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

Saturday, February 9, 2019

week ending Feb 9

Will The Fed End Its Balance Sheet Runoff Early- Here Is Goldman's Answer - Having forecast as many as 4 rate hikes at the start of December, Goldman - following in the footsteps of the now-dovish Powell - slashed its hawkish bias for 2019 and despite still expecting an above trend economic performance this year, Goldman now sees just one rate hike this year, some time in the second half. But what about the far more important issue of the Fed's shrinking balance sheet? And we know that it is a "far more important issue" because as Goldman wrote over the weekend, despite what Goldman claims is a relatively modest impact on asset classes due to Quantitative Tightening (which makes little sense considering it was Quantitative Easing that served as the biggest catalyst to global push risk assets higher for much of the past decade), it is clear that amidst the heightened market anxiety that followed the Q4 equity market selloff, "a narrative took hold that balance sheet policy was to blame", a narrative which Fed Chair Powell clearly bought into. To Goldman, a "self-fulfilling prophecy effect" was visible in the adverse reaction to Chairman Powell’s comment at his December press conference that runoff was on “automatic pilot.” The market reaction was a sharp contrast with the muted responses shown in the chart below to announcements in 2017 in which Fed officials indicated that runoff would begin earlier than expected, an actual policy change. The reaction appeared to unnerve Fed officials enough for them to offer a soothing change of tone and consider changes to the current plan for runoff. Goldman notes that about $400bn has gradually rolled off since the Fed first began reducing the size of its balance sheet in October 2017, a modest share of the increase during QE. Additionally, as discussed here previously, the initial caps on runoff of US Treasuries and MBS increased in quarterly steps from an initial combined level of $10bn per month to reach the current peak level of $50bn per month in October 2018, however, the actual runoff has increased more gradually because maturing assets on the Fed’s balance sheet fall short of the UST and MBS caps in most months and therefore runoff has averaged about $28bn per month in 2018 and will average about $37bn per month in 2019 under previously noted projections before concluding in some time in early 2020 according Goldman.

Balance Sheet Could Be in Regular Fed Toolkit, Daly Suggests - Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Mary Daly suggested that the central bank could decide to use its balance sheet as a routine part of how it guides the economy, not just as a last-ditch measure to deploy in emergencies.“An important question is, should those always be in the toolkit?” Daly said of post-crisis bond-buying programs, popularly called quantitative easing, or QE. “Should you always have those at your ready, or should you think about, those are only tools you use when you really hit the zero lower bound and you have no other things you can do?”Daly, who was speaking with reporters in San Francisco on Friday, said the question is part of the discussion as the Fed rethinks its monetary policy framework and procedures this year, a process that will involve public outreach and a conference in Chicago in June. While officials often say that the balance sheet could be used again in a serious downturn when rates head to zero, they rarely if ever paint it as something other than a last-ditch option.“You could imagine executing policy with your interest rate as your primary tool, and the balance sheet as a secondary tool, but one that you would use more readily,” Daly said. “That’s not decided yet.”The Fed is currently in the process of shrinking its balance sheet, which is swollen from three rounds of large-scale asset purchases during and after the Great Recession, though it has not yet decided how much smaller it will ultimately become.Asked whether she would favor slowing down that shrinking process at some point before its conclusion, Daly said only that such a move -- often referred to as a “taper” -- is a “key part” of ongoing discussions about policy normalization.

Fed’s Powell, Clarida meet with Trump — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Vice Chairman Richard Clarida met with President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Monday night, according to a statement from the Fed’s press office. The Fed said that the four men met at the White House to discuss recent economic developments and the outlook for growth, employment and inflation, but Powell “did not discuss his expectations for monetary policy, except to stress that the path of policy will depend entirely on incoming economic information,” the Fed said. The president in recent months has made a habit of bashing the U.S. central bank over its series of interest rate increases, even going so far as to explore the possibility of firing Powell. Powell has said he would not resign if asked by the president.The Federal Open Market Committee, a panel of Fed governors and regional Fed bank presidents that sets monetary policy, decided last week to effectively pause its expectations for interest rate hikes because of what Powell described as “crosscurrents” of slowing global growth and muted inflation. The decision led to a flurry of speculation about whether Powell caved to Trump’s pressure or whether the broader FOMC reached the same conclusion about interest rates. Powell himself was asked during a press conference whether he was responding to pressure from the president, and responded that the Federal Reserve System prizes its independence above all else, and would never take political pressure of any kind into consideration when making its monetary policy decisions. “What we care about — and really, the only thing we care about at the Fed — is doing our job for the American people,” Powell said. “We’re human, we’re going to make mistakes, but we’re not going to make mistakes of character or integrity.”

Here We Go Again - Fed Finds That Negative Rates Would Have Helped The Recovery - Several days ago, the ECB sparked the ire of pretty much anyone with a working frontal lobe when it made the indefensible claim that, drumroll, QE had helped reduce inequality.ECB asset purchases have reduced inequality in the eurozone, our research shows. They have especially benefited low-income households, which suffer the most from unemployment. Full Research Bulletin here https://t.co/MlMQO2BXxK pic.twitter.com/4DtpcOsqms — European Central Bank (@ecb) January 30, 2019That’s right, reduce. The claims are: (1) by lowering unemployment at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder, QE put money in people’s pockets; (2) higher stock prices didn’t have any influence on wealth i nequality; and (3) higher house prices helped to reduce inequality. Rabobank's Michael Every had the best response to the idiotic argument, claiming he could hear the stunned silence: "That’s wonderfully convenient for the ECB, and for Davos Man, as the 2019 WEF started by warning of the need to look after “the losers of globalisation” and to refocus its moral mission - and then failed to provide a single proposal for how we do that, again, switching the topic to climate change and hoping we wouldn’t notice because it’s so serious a topic. Yet now there is a cure for global inequality – more QE!"   So no, QE did not help reduce inequality: on the contrary it made inequality reach unprecedented proportions, resulting in the populist, anti-establishment movement sweeping across Europe... oh, and Brexit in the UK and Trump in the US. But the nuance was not lost on observers, who noted that by making this claim, the QE was merely launching a trial balloon and setting the stage for even more wonderful, noble QE. And in keeping with carefully phrased trial balloons, earlier today the San Francisco Fed, best known for wasting millions in taxpayer funds on research to overturn what is blatantly obvious even to five year olds, released what may be the next, even more critical trial balloon, asking "How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the Recovery?" and finding, surprise, that it would have helped by quite a bit.  "allowing the federal funds rate to drop below zero may have reduced the depth of the recession and enabled the economy to return more quickly to its full potential. It also may have allowed inflation to rise faster toward the Fed’s 2% target. In other words, negative interest rates may be a useful tool to promote the Fed’s dual mandate."

January 2019 Yield Curve Update -- I have discussed how there is a sort of mental accounting problem with the yield curve model.  The zero-slope is treated as a constant, when, in fact, meaningful inversion happens at low yields when the 10 year yield is as much as 1% higher than the fed funds rate, and at higher yields, the inversion has to become fairly steep to become meaningful. During the past two months, the curve has become meaningfully inverted.  Here, in the Eurodollar futures market, the upward bias of the longer term yields is clear.  What is important is that forward rates in the 2-3 year time frame are inverted.  I suspect those 2021 Eurodollar contracts will close at rates much closer to zero. Here is the plot of the Fed Funds Rate against the 10 year Treasury, shown with the adjusted inversion levels.  From this point, a normalized yield curve is highly unlikely to develop without lowering the Fed Funds Rate.  Expect the 10 year yield to be below 2% by the time that process is finished.

 BEA: Q4 GDP to be Released Feb 28th --From the BEA: New Dates Set for GDP, Personal Income, and International Trade -Bureau of Economic Analysis data on U.S. gross domestic product, personal income and outlays, and international trade in goods and services that were delayed by the recent lapse in federal funding will be released in late February and early March. A report called Initial Gross Domestic Product for the 4th Quarter and Annual 2018 will be released on Feb. 28 at 8:30 a.m. This “initial” report will take the place of two previously scheduled estimates of 4th quarter GDP – the advance estimate originally set for Jan. 30 and the second estimate that would normally be released Feb. 28. The combined Feb. 28 report will contain one set of GDP numbers based on the data available from BEA’s data suppliers, including the U.S. Census Bureau, which also was affected by the funding lapse. This will include source data that would have gone into producing BEA’s advance estimate of 4th quarter and annual GDP for 2018, and some – but not all – of the source data that typically feed the second estimate.  CR Note: It appears Q4 GDP will be in the mid-2s. Unfortunately it takes some time to catch up on the data releases.

Q4 GDP Forecasts: Mid-2s --The BEA has announced that the Q4 advanced GDP report will be combined with the 2nd estimate of GDP, and will be released on Feb 28th. From Merrill Lynch: Better than expected trade data were offset by soft manufacturing inventories data, leaving our4Q tracking estimate unchanged at 2.3%. [Feb 8 estimate]   From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 2.4% for 2018:Q4 and 2.2% for 2019:Q1. [Feb 8 estimate]   And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2018 is 2.7 percent on February 6, up from 2.5 percent on February 1. [Feb 6 estimate] Note: These estimates suggest GDP in the mid 2s for Q4.

Another Long Leading Indicator, The Senior Loan Officer Survey, Turns Negative -- Long leading indicators are those which typically peak a year or more before the economy as a whole. Credit conditions, particularly as measured by the Fed’s Senior Loan Officer Survey, are one of those indicators. The Q4 Survey, published yesterday, for only the second time during this expansion, was uniformly negative. The Fed reported its Senior Loan Officer Survey for Q4 yesterday, and it was not good news. Credit conditions, particularly as measured by the survey, are a long leading indicator (i.e., tending to turn a year or more before a cycle peak (and substantially before a trough as well)). In Q4, they turned negative. Metrics in the Survey The premier metric in this survey is whether banks are tightening credit for large firms (blue), and also small firms (green). While there have been several false positives, these have turned negative (i.e., more banks have tightened credit) at least 4 quarters before each of the last three recessions. In the below graph, values are inverted so that tightening shows as a negative number: Banks tightened credit for both sizes of firms in the 4th Quarter, for the first time in nearly three years. This is in contrast to the weekly Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Indexes, the Adjusted index of which is shown in red in the graph above. None of those Indexes are negative at this point. Another portion of the survey which measures demand for loans also has a history of turning well in advance of the economic cycle itself. This has been negative, off and on, for several years. After turning positive at twice in the last 5 quarters, it has turned back negative for the last two: Conclusion: While the picture isn’t perfectly clear, because the Chicago Indexes have not turned negative, this is the first time outside of the shallow, energy-sector focused downturn of 2015-16 that the Senior Loan Officer Survey has shown a tightening in credit conditions..

Primary Dealer Treasury Holdings Hit All Time High As Foreign Buyers Balk -- At the end of January, when combing through the TBAC's latest quarterly refunding presentation, we highlighted what this critical advisory group highlighted as the key risks for the US Treasury market: namely i) the possibility of a significant financing gap over the next 10 years amounting to over $12 trillion and ii) the potential need for more domestic investor participation as foreign investor demand has been steadily declining in recent years. Specifically, the TBAC cautioned that the Treasury’s financing needs are expected to increase significantly even without factoring in recession possibilities over the next decade. The TBAC warned that deficits to the tune of $1-$1.5trn a year, and cumulatively over $12trn, over the next decade, are coming and will have to be funded in the bond market.  Meanwhile, as noted recently, the CBO stubbornly refuses to forecast a recession in the next decade, instead projecting a steady 1.5-2% real GDP growth over the next 10y.    But the bigger problem is that in the context of soaring deficit funding needs, the TBAC was worried that "foreign investors already hold significant dollar debt" which is why the US will have to increasingly rely on domestic savings to fund its future budget deficits. The TBAC noted, tongue in cheek, that while the "USD is still the dominant reserve currency", reserve managers have been very gradually increasing allocation to other currencies, and that the USD share of FX reserves has steadily come down from 72% in 2000 to 62% now. It also pointed out that other countries with significant debt issuance needs (as a share of GDP) depend far more on domestic savings. As a result, "the Treasury should plan to meet financing needs more domestically than in the recent past."  Even more concerning, the TBAC noted, is that global FX reserves growth has stalled and global trade, as a share of world GDP, appears to have peaked, while underscoring what may be the most important transition in the global economy in decades, namely that China is now running a flat current account with the rest of the world, something we discussed extensively in "A Tectonic Shift In China's Economy Has Largely Gone Unnoticed By Investors." As a result of these transformations, there has been an even lower official foreign demand for USTs, which has been evident in lower foreign bids at 2-5y Treasury auctions compared to longer tenor auctions. Furthermore, foreign holdings of marketable Treasuries, as % of outstanding, have declined meaningfully from the pre-crisis peak (from 55% in March 2009 to 41% currently).

Foreign holdings of US debt have been coming down a bit. Is that a problem? - Jared Bernstein - I remember when foreign ownership of U.S. government debt amounted to very little, as shown on the left end of the figure below (the share of total publicly held debt owned by foreigners). I next remember that this share was growing rapidly, closing in on half about a decade ago. What I didn’t know was that the share has been falling back a bit. In fact, it’s about 10 percentage points off of its peak.  In the course of that conversation, some have raised the concern that because a significant share of our debt is held be foreign investors, we face risks that were not invoked in earlier decades. There’s the “sudden stop” scenario that’s been deeply damaging to emerging economies, when foreign inflows quickly shut down, slamming the currency and forcing painful interest rate hikes. There’s a less pressing but still concerning risk that foreign investors’ demand for US debt would fall at a time like the present, when the Treasury needs to borrow aggressively to finance our obligations in the face of large tax cuts and deficit spending. That scenario could lead to “crowd out,” as public debt competes with private debt for scarce funds, pushing up yields.  How serious are these concerns? In contemplating this question, I see the WSJ has an interesting piece out this AM on this very question. One factor in play they note is that China’s share of our sovereign debt has fallen by half, from 14 to 7 percent. That reflects both China’s decline in dollar reserve holdings, and more internal investment. Also, the piece notes the role of the stronger dollar and the resulting increased price of holding dollar assets. But the key point re our own debt and rate dynamics is this one:“Deficit hawks have suggested government bond yields could jump if foreign investors shed their holdings of U.S. debt, which in turn could push up the cost of other debt throughout the economy, such as mortgages and business loans. Those warnings haven’t come to pass.” The fact that Treasury yields remain low confirms that part of the story. Also, as Krugman and others have maintained, it just doesn’t make a ton of sense that countries with large dollar holdings would undertake actions, like dumping US debt, to debase their holdings. And, if they did, the cheaper dollar would make our exports more competitive.

Senate GOP warns Trump against using national emergency for border wall - Senate Republicans are warning President Trump ahead of his State of the Union speech against using a national emergency declaration to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. GOP lawmakers warned that declaring a national emergency would be met with resistance on Capitol Hill, where Congress could try to block Trump by using a resolution of disapproval. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said that he and "a lot of my colleagues" have concerns about the precedent Trump would set if he declared a national emergency to construct the border wall. "There's a lot of reservations in the conference about it and I hope they don't go down that path," Thune told reporters. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is close to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that declaring a national emergency would be a "dangerous step," that likely wouldn't allow Trump to build the wall border wall because it would get bogged down in court and challenged in Congress. Congress has until Feb. 15 to get a deal on funding for the border wall and to prevent a second shutdown, which would impact roughly a quarter of the government. The president is demanding $5.7 for the wall; Democrats have rejected money for a concrete wall but signaled some openness to fencing or other barriers. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a member of the conference committee tasked with finding a deal, told reporters that a national emergency wouldn't be his preferred route. "I wouldn't prefer one. I believe we should continue to work toward the legislative solution," he said. "I do believe that the president's probably got the power under the Constitution and maybe under the statue to do that, but I would rather us do it."

Graham: There could be GOP 'war' over border wall -- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned on Monday that there could be a “war” among Republicans if President Trump declared a national emergency to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Graham, speaking in South Carolina, acknowledged that the idea divides Republicans, who he argued should unite behind the president if he ends up circumventing Congress to build the wall. "It seems to me that he's gonna have to go it alone, but there could be a war within the Republican Party over the wall," Graham said. Graham added that he would "stand with" Trump if he declares a national emergency to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall and urged his Republican colleagues to "get behind the president" if he goes down that path. "To any Republican who denies the president the ability to act as commander in chief, you're going to create a real problem within the party," Graham said. Congress has until Feb. 15 to get a deal on the U.S.-Mexico border wall and prevent a second partial shutdown, which would impact roughly a quarter of the government. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the conference committee's ability to get an agreement with Democrats. Graham echoed him on Monday, saying he was not "very optimistic" about the chances of getting a deal.

