. should delay Brexit, with some pushing for an extension of as much as a year, diplomats said.While some countries think the EU should offer Britain a generous period to negotiate a deal that will win the backing of Parliament, possibly after a second referendum, others oppose a postponement of any sort and want pressure to be put on the U.K. to accept a deal as soon as possible, according to four EU diplomats. It’s up to the U.K. to request a delay and, so far, Prime Minister Theresa May has said she doesn’t intend to. But with the deal the government negotiated with the EU suffering the biggest House of Commons defeat in history last week and little sign there’s a majority in favor of any alternative, many officials on both sides believe keeping the U.K. in the bloc beyond its scheduled March 29 exit date is the only plausible way forward.If May, who is due to set out her next moves in Parliament on Monday, does make a request for an extension, approval would have to be unanimous from the EU’s remaining 27 countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who is taking a more flexible approach on the timing of any extension -- indicated on Saturday that she wants to help Britain secure an orderly exit. She said it’s the EU’s responsibility to help find a solution. “We also have a responsibility to shape this separation process in a responsible way, so that people don’t look back in 50 years, shaking their heads, and say why weren’t we in a position to make a compromise?” she said.

    Britain is operating as if a Brexit delay is there for the taking. It’s not. WaPo — Amid the chaos following the British Parliament’s historic rejection of a plan for the country’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union, British lawmakers increasingly feel they will need to ask to extend their impending departure deadline — and that E.U. leaders will give them what they want. The idea is splashed across British tabloid headlines. The London commentariat takes it as a given. Hard-line advocates of the divorce from the European Union say it would be a catastrophic mistake — but even they seem to expect it will happen. The only problem? The remaining 27 E.U. nations are not sure they are willing to give Britain a break, according to diplomats involved in the discussions — and any reprieve requires their unanimous approval. The misalignment in views means that the risk of an accidental and chaotic no-deal Brexit on March 29 is increasing, according to diplomats and analysts in Brussels. (Most analysts in London, who have faith some solution can be worked out, don’t think there’s a problem.) The British assumption that Brexit could easily be postponed would extend the stream of false assumptions, misperceptions and miscalculations that have plagued London policymakers since the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union. But a no-deal departure that British policymakers do not desire would be the ultimate exclamation point to end the process. If Britain left without a transition plan in place, trade would screech to a halt. Food and medicine could become scarce commodities. “I don’t see how the current deal can be tweaked,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters Friday, warning Dutch businesses to begin “urgent” preparations for a chaotic British departure.

    Brexit: High-profile Germans plead with UK to stay in EU - Leading German figures have written to the UK asking it to stay in the EU.The letter, published in the Times, is signed by 31 people, including the leader of the Christian Democratic Union - and likely successor to Angela Merkel - Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. They cited post-work pints and pantomime as beloved British habits.But the UK's role in post-war Europe is the focus of the signatories calling for Britain to stay. "Without your great nation, this Continent would not be what it is today," they wrote.

    Coalitions in the Commons? -  John Redwood -  To win a majority and sustain a government you need to be able to count. A majority in the Commons is 321 supporting MPs, when allowing for the Speaker and Sinn Fein who do not vote. The natural majority is therefore Conservative 317 plus DUP 10, giving 327.
    The Conservatives could also form a majority with the SNP or Lib Dems on numbers, but there is clearly no wish on either side to do so, and huge differences of policy and attitude over Scottish independence, second referendum on the EU and other matters.Labour would only form a majority coalition if it consolidated every party bar the Conservatives, which is also a political impossibility given the attitude of Labour to Northern Ireland and the DUP. Some say as parties are split there could be a new coalition of the willing to put through a second referendum, or a Norway solution, or to cancel Brexit altogether. There simply are not the numbers to do that, all the time the two main parties oppose a second referendum and say we must leave.We now know there are 71 Labour MPs willing to defy Mr Corbyn to speak out for a second referendum. With 35 SNP MPs and 12 Liberal democrats, also wanting a second vote, that makes a total of 118. In the unlikely event of Mrs May changing her mind over the desirability of a second vote, there would still be no majority for it, as at least the 110 Conservative anti Agreement MPs and the DUP would oppose it, a more numerous force than the 118 on the opposition benches. Mrs May does not want a second referendum. She presumably does not want to split the Conservative party on the issue. She must understand on current numbers a second referendum cannot pass. It is also very likely more than 110 Conservative MPs would defy any suggestion they voted for one.  We cannot be sure how many MPs want the so called Norway option. It is not official Labour policy and seems to have fewer Labour supporters than a second referendum, so similar considerations apply as with the second referendum. It has a couple of additional major problems. It would require the consent of the EU to a delay in Brexit, which would probably leave the EU saying the UK would still have to accept the Withdrawal Agreement and use the 21 month negotiating period in that to set it up if possible. It would also require the consent of existing EFTA members, and EU consent which would come if at all at a price. It would need the government to adopt that to carry out the negotiations.