GOP senators think Trump would win vote on emergency declaration - Republican senators predict that when push comes to shove, their conference will back President Trump and turn aside any resolution from Democrats that seeks to stop his use of an emergency declaration to build a wall on the border.   Republicans say Democrats will probably need five GOP votes if they are to win passage of a disapproval resolution, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says he supports a national emergency declaration.  That’s a high bar, GOP lawmakers say, particularly on Trump’s signature issue. And while a number of Republicans have sought to dissuade Trump from declaring a national emergency, they may not embrace a public fight on Trump’s signature issue — which risks earning the wrath of his conservative base ahead of the 2020 election. GOP lawmakers also predict that Trump can win over some Republicans by presenting the declaration as something dictated by an urgent need at the border instead of an effort to simply circumvent Congress. The president can further bolster his argument by assuring Republicans that funding will not be reprogramed from top-priority defense accounts, such as the military construction account, which pays for defense facilities and family housing. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) on Tuesday predicted the vast majority of his Republican colleagues will wind up backing Trump if Democrats manage to force a vote on a resolution blocking a declaration. “I think most will, in fact maybe an overwhelming amount will,” said Cramer. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) on Tuesday also said his fellow Republicans will likely fall into line. “I’ve learned in this place talk’s cheap,” he said on CNN. “Let’s see how they vote,” he added. “If the president does it, I’m willing to bet you a lot of Republicans who are saying it’s a bad idea and he shouldn’t do it, they’ll vote to support him.”

Fresh off 'MAGA Field Trip,' Steve Bannon, Erik Prince Among Right-Wing Crew Plotting Out Privatized Border Wall - What brings together the likes of the president's former chief strategist Steve Bannon; voter disenfranchiser Kris Kobach; notorious Blackwater founder Erik Prince; controversial former sheriff David Clarke; immigration hardliner and former Congressman Tom Tancredo; and offensive meme spewer and former baseball great Curt Schilling?A move to supplement President Donald Trump's proposed "wall" on the southern border with a privatized wall.According to new reporting by Politico, the right-wing crew got together—though Prince just phoned in—for the first time last week at the border town of McAllen, Texas for "a kind of #MAGA field trip."The New York Times reported on the privatized wall effort late last month, but Politico is the first to report on Bannon's involvement."Do we have a billion dollars right now? No. But can we raise one- or two-hundred million dollars? No doubt about it," Bannon told the news outlet. As of this writing, the new GoFundMe page has raised a little over $20 million of its $1 billion goal.Trump has given the effort his "blessing," Kobach asserted to the Times. The project reportedly got its start in Iraq war veteran Brian Kolfage's GoFundMe page for wall funding. That evolved into a new fundraising effort and the formation of the nonprofit "We Build the Wall." A FAQ page for new group asserts that it is "presently working with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol experts and other U.S. border security service professionals" to target areas for a wall, which would rely on consenting landowners. "The company will build the wall mile-by-mile in strategic locations based on a variety of factors. We will build as much wall as we can based on feasibility, land use, and funding," it continues.

Trump embraces a new nuclear arms race - On Friday, the Trump administration confirmed its intention to scrap a historic nuclear arms-control pact with Moscow. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would suspend its participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, likely to be followed by a formal withdrawal six months down the road. The news is in keeping with President Trump’s penchant for wrecking diplomatic pacts. He axed a landmark Asia-Pacific trade deal during his first week in office and controversially pulled the United States out of Obama-era international agreements on climate change and Iran’s nuclear program.“We will move forward with developing our own military response options and will work with NATO and our other allies and partners to deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct,” Trump said in a written statement Friday.The INF Treaty prohibited Russia and the United States from possessing, developing or deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (311 and 3,418 miles). For several years, U.S. officials have contended that some of Russia’s new ground-launched and cruise missiles violate the terms of the pact. Moscow denies those claims, accusing Washington of deliberately trying to exit the treaty to trigger a new arms race.If the INF Treaty collapses, it will mark the end of a cornerstone agreement in which, for the first time, the two Cold War rivals agreed to destroy portions of their nuclear arsenals. “The treaty has been a central element of Europe’s security strategy for more than three decades and its signing was considered a crucial moment in Cold War arms control, eliminating more than 2,600 missiles and ending a years-long standoff with nuclear missiles in Europe,” wrote my colleagues. More than three decades after its signing, however, the Trump administration says it’s responding to new realities. Beyond the threat posed by Russia, it seeks more options in the face of China’s own military expansion. “China [and] Iran, for that matter, are not bound by the treaty,” a senior administration official said on a phone call with reporters last week. “We cannot be the only country bound by a treaty.”

Russia plans new missile systems to counter U.S. by 2021 (Reuters) - Russia will race to develop two new land-based missile launch systems before 2021 to respond to Washington’s planned exit from a landmark nuclear arms control pact, it said on Tuesday. President Vladimir Putin said at the weekend that Russia had suspended the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans both nations from stationing short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe. Moscow and Washington accuse each other of violating the treaty and Putin said Russia had acted after the United States announced it was withdrawing from the pact. Washington had made clear it planned to start research, development and design work on new missile systems and Moscow would do the same, Putin said. The Russian military should start work on creating land-based launch systems for an existing ship-launched cruise missile, the Kalibr, and for longer-range hypersonic missiles which travel at least five times the speed of sound, he said. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday ordered work to begin on developing the new systems. Shoigu, a close Putin ally, said he wanted the work completed by the end of next year so the new systems were ready by 2021. “From Feb. 2, the United States suspended its obligations under the INF treaty,” Shoigu told a meeting of defense chiefs. “At the same time they are actively working to create a land-based missile with a range of more than 500 km which is outside the treaty’s limits. President Putin has given the defense ministry the task of taking symmetrical measures.” Moscow denies flouting the 1987 pact. It says Washington is the one violating it and has accused the United States of inventing a false pretext to exit a treaty it wanted to leave anyway in order to develop new missiles. Washington denies that. 

Washington Plays 'Russian Roulette' With EU Lives By Trashing INF Treaty - In a flash, the US has scrapped the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which safeguarded Europe and the world from a deadly US-Russia arms race. This is particularly bad news for Europeans. Russia must be feeling a lot like the Native Indians these days with regards to treaties signed with the duplicitous Americans. For the second time in as many decades, the US has gone back on its word, removing another pillar from the global arms reduction architecture.The Trump administration, in its infinite wisdom, announced on the weekend it would freeze US participation in the INF “for 180 days,” which, from a military perspective, must be interpreted to mean forever. In the spirit of reciprocity, Vladimir Putin, expressing regret that Russia “could not save” the Cold War treaty, said he would be forced to follow suit. The Russian leader emphasized, however, that Moscow would not deploy intermediate or smaller range weapons “until the same type of American weapons” were placed in Europe or elsewhere in the world. This latest ratcheting up of tensions between Moscow and Washington was wholly avoidable – that is, if avoiding confrontation is a goal of the US. Clearly, it is not. The unpredictable hotheads now dictating foreign policy in the Trump administration, particularly National Security Advisor John Bolton, a veteran hawk who the Washington Post recently calleda “serial arms control killer,” have somehow concluded that playing a game of nuclear chicken on the European continent with Russia is the best way to resolve bilateral issues.

Trump Once Wanted to Negotiate With Russia Over Nukes. Then Mueller Happened. - More than 30 years ago, when he was still a builder in Manhattan, Donald Trump said he had one great ambition: He wanted then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan to appoint him America’s envoy to Moscow to negotiate a nuclear arms deal. “It’ll take one hour of discussion before the Cold War is over,” Trump was said to have boasted at the time. Now that he’s president, Trump doesn’t need to wait for an appointment to try his hand at nuclear negotiation. Only last year the president called nuclear weapons “the biggest problem in the world.” And yet Trump has barely mentioned the issue while his administration announced Friday it is pulling out of the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and is possibly setting its sights on former President Barack Obama’s 2011 New START treaty, the strategic arms reduction pact that will expire about two weeks into the next presidential term if it isn’t extended.  Trump has always yearned for the big deal, and he’s demonstrated that he’s not fond of any treaty he didn’t negotiate himself, especially if it was Obama’s doing. Trump pulled out of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, Paris climate pact, and Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he replaced former President Bill Clinton’s NAFTA trade deal with the slightly retooled U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, even though the not-yet-confirmed accord retains most of the provisions of the original one. But the nuclear arms arena is especially wide open and ripe for fresh presidential negotiation, many nuclear experts say. There may be several reasons why Trump is not moving ahead on nuclear weapons negotiations, despite his long-ago ambitions.  But the main reason may have more to do with the multiple investigations into Trump’s Russia ties, especially special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Moscow. Last July, shortly before Trump flew to Helsinki for his first summit with Putin, he was asked by reporters what he hoped to accomplish. “No more nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, no more wars, no more problems, no more conflicts,” he declared. Trump also said he thought he and Putin would have “an extraordinary relationship.”  But since then the president has been hemmed in by almost constant questions in the media about whether he has been compromised by Putin and Russian intelligence—financially, sexually, or in some other way. The FBI at one point even opened up an investigation into whether Trump was a Russian counterintelligence asset.

Select Reactions to the INF Treaty Crisis - The Trump administration’s sudden decision and announcement Oct. 20 to “terminate” the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty due to Russian violations of the treaty has been met with bipartisan and international concern.  On Dec. 4, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Russia to be in "material breach" of the treaty, and announced that the United States plans to suspend U.S. obligations under the treaty in 60 days (anticipated Feb. 2) unless Russia returns to compliance. On Feb. 1, the administration confirmed that the United States would simultaneously suspend its obligations under the treaty and also submit formal notification of withdrawal the following day—on Feb. 2.  A collection of select reactions from international partners, members of Congress, and former national security policymakers, from after both the Oct. 20, Dec. 4, and Feb. 1 announcements, is provided below and will be updated as further reactions arise.

The real reason Trump’s ripped up the nuclear treaty that’s kept us safe since the 1980s? Fear of China - This is not the first time President Trump has torn up an international agreement. But his decision to withdraw from the long-standing Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia is a milestone – and a disturbing one. After all, this is the treaty that helped bring the Cold War to a close. It was signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to ban a dangerous new generation of intermediate and short-range weapons with a range of between 300 and 3,400 miles. For decades, the successors to Reagan and Gorbachev tried to continue the spirit of co-operation – until the 45th President arrived at the White House. Trump has told the world that he is withdrawing because Russia – the only other signatory to the treaty – has broken its terms by illegally developing a new land-based cruise missile. The Russians displayed it in public last week. The truth is that Trump is withdrawing not because Russia has behaved badly, but because he wants to destroy the INF treaty altogether. Why? Because it is inconvenient. Trump hates all treaties – civil or military – which constrain America's power to do what it likes. He has already done more damage to the cohesion of Nato than at any time in its history by rowing with Europe over its contributions, and he is now shaking the foundations of world trade with a series of tariff wars. It is the same hatred of binding agreements that lies behind Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. No one outside the White House believes that Iran has done anything wrong. American intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency certified 13 times in succession that Iran was adhering to the spirit and letter of the deal. Trump responded by telling his own spies to 'go back to school'. There is another, more specific, motive, too, behind Trump's actions – and that motive is China, a country he truly fears.A newcomer to superpower status, China is not party to agreements reached in the 1980s. So it has been free to quietly develop a range of missiles – some hypersonic, greatly exceeding the speed of sound – and satellite-based weapons which could 'neutralise' American carrier fleets in the Western Pacific. The Chinese are masters of cyber warfare, too. 

China rips US plans for multilateral nuclear treaty -- China on Saturday condemned the American decision to withdraw from a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, calling the move "regrettable" in a rebuke to U.S. President Donald Trump's call for a broader arms pact that would also bind other nuclear powers like Beijing. "China is opposed to the U.S. withdrawal and urges the U.S. and Russia to properly resolve differences through constructive dialogue," foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said in a statement. "What is imperative at the moment is to uphold and implement the existing treaty instead of creating a new one," he said. The U.S. said Friday that it was suspending its participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or the INF, accusing Russia of violating the Cold War-era agreement. Moscow announced its own suspension Saturday. Beijing is particularly wary of Washington's ambitions for a multilateral framework that would include such countries as China, India and Pakistan. "The multilateralization of the INF Treaty involves a series of complex issues covering political, military and legal fields, which draws concerns from many countries," Geng said. The White House has not formally announced such an effort. But Trump said Friday that "I hope that we're able to get everybody in a very big and beautiful room and do a new treaty that would be much better." Moscow's suspension of the treaty Saturday in effect invalidated the arms pact. "We will respond quid pro quo," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised meeting with the country's foreign and defense ministers. "Our American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well." Putin said Russia will start work on developing new missiles, including a land-based hypersonic intermediate-range one, banned under the treaty.

  Russian Media Threatens US With 100 Megaton Doomsday Device After INF Debacle - Russian media has threatened the United States with a 100 megaton nuclear weapon after a key arms treaty failed.  The doomsday device was a threat lobbed by Russian state-sponsored media and the Russian military after the U.S. announced that the country will exit the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaties. Although treaties don’t mean much (their success hinges only on tyrants’ willingness to follow them and obey the words inked on paper anyway) the U.S. mainstream media seems to be afraid. According to MSN, the treaty was the only thing standing between Russia and another Cold War. It was “one of the last barriers to a full-on Cold War-like arms race in Europe – and there’s already talk of a nuclear doomsday device visiting the U.S.,” wrote MSN. The treaty was useless, however, as Russia disobeyed it. The INF treaty banned land-based nuclear-capable missiles with a range between 300 and 3,200 miles in 1987 when Russia and the U.S. had populated much of Europe with intermediate-range nuclear missiles. “The ban eliminated this entire class of missiles and went down as one of the most successful acts of arms control ever,” wrote MSN. Except it wasn’t successful in the least because Russian spent years developing a nuclear-capable weapon banned by the treaty, making the treaty absolutely worthless. The U.S. then responded by saying it would withdraw and design its own treaty-busting missiles. But the World War 3 and doomsday rhetoric jumped up a few notches when Russian media threatened to nuke the U.S. A BBC review of Russian newspapers, some state-owned and all adhering to state narratives or censored by the Kremlin, revealed some truly apocalyptic ideas.

  Russia Summons US Diplomat Over INF- Destroy Tomahawk Launch Pads And Attack Drones - Russia has again slammed the United States for being in breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) after the US announced last Friday that it's suspending all obligations under the treaty in 180 days, during which time Moscow till has a chance to return to compliance. But this week in an apparent continuing tit-for-tat blame game, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) summoned the US military attaché in Moscow to issue its own ultimatum.   The MoD reportedly told the US diplomatic representative that the US is in breach, and that it could return to compliance through elimination of its cruise missile launchpads and attack drones the latter which the Russians said fit the definition of a “land-based cruise missile” under a different form, in accord with the Reagan-era deal.  The message was delivered on Wednesday via a treaty-related memo, the contents of which were first reported by RT as follows: The Russian side suggested that the Americans “return to strict compliance” with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty before it expires in six months.In order to achieve this, the US must “destroy its Mk-41 universal launchers, designed for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles and target missiles," which in fact have the same specifications as ground-based medium- and shorter-range ballistic missiles prohibited by the INF.The American attack drones should also be disposed of because they fall under the definition of “land-based cruise missile” in accordance with the deal, the ministry added.

U.S. Coup Attempt In Venezuela Lacks International Support -  There is little doubt where 'western' media stand with regards to the U.S. led coup-attempt (vid) in Venezuela. But their view does not reflect the overwhelming international recognition the Venezuelan government under President Nicolás Maduro continues to have.The Rothschild family's house organ, the Economist, changed the background of its Twitter account to a picture of the Random Dude™, Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. regime changers created to run the country.  bigger  The tweet is quite revealing:  The Economist @TheEconomist - 23:59 utc- 31 Jan 2019  Juan Guaidó and Donald Trump are betting that sanctions will topple the regime before they starve the Venezuelan people econ.st/2DMOeEk  It is quite obvious that Trump’s Illegal Regime Change Operation Will Kill More Venezuelans. The Economist supports that starvation strategy. The supposedly neutral news agencies are no better than the arch-neoliberal Economist. The Reuters' Latin America office also changed its header picture to Random Dude. It reverted that after being called out. Agence France-Press stated at 11:10 utc yesterday that "tens of thousands" would join a rally.  That was at 7:10am local time in Caracas several hours before the rally took place. Such "predictive reporting" is now supposed to be "news". A bit later AFP posted a video:  That was at 11:50am local time. The attached video did not show "thousands" but some 200 people mingling around.

WSJ Confirms: Trump-Appointed Venezuela Coup Leader Plans Neoliberal Capitalist Shock Therapy  - The Wall Street Journal reported that Venezuela’s US-appointed coup leader Juan Guaidó has already drafted plans for “opening up Venezuela’s vast oil sector to private investment” and “privatizing assets held by state enterprises.”The report confirms what The Grayzone previously reported.“Juan Guaidó, recognized by Washington as the rightful leader, said he would sell state assets and invite private investment in the energy industry,” read the  Wall Street Journal’s January 31 article.The paper noted that Guaidó plans “to reverse President Nicolás Maduro’s economic polices,” explaining:“Mr. Guaidó said his plan called for seeking financial aide from multilateral organizations, tapping bilateral loans, restructuring debt and opening up Venezuela’s vast oil sector to private investment. It includes privatizing assets held by state enterprises … He also said he’d end wasteful state subsidies and take steps to revive the private sector.” In other words, Guaidó plans to implement the neoliberal capitalist shock therapy that Washington has imposed on the region for decades.Using funding from US-dominated international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Venezuelan coup leader seeks to adopt an aggressive “structural adjustment” program, enacting the kinds of economic policies that have led to the preventable deaths of millions of people and an explosion of poverty and inequality in the years following capitalist restoration in the former Soviet Union.In a speech, Juan Guaidó even echoed rhetoric that is popular among US conservatives: “Here, no one wants to be given anything.”It is clear that the coup leader’s priorities reflect those of Venezuela’s capitalist oligarchs and right-wing politicians in the United States. Economic liberalization is the Venezuelan opposition’s first and most important goal; democracy is just a pretense.

To Florida’s Venezuelan exiles, Pence vows more pressure on Maduro (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday listened to harrowing stories of deprivation, torture and escape from Venezuelans who fled their homeland, and pledged to ramp up pressure to help the opposition trying to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. In a visit to the largest community of Venezuelan exiles in the United States - and flanked by four prominent Florida Republican politicians - Pence rejected calls for talks with Maduro, and said all options were on the table to force him to leave. “This is no time for dialogue. This is time for action,” Pence told a few hundred people at a rally in a local church, many of whom waved Venezuelan flags and shouted “Libertad!” “The time has come to end the Maduro dictatorship once and for all,” said Pence, who has emerged as one of the strongest voices against the Venezuelan leader in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. The U.S. government has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. Most Latin American countries have done so as well, while European governments are also throwing their support behind Guaido, albeit more cautiously. Russia and China, among others, back Maduro, who has said National Assembly head Guaido’s self-declared claim to the presidency is an attempted U.S.-backed coup. Maduro, who began a second term last month after elections last year that were dismissed by the West as a sham, has said he would be ready for talks with the opposition. Some countries, including Mexico and Uruguay, have offered to mediate. Similar talks in the past have failed, and opposition leaders have said Maduro uses them to stall for time.

Trump Admin Bars PDVSA Deals from US Financial System  -- Venezuela’s state oil company and its customers will be blocked from using the U.S. financial system by late April, as the Trump administration ratchets up the pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to step aside and allow an opposition leader to take his place. The U.S. already announced it would effectively prohibit imports of Venezuelan crude and bar companies from selling cargoes of light oil to the Latin American country, which are needed to keep its pipelines flowing. The latest measures posted on the U.S. Treasury’s website suggest the sanctions could have an even wider impact on the petroleum exports that constitute the nation’s economic lifeline. Any transactions with Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or any entity in which it has a controlling stake, involving U.S. citizens or passing through the country’s financial system must be wound down by April 28, the Treasury said. Americans who work for non-U.S. companies must stop doing any business with PDVSA by March 29. “Thinking about oil as being a dollar-denominated business, if U.S. banks are jittery and concerned about what they can do, that will cause them to decline all transactions,” said Daniel Martin, a partner at law firm Holman Fenwick Willan. “What is happening is that if you’re a non-U.S. entity you’ll be restricted as to what you can do with PDVSA, if that involves a U.S. person or nexus.” The U.S. government’s decision to impose sweeping sanctions on Venezuela’s state-run oil firm already look like a de facto oil embargo on the country. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has made clear it believes Maduro’s re-election was illegitimate and is applying intense economic pressure after recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, tweeted that “bankers, brokers, traders, facilitators, and other businesses” should not deal in any Venezuelan commodities that he alleged were being stolen by the “Maduro mafia.” 

In Venezuela, US Forgets What Century It Is - The Venezuela crisis worsens by the day. Early last week the U.S. sanctioned PdVSA, the state-owned oil company, by sequestering income from U.S. sales in a blocked bank account. On Sunday President Donald Trump confirmed in a television interview that deploying American troops is “an option.”  Little of what Washington has done in the weeks since it recognized an opposition legislator, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela’s “interim president” has any basis in international law. But there is much worse to come and much more at risk if the U.S. follows through with its recently disclosed plans to reshape Latin American politics to its neoliberal liking.  Administration officials now advertise the effort to depose the government of Nicolás Maduro as merely the first step in a plan to reassert American influence among our southerly neighbors. The next two targets, Cuba and Nicaragua, are what John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, calls the continent’s “troika of tyranny.” “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall—in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua,” Bolton said in a not-much-noted speech in Miami late last year. “The troika will crumble.” There is cold comfort to derive from knowing this forecast reflects the single most deranged worldview of anyone now active in the Trump White House.  But therein lie considerable dangers. In effect, Trump and his policy minders intend to revive the Monroe Doctrine, in which the fifth U.S. president effectively declared the Western Hemisphere America’s to manage however it wished. But it is 2019, not 1823, when James Monroe made his case in a State of the Union speech to Congress. It is frequently remarkable how blind Washington is to the limits the 21stcentury imposes on its power, and we are about to watch it crash into two of them. For one thing, the long era of U.S.-cultivated coups— “regime changes” for those who cannot quite face this aspect of America’s conduct abroad—is over. First in Ukraine and a year later in Syria, Moscow has put Washington on notice: Destabilizing other nations in gross violation of international law will no longer go unopposed. One way or another, this will again prove true in Venezuela.

The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader --Juan Guaidó is the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers. While posing as a champion of democracy, he has spent years at the forefront of a violent campaign of destabilization. Before the fateful day of January 22, fewer than one in five Venezuelans had heard of Juan Guaidó. Only a few months ago, the 35-year-old was an obscure character in a politically marginal far-right group closely associated with gruesome acts of street violence. Even in his own party, Guaidó had been a mid-level figure in the opposition-dominated National Assembly, which is now held under contempt according to Venezuela’s constitution. But after a single phone call from from US Vice President Mike Pence, Guaidó proclaimed himself president of Venezuela. Anointed as the leader of his country by Washington, a previously unknown political bottom-dweller was vaulted onto the international stage as the US-selected leader of the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.Echoing the Washington consensus, the New York Times editorial board hailed Guaidó as a “credible rival” to Maduro with a “refreshing style and vision of taking the country forward.” The Bloomberg News editorial board applauded him for seeking “restoration of democracy” and the Wall Street Journal declared him “a new democratic leader.” Meanwhile, Canada, numerous European nations, Israel, and the bloc of right-wing Latin American governments known as the Lima Group recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. While Guaidó seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories. Alongside a cadre of right-wing student activists, Guaidó was cultivated to undermine Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government, destabilize the country, and one day seize power. Though he has been a minor figure in Venezuelan politics, he had spent years quietly demonstrated his worthiness in Washington’s halls of power.

The Real Reason the US Wants Regime Change in VenezuelaThe US is backing another coup attempt in Venezuela. As usual, they claim that their objectives are democracy and freedom. Nothing could be farther from the truth. On January 23rd, 2019 Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself acting president, and called on the armed forces to disobey the government. Very few had ever heard of this man — he had never actually run for president. Guaidó is the head of Venezuela’s national assembly; a position very similar to speaker of the house. Within minutes of this declaration U.S. president Donald Trump took to twitter and recognized Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela; writing off the administration of Nicolas Maduro as “illegitimate”. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed by urging Venezuela’s military to “restore democracy”, affirming that the US would back Mr Guaidó in his attempts to establish a government. They also promised 20 million dollars in “humanitarian” aid. To put this into context, Trump is on record saying he was “Not Going to Rule Out a Military Option“ in Venezuela. This is roughly the equivalent of Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell declaring themselves president, calling on the military to overthrow Trump, and having China pledge to fund and assist the effort.  Now if you happen to be in the camp that wouldn’t actually mind seeing Donald Trump forcibly removed from office, I would encourage you to imagine replacing Trump’s name with Obama, Bush, Merkel or Macron.  You know there have been a lot of protests in France, and the Yellow Vests have demanded that Macron step down… Why don’t we restore democracy in Paris?If Donald Trump can decide on a whim which leaders are legitimate, and which will be deposed-by-tweet, what kind of precedent does that set? And who’s next? The grand irony here, is that the exact same media outlets who blasted Trump as a “illegitimate president whose election is tainted by fraud”, are now calling his regime change ambitions in Venezuela “bold”. Not only have they refused to criticize the move, but in fact they’re hailing this as a “potential foreign policy victory” and “a political win at home”. Let’s get this straight. Trump is an illegitimate president and should be removed from office (because of Russian interference), but you’re perfectly comfortable with that same illegitimate president toppling foreign governments via twitter?

How Chrystia Freeland Organized Donald Trump's Coup In Venezuela --- On Monday, February 5th, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that the 14 countries of the Lima Group — who had actually formed themselves under her direction into this new group on 8 August 2017 in order to overthrow and replace Venezuela’s current President Nicholas Maduro — have now been joined (though she didn’t say to what extent) by the EU, and by 8 other individual countries. She stated:"Today, we have been joined by our Lima Group partners, from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Saint Lucia. We have also been joined in our conversations with our partners from other countries, for this Lima Group ministerial meeting. These include Ecuador, the European Union, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States."She, along with US President Donald Trump, had, all along, been the actual leaders of this international diplomatic effort, to violate the Venezuelan Constitution blatantly, so as to perpetrate the coup in Venezuela. Canada’s Ottawa Citizen headlined on 19 August 2017, “Choosing Danger”, and their reporter Peter Hum interviewed Canada’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Ben Rowswell, who was then retiring from the post. Rowswell said that Venezuelans who wanted an overthrow of their Government would continue to have the full support of Canada’s Government:“‘I think that some of them were sort of anx­ious that it (the em­bassy’s support for hu­man rights and democ­racy in Venezuela) might not con­tinue after I left,’ Rowswell said. ‘I don’t think they have any­thing to worry about be­cause Minister (of For­eign Af­fairs Chrys­tia) Free­land has Venezuela way at the top of her pri­or­ity list.’” Maybe it wasn’t yet at the top of Trump’s list, but it was at the top of hers. And she and Trump together chose whom to replace Venezuela’s President, Nicholas Maduro, by: Juan Guaido. Guaido had secretly courted other Latin American leaders for this, just as Freeland had already done, by means of her secretly forming the Lima Group.

What to Make of the Pentagon’s Internal Civilian Casualties Review, and What Comes Next - Earlier today, Missy Ryan at the Washington Post reported on a major examination of civilian deaths in military operations underway at the Pentagon, including an internal study on civilian casualties that was completed in April but not previously released or even known to the public. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the internal review in late 2017 at the behest of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis following several troubling media reports regarding a rise in U.S.-caused civilian casualties and serious failings of existing investigation and response mechanisms. The internal review, however, was quite narrow in scope and, as a result, does not answer some of the biggest questions about the principal causes of civilian casualties–or their reported increase under this administration. Nor does the report resolve the broad disparity between the Pentagon’s publicly reported civilian casualties’ figures and the estimates of NGOs like Airwars that systematically track casualty reports. But the report’s recommendations, which you can read here, do provide ample basis for the development of a more comprehensive Defense Department policy on civilian casualties, an effort that is underway now at the Pentagon. This review also validates the need for more in-depth internal research into some of the questions that this review leaves unresolved.  Below we analyze some of the key takeaways from the report’s findings and recommendations and then provide a roadmap of what to expect next given the looming statutory reporting deadlines on civilian casualties and the Pentagon’s new effort to craft a comprehensive Department-wide civilian casualties policy.

Rand Paul accuses McConnell and other senators of forming a ‘war caucus’ - Sen. Rand Paul accused his Senate colleagues Monday of being warmongers and serving in a “war caucus” — as fellow Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell led a bid to protest the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. “What is the one thing that brings Republicans and Democrats together?” Paul asked. “War. They love it, the more, the better. Forever war, perpetual war.” McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has led the Senate effort to warn President Donald Trump against a too-hasty retreat from Syria and Afghanistan. McConnell rarely breaks with Trump on any policy. Paul, though, stood squarely with Trump. On Twitter and from the Senate floor, Paul made clear his distaste for McConnell’s amendment that warns that “the precipitous withdrawal of United States’ forces from either country could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.” Paul, a non-interventionist, instead hailed Trump for being “bold enough and strong enough” to end the war in Afghanistan that began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The senator argued there was no longer a military mission for U.S. troops to remain. He called McConnell’s amendment an “insult” to Trump. “How do you leave precipitously after 17 years?” Paul asked. “We are no longer fighting anyone who attacked us on 9-11.” Paul called the amendment — which McConnell authored and is widely viewed as a rebuke to Trump’s plans to withdraw troops from the two countries — a product of a “war caucus” that Paul said includes Republicans and Democrats. Apparently, these warmongers believe you can’t come home quickly or slowly.

The Conflicted Boeing Executive Running Trump’s Pentagon - The way personnel spin through Washington’s infamous revolving door between the Pentagon and the arms industry is nothing new. That door, however, is moving ever faster with the appointment of Patrick Shanahan, who spent 30 years at Boeing, the Pentagon’s second largest contractor, as the Trump administration’s acting secretary of defense. Shanahan had previously been deputy secretary of defense, a typical position in recent years for someone with a significant arms industry background. William Lynn, President Obama’s first deputy secretary of defense, had been a Raytheon lobbyist. Ashton Carter, his successor, was a consultant for the same company. One of President George W. Bush’s deputies, Gordon England, had been president of the General Dynamics Fort Worth Aircraft Company (later sold to Lockheed Martin). But Shanahan is unique. No secretary of defense in recent memory has had such a long career in the arms industry and so little experience in government or the military. For most of that career, in fact, his main focus was winning defense contracts for Boeing, not crafting effective defense policies. While the Pentagon should be focused on protecting the country, the arms industry operates in the pursuit of profit, even when that means selling weapons systems to countries working against American national security interests.The closest analogues to Shanahan were Charlie Wilson, head of General Motors, whom President Dwight Eisenhower appointed to lead the Department of Defense (DoD) more than 60 years ago, and John F. Kennedy’s first defense secretary, Robert McNamara, who ran the Ford Motor Company before joining the administration. Shanahan’s new role raises questions about whether what is in the best interest of Boeing — bigger defense budgets and giant contracts for unaffordable and ineffective weaponry or aircraft — is what’s in the best interest of the public.

 Germany's Snub Of Lockheed’s F-35 Unleashes Dramatic Geopolitical Consequences - Germany has snubbed Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter, knocking the American stealth fighter of out of a tender worth billions of euros, the German Defense Ministry confirmed on Thursday. Germany's military is seeking to replace its aging Tornado warplanes, for which Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and Airbus' NATO Eurofighter Typhoon remain contenders. Should Germany go with the Eurofighter after announcing the F-35 out of the running, which was long rumored to have persistent mechanical and software glitches, this could have huge geopolitical consequences considering current multiplying issues of contention between the US and Germany, not least of which goes to the heart of NATO strategic  nuclear readiness.  A final decision will be made pending delivery of detailed information from from Boeing and Airbus about their respective aircraft, which must be able to carry and deliver US nuclear weapons in accord with Germany's NATO obligations, and which further must be certified by Washington to carry the nukes. This presents a number of potential fault lines that could crack open wide the US-German relationship, and with implications for broader NATO defense, especially related to German Air Force ability to carry American nuclear warheads.  However, it should be noted that Lockheed spokesman Mike Friedman said in an emailed statement published by Defense News that Lockheed has yet to be notified the F-35 has been dropped from consideration:

Some F-35s Could Become Unflyable by 2026  - A handful of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters built during the early days of the program could become unflyable by 2026, after just 2,100 flight hours—another embarrassing piece of news for the troubled program. The culprit is almost certainly the F-35’s design and production plan, which involved starting to build the planes before the final design specifications were set. A fix to keep the aircraft in the air is in the works. According to Aviation Week and Bloomberg News, a static test (non-flying) version of the F-35B—the Marine Corps' vertical takeoff and landing version—has developed multiple structural cracks during durability testing. The static test plane, BH-1, was built to the same standard as early F-35Bs, though redesigns since then have made more recently built planes more durable. Each F-35B is supposed to have a service lifetime of 8,000 hours. But this operational test and evaluation report on the F-35 suggests that early-model F-35Bs could be limited to just 2,100 hours, which means the fighters would start aging out by 2026. The 8,000-hour life span is about typical for combat aircraft, with the F-15 and F-16 fighters originally rated for 8,000 and 9,000 hours, respectively. As is the case with many F-35 problems and cost overruns, you can blame the Pentagon’s use of "concurrency" to field the F-35. Under the concurrency concept, the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin started building the jets before the development process was finished. This was done to warm up production lines and supply chains and get the aircraft into the hands of pilots who could start training early.

"Surprise Decision": America's Top General Not Consulted Prior To Trump’s Syria Exit Order - The U.S. military commander overseeing American troops in the Middle East told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that he was not consulted ahead of President Donald Trump’s surprise decision in December to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. “I was not consulted,” said U.S. General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, while acknowledging Trump had publicly expressed a desire to leave Syria at some point. The disclosure came as Votel warned about an enduring threat from the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq that he says will persist following a U.S. withdrawal.However, Trump’s withdrawal decision has been under scrutiny since his announcement in December, with several politicians, including many Republicans, criticizing the move.Meanwhile, the United States has shored up its presence in Syria ahead of the planned draw down, transferring about 150 trucks and armoured vehicles and mobile generators to northeast Syria from neighboring Iraq, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency has reported, citing local sources.According to Anadolu’s sources, the vehicles made their way into Kurdish-controlled areas of northeast Syria on Monday night, crossing the Simelka checkpoint along the Syrian-Iraqi border, and arriving at a US Armed Forces logistics center in Syria’s Kharab Ishq and Sirrin on Tuesday. Unconfirmed video footage of the transfer of the vehicles has been published on social media. According to Turkish sources: “The US is continuing to assist the separatist terrorist PKK organization in northern Syria. Video of the latest convoy sent. No camouflage. They’re out in the open now.”