    Theresa May Gives Up on Cross-Party Talks to Fix Brexit, Sources Say - Theresa May will return to Parliament on Monday having briefed her Cabinet on Sunday evening that there was little prospect of cross-party Brexit talks succeeding. It will be her fourth appearance in the House of Commons chamber in eight days. Last week she saw the deal that she’d negotiated with the European Union overwhelmingly rejected. The following day she survived a vote of confidence in her government. Since then, she’s invited lawmakers from all sides to come and talk about alternative Brexit paths.But in a conference call with her most senior ministers, May said those discussions have yielded little. Instead, according to two people who were on the call, she said she would seek changes to the Irish backstop section of the deal she’s negotiated with the EU. The goal would be to secure enough to get pro-Brexit members of her Conservative Party and her sometime allies in the Democratic Unionist Party back on her side.The risk is that the EU has repeatedly ruled out reopening the divorce deal it took 18 months to negotiate. May’s stance is bad news for investors who’ve been hoping that cross-party talks would yield a Brexit policy that keeps closer ties to the bloc. The consensus on the call was that the things the opposition Labour Party has publicly asked for, including maintaining a customs union with the EU, would split the Conservative Party if May agreed to them. Further, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has refused to take part in talks unless May rules out a no-deal Brexit, and continues to wield the threat of a confidence vote. That’s left the government doubtful that the party could be counted on.

    In a bizarre turn of events, Theresa May could get her Brexit deal through after all – the key lies with Yvette Cooper --Yvette Cooper is in many ways the alternative leader of the opposition. The Labour MP who chairs the Home Affairs Committee will table a bill in the House of Commons on Monday, under the catchy title of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 3) Bill, which could be decisive in breaking the Brexit deadlock.   It could lead to parliament being forced to make a straight choice between Theresa May’s deal and postponing Brexit in order to hold a new referendum. If that is what happens, I think there would be a small majority for the prime minister’s deal.    The importance of Cooper’s bill is that it changes the default setting in law. At the moment, if parliament fails to act, the UK will leave the EU on 29 March. Cooper’s bill says that, if a deal has not been approved by 7 March, the government would be required to seek an extension of the Article 50 deadline. That would mean asking the EU to postpone the UK’s departure until the end of this year – and EU leaders have said they would agree to an extension if it were to hold another referendum. This would transform the situation in the House of Commons. Jacob Rees-Mogg and the rest of the cohort of Conservative MPs who want to leave without a deal would have to think again. At the moment they are happy to vote everything down, knowing that this gets them what they want. But Cooper’s bill would take what they want off the table. They would then have to choose between the prime minister’s deal and putting off Brexit for at least nine months.  Of the many things that happened in this historic week, therefore, one of the most significant was what Rees-Mogg said to Jason Groves, the political editor of the Daily Mail on Friday: “If I was asked to rank the options in order of preference, then no deal would be better than Mrs May’s deal and Mrs May’s deal would be better than not leaving at all. I don’t agree with those who say the deal is so bad it would be worse than staying in.”