Trump’s ‘Eyeball-to-Eyeball’ Orders to the Generals on Syria -- Few other foreign policy decisions of this administration have sparked more criticism than Donald Trump’s announcement that he will remove U.S. troops from Syria. Even as he declared last night during his State of the Union address that “as a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach…. Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he drew a tepid response from Congress. The planned applause line fell discernibly flat. Perhaps that’s not a surprise, given that the withdrawal has been condemned by leaders from across the political spectrum—including from Trump’s own party. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham called keeping troops in Syria “vital to our national security interests.” Senator Marco Rubio described the decision as “a major blunder.” Nebraskan Ben Sasse said that Iran, ISIS, and Hezbollah were “high-fiving” the move. Finally, last Thursday, Republican leader Mitch McConnell orchestrated a resolution condemning the withdrawal—which passed the Senate in a lopsided vote. Indeed, the reaction to Trump’s decision was so overwhelmingly negative that Washington pundits speculated that it was only a matter of time before Trump “walked back” the decision by slowing the withdrawal—a deferential nod, it was said, to wiser and more seasoned foreign policy veterans.  nIn fact, that not only hasn’t happened, the president has dug in his heels, issuing eyeball-to-eyeball orders to military commanders that are anything but ambiguous.  The first such order, according to a senior officer of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, came during Trump’s surprise Christmas visit to the al-Asad Airbase in Iraq. Among the team that met with Trump was U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman and Lieutenant General Paul LaCamera. Of the two, LaCamera was the more important, as he is the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the military organization established in October 2014 to “degrade and defeat” ISIS. After an extended question and answer session with the press on December 26, Trump was privately briefed on the anti-ISIS effort by LaCamera, who told the president that only a few pockets of ISIS militants remained in Syria’s Euphrates Valley. Trump praised the effort, but then issued his order. “I want us out of Syria,” the Centcom officer with whom I spoke quoted Trump as saying. “There wasn’t anything ambiguous about it,” the Centcom senior officer added. “There were no qualifiers, no conditionals, and so far as I know, nothing about that conversation has changed.” Put another way, while any number of civilian Pentagon officials speculate that the military has been given leeway in implementing the president’s directive, that is not the understanding among senior Centcom officers. “Nothing has changed since that meeting,” I was told. “We’re out.”

Syria Sitrep – Trump Says U.S. Will Leave But Pentagon Keeps Adding Forces  - The U.S. retreat from northeast Syria is still not happening. In yesterdays interview with CBS President Trump again said the troops would leave, but the the Pentagon is doing the opposite of retreating.  The Islamic State forces north of the Euphrates are left to holding some 4 square kilometer of ground near the border to Iraq. The few hundred ISIS fighters still alive could be killed in a day or two which would then be the right time for the U.S. to leave as President Trump announced two month ago. But the U.S. military keeps increasing its troop numbers and supplies in the area. During the last two month the number of U.S. soldiers in northeast Syria rose by nearly 50%. Instead of the officially acknowledged 2,000 there are now at least 3,000 U.S. soldiers in northeast Syria. New weapons and equipment arrive every day. Additionally, the Syrian Observatory reports, the U.S. is bringing in a significant number of TOW anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns even though there is no longer an apparent use for these: [T]he Syrian Observatory has documented since the US president’s decision to withdraw until the 3rd of February 2018, the entry of 1130 trucks at least, carrying equipment, ammunition, weapons, military, and logistic equipment to bases of the International Coalition east of Euphrates, .... The process of entering the trucks also comes in conjunction with the arrival of hundreds of soldiers of the US Special Forces to the Syrian territory in a specific and special operation, the goal of which is to arrest the remaining leaders and members of the “Islamic State” Organization who are trapped in the remaining 4 kilometers for it east of Euphrates, ..Today the New York Times finally confirms the increased troop numbers the Observatory reported weeks ago: The American military has started withdrawing some equipment, but not yet troops, officials said on Sunday. The number of American troops in Syria has actually increased in recent weeks to more than 3,000 — a standard practice to bring in additional security and logistics troops temporarily to help protect and carry out the process of pulling out — three Defense Department officials said. The explanation makes little sense. One does not need 1,000 additional troops to secure and remove the stocks of a 2,000 strong force deployment in mostly friendly territory.

U.S. Asks More Countries To Occupy Northeast Syria - Monday's piece about the situation in Syria included a judgment that now seems to be wrong. The Trump administration planned to replace U.S. troops in northeast Syria with those of various allies.  James Jeffrey, the neoconservative U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, thought up an elaborate scheme to 'protect the Kurds' and to secure the borders to Turkey with the help of allied troops. A week later the Wall Street Journal reported that the crazy scheme failed to win support from any of the relevant parties. The Kurds rejected it and Britain and France declined to send troops on a never ending mission between the waring Turkish and Kurdish sides. The assertions that the scheme failed may have been premature. There are signs that it is still been worked on. Today Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked to foreign ministers and officials of the U.S. coalition against ISIS. He made a remark that seems to announce a request to these allies to send their troops to replace the U.S. forces in northeast Syria:  Pompeo on Wednesday reassured allies that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria was not “the end of America’s fight” and called on them to recommit to permanently defeating Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.  “Our mission is unwavering, but we need your help to accomplish it, just as we’ve had over the past months and years,” Pompeo said, “To that end, we ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue.”  Pompeo also wants (vid) the coalition to "removal of all Iranian led forces from Syria." He also asked for hundreds of millions fro Iraq. One of the participants of the meeting was the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a rather daft member of the formerly social democratic party. As he traveled to Washington DC he lamented (in German) about a "vacuum" that would be created when the U.S. troops withdraw

As Trump mulls Afghanistan pullout, latest watchdog report paints grim picture of progress there -- As President Trump considers pulling all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, and with the Senate coming together this week to rebuke such a plan, a watchdog report released this week showcases the fragility of the reconstruction effort.The U.S. government has spent at least $132 billion on Afghanistan since 2002 to stabilize a country torn apart by four decades of war, according to the latest report by the Defense Department’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.The SIGAR findings released this week echo similarly dismal findings in past reports.Despite all the money spent and lives lost there, only about half the total number of districts in Afghanistan are under the control of the government, with eight falling out of Kabul’s control since 2017, according to the SIGAR report.  Billions have been spent to build a competent Afghan army and police force, with U.S. officials over the years promoting a message that “as they stand up, we will stand down.” But the SIGAR report finds that the Afghan security forces are at their lowest levels since 2015, when U.S. forces changed the Afghan mission’s name to “Resolute Support.”

No Easy Exit for Trump From Long U.S. Wars - For years, the U.S. has been embroiled in the fight against Islamist militant groups, snared in lengthy conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. And for years, it has been trying to find ways out. That push-pull – the need to confront violent insurgent movements set against the desire to pull troops out of protracted and costly fights – has dogged successive U.S. administrations, including that of Donald Trump. The president has made clear he wants out of Syria. Yesterday, he insisted that Islamic State was almost defeated, despite evidence to the contrary and pushback from his own administration against a quick withdrawal that could leave a power vacuum in a volatile region. For Trump, the focus is on putting a noose around Iran. Even there, geopolitical realities intrude. The Iranian regime has used its backing of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria to cement itself as a key power in the country. European allies are also refusing to join Trump in isolating the Islamic Republic. Many are expected to send only mid-level representation to a summit in Poland on the Middle East next week that the U.S. views as a platform to rally support against Iran. As prior presidents discovered, Trump is finding it’s harder for the U.S. to get out of a fight in the Middle East than it was to get in.

US intelligence agents were reportedly warned not to tell Trump findings that contradict his public comments -Some intelligence officers have been warned not to give President Donald Trump assessments that contradict his public comments, according to a new report from TIME.  Multiple intelligence officers told TIME that Trump often has trouble paying attention to, or wholly disregards assessments from agents. The officers said they frequently try to hold Trump's attention by using visual aids and repeating his name and title often, and they said Trump grows angry when he's told information that contradicts his views.Trump's disregard for US intelligence gathered across several key agencies is also reflected in his public contradictions and angry hits out at agents who deliver security assessments that do not agree with his past rhetoric. Most recently, Trump lashed out at the media after a key intelligence assessment that undermined most of his administration's rhetoric about global threats to the US. Last week, an upcoming report from the Pentagon reportedly said ISIS fighters in Syria could regain control of a sizeable region in six to 12 months squarely contradicted Trump's expressed reasons behind his decision for a rapid troop withdrawal from Syria.Trump lashed out at the US intelligence community on Twitter, questioning their abilities and attempting to discredit the annual threat assessment. "The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!" Trump tweeted, adding: "Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!"

What the CIA Tells Congress (Or Doesn’t) about Covert Operations: The Barr/Cheney/Bush Turning Point for CIA Notifications to the Senate -- Attorney-General nominee William P. Barr figured prominently in arguments to limit CIA responsibility to provide notification to Congress about covert actions during the 1980s, according to a review of declassified materials published today by the National Security Archive at the George Washington University. As the Iran-Contra scandal played out, Barr, who held senior posts at the Justice Department, provisionally supported the idea of the president’s “virtually unfettered discretion” in foreign policy and downplayed Congress’s power of the purse, asserting it was “by no means limitless.”  The issue of notification of Congress about imminent clandestine activities was at the heart of the Iran-Contra scandal when President Ronald Reagan and CIA Director William Casey specifically ordered that lawmakers be kept in the dark about the infamous, covert arms-for-hostages deals with Iran.  Barr was by no means alone in pushing these views, the documents show. Other notable proponents during the Iran-Contra aftermath included then-Congressman Dick Cheney and John R. Bolton, who was also at the Justice Department.  After Cheney became defense secretary he continued to press for extraordinarily broad Executive Branch authority, advising then-President George H. W. Bush to veto the Senate’s intelligence appropriations bill on the grounds it “attacked” presidential prerogatives – resulting in the only known such veto since the CIA’s creation.

Trump is Right: The Intelligence Community Needs to ‘Go Back to School’ - Scott Ritter, The American Conservative -  Earlier this week, the collective leadership of the United States intelligence community briefed Congress on the Worldwide Threat Assessment Report. In doing so, they provided testimony that seemed to contradict virtually every aspect of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, including the decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, the threat posed by Iran, North Korean denuclearization, and improving relations with Russia. The president, in typical fashion, lashed out, criticizing the intelligence community’s collective analysis, which predictably elicited criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. They accused him of undermining public confidence in the pronouncements of the intelligence agencies and damaging national security. In this case, Trump is right and his detractors are wrong. The current crop of national intelligence chiefs are cut from the same cloth as their predecessors. They are careerists who have risen to the top not through their analytical or operational talents, but through their willingness to conform to a system that is designed not to challenge conventional thinking—especially when such thinking sustains policies that have been given the imprimatur of the entrenched establishment. Rare is the politician who is well enough versed in the minutia of history and foreign affairs to generate original thinking—or bold enough to challenge the status quo on the grounds that it isn’t working.  Among those who challenge the status quo is Donald Trump, a political maverick who, rightly or wrongly, has sought to challenge the conventional dogma in ways no previous politician ever has. There is no better illustration of the intellectual corruption of the intelligence community than its performance in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. One of the most damning indictments of the intellectual vacuum within the intelligence community comes from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s examination of the failures that led to the erroneous conclusions over Iraq’s WMDs. That report found that not once did the intelligence community question the underlying assumption that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction, despite no hard intelligence sustaining that assumption. Instead, every assessment started by assuming that Iraq possessed those weapons. The same mindset permeates the intelligence community’s analysis today. To understand why, consider the current crop of intelligence community leaders.

A bill to hobble OPEC is advancing in Congress. Trump's support is the question - Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much these days, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers is finding common cause in legislation that would make life very difficult for the oil producer group OPEC.Legislation that aims to prevent the 14-nation OPEC from coordinating production — and influencing oil prices — is once again advancing on Capitol Hill. On Friday, at least one senior Trump administration official expressed support for the legislation, signaling a potential chip in White House opposition to the measure, which has held firm for the last two decades.On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee passed the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, commonly known as NOPEC, clearing the bill for a vote before the full House of Representatives. The same day, Democrats Patrick Leahy and Amy Klobuchar and Republicans Chuck Grassley and Mike Lee introduced NOPEC legislation in the Senate. The bills would essentially make it illegal for foreign nations to work together to limit fossil fuel supplies and set prices. They would authorize the U.S. Justice Department to sue oil producers for antitrust violations by stripping foreign actors of sovereign immunity protections.

 US-China trade talks to resume as deadline nears - A top-level US delegation will travel to Beijing next week to meet with key members of the Chinese government. The talks could determine whether the Trump administration will increase the 10 percent tariff it has imposed on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent after March 1, 2019.  The US delegation is being headed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. It will meet with Chinese officials led by Vice Premier Liu He. The discussions will take up issues that were unresolved from the talks in Washington at the end of last month. They centre on the US demand for “structural” changes in the Chinese economy and the mechanisms for the “enforcement” of any agreement. The changes being demanded by the US involve action to halt alleged “forced technology transfers” from US companies operating in China, which Beijing denies takes place, as well as “protection” of US intellectual property rights, and the cutting of state subsidies to Chinese industries which Washington says are “market distorting.” While there was a degree of positive “spin” placed on last month’s discussions by the Trump administration—not least in order to ensure that financial markets were not spooked by the prospect of a collapse in the negotiations—little progress has been reported on the key US demands. Yesterday, markets fell on the news that Trump would not be meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping before the March 1 deadline expires. In his remarks on the economy, Trump said “one priority is paramount—reversing decades of calamitous trade policies. We are now making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end.” He declared that he had “great respect” for China’s President Xi Jinping and that they were “now working on a deal.” The “deal,” he stressed however, “must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit and protect American jobs.”

China Confident Trump Will Drop Tariffs Even Without Concessions - With just three weeks left until the deadline for the US and China to reach a trade deal, there has been remarkably little progress: after several months of talks, the two sides are still far apart on major issues, as Larry Kudlow admitted earlier on Thursday, even as new multibillion-dollar U.S. tariffs are set to kick in next month if no accord is achieved. According to the WSJ  - with US negotiators set to meet their counterparts in Beijing next week in an effort to strike a comprehensive accord that President Trump insists include "deep structural changes" to China’s economy - US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who are heading the talks next week, "lack the usual essentials for a comprehensive deal" - not only do the two sides not have a draft agreement that specifies where they agree and disagree, but, as reported earlier, Trump said he was unlikely to agree to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping before the March 1 deadline to hammer out final compromises, contrary to prior, more optimistic expectations. Absent an impromptu meeting, Trump and Xi are scheduled to meet at the G20 summit in Japan at the end of June, by which time hundreds of billions in new tariffs would have kicked in. “Normally at this stage of negotiations, you’d be exchanging drafts of a joint text,” said Christopher Adams, a former Trump Treasury Department official and trade negotiator who is now at the Covington & Burling law firm. “If it’s all about something enforceable and verifiable, it needs to be memorialized [in a document]. They seem to be some ways yet from having that essential element.” The lack of any progress is a growing concern to American business leaders who fear the economic and market consequences of a failure to reach a deal, and are pushing both sides to compromise. Among those pushing for deal is Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who the WSJ reports has been phoning Mr. Trump and his senior advisers to warn that the failure to strike a deal will undermine the economy and roil markets, which have increasingly priced in an amicable end to U.S.-China economic hostilities. To buttress his case, Schwarzman has told Trump that uncertainty about China is weighing on business investment and consumer confidence, depressing the US economy. Trump’s outside advisers remain convinced the two sides will reach a deal, even if it is a limited pact that involves mainly purchases and pledges China has already made to open the auto, financial services and other markets on the gradual path. That may prove to be too optimistic, however, because China appears to be convinced that Trump will cave no matter what.

Any Western country using Huawei or other Chinese tech makers in major projects will risk consequences, US ambassador warns - Any Western country allowing equipment from Huawei Technologies or other Chinese makers to be used in critical infrastructure projects will face the risk of US countermeasures, the US envoy to the European Union said. The warning by ambassador Gordon Sondland came after a report in business daily Handelsblatt that the German government wants to avoid excluding products offered by Huawei from the next-generation 5G network in Germany. However, the Funke group of newspapers reported later on Friday that Germany’s federal cybersecurity agency is investigating whether Huawei Technologies could be a security threat after warnings from other countries. Funke cited Economy Minister Peter Altmaier as saying the German government did not have information on whether Huawei could be a security threat, adding the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) had been activated. Altmaier also said talks on security standards for the mobile network were ongoing, adding that Germany needed to protect itself “in all sensitive areas, from hospitals to telecommunication.”