     Brexit: A grim process of elimination - The Brexit process is now a kind of wind erosion. The savage binary forces of British politics have collided with the unmoving position of the EU, and over time the wishful thinking in Westminster has been eroded down to a cluster of irregular geological forms.Following Tuesday night’s thumping defeat, Theresa May glared at the landscape with a dazed look. "It is clear that the House does not support this deal," she told the Commons after the biggest defeat in parliamentary history. "But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support."Theresa May has been forced to reach across the house but already she appears to be sticking to her lines. She needs Labour support to get the treaty over the line by 29 March, but the things that Labour wants – a permanent customs union, a second referendum, and even the banishment of No Deal – she has so far dismissed. Tuesday’s defeat may have been seismic and the cosmos shaken, but the dynamic between the no deal, second referendum, Norway plus, or permanent customs union brigades has barely shifted. "Let’s take a step back," says one EU diplomat. "We have to realise first, the ball is in the UK’s court. We eagarly await more guidance from the other side, and that will feed into any discussion about an extension. Time is short. We need a very clear view of the way forward, and a clear view of the process." Rarely can an exercise in diplomacy have had such little impact.

    May Proposes Revisions To Good Friday Agreement As Cross-Party Brexit Talks Fail -  According to multiple reports in the British press, Theresa May's "cross party" talks meant to find a workable resolution to the impasse over her Brexit deal have been a complete and utter failure - largely due to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's refusal to even participate.So, after carefully surveying her options, May has briefed her senior cabinet ministers about her new plan...which, as fate would have it, isn't much different from her original plan: Find a workaround to the controversial Irish Backstop that could win over rebel Tory MPs and the DUP - the 10-member party from Northern Ireland that props up May's government. But with less than two months before Brexit Day and the dream of revoking Article 50 looking increasingly implausible (largely because it would require the assent of the EU27, whose leaders have been coy in their comments on the subject. But what's potentially worse for May is that restive MPs who are growing increasingly anxious about a 'no deal' outcome have reportedly formed a 'cross-party alliance' to try and throw out centuries of Parliamentary precedent and allow a minority of MPs to seize control of Commons business from May. They would reportedly use this power  to definitively rule out the possibility of 'No Deal' and call for Article 50 to be extended. During the above-mentioned call with her senior ministers, the only thing that was agreed upon was that winning over Labour would be a waste of time.When asked whether May had a specific plan, she effectively affirmed that she didn't, saying only that a solution would be found only by "doing something" on the backstop, according to the Daily Telegraph.On Sunday night, Mrs May held a conference phone call with her Cabinet. One Cabinet minister said the outcome of the call was "essentially one more heave on the backstop." Mrs May is said to have told them her plan was to do "something" on the backstop. Asked if it was something specific or just "anything", she is said to have told them "the latter".

    Conservative minister urges Theresa May to rule out 'absolute disaster' of no-deal scenario - Conservative minister Richard Harrington has urged Theresa May to rule out a no-deal Brexit, as the prime minister prepares to outline her alternative plans to parliament. The business minister, who repeated his threat to resign should the government oversee such a scenario, said he was “afraid” firms such as Jaguar and Mini could close in the UK under the “absolute disaster” of a disorderly exit. Mr Harrington echoed demands made by Jeremy Corbyn, who has insisted in recent days the prime minister must take no deal off the table before engaging in cross-party talks over Brexit.Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Harrington said: “I’ve seen what may well happen with this cut off-date, crashing out in my view - is an absolute disaster - it’s not a road to a free trade agreement, it’s not a road to anything.