Trump To Sign Order Banning Chinese Telecom Equipment Next Week - What is a quick, efficient way for Trump to signal to China, ahead of the upcoming March 1 deadline to reach a trade deal with Beijing, that contrary to media speculation that the US president will "drop tariffs without any concessions" from Beijing, he will do no such thing? One way is by signing an executive order banning Chinese telecom equipment from US wireless networks just a few days before March 1. And, according to Politico, that's exactly what Trump plans on doing, right before a major industry conference at the end of February, and also just before the March 1 deal deadline.According to three sources, the administration plans to release the directive, part of its broader effort to protect the U.S. from cyber threats, before MWC Barcelona, formerly known as Mobile World Congress, which takes place Feb. 25-28; the actual signing of the long-delayed order may take place as soon as next week.“There’s a big push to get it out before MWC,” said an industry source familiar with the matter, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly.By signing the order ahead of the world’s largest conference for the wireless industry, the White House hopes "to send a signal that future contracts for cutting-edge technology must prioritize cybersecurity." The order will surely also further roil the Trump administration’s already tense relationship with Beijing, especially if the U.S. push erodes Chinese firms’ significant European market share.The reason behind the White House's push is because with many countries eager to deploy next-generation 5G wireless networks to power the rapidly pr oliferating internet of things, Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE are aggressively pushing to build these networks — at a lower cost than virtually all of their competitors. And so, with these 5G build-outs looming, Trump admin officials want “to move the needle” with their security messaging, said the source close to the administration.

Why 5G, a battleground for US and China, is also a fight for military supremacy - Apart from its tremendous commercial benefits, 5G – the fifth generation of mobile communication – is revolutionising military and security technology, which is partly why it has become a focal point in the United States’ efforts to contain China’s rise as a tech power and its allegations against Chinese companies.The future landscape of warfare and cybersecurity could be fundamentally changed by 5G. But experts say 5G is more susceptible to hacking than previous networks, at a time of rising security concerns and US-China tensions on various interconnected fronts that include trade, influence in the Asia-Pacific region and technological rivalry.These tensions provide the backdrop to controversy surrounding Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment supplier.Long before the Chinese company was indicted in the US this week on multiple charges including stealing trade secrets and violating US sanctions – charges it denies – US intelligence voiced concerns that Huawei’s telecommunications equipment could contain “back doors” for Chinese espionage.  Huawei has repeatedly denied these allegations, but the controversies have underlined 5G’s growing importance and stepped up the technological arms race between China and the US. To most people, the next-generation networks, which will be at least 20 times faster than the most advanced networks today, may just mean faster downloads of movies or smoother streaming. But they have much bigger potential than that.Whereas existing networks connect people to people, the next generation will connect a vast network of sensors, robots and autonomous vehicles through sophisticated artificial intelligence.  Meanwhile, though, it is being identified by many military experts as the cornerstone of future military technology.

 Farmers nearing crisis push back on Trump trade policies - President Donald Trump’s trade war is magnifying some of the toughest farm conditions since the crisis that bankrupted thousands of farmers in the 1980s — and threatening a constituency crucial to his reelection hopes. The president’s trade policies have sent U.S. agricultural exports plunging, exacerbating already difficult economic conditions facing farmers. Average farm income has fallen to near 15-year lows under Trump, and in some areas of the country, farm bankruptcies are soaring. The fate of the farm economy and rural America is fused to Trump’s political future. Farmers and ranchers make up the heart of his base, and their support in battleground Midwestern states like Iowa and Wisconsin could help determine the 2020 presidential election. Although Trump’s standing with those groups generally remains strong, cracks are starting to show. Hundreds of farmers and business representatives are in Washington this week to pressure lawmakers and the Trump administration to end the trade war by describing the hardships they are facing. “A lot of farmers are going to give the president the benefit of the doubt, and have to date. But the longer the trade war goes on, the more that dynamic changes,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, one of the groups organizing the fly-in. There are signs that agriculture’s compounding challenges are already pushing some producers over the edge — at least in certain regions and sectors.

They're Running Out Of Options - Farm Bankruptcies Surge To 10-Year High As Trade War Bites -  The Farm Belt helped cement President Trump's historic electoral triumph over Hillary Clinton. But even before Trump started his trade war with China nearly one year ago, Trump's protectionist bent has added to the collective woes of farmers, who were already struggling with low prices for corn, soy beans and other agricultural commodities. China's decision to purchase millions of soybeans (after orders ground to halt late last year following another round of tariffs) offered some relief to soybean producers who were teetering on the brink even with President Trump's farm bailout money in hand. But even if negotiations result in a lasting agreement, it might not be enough to save hundreds of American family farms from collapsing into bankruptcy, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a story published Wednesday.  According to a WSJ analysis of federal data, the number of farmers filing for bankruptcy has climbed to its highest level in a decade... ...driven by a lasting slump in agricultural commodity prices due in large part to the rise of rival producers like Brazil and Russia. Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier.

The U.S. Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis In America As Farmers Struggle - American farmers are battling several issues when it comes to producing our food.  Regulated low prices, tariffs, and the inability to export have all cut into the salaries of farmers.  They are officially in crisis mode, just like the United States’ food supply.  “The farm economy’s in pretty tough shape,” said John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation.“When you look out on the horizon of things to come, you start to see some cracks.”Average farm income has fallen to near 15-year lows under president Donald Trump’s policies, and in some areas of the country, farm bankruptcies are soaring.  And with slightly higher interest rates, many don’t see borrowing more money as an option.  “A lot of farmers are going to give the president the benefit of the doubt, and have to date. But the longer the trade war goes on, the more that dynamic changes,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, according to Politico.With no end to the disastrous trade war in sight, many farmers have traveled to Washington to share their plights with the president himself hoping that he’ll end the trade war that’s exacerbating an already precarious food crisis.  Farmers make up a fairly large chunk of president Trump’s base, and an unwillingness to put food production in the United States first could be detrimental for Trump reelection chances in 2020. It could also be the beginning of a catastrophic food shortage. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis warned back in November of rising Chapter 12 bankruptcies used by family farmers to restructure massive amounts of debt. The Fed said that the strain of low commodity prices “is starting to show up not just in bottom-line profitability, but in simple viability.” The increase in bankruptcies was driven by woes in Wisconsin’s dairy sector, which shrunk by about 1,200 operations, or 13 percent, from 2016 to October 2018. “You’ve had farms that have gone out of business, that have gone bankrupt because of this trade war,” said Kuehl of Farmers for Free Trade.  “There’s a lot of farmers going through tough conversations right now with their lenders.”

Trump’s border wall plans have a glaring hole in them - Texas Border Force officials have discovered an enormous and well-hidden tunnel that could have made the proposed US/Mexican border wall redundant.It seems an obvious problem. One with a long pedigree of solutions.When it comes to castle sieges, prison escapes or even rabbit-proof fences, the solution to finding a wall you cannot climb is to go under it.And Mexican smugglers have long since cottoned on to this idea, even though President Trump’s enormous border wall hasn’t even been built yet.Border Patrol agents have discovered a tunnel in the process of construction under the border near Hidalgo, Texas.Any border wall development would have gone right over the top of it. Its entrance was concealed under brush on the nine-metre embankment of the Rio Grande River. It is almost impossible to see, unless on the river itself.It was such a disturbingly devious idea, US border control agents felt compelled to show President Trump pictures of the earthworks when he toured the area. The tunnel entrance has been dug on US National Parks and Wildlife property — a recent victim of the Trump administratin’s government shutdown. It was a move taken in protest over the lack of funding approved for his border wall idea. According to KRGV/CNN, the president of the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District 3, Orthal Brand Jr. — which has a pumping station close to the tunnel — says his work teams are unable to get their heavy equipment down the steep embankment to fill in the entrance.

Dem senator requests investigation into hiring of undocumented immigrants at Trump golf clubs - Sen. Bob Menendez (D) on Monday requested an investigation into the hiring of undocumented immigrants at President Trump's golf clubs, including one in Menendez's home state of New Jersey. Dozens of undocumented immigrants have been fired from Trump properties in recent months following reports of the Trump Organization hiring people without proper legal status. Menendez met with four of these fired employees and then sent a request to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray for the matter to be investigated. “Given the serious nature of these allegations, I bring this to your attention and request that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conduct an appropriate investigation into the matter,” Menendez wrote. “Furthermore, because the individuals I met with and others that may step forward appear to be potential witnesses to a crime and may provide the evidence necessary to conduct an appropriate investigation, I urge you to consider requesting or supporting authorization for them to remain in the U.S. during your necessary investigation.” “Additionally, law enforcement agencies working with a potential witness to a crime have tools at their disposal to assist in their investigation and may request — or support requests — for immigration or other authorized status, such as continued presence, deferred action, U or T visas, or any other appropriate relief,” he concluded.

 'Crimes Against Humanity': Abuses Persist at Immigrant Detention Centers as DHS Hands Out 'Waivers' to Contractors - In another sign the Trump administration is violating the rights of immigrants, a poorly regulated system of handing out "waivers" to contractors which run immigrant detention facilities has allowed many abuses at the facilities to persist for years, according to a damning new report by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).The report found that federal immigration authorities are failing to police both private and public contractors which run detention facilities currently holding more than 45,000 immigrants each day. Instead of revoking contracts, fining the businesses and public entities which are operating the centers, or taking other actions to ensure abuses don't continue once they're discovered, DHS is simply granting waivers to the contractors for violations including failure to report sexual assaults in their facilities."ICE may be indefinitely allowing contract facilities to circumvent detention standards intended to assure the safety, security, and rights of detainees." —Office of the Inspector General, DHSThe report highlighted one contractor that was given a waiver allowing staffers to use tear gas on immigrants in their custody, while another was permitted to house immigrants with violent criminal histories near people who had not committed violent crimes—a practice that the federal government prohibits "to protect detainees who may be at risk of victimization or assault."Under the waiver system, the report read, "ICE may be indefinitely allowing contract facilities to circumvent detention standards intended to assure the safety, security, and rights of detainees."The inspector general examined conditions and abuses that had taken place at 106 detention facilities between October 2015 and June 2018, learning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had issued only two fines to contractors for mismanagement—despite recording more than 14,000 "deficiencies" during that time. The penalties amounted to only $3.9 million total—about .13 percent of the more than $3 billion ICE was paying contractors to run detention facilities during that period.

Trump’s hateful border wall fantasy would do nothing to address the real immigration crisis - For well over a month, President Donald Trump has demanded Congress pass appropriations legislation to fund the government that includes $5.7 billion for his administration to build additional miles of wall and fencing on the southern border. The president claims that the result of building a border wall will be that “CRIME WILL FALL,” and is threatening to declare a national state of emergency in order to get the funds he wants to begin construction.When Democrats refused to give in to the president’s demands in December 2018, he caused the longest government shutdown in history before ultimately signing legislation on January 25 to reopen the government for three weeks, until February 15. This is intended to give a bipartisan committee of members of Congress time to agree to fiscal year 2019 appropriations legislation that includes new border security funds. Today the president is scheduled to give his annual State of the Union speech, and it’s been widely reported he will again threaten to declare a state of emergency to get what he wants—or even make a definitive statement about an emergency declaration.The president’s focus on the wall and border security is misguided, and does little to address today’s realities on the border. There the U.S. immigration system certainly faces challenges, but the president isn’t proposing valid solutions. Instead, he’s trying to scare the public by muddling the issue with alarmist language and false statistics. The reality at the border is this: The overall size of the unauthorized immigrant population has declined to its lowest level in a decade. And while a wall is mainly designed to keep out unauthorized border crossers, the number of migrants being apprehended for attempting to enter the United States without authorization is lowerthan it has been in decades. The numbers that are growing, however, are the share of total apprehensions by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that consist of families and unaccompanied minors, as well as the number of families who present themselves voluntarily before CBP. Many then go on to request asylum once in CBP custody.

US infrastructure is crumbling, and it needs lots of federal money to fix it: Civil engineer group - Elon Musk has tunnel vision, and its giving several cities similar ideas. The Tesla CEO and entrepreneur sees commuters using a system of high-speed tunnels below ground in Los Angeles and other cities to beat the traffic. In a recent interview with CNBC, the head of the American Society of Civil Engineers agreed that the ambitious idea is no pipe dream. "It's absolutely viable. It's the infrastructure of the future," ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith said about The Boring Company's proposed underground transportation network."There's a lot of innovation that's sustainable that we can use, hyperloop and tunneling is one example, " Smith told CNBC's "On The Money" in a recent interview.But while he saw the opportunity for successful future projects, the ASCE gave the United States a current overall grade of "D+" in its most recent "Infrastructure Report Card" in 2017. Smith acknowledged that a "D+" is a "very lousy score."The poor grade "reflects unfortunately, a failure to invest in our infrastructure in the United States. We've been relying on the work that was done by former generations," he said. "And there's an investment that we need to make to make sure we're protecting future generations going forward."Smith explained the ASCE has a panel of civil engineers who analyze federal government data in 16 categories, releasing the "report card" every four years."We're looking at aviation, bridges, roads, transit, dams, levees, schools, parks, solid waste, drinking water, waste water," he told CNBC. "Unfortunately, 12 out of 16 categories are in the "D" range, which is "poor" or "at-risk", which is really reflecting a lot of our infrastructure being at the end of its useful life."  Smith said the ASCE calculated a $2 trillion dollar infrastructure funding gap between 2015 and 2025. He added that about half of that is for surface transportation, which includes transit, roads, bridges and rail. In the ASCE's report card, transit scored a "D –", the nation's roads rated a "D", and bridges got a "C+",  "The highest grade right now is in the rail category. And I think that reflects freight rail with a lot of private investment," Smith stated. "But on the passenger side, I think that's really bringing that score down. We need a lot of investment there."

Dems face internal battle over BDS bill - Legislation designed to shield Israel from boycotts is dividing House Democrats, pitting those who want to protect their Middle Eastern ally against liberal lawmakers voicing concerns that the very concept tramples the right to free speech. The issue could pose a dilemma for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who's seeking to keep her party united in the face of blistering attacks from Republicans hoping to use the controversial proposal to divide Democrats — and drive Jewish voters to the GOP’s side. The Senate this week is expected to pass an Israel anti-boycott provision — championed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and tucked into a larger foreign policy package — sending it to the House, where pro-Israel Democrats are eager to consider the issue, even if they oppose the specifics of Rubio's bill. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a staunch Israel ally, said he supports the concept but would prefer a Democratic alternative, sponsored in the last Congress by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). The Rubio bill will be sent to the Financial Services Committee, headed by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), and Hoyer said he's “look[ing] forward to the committee's recommendation.” Yet many Democrats have opposed even the Cardin bill, siding with human rights advocates in arguing the legislation infringes on First Amendment protections. The issue sets the powerful Israel lobby against the American Civil Liberties Union — and could pose a headache for Pelosi and Democratic leaders seeking a balance between protecting an ally abroad and safeguarding free speech at home. “I hope we don't take it up,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), former head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I think restrictions on a citizen’s ability of organization to be able to influence a policy — whether we agree or disagree with it — should be protected.” Rubio’s bill, slated for final passage this week, would empower states to penalize companies that participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement — an international drive designed to press Israel on human rights issues related to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The campaign is particularly focused on companies doing business in disputed territories occupied by Israel, including the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

5 key takeaways from Donald Trump's State of the Union - President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night, a speech that was, in equal measure, surprisingly bipartisan and deeply divisive -- reflective of the deep contradictions that sit at the heart of his presidency. Within just a few paragraphs, Trump swerved from calls for unity and shared victory to blasting Democrats on their opposition to his proposed border wall. In one breath, he touted the low unemployment rate. In the next, he insisted that if Democrats wanted peace and prosperity, then they could not carry on "partisan investigations." It was vintage Trump -- in all its incongruity, unpredictability, exaggeration and occasional moments of surprising grace. I watched the speech (all 82 minutes of it) and took notes. My initial takeaways are below.

  • 1. Trump started on a bipartisan note, but ...  In advance of the speech, administration officials pushed the idea that Trump would extend an olive branch to Democrats and urge the two warring parties to come together for the good of the country.And he started on just that note. "There is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage to seize it," the President said in the speech's earlier moments. "Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country."
  • 2. Peace ≠ "partisan investigations" - The line likely to be quoted most -- especially by Trump's critics -- from the speech was this one: "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn't work that way." The logic here, while strained, goes like this: If you want economic prosperity, you can't investigate the President. One doesn't work with the other.
  • 3. Women rule.  It was hard to miss the large number of Democratic women sitting together on the House floor wearing white in honor of the suffragette movement. (A record number of women were elected to Congress in the 2018 election.)And that group of women provided the most surprising -- even for Trump -- moment of the night. In touting his economic successes, Trump delivered these lines:"All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before -- and exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before."He was repeatedly interrupted by cheers as the women -- almost exclusively Democrats -- slapped five and hugged to celebrate their momentous accomplishment. "You weren't supposed to do that," Trump joked.
  • 4. The case for a national emergency on the border was made. Trump pointedly did not say that he would declare a national emergency on the southern border if Congress could not come to some sort of compromise before February 15. But he laid the groundwork for why his hand would be forced if and when the time comes. "The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all Americans," Trump said at one point. At another, he described the "very dangerous southern border."
  • 5. The reaction shot story. Part of the SOTU is the reactions from the opposition party. And with Trump in the White House and the 2020 Democratic race already in full swing, it was prime season for reaction shots of Democrats deeply disgruntled about Trump's pronouncements. There was the eye roll from New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). The mouth-twisting dismayfrom California Sen. Kamala Harris (D). Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's seeming expletive at a Trump claim. And then there was Speaker Nancy Pelosi's golf clap for Trump -- a slapping of hands together that has already become a meme.