    Dublin rejects idea of alternative deal for Irish border post Brexit -Ireland Sunday rejected the idea of negotiating a bilateral agreement with the U.K. as an alternative to the so-called backstop mechanism for avoiding a hard border with Northern Ireland after Brexit."We remain united [and] focused on protecting Ireland," Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney wrote on Twitter. "That includes continued support for the EU/UK agreed [Withdrawal Agreement] in full, including the Backstop as negotiated."The Sunday Times had reported that British Prime Minister Theresa May was planning to try to strike such a deal with Ireland to avoid border checks without relying on the backstop, which many within her Conservative party reject.A No. 10 Downing Street official told POLITICO in response to the report that “it is not something we recognize.”A spokesman for the Irish government told the Financial Times that “Ireland negotiates as part of the group of 27 European nations.”

    Moving On -Excessive staff turnover in the civil service is costing the government up to £74 million a year in recruitment, training and lost productivity. The indirect costs of turnover are even higher, including disruptive leadership changes contributing to major projects like Universal Credit going awry and weakened institutional memory damaging policy development in key areas.Published today by the Institute for Government Moving on: the costs of high staff turnover in the civil service finds that civil servants in the UK – particularly senior civil servants – change jobs much faster than civil servants in other countries or private sector organisations.Several departments, including the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, lose a quarter of their staff each year. Across Whitehall, managers stay in post less than two years. The Treasury’s Welfare Policy Team and MHCLG’s Homelessness Policy team changed almost entirely in just three years. Rapid change leaves civil servants ill-equipped to advise ministers on crucial decisions. The report also finds that Brexit is driving higher turnover across Whitehall. While staff have had to be found to work on Brexit, some are taking on new roles as a promotion opportunity before moving on quickly. This is both bad for Brexit work and disruptive for the areas these staff leave behind.

    UK: Corbyn endorses second referendum after May stonewalls on her Brexit plan - Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has backed an amendment calling for Parliament to be able to vote on whether to hold a second referendum on retaining membership of the European Union (EU). The move does not commit Corbyn to back a referendum were one to be held. It presents the “People’s Vote” demanded by his Blairite opponents as an alternative should Parliament not back Labour’s proposed alternative Brexit plan seeking tariff-free access to the Single European Market via a customs union—or some alternative deal that wins a parliamentary majority.However, Corbyn has once again ceded to his party’s right wing even at the risk of alienating MPs sceptical of the impact of a second referendum on support for Labour—especially following polls suggesting up to a third of potential Labour voters oppose a second vote.He is no longer speaking of demanding a general election, after last week’s defeat of a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government—after her pro-hard-Brexit MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) backed her after voting against her proposed deal.Corbyn’s alternative Brexit plan will now come under ferocious attack for being unrealisable under EU rules from the advocates of Remain.Labour’s amendments came after May’s presentation of her “Plan B” for Britain’s leaving the EU proved to be more or less a restatement of her “Plan A.” She was forced to return to the Commons to deliver a statement and take questions from over 100 MPs for over two hours after the rejection of her Withdrawal Agreement and failed vote of no-confidence necessitated negotiations with opposition parties that continued Monday morning. These talks produced little more than a hint that extending Article 50 and delaying Brexit may be possible. May insisted that her negotiated deal was the only alternative to a no-deal Brexit—leaving the EU without a trade agreement—and would oppose demands for a second referendum and would win a majority for doing so.

    Amber Rudd claims dozens of ministers are ‘ready to quit’ if they cannot have a free vote on anti-No Deal amendments Amber Rudd is warning No 10 that it could face dozens of ministerial resignations next week if Tory MPs are banned from voting for a plan that helps stop a no-deal Brexit.The work and pensions secretary believes that 25 to 40 members of the government want to vote for an amendment drafted by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Tory backbenchers Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles.Ms Rudd is telling No 10 that it should offer a free vote on the issue as a way of forcing all Tory MPs to show their view on Brexit issues, rather than just waiting while the prime minister attempts to delay key decisions for another round of Brexit negotiations and winding down the clock.One source who backs the plan said: “For too long parliamentarians have shouted from the peanut gallery about what they won’t support. Now is the time for them to get on the stage and show what they would support. If done properly this could help the PM go to Brussels in a stronger position.”One Tory MP said: “Amber is telling Downing Street to make it a free vote on behalf of lots of people.” Another Tory source added: “If they don’t do this there will be resignations. Two ministers have told No 10 they will resign.”The Cooper amendment would ensure there is Commons time for MPs to debate a bill instructing the government to table a motion e xtending Article 50until the end of the year if agreement cannot be reached by a specified date.