The 'Pelosi Clap,' standing ovations and that wonky tie: The world reacts to Trump's State of the Union -- President Donald Trump's 2019 State of the Union address got the world talking with social media reacting to key takeaways and memorable moments during the speech. Trump announced a second North Korea summit for the end of February and re-affirmed his commitment to building a border wall. He also called for an end to investigations into his administration and for bipartisan cooperation.Soon enough, Twitter was ablaze with comments about the speech. But, as ever, the public was quickly picking up on the minutiae, including the president's "wildly crooked tie" and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's paper shuffling.  Trump also talked about the economic recovery in the U.S., prompting various chants of "USA USA," and said the only things that could stop it were "foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations."He wasn't specific, but his words were taken to mean the inquiries launched by Democrats into the Trump administration and the ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the campaign, which both Russia and Trump deny.  That prompted a wry smile from Democrat Pelosi, who was sitting behind Trump and next to Vice President Mike Pence.  In fact, throughout the address, Pelosi's facial expressions and reactions (which were, as Trump's political rival, naturally negative ones) were widely seized upon by viewers. But it was her seemingly mocking applause at the end of Trump's speech that prompted a Twitter storm, with the "Pelosi clap" quickly trending and becoming a meme.While many Twitter users loved Pelosi's body language of barely contained disdain and disbelief at Trump's claims, others tried to guess what she was reading when seen looking though various pieces of paper. She was criticized by some as disrespectful.

We may finally see Trump’s tax returns, and Republicans are panicking - Washington is terribly divided these days, but there is at least one thing everyone — the Trump administration, members of Congress from both parties, journalists, cabdrivers — clearly agrees on: If the public ever got to see President Trump’s tax returns, it would be utterly disastrous for him. Though they haven’t done it yet, Democrats are planning to utilize a law allowing the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain any American’s tax returns to demand that the IRS turn them over. Once they have them, the committee can vote to release them to the entire House. Terrified of that prospect, the administration is preparing to do everything in its power to keep it from happening, as Politico’s Nancy Cook reports: The new House Democratic majority is widely expected to test one of Donald Trump’s ultimate red lines by demanding the president’s personal tax returns — and the Trump administration has been gearing up for months to fight back hard.  Trump's Treasury Department is readying plans to drag the expected Democratic request for Trump’s past tax filings, which he has closely guarded, into a quagmire of arcane legal arguments. At the same time, officials intend to publicly cast the request as an nakedly partisan exercise.  Legal experts make clear that the law is not ambiguous and the president can’t simply order the Treasury Department to keep his returns secret. So the administration’s plan seems to be to wage a PR battle while keeping the matter slogging through the courts for as long as possible — say, past November 2020.

Trump will nominate David Malpass, a Treasury official, to lead World Bank - David Malpass, a senior Treasury Department official and World Bank critic, has accepted President Trump’s offer to lead the world’s largest development lender, according to two people familiar with the decision who were not authorized to speak publicly. A formal announcement of the nomination is planned for Wednesday, the people said. Malpass, 62, Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, would need to be approved by the World Bank’s 12-member board before becoming its president. The United States traditionally chooses the bank’s leadership. Malpass, a Trump loyalist and veteran of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, has had sharp words for several policies at the World Bank, including its loans to China. He has also long expressed skepticism of global institutions. Malpass has been heavily involved in U.S.-China negotiations over trade in recent months. On Monday night, a person close to Malpass said he would seek to be “constructive” as World Bank president, but declined to detail much of his possible agenda, beyond saying his priorities would be raising incomes in developing nations and defending U.S. interests. The World Bank’s directors, who represent donor countries, have the right to nominate candidates for the president’s job and will vote on a winner. By an unwritten tradition since the bank’s founding in 1944, the board has always chosen Washington’s nominee.

 Trump nominates World Bank critic as its next chief - President Trump on Wednesday said he would nominate David Malpass, the Treasury Department undersecretary for international affairs and a critic of the modern development finance system, to be next president of the World Bank. If approved by the World Bank’s board of directors, Malpass would lead the international lender's efforts to fund economic development projects in poor and middling countries. Malpass, the administration’s financial development ambassador, was among Trump’s top candidates and an early favorite to replace outgoing World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, who announced last month he’d be leaving the bank before his term expires. Trump hailed Malpass as "highly respected, brilliant" and a “very special man" during a Wednesday news conference at the White House announcing his nomination. Politico, followed by other media outlets, first reported Trump’s decision to pick Malpass on Monday. "I knew that David was the right person to take this very important job," Trump said, adding there was "no better candidate" to lead the World Bank. Malpass has more than four decades of financial policy experience in the federal government and private sector. He previously served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and as chief economist for the now-defunct investment titan Bear Stearns.

WikiLeaks Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank as “Unconventional” Weapons   — In a leaked military manual on “unconventional warfare” recently highlighted by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Army states that major global financial institutions — such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — are used as unconventional, financial “weapons in times of conflict up to and including large-scale general war,” as well as in leveraging “the policies and cooperation of state governments.” The document, officially titled “Field Manual (FM) 3-05.130, Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare” and originally written in September 2008, was recently highlighted by WikiLeaks on Twitter in light of recent events in Venezuela as well as the years-long, U.S.-led economic siege of that country through sanctions and other means of economic warfare. Though the document has generated new interest in recent days, it had originally been released by WikiLeaks in December 2008 and has been described as the military’s “regime change handbook.” WikiLeaks’ recent tweets on the subject drew attention to a single section of the 248-page-long document, titled “Financial Instrument of U.S. National Power and Unconventional Warfare.” This section in particular notes that the U.S. government applies “unilateral and indirect financial power through persuasive influence to international and domestic financial institutions regarding availability and terms of loans, grants, or other financial assistance to foreign state and nonstate actors,” and specifically names the World Bank, IMF and The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), as “U.S. diplomatic-financial venues to accomplish” such goals. The manual also touts the “state manipulation of tax and interest rates” along with other “legal and bureaucratic measures” to “open, modify or close financial flows” and further states that the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) – which oversees U.S. sanctions on other nations, like Venezuela — “has a long history of conducting economic warfare valuable to any ARSOF [Army Special Operations Forces] UW [Unconventional Warfare] campaign.”

Warnings of Trumpism 'Forever' as Senate GOP Rams Through 44 Lifetime Judges in One Day - With the nation's eyes largely elsewhere in a sea of distraction on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee quietly advanced 44 of President Donald Trump's federal judicial nominees in what civil rights defenders denounced as a "monster markup" that threatens to leave the president's dangerous ideological footprint on the nation's courts for generations to come. Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the move "disturbingly exemplifies the joint Senate Republican-Trump administration effort to distort our federal judiciary and roll back our civil and human rights." Gupta also accused Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee's chairman, of defying "the committee rules and basic fairness in jamming through more than 40 nominees for lifetime appointments, many of whom have a demonstrated hostility to our rights." Warning that the flurry of judges was a "clear look into the future," Esquire's Charles Pierce explained that the federal judiciary Trump and his Republican allies in the Senate are creating "will play an outsized role in judging any policies put in place by any Democratic president to repair the vandalism and neglect brought onto the institutions of government by this administration*. In this case, Donald Trump is forever." During the committee hearing on Thursday, Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) declared that "too many of these nominees have spent their careers opposing the rights of women, minorities, the LGBTQ community, and Americans who need affordable healthcare." Highlighting a few nominees' records, she read some of their public comments and rulings to demonstrate their strongly held far-right views. "Month after month, we have seen a parade of these so-called conservative activists nominated to the federal courts," she said. "They have been groomed by conservative political ideologues. They want to see Roe v. Wade overturned or narrowed into oblivion, LGBT people permanently consigned to the margins of American life, and constitutional and civil right encroached on by the religious preference of a vocal few."

The criminal justice system also has an ‘alternative facts’ problem - It has been nearly 10 years since the National Academy of Sciences sounded the alarm about the shortcomings of forensics. Since then, there have been countless follow-up studies, state and national commissions, reports, panels and — to underscore the conclusions those entities reached — a consistent wave of crime lab scandals all over the country. In the past year, Vox, the Nation and NBC News have published lengthy treatises on the basic problem: Many of the forensic disciplines used in courtrooms across the United States are unreliable and entirely subjective, using methods unsupported by scientific research. Forensic malfeasance has even crept into the plots of TV police and legal dramas. The crisis in expert testimony seems to be resonating just about everywhere except for the one place it’s most crucial: in courtrooms. But the problem is bigger than forensics and junk science. It isn’t that the courts have been duped by phony expertise or quackery; it’s that the criminal justice system has evolved to disregard its own mistakes. Courts rarely correct themselves, even when they get something fundamentally wrong. And because they make their own rules, there’s no one to tell them to get it right. Last year, reporter Pamela Coloff published a piece in ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine about Joe Bryan, a Texas man convicted partly because of blood-spatter testimony given by a detective. That officer had all of 40 hours of training in blood-spatter analysis, a field of forensics that, even when done properly, has been questioned by the NAS and other authoritative groups. The detective himself has since admitted that his testimony was mistaken, and the Texas Forensic Science Commission determined that his testimony in Bryan’s trial was “not accurate or scientifically supported.” Yet none of this was enough to overturn Bryan’s guilty verdict. In December, a Texas judge denied his request for a new trial. In 2017, some reform advocates hoped the Supreme Court would fix a long-standing error when it considered a case about barring sex offenders from using social media. In the majority opinion in McKune v. Lile, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy repeated a claim from a pop psychology magazine that the recidivism rate for sex offenders was “frighteningly high,” as high as 80 percent. It’s nowhere near that high. In fact, people convicted of sex crimes reoffend at a lower rate than any other class of criminals. Kennedy’s claim has been repeated by more than 90 courts across the country in opinions upholding various types of post-incarceration punishment for sex offenders, including indefinite detention and living restrictions that force them sleep under bridges. The court has had a number of chances to correct Kennedy’s mistake. It hasn’t. In the 2017 case, the court struck down the social media ban but left Kennedy’s error intact. The majority opinion’s author? Kennedy.

Experts hated this Trump health-care policy. So far, they’re wrong. WaPo. It’s time to acknowledge that critics may have misjudged one of the Trump administration’s signature health-care policies — “bigly.”Last summer, the administration issued new rules designed to help small businesses and self-employed people get health insurance through what are known as association health plans. The plans, which have existed for decades, allow small businesses in the same field or region to band together into “associations” and provide insurance for their members. Because these plans are able to use their size to negotiate lower premiums and are not subject to all Affordable Care Act regulations, they are often cheaper than those found on the individual market.Soon after the administration issued its rule, health-care experts piled on with criticism, warning that it would lead to skimpy “junk” plans that do not cover all of the ACA’s essential health benefits, such as care for substance abuse and outpatient prescription drugs. They also feared that the plans would pull healthy patients out of the ACA’s individual exchanges, forcing premiums to go up. One analysis estimated that the administration’s rule could increase marketplace premiums by as much as 3.5 percent.But new reports suggest that much of that fear might be overblown — at least for the time being. As The Post’s health policy guru Paige Winfield Cunningham laid out this week, more than two dozen association health plans have been developed since the administration issued its new rule, and so far they don’t look nearly as skimpy as experts predicted. One analysis found that the plans offer benefits similar to those in most employer insurance and they haven’t attempted to circumvent Labor Department regulations forbidding them to discriminate against consumers with preexisting conditions. Another analysis examining Land O’ Lakes, a farmer-owned cooperative, found that the plan covered all of the ACA’s essential health benefits with substantially lower premiums than on the individual market. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office released a report Thursday that predicted coverage gains as a result of the new rule, in conjunction with another rule from the administration that makes it easier for consumers to buy short-term health insurance. (Such short-term plans were also, perhaps more legitimately, criticized for offering “junk” plans.) The CBO projects that, as a result of these two rules, an estimated 5 million people will enroll in either a short-term plan or an association health plan every year over the next decade, including more than 1 million people annually who were previously uninsured. The CBO states that most of the movement (around three-quarters) will be due to association health plans.

Sherrod Brown- Medicare for all not ‘practical’ - Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) took a shot at some of his fellow Democrats on Friday, saying that "Medicare for all" is not a practical idea. “I know most of the Democratic primary candidates are all talking about Medicare for all. I think instead we should do Medicare at 55,” Brown said. Brown, who may run for president himself, spoke during a roundtable discussion with the Clear Lake Chamber Of Commerce in Iowa. “If someone has lost her job at [age] 58 or his plant closes at 62, he should be able to buy into Medicare early. It will cost a little bit more, but to me that’s about helping people now … it’s something we might be able to get through Congress,” Brown said. Medicare for all has been gaining traction among many progressive Democratic candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and some on the left view support for such legislation as a litmus test. Brown is not historically opposed to Medicare for all as an aspiration, but he said he would rather focus on what’s practical. “I’m not going to come and make a lot of promises like President Trump did ... I’m going to talk about what’s practical and what we can make happen. And if that makes me different from the other candidates so be it,” he said. Brown is one of the primary sponsors of “Medicare at 55” legislation in the Senate, a moderate alternative to Medicare for all that was pushed by Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2016. Former President Bill Clinton also proposed expanding Medicare in 1998 by allowing certain workers between the ages of 55 and 65 to buy Medicare. Brown also helped write the “public option” into ObamaCare, but the provision was removed before the law was passed.

What to expect when you’re expecting to eliminate private insurance - Sarah Kliff, Vox - Democratic presidential contenders are having to grapple with a crucial health policy question: Should Americans keep getting health care coverage at work?Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) faced a question about this last week from CNN’s Jake Tapper and gave a pretty clear response: “Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) faced a similar query but gave a less clear response, where he noted that “even countries that have vast access to publicly offered health care still have private health care, so no.” Whether that “no” referred to private insurance or private providers hasn’t been clarified.It’s becoming clear that this is a question that any 2020 hopefuls will have to deal with. Right now, I see the field of candidates torn between increasing enthusiasm for saying good riddance to private coverage — and apprehension about how you make that transition.About half of Americans — a total of 156 million people — get health insurance through their jobs. A lot of this traces back to some World War II-era tax code provisions that allow companies to provide health benefits tax-free, making it an appealing way for employers to compensate employees.There are lots of reasons Democrats are increasingly supporting legislation that would eliminate employer-sponsored coverage entirely. Both Harris and Booker, for example, are co-sponsors on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) single-payer bill, which would move all Americans to government-run coverage. The health care system would certainly be simpler, and a government plan would have a lot more leverage to negotiate lower health prices when it was the only insurer in town. But the thing that seems to cause worry is how to actually get there. Moving to a world where there isn’t private insurance means moving those 156 million Americans onto a different plan. What exactly would that look like? It’s really hard to game out, but there are a few historical examples that I find helpful to look back on.

Bernie Sanders’ “Raise the Wage Act” Would Make Life Better for 40 Million Americans: Analysis - By increasing the federal minimum wage over the next five years, the Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would boost the incomes and improve the lives of an estimated 40 million Americans, according to an analysis out Tuesday from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Introduced last month by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the bill would raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25—which Sanders calls “a starvation wage”—to a living wage of $15 by 2024. It would also require employees to pay the new minimum to tipped workers, who currently can make as little as $2.31 an hour. EPI senior economic analyst David Cooper used EPI’s minimum wage simulation model—which pulls data from the American Communities Survey, the Current Population Survey, and the Congressional Budget Office—to predict the likely impacts of the proposal on American workers’ paychecks. Cooper found that the bill would directly lift the wages of 28.1 million workers—leading to a $4,000 increase in annual wage income, or a raise of about 21 percent, for a full-time worker—and “another 11.6 million workers would benefit from a spillover effect as employers raise wages of workers making more than $15 in order to attract and retain employees.” The report also debunks myths touted by Republican lawmakers and other critics of the grassroots Fight for $15 movement, explaining that “the vast majority of workers who typically benefit from minimum wage increases do not fit the common portrayal of low-wage workers primarily as teenagers from middle-class families, who are working part time after school, or as ‘stay-at-home’ parents…who are picking up some work on the side and whose ‘secondary earnings’ are inconsequential to their family’s financial health.”

The American Tax Debate --During a panel at Davos, Dell founder Michael Dell was asked about his opinion on the proposal of a 70% top marginal tax rate; he replied: “Name a country where that has worked. Ever.”  Co-panelist Erik Brynjolfsson (MIT) names the United States, in between the 1930s and the 1960s, when the average top rate was higher than 70%, with peaks of 91%.   On January 4th, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – newly elected Congresswoman and rising star of the Democratic Party – proposed in an interview with 60 Minutes to raise the tax rate to 70% on incomes above $10 million. Ocasio-Cortez argued that, if taken in a historical perspective, this is far from a radical idea. Under Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency in the 1950s, top marginal tax rates were as high as 91%, coming from the 73% of 1920 and still as high as 70% in 1980This proposal kick-started a heated debate, not only about the technical calculations of top marginal tax rates but also on the progressivity of tax systems and the role of different economic policy instruments in fighting inequality. For the Washington Post, Jeff Stein – with the help of tax experts such as Mark Mazur (Tax Policy Center), Joel Slemrod (University of Michigan) and Ernie Tedeschi (Treasury Department of Obama’s White House) – tries to assess the implications of this tax policy. Paul Krugman steps into the debate in a New York Times op-ed, reframing Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal not as a radical socialist idea, but as an economically sound proposal, even moderate if viewed from a historical perspective. John Cochrane replies to Krugman’s arguments by pointing out that the 70% calculations are based on arbitrary assumptions, and that Mirrlees (1971) calculates an optimal rate of 0% starting from different assumptions. Clive Crook, on Bloomberg, highlights the technical difficulties of calculating optimal tax rates, drawing attention to the fact that Saez & Zucman (2011) estimate a range between 48-76% where the optimal tax rate might lie. Also, Crook argues that, economically, it is a very questionable proposal; the risk is that the most successful entrepreneurs would emigrate, which would have costs higher than a loss of tax revenue. Garrett Watson, at the Tax Foundation, underlines the risk that innovation processes will be hampered by higher marginal tax rates, quoting empirical evidence from a 2018 working paper by Charles Jones.By contrast, Pasi Kuoppamäki, chief economist of Danske Bank A/S’s Finland branch, writes on the Hill that Nordic countries – although each helped by having a smaller population – have been able to make high taxation work well without harming innovation or incentives to work, while providing comprehensive welfare policies. On Bloomberg, Noah Smith also endorses the proposal as “far from radical[,] and economically well-grounded”. And further, the key issue in his view is to go beyond this plan and reform the corporate and capital-gains tax systems, enlarging the base of high earners, and probably using wealth taxes.

 How To Go After The US Wealthy Reagan Style - Barkley Rosser -The image of Reagan is one who cut taxes for the high income wealthy, and in general that is the case.  But there were a few items going the other way, and again, compared to current policies some combination of what came out of the two major Reagan tax cuts looks downright progressive by comparison.   Let us start with taxing wealth, with the Elizabeth Warren proposal to put a 2 to 3% annual wealth tax on those holding over $50 million.  I am not opposed to this in principle, but worry that it faces very serious practical problems of implementation due to the high costs involved in simply determining the wealth of these large and complicated portfolios, especially given the hollowing out and reductions at the IRS, which would have to do all of it.  One of the most important both as a redistribution mechanism taxing wealth while also raising revenue would be to return to the Reagan 1986 tax law’s taxing capital gains at the same rates as income is.  The other one is also to undo the cuts in estate taxes Trump has put it and move back to what Reagan had in place after his 1981 tax law, a much more redistributive system than we see now.  Both of these, especially the capital gains tax change, would be easily to implement and enforce.   On income taxes, the proposal by AOC for a top marginal income tax rate of 70% does not face the implementation problems the straight wealth tax faces.  As noted putting this only on those earning over $10 million per year should not be too damaging on various fronts, although it would probably not raise all that much revenue.  It might be better to go with what ccame in with the 1981 Reagan tax law of a top marginal rate of 50%, but having it on a broader set of upper income people.  This would arguably both raise more money than the AOC proposal while also arguably having fewer disincentive effects.  So, returning to a combination of the Reagan 1981 and 1986 tax laws might be something that can be adopted, implemented, and enforced, which would both raise more revenues, and engage in wealth and income redistribution.

Why All Anti-Interventionists Will Necessarily Be Smeared As Russian Assets - Caitlin Johnstone --When Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announced her candidacy for the presidency on CNN last month, I had a feeling I’d be writing about her a fair bit. Not because I particularly want her to be president, but because I knew her candidacy would cause the narrative control mechanizations of the political/media class to overextend themselves, leaving them open to attack, exposure, and the weakening of their control of the narrative.  Mere hours before her campaign officially launched, NBC News published an astonishingly blatant smear piece titled “Russia’s propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard,” subtitled “Experts who track websites and social media linked to Russia have seen stirrings of a possible campaign of support for Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.” One of the article’s authors shared it on Twitter with the caption, “The Kremlin already has a crush on Tulsi Gabbard.” The article reported that media outlets tied to the Russian government had been talking a lot about Gabbard’s candidacy, ironically citing as an example an RT article which documented the attempts by the US mainstream media to paint Gabbard as a Kremlin agent. The article’s authors cited the existence of such articles combined with the existence of “chatter” about Gabbard on the anonymous message board 8chan (relevant for God knows what reason) as evidence to substantiate its blaring headline. Even more hilariously, the source for its weird 8chan claim is named as none other than Renee DiResta of the narrative control firm New Knowledge, which was recently embroiled in a scandal for staging a “false flag operation” in an Alabama Senate race which gave one of the candidates the false appearance of being amplified by Russian bots.

Tulsi Gabbard Slams "Neocon/Neolib Warmongers" After NBC Propaganda Exposed -  Tulsi Gabbard lashed out at "neocon" and "neolib warmongers" after NBC News was exposed trying to smear her as a Kremlin stooge. The network was called out over the weekend for relying on a Democrat-run firm that created fake Russian twitter bots to stage a "false flag" campaign against Republic Roy Moore in the 2017 Alabama special election - New Knowledge.   To justify its claim that Tulsi Gabbard is the Kremlin’s candidate, NBC writes: “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.” Only to be called out hard by journalist Glenn Greenwald:   This NBC News report is a total disgrace from top to bottom. It's a joke using the most minimal journalistic standards. But that's because NBC is in partnership with the Democratic Party (and intel community) to smear any Dem adversary, on the left or right, as a Kremlin tool: pic.twitter.com/1jUhJQuhJu— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 3, 2019After Greenwald fingered NBC for relying on New Knowledge - run by Jonathan Morgan (who also developed the technology behind "Hamilton 68" Russian bot-tracking propaganda website that refuses to disclose its methods) - Gabbard chimed in, tweeting: "@ggreenwald exposes that @NBC used journalistic fraud to discredit our campaign. But more important is their motive: "to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party – whether on the left or the right – as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin."" She later added:  "As commander-in-chief, I will work to end the new cold war, nuclear arms race and slide into nuclear war. That is why the neocon/neolib warmongers will do anything to stop me.

These McCarthyite Accusations Benefit No One and Harm Everyone - Caitlin Johnstone -— In response to the reprehensible NBC hit piece we discussed the other day in which Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard was smeared as a darling of the Russian government, journalist Glenn Greenwald published an article documenting the astonishing amount of journalistic malpractice which went into the piece’s formation. In the article, Greenwald wrote the following:“That’s because the playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC,MSNBC, neocons, and the intelligence community has been, is, and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party — whether on the left or the right — as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin.”Displaying a remarkable lack of self-awareness, Democratic establishment pundit and professional Russiagater Caroline Orr responded to Gabbard’s share of this article on Twitter as follows:  “And here, Tulsi Gabbard cites a Kremlin propagandist to deny claims that Kremlin propagandists support her campaign.”  This demented McCarthyite mind virus was exemplified even more egregiously in a recent attack on comedian and progressive commentator Jimmy Dore, in which fellow comedian and former Daily Show producer Jena Friedman publicly accused him of being a Kremlin agent just for disagreeing with her. After Dore’s fan base reacted to this deranged smear as any sane person would expect them to, Friedman claimed that this was evidence of a coordinated campaign against her by Russian trolls and bots.  “I wouldn’t doubt it if Jimmy Dore was a Russian asset,” Friedman tweeted in response to Dore’s having criticized her crazed Louise Mensch-esque rantings. “Why else would he drag my name in the mud and misquote me when I said that Russian trolls are fueling the fire and radicalizing people online, which has been in Washington Post. It’s all so insidious. Be careful, friends.”  The fact that Friedman believed her freakish McCarthyite slander was perfectly healthy, and that her suggestion that a fellow comedian she’d just accused of conducting psyops for a foreign government agency should just “say no and move on” and have that be the end of it, says so much about how pervasively cancerous political discourse has gotten over the last two years.

Tulsi Gabbard Is Driving The MSM Bat Shit Crazy - Caitlin Johnstone - Morning Joe’s pile-on against Gabbard began when the subject of Syria came up, and panelist Kasie Hunt instantly began losing her shit. “Do you think Assad is our enemy?” Hunt interrupted during Gabbard’s response to a question about her meeting with Syria’s president in 2017, her voice and face both strained with emotion. “Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,” Gabbard replied. “What do you say to Democratic voters who watched you go over there, and what do you say to military members who have been deployed repeatedly in Syria pushing back against Assad?” Hunt replied, somehow believing that US soldiers are in Syria fighting against the Syrian government, which would probably come as a shock to the troops who’ve been told that they are there to defeat ISIS. Journalist Rania Khalek summed up this insanity perfectly, tweeting, “The journalist interrogating Tulsi seems to believe that US forces in Syria are fighting Assad. Tulsi corrects her, says those troops were deployed there to fight ISIS. These people don’t even know what’s happening in the places they want the US to occupy.”“This is such an embarrassing look at the state of corporate American regime media,” tweeted journalist Max Blumenthal. “@kasie doesn’t know the most basic facts about Syria and along with the smug co-hosts, doesn’t care to learn.” And it didn’t get any better from there. After Gabbard took some time to explain to a professional cable news reporter the basic fundamentals of the US military’s official involvement in Syria, Scarborough interjected to ask if Assad isn’t an enemy, would Gabbard at least concede that he is “an adversary of the United States.” “You can describe it however you want to describe it,” Gabbard responded, explaining that whether a nation is adversarial or not comes down to whether or not they are working against US interests. “Are Assad’s interests aligned with ours?” asked Hunt. “What are Assad’s interests?” Gabbard countered. “Assad seems interested primarily in the slaughter of his own people,” Hunt replied with a straight face.

Insidiocracy: Russiagate, Corporate Media & Losing My Religion – Part Three -- Editor’s note: this is Part Three in a five part series about Pig Empire corporate media corrections, retractions and walk-backs while covering the objectively unhinged “Russiagate” saga; you can find Part One and Part Two hereAs mentioned previously in this series, this story really isn’t about US swine emperor Donald Trump; a man who I have identified in writing as a fascist, a rapist, a crook, a warmonger and a liar. This series is about the disturbingly large number of misreported, or outright fabricated, stories in US corporate media that relate in some way to Russia. These are stories with terrifying national security and foreign policy implications, released by professional media outlets that should be held to a higher standard of conduct than they have been by a mainstream establishment desperate to avoid responsibility for turning the car keys over to a self-obsessed, moronic fascist. For those of you who are curious about my position on the scandal commonly known as “Russiagate,” I encourage you to read this December 2017 recap; nothing about my opinion has changed in the time since I wrote that piece.  Finally, as I mentioned in Part One, a portion of the research in this article is sourced from the work of Twitter user Doug Johnson Hatlem (@djjohnso) whose recently-published thread of forty plus mainstream media “Russiagate” mistakes added numerous examples to this article that I wouldn’t have remembered on my own.

Democrats are the McCarthyites - Black Agenda Report - The unceasing torrent of Russiagate lies turns Democrats into war hawks and causes liberals to spout nonsense that was once consigned to the fringe right wing. It’s worse than the old McCarthyism. Liberals who might once have opposed a hot war would now be the first to support it.” A recent poll indicated that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to hold pro-war views . That revelation is hardly surprising considering the degree to which their party has promoted the trope of Donald Trump as a Russian government asset. This strategy is a focal point for them and a weapon to be used against the Republicans instead of the political opposition their voters need. The ongoing investigation popularly known as Russiagate is a cynical hoax perpetrated by the Democratic Party leadership and their friends in corporate media. Russiagate distracts the public from taking a hard look at the Democratic Party corruption and resulting missteps that put Donald Trump in the White House. It also serves the interests of the bi-partisan surveillance state, which feared that Trump pronouncements indicated fundamental changes in foreign policy which they could not abide. “Russiagate is a cynical hoax perpetrated by the Democratic Party leadership and their friends in corporate media.” These allegations have Trump on the ropes, but mostly because of the relentless repetition of lies about the investigation. The litany of indictments paraded by the media involve crimes like tax fraud and payments to porn stars. None of the indictments point to collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Because no such connections have been made the media continue whipping up hysteria in an effort to keep the tale alive. The campaign is more shrill than ever because the hollowness of the case is clear to anyone who is really paying attention.

 Is the collusion theory dead? -  “Whom did Donald Trump Jr. speak to on his phone in between calls setting up the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians?” That is the question the New York Times asked about “one of the more tantalizing mysteries of the whole Russia affair” in a glossy report on the campaign.Hundreds of stories referenced the “blocked numbers” and speculated that those belonged to President Trump, who wanted an update on collusion efforts from his son. Last year, when asked by Wolf Blitzer of CNN if he was confirming that Trump Jr. phoned his father, House Intelligence Committee member Andre Carson simply said, “Stay tuned.” So we did, until this week, when it was revealed that Trump Jr. apparently phoned two business associates. The mystery over the blocked calls follows a series of overhyped collusion points that failed to pan out.With the approaching final report from special counsel Robert Mueller, it may be useful to consider the current state of the collusion case. After dozens of indictments and filings, there is much that has been disclosed by the special counsel on Russian linkages and contacts. Congress and the media also have disclosed a fair degree of evidence from witnesses called before the federal grand jury and committees on Capitol Hill.However, the publicly known case for collusion remains strikingly incomplete, if not incoherent. What is uniformly missing from the cottage industry of collusion theories is an acknowledgment of the threshold requirements of an actual crime. There is no crime in “colluding” with Russians without some cognizable criminal act or conspiracy to commit such an act. While some have dangerously stretched the criminal code to incriminate Trump, the most obvious and viable crime remains hacking into the email systems of the Democrats. Mueller has thoroughly identified and detailed the Russian hacking and trolling operations to influence the 2016 election. Yet, these filings notably lack any link to the Trump campaign, let alone advance knowledge or support for the Russian operation. Indeed, key links have become even more implausible as part of a conspiracy with Russian intelligence.

Trump Inaugural Committee Subpoenaed By New York Prosecutors - President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee was subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in New York Southern District, ABC News and Bloomberg reported, indicating that even as the special counsel probe appears to be nearing an end, "another investigation that could hamstring the president and his lawyers is widening."“We have just received a subpoena for documents,” Kristin Celauro, a spokeswoman with Owen Blicksilver PR, said in an email. “While we are still reviewing the subpoena, it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry.” It was not immediately clear if the subpoena was related to the criminal probe that had been launched in December, which according to the WSJ, was investigating whether the committee had misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations. According to ABC, the contact which came from the public corruption section in the Southern District, is the latest activity focusing on Trump’s political fundraising both before and immediately after his 2016 election. Lawyers for the inauguration committee were contacted midday Monday and asked if they could accept a subpoena for documents from federal prosecutors, according to sources

Mueller hauled before secret FISA court to address FBI abuses in 2002, Congress told - Robert Mueller, the former FBI director and current special prosecutor in the Russia case, once was hauled before the nation’s secret intelligence court to address a large number of instances in which the FBI cheated on sensitive surveillance warrants, according to evidence gathered by congressional investigators. For most of the past 16 years, Mueller’s closed-door encounter escaped public notice because of the secrecy of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). But thanks to recent testimony from a former FBI lawyer, we now have a rare window into documented abuses of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants and how the courts handled the matter. The episode is taking on new significance as Mueller moves into the final stages of his Russia probe while evidence mounts that the FBI work preceding his appointment as special prosecutor may have involved improprieties in the securing of a FISA warrant to spy on Donald Trump’s campaign in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign. The sin that plagued the FBI two decades ago, and that now lingers over the Russia case, involves the omission of material facts by agents applying for FISA warrants in sensitive counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases. Such omissions are a serious matter at the FISC, because it is the one court in America where the accused gets no representation or chance to defend himself. And that means the FBI is obligated to disclose evidence of both guilt and innocence about the target of a FISA warrant.

Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's testimony at House Intelligence Committee delayed by nearly 3 weeks - The planned testimony of Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, at the House Intelligence Committee was rescheduled Wednesday to Feb. 28 —just days before he is slated to begin a federal prison sentence.Cohen was originally scheduled to testify before that committee this Friday in a closed-door session.But Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., in a terse, one-sentence statement said that Cohen's appearance would be delayed until Feb. 28 "in the interests of the investigation."  Schiff did not elaborate.Trump is slated to be in Vietnam on Feb. 28 for his second summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Cohen is still considering testifying in public at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee before he begins serving a three-year criminal sentence in prison on March 6.Cohen's legal advisor Lanny Davis declined to comment Wednesday. He had originally been scheduled to testify at that committee on Thursday. But last month he postponed that appearance because of what Davis called "ongoing threats" by Trump and Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, against Cohen's family.Trump had urged his Twitter followers to "watch" Cohen's father-in-law, 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.Giuliani, without offering any proof, had said Cohen's father-in-law may have ties to organized crime and was involved in criminal activity with Cohen. Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty last year to multiple federal crimes, several of them directly related to Trump, and has cooperated by prosecutors investigating the president, including special counselRobert Mueller. The crimes included campaign finance violations related to Cohen facilitating hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal shortly before the 2016 presidential election in exchange for their silence about alleged affairs with Trump. The president denies having sex with either woman.  Cohen also admitted to making false statements to Congress by lying about when an aborted effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow actually ended, and about the extent of Trump's involvement in that project. Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti in a tweet Wednesday said Cohen's testimony at the Intelligence Committee should be in public.