    Brexit: we need to be honest - Richard North - "There is widespread concern", said Mrs May in her Commons statement yesterday, "about the possibility of the UK's leaving without a deal".She then noted that, "there are those on both sides of the House who want the Government to rule that out", but this was not for the prime minister. "We need to be honest with the British people about what that means", she said. "The right way to rule out no deal is for the House to approve a deal with the European Union, and that is what the Government are seeking to achieve. The only other guaranteed way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to revoke article 50, which would mean staying in the EU". Moving on, she addressed the other factions in the House. For those who wanted to extend the Article 50 period, she observed that this was "not ruling out no deal, but simply deferring the point of decision". Furthermore, she said, "the EU is very unlikely simply to agree to extend article 50 without a plan for how we are going to approve a deal".Thus, she observed, "when people say, 'rule out no deal', what they are actually saying is that, if we in Parliament cannot approve a deal, we should revoke Article 50". But, if that was the consequences of what they were saying, Mrs May was opposed to it. "That would go against the referendum result", she declared, "and I do not believe that that is a course of action that we should take or one that the House should support". Nor did she believe there was a majority for a second referendum, which meant that those MPs who thought that this was the answer would have to "think again about their approach". The plan, then, was to talk to colleagues, including in the DUP, to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House. She would then "take the conclusions of those discussion back to the EU" in the hope of getting concessions.  Whatever she does get, the EU has already indicated that it will be slight. This will leave us with the vote on 29 January. And when the more egregious MPs have finished playing their games, we will be in exactly the same position that we were last December. Either the House approves the Withdrawal Agreement or the result will be a no-deal Brexit. And if the House chooses the latter, by design or default, then Mrs May is right about one thing: "We need to be honest with the British people about what that means".

    Labour calls for vote in Commons on holding second referendum - Labour has said the Commons should be able to vote on whether to hold a second referendum in an amendment the party submitted on Monday night to Theresa May’s Brexit update. It is the first time the party has asked MPs to formally consider a second poll, although the carefully worded compromise amendment did not commit the party’s leadership to backing a referendum if such a vote were to take place. The wording called for May’s government to hold a vote on two options – its alternative Brexit plan and whether to legislate “to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition” that is supported by a majority in the Commons. The intervention came as the party’s leadership seeks to deal with divisions between Jeremy Corbyn and some of the leader’s closest allies who are sceptical about a second referendum and those who are more enthusiastic such as Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer. The party’s alternative Brexit plan, which would be the subject of a separate vote if the amendment were carried, proposes that the UK remain in a post-Brexit customs union with the European Union and have a strong relationship with the single market. Citizens’ rights and consumer standards would be harmonised with the EU’s. Corbyn said: “Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no-deal. It is time for Labour’s alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.” But second referendum campaigners were last night gearing up to criticise the alternative Brexit plan. The People’s Vote campaign said that it was one of a series of Brexit promises – like no-deal – that were being made with “little regard for what could actually be delivered”.

    150,000 members desert Labour in Brexit backlash - The Labour Party is haemorrhaging members amid a growing backlash over Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit, according to party insiders. At the height of Corbyn’s popularity following the general election in 2017, Labour was considered the “largest party in western Europe” with more than 500,000 members. In recent months, however, it has lost up to 150,000 members, according to three sources within the party. It is estimated that up to 100,000 are not up to date with their subs and enrolment has slumped to around 385,000. A Labour insider said the downswing had already cost around £6m. “The party is skint,” the source said. “There have already been some recriminations about the amount spent on last summer’s botched music festival Labour Live. “Although there is always some drop-off in membership after big events like general elections, or a leadership contest, this is more than you would ordinarily expect and has led many of us to think it’s linked to Jeremy’s unpopular stance on Brexit.” In a tweet last week, Labour MP Neil Coyle said Labour had lost 60,000 members in the past year, fuelling claims the party is alienating its support base. In response to an insulting tweet from a self-proclaimed Corbynista, he wrote: “Another brainiac who hasn’t worked out yet why 60,000 people left the Labour Party last year . . .” According to polling, Labour members are significantly more opposed to Brexit than Corbyn, with 72% thinking their leader should support a second vote. The polling, which is part of a study into attitudes in various parties led by Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary, University of London, found that only 18% opposed Labour campaigning for a second referendum, while 88% would opt for remain if such a vote were held.

    Brexit’s Primitive Passions Could Bring Havoc to Ireland – and Far Beyond - Yves Smith -  This past weekend began with a tragic misreading of Dublin’s position on Brexit– that London could somehow sign a bilateral deal with Dublin – and ended with farce: a proposal that the Good Friday Agreement could be “amended” to help the British prime minister’s deal pass the Westminster parliament.May, The Daily Telegraphr eports, wants to see the 1998 peace accord rewritten to assure Ireland that the UK is committed to maintaining no hard border after Brexit. Leaving aside the lack of faith many in Ireland have in the promises of a government propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which opposed the Good Friday Agreement in the first place, the very idea of rewriting the agreement attests to a much wider failure to understand the island, both north and south of the border.The Good Friday Agreement effectively ended a conflict that cost more than 3,000 lives. Historic enemies agreed to share power and respect each other’s identities and beliefs. The genius of the agreement was compromise: everybody lost something, so everybody won something.Brexit is the exact opposite of that irenic spirit. It is politics as zero-sum game: a victory for me means a defeat for you. This approach is damaging enough in Britain, but it is potentially disastrous across the Irish Sea. Northern Ireland has been without a government for more than two years. This paralysis wasn’t caused by Brexit but the chaos in Westminster has clearly exacerbated tensions, reopening old questions about constitutional futures that the Good Friday Agreement had settled. A car bomb exploded in Derry on Saturday night. All this sententious talk of “sovereignty” can have very real effects in a divided society. Brexiters like to point out that the agreement barely mentions the border. There are two good reasons for this: first an entire section of the accord, strand two, deals with north-south arrangements; second, in 1998, with Labour in power, nobody sitting around the table even considered the possibility of Brexit. The UK government’s failure to appreciate this complexity was exemplified by David Davis during a recent sitting of the European Union scrutiny committee last week. Without a word of apology, the man at least nominally in charge of the Brexit process for two years told MPs that the government has had a “blind spot” when it comes to Brexit and Ireland. Yes, it is easy to miss a 310-mile-long land border. Troubles? What Troubles?With hindsight, Davis said, Number 10 should have put more resources into what used to be called ‘the Irish question’ back when it divided the Tory party in the 19th century. But it was not all his fault. Britain had been “unpredictably handicapped”. Ireland had changed Taoiseach. The power-sharing government in Belfast had collapsed.

    Coveney dismisses Polish suggestion to limit backstop to five years Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said the Withdrawal Agreement is not up for renegotiation and he dismissed the call by the Polish Foreign Minister for a five-year limit on the backstop as not reflecting the EU position. Speaking in Brussels during a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Mr Coveney said: "We have spent 18 months or so in a difficult negotiation that resulted in a Withdrawal Agreement and all of the detail that was part of that. "It's been made very clear repeatedly that the Withdrawal Agreement is not up for renegotiation." The Minister for Foreign Affairs responded to the remarks by his Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz about the backstop. Mr Czaputowicz told the Rzeczpospolita newspaper: "If Ireland turned to the EU about changing the agreement with Britain with regard to the provisions on the backstop so that it would only apply temporarily - let's say five years - the matter would be resolved." He added: "I don't know if it's feasible - if Ireland is ready to put forward such a proposal, but I have an impression that it might unblock the negotiations.

    Brexit: May’s