Justice Department probing how it handled serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein -- The Justice Department has opened an investigation into its own possible misconduct in the wrist-slap prosecution of multimillionaire serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. The investigation is being conducted by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, according to MSNBC. “OPR has now opened an investigation into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd said in a Feb. 6 letter to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). “OPR will thoroughly investigate the allegations of misconduct that have been raised and, consistent with its practice, will share its results with you at the conclusion of its investigation as appropriate,” he wrote. Sasse, a member of the Judiciary Committee, had asked last month for an investigation into Justice’s treatment of Epstein, citing a Miami Herald series on the pervy hedge fund manager’s crimes and the sweetheart deal that let him off the hook. Such an investigation has bipartisan support; 15 Democratic members of Congress have also asked Justice to look into the Epstein plea deal. Epstein, who palled around in Palm Beach, Manhattan and at his Caribbean island retreat with high-powered friends including Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, was accused in a 53-page, 2007 federal indictment of assembling a harem of underage girls whom he paid and coerced into having sex with him at private parties. In 2008, he was allowed to plead guilty to state charges of soliciting prostitution with just one minor under the age of 18, and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Under the plea agreement, the federal investigation ended. The plea deal, struck by Miami’s then-top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta — now secretary of Labor — stated that the victims would not be notified and that the matter would be kept under seal, the Herald reported. The next year, Epstein’s butler would be busted trying to sell Epstein’s “black book” journal. The book, which would become public via victim civil cases, names hundreds of girls and young women who were allegedly procured for sex and massages.

Senate Investigating Mueller FBI's Prosecution Of Orgy Island Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein - Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced New York financier who served 13 months in prison for soliciting an underaged girl for prostitution, has served his time, and despite all of the negative press surrounding his "Lolita Express" and the many celebrities and politicians - including former President Bill Clinton and disgraced actor Kevin Spacey - who have reportedly traveled to his "orgy island", he will likely live out his life as a free man (unless new offenses are committed). But thanks to a series published by the Miami Herald last year that delved into how prosecutors worked with powerful defense attorneys to ensure Epstein received such a lenient sentence. The expose shed a light on the role played by Alex Acosta, who went on to become Trump's Secretary of Labour, in handing down the light sentence. Acosta was the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida at the time Epstein's sentence was handed down. Now, thanks to those stories, the DOJ has reportedly opened an investigation into the conduct of DOJ attorneys in the case, and whether they committed "professional misconduct" in their working relationship with Epstein's attorneys.  The probe was opened in response to a request lodged by Sen. Ben Sasse, a a Nebraska Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who raised questions about the case after reading the Herald's stories about how Acosta and other DOJ attorneys worked with defense attorneys to cut a lenient plea deal for Epstein back in 2008, per the Herald. At the time, the FBI was run by Robert Mueller. Though the reasons for the lenient deal could be rooted in the natural advantages of the wealthy, one Twitter user who did a deep dive into a cache of redacted FBI Vault documents released last year raised the possibility that Epstein could have been an informant for the FBI, providing information on executives from failed investment bank Bear Stearns in exchange for the lenient sentence (though there's nothing in his guilty plea that suggested he provided information).

Bezos’s Stunning Blackmail Charge Intensifies Proxy War With Trump - A long-simmering feud between Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos took a bizarre turn after the multibillionaire accused allies of the president of brazenly trying to extort him. In a surprising move that lit up social media feeds worldwide, the Amazon.com Inc. founder and chief executive officer published a blog post on Thursday, alleging that the publisher of the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him with embarrassing photos of Bezos and a woman who wasn’t his wife -- including sexually charged selfies. The usually media-shy executive also published explicit email exchanges and descriptions of the photos, saying he would rather be embarrassed than extorted. He also pointed to reports that the Enquirer’s publisher -- American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker -- has worked on behalf of the president. Pecker, Bezos said in his post, “recently entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice related to their role in the so-called ‘catch and kill’ process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign.” Trump in turn has frequently criticized Bezos and his newspaper, the Washington Post, for everything from taxes and shipping fees to printing “fake news.” On Twitter last month, Trump called the tech executive “Jeff Bozo.” “It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy,” Bezos said in his post. “President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets.”

Bezos Nude Selfie Controversy Triggers Alarm For Billionaires Worldwide - Even the world’s richest person couldn’t stop a nude selfie leak. When Jeff Bezos alleged in a blog post Thursday that he was the victim of blackmail attempts by the publisher of the National Enquirer, he underscored risks particular to billionaires in the digital age. “The perception among very affluent people is often ‘I have this level of wealth, I’m untouchable,’" said Mark Johnson, chief executive officer of Sovereign Intelligence, a McLean, Virgina-based risk analytics firm. “But the systems they have in place for protecting their personal identifiable information are very weak.” Ask any family office about its biggest fears and cybersecurity is near the top. Personal protection no longer involves just bodyguards and a top-notch alarm system. The internet age has seen a massive shift in people storing their most sensitive and personal data online, where it’s vulnerable to hacking and intrusion. Ultra-wealthy individuals are particularly susceptible because so much of their data are often centralized through family offices, which typically lack the robust firewalls and encryption capabilities of banks and large corporations. Johnson, a former case officer with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said he’s worked with clients with more than $40 billion in assets who had a “Secret Service-type physical security -- probably even better -- and yet there was an absolute disconnect between that physical security and the digital protection." It’s unclear how the tabloid obtained Bezos’s texts. The Amazon.com Inc. founder, who has a net worth of $133.9 billion, said in his blog post that he’d authorized security chief Gavin de Becker “to proceed with whatever budget he needed” to get to the bottom of the leak. Security experts say potential entry points for a digital invasion are numerous.

Jeff Bezos Protests the Invasion of His Privacy, as Amazon Builds a Sprawling Surveillance State for Everyone Else - Glenn Greenwald - The National Enquirer engaged in behavior so lowly and unscrupulous that it created a seemingly impossible storyline: the world’s richest billionaire and a notorious labor abuser, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, as a sympathetic victim.  On Thursday, Bezos published emails in which the Enquirer’s parent company explicitly threatened to publish intimate photographs of Bezos and his mistress, which were apparently exchanged between the two through their iPhones, unless Bezos agreed to a series of demands involving silence about the company’s conduct.  In a perfect world, none of the sexually salacious material the Enquirer was threatening to release would be incriminating or embarrassing to Bezos: it involves consensual sex between adults that is the business of nobody other than those involved and their spouses. But that’s not the world in which we live: few news events generate moralizing interest like sex scandals, especially among the media. The prospect of naked selfies of Bezos would obviously generate intense media coverage and all sorts of adolescent giggling and sanctimonious judgments. The Enquirer’s reports of Bezos’ adulterous affair seemed to have already played at least a significant role, if not the primary one, in the recent announcement of Bezos’ divorce from his wife of 25 years. Beyond the prurient interest in sex scandals, this case entails genuinely newsworthy questions because of its political context. The National Enquirer was so actively devoted to Donald Trump’s election that the chairman of its parent company admitted to helping make hush payments to kill stories of Trump’s affairs, and received immunity for his cooperation in the criminal case of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, while Bezos, as the owner of the steadfastly anti-Trump Washington Post, is viewed by Trump as a political enemy. All of this raises serious questions, which thus far are limited to pure speculation, about how the National Enquirer obtained the intimate photos exchanged between Bezos and his mistress. Despite a lack of evidence, MSNBC is already doing what it exists to do – implying with no evidence that Trump is to blame (in this case, by abusing the powers of the NSA or FBI to spy on Bezos). But, under the circumstances, those are legitimate questions to be probing (though responsible news agencies would wait for evidence before airing innuendo of that sort). If the surveillance powers of the NSA, FBI or other agencies were used to obtain incriminating information about Bezos due to their view of him as a political enemy – and, again, there is no evidence this has happened – it certainly would not be the first time. Those agencies have a long and shameful history of doing exactly that, which is why the Democratic adoration for those agencies, and the recent bipartisan further empowerment of them, was so disturbing.

Facebook Fights Multibillion-Dollar Privacy Class Action – A federal judge on Friday rejected Facebook’s argument that it cannot be sued for letting third parties, such as Cambridge Analytica, access users’ private data because no “real world” harm has resulted from the conduct.“The injury is the disclosure of private information,” U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria declared during a marathon four-and-a-half-hour motion-to-dismiss hearing Friday.Facebook urged Chhabria to toss out a 267-page consolidated complaint filed in a multidistrict case seeking billions of dollars in damages for Facebook’s alleged violations of 50 state and federal laws.  Facebook attorney Orin Snyder, of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher in New York, insisted that his client did nothing unlawful because Facebook users volunteered to let third parties harvest their personal data through their privacy controls. But Chhabria found the wording Facebook used to alert users that their data would be shared with third parties unclear and conspicuous. “Those disclosures are quite vague,” the judge said.  The claims against Facebook stem from a series of data privacy scandals that have rocked the social media giant over the last year. Those scandals include revelations that Cambridge Analytica obtained 87 million users’ private data through a quiz app, that Facebook-associated apps can obtain the personal data of a user’s friends without their express permission and that Facebook also shared user data with device makers and business partners without making the arrangement obvious to users.

How Ring & Rekognition Set the Stage for Consumer Generated Mass Surveillance -  If every home on a street, in a neighborhood, or in a town had a Ring surveillance system, the individual cameras, taken together, could construct an extremely intimate picture of daily public life. By integrating facial recognition and contracting with local and federal law enforcement agencies, Amazon supercharges the potential for its massive network of surveillant consumers to comprehensively track the movements of individuals over time, even when the individual has not broken any law. Fully realized, these technologies set the stage for consumer generated mass surveillance. Amazon’s Ring surveillance system dominates the growing video doorbell market. Ring, acquired by Amazon last April, is a system of home surveillance doorbell cameras which operate on an integrated social media platform, Neighbors. Neighbors allows users to share camera footage with other users and law enforcement agencies, as well as report safety issues, strangers, or suspicious activities. The platform aggregates user-generated reports and video data into a local activity maps and watchlists. Similar community platforms where neighbors can report suspicious persons or activity, such as NextDoor, are notorious for racial bias and profiling. This problem will surely be made worse by Amazon’s desire to automatically classify persons as “suspicious” through sentiment analysis and other biometric data collection.

Snopes & AP Suddenly Quit As Facebook Fact-Checkers - Two of Facebook's four fact checkers, Snopes and the Associated Press, have abruptly ended their fact-checking relationship with the social media giant. In a Friday press release, Snopes said that it had "elected not to renew our partnership with Facebook," and while declining to reveal specifics, added that "Forgoing an economic opportunity is not a decision that we or any other journalistic enterprise can take lightly."   While Snopes initially agreed to fact check for free, they eventually accepted $100,000 for its fact-checking services last year. The announcement comes on the heels of a December report that the two-year relationship between Facebook and its fact checkers was in disarray.  Current and former Facebook factcheckers told the Guardian that the tech platform’s collaboration with outside reporters has produced minimal results and that they’ve lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impacts of their work. Some said Facebook’s hiring of a PR firm that used an antisemitic narrative to discredit critics – fueling the same kind of propaganda factcheckers regularly debunk – should be a deal-breaker. -The Guardian "They've essentially used us for crisis PR, said former Snopes managing editor Brooke Binkowski. "They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck … They clearly don’t care."

Policing Wall Street: Is Maxine Waters Up to the Task? -  Pam Martens - The new chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters of California, has held elected office for more than four decades. She has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1991. Prior to that, she served 14 years in the California State Assembly. She has been on the House Financial Services Committee for the past 28 years – a period in which she has witnessed the largest Wall Street banks dramatically expand their financial frauds against the public. But can even a knowledgeable, seasoned veteran like Waters tackle the herculean problem that Wall Street banks represent to the country today? Apparently, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon aren’t wasting any time trying to get a handle on the topics on which Waters intends to hold hearings. According to a report by CNBC in late January, both CEOs met separately with Waters after she became Committee Chair. The Wall Street Journal has further reported that Waters plans to call the CEOs of the six largest Wall Street banks to testify at a hearing in March or April. That would likely include: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo. The 2019 hearing would be the first time since February 11, 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, that all of the major Wall Street bank CEOs were grilled by this Committee. On that date, the topic was how the banks had used the hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money. Waters had this to say at the time: The taxpayers of America are very, very upset about the fact that they allowed the banks to borrow their money, the taxpayer’s money, in unprecedented amounts, billions of dollars. And when the taxpayers went back to the banks to say, may I have a loan, may I have a loan to buy a car, may I have a loan to pay my student fees, may I have a loan for a mortgage, the banks are saying, no. And to add insult to injury, the banks have sent out notices to credit card holders, taxpayers again who have loaned money to the big banks, the banks are saying to the credit card holders, oh, we’re going to increase your interest rates. We know that you were paying 13, 14, 15 percent already, but now it’s going to cost you 18, 19, 20 percent. So the taxpayers have lent their money to the big banks, who are supposed to be big-business persons, expertise in business management, who are failing, they’ve gone back to ask for some assistance, they’re being denied…”

Banks weigh whether to embrace or avoid progressive firebrand Ocasio-Cortez - Barely a month into the new Congress, financial lobbyists in Washington are already strategizing how to handle the star power of rookie Democrat lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Democratic Socialist and Wall Street critic joined the 60-member House Financial Services Committee in mid-January and more than a dozen lobbyists interviewed by Reuters say the 29-year-old activist and former bartender is too high-profile to ignore. Richard Hunt, chief executive of the Consumer Bankers Association, said he had not encountered a lawmaker like Ocasio-Cortez in more than 20 years in Washington. “She has the ability to influence unlike a lot of other freshmen.” The youngest woman ever to serve in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez has become a social media phenomenon with her posts and live-streams on everything from climate change to skin care tips attracting millions of followers across Twitter and Instagram. The New York native has proved adept at using humor to explain complex concepts or rebuke opponents, often while preparing dinner or hanging out in her pajamas. A video of the lawmaker dancing outside her Congressional office last month has been viewed 21 million times.  An economics major and self-confessed “science nerd,” Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on issues that put her at odds with the financial industry, including separating commercial and investment banking, breaking up large banks, and forgiving student debt. Central to her campaign has been the rejection of corporate campaign dollars, closing off a traditional avenue for industry access and influence on Capitol Hill. Now lobbyists fear that her enlarged platform will help the first-term junior lawmaker push her ideas into the mainstream and are trying to figure out how best to respond.

Democrats Target Wall Street With Financial Trade Tax Proposal - Wall Street would bear the brunt of the latest tax proposal as Democrats jockey for the most progressive tax ideas with the approach of the 2020 elections. Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, is working on a plan that would tax financial trades, according to his spokesman, Michael Inacay, who declined to provide details on how, exactly, it would be structured. Financial transaction taxes typically place a levy of a fraction of a percent on the price of a securities trade. The idea has gained popularity within the Democratic Party as a way to curb high-frequency trading as well as raise revenue for progressive policies such as free college tuition. Such a tax, however, remains a legislative long shot, especially with Republicans in control of the White House and the U.S. Senate. For now, though, it adds to the array of progressive tax proposals Democrats could embrace to distinguish themselves from the GOP going into the next election season. Some of the ideas are emerging from the U.S. House, which is now in Democratic hands. And presidential hopefuls are beginning to campaign on large-scale tax plans that would largely hit the wealthy, and a series of recent polls show a majority of voters like the concept. Schatz, 46, has not been among the prominent Democrats to express interest in replacing President Donald Trump, but he has been part of the effort to pull the party to the left, on taxes and other issues.

Fed seeks balance between transparency, toughness in stress tests — The Federal Reserve Board continues to grapple with balancing the need for transparency in its stress testing exercise with maximizing its overall effect, the central bank's top bank supervisor said this week. The comments by Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles came as the Fed has drawn mixed reviews for changes to the stress test regime, including adjustments to the information provided to banks about the stress testing models and the release of a new round of testing scenarios to assess banks' capital strength in a crisis. Speaking here before a gathering Wednesday night of the Council for Economic Education, Quarles said the changes — which include setting 17 banks on a two-year stress testing cycle — are vital to the evolution of a critical post-crisis tool. Federal Reserve Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles “Improvements like these are necessary to ensure our supervisory framework evolves from its post-crisis origins to an effective steady state," said Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Randal Quarles. Bloomberg News “Improvements like these are necessary to ensure our supervisory framework evolves from its post-crisis origins to an effective steady state,” Quarles said. “The question of how best to consolidate the gains from the first 10 years of stress testing deserves the attention and effort of the country's best minds. We should welcome changes and novel ideas, even when they explore stress testing in a new and unfamiliar light.” Yet the Fed has encountered criticism over both the new scenarios and its efforts to be more transparent. The Fed acknowledged in its statement announcing the 2019 "severely adverse scenario" — a set of conditions in a hypothetical downturn — was more severe than last year’s scenario, which itself was more severe than those of prior years. In a Feb. 5 blog post, economists at the Bank Policy Institute said their analysis of the new scenario indicated that the hypothetical changes in unemployment rates, GDP and equity values were not only more severe than last year’s scenario, but were actually more severe even than the 2007-2008 financial crisis. That potentially goes against the agency’s own guidance that calls for severely adverse stress scenarios to mimic the severity of the financial crisis.

Fed exempts most regional banks from stress testing in 2019 — The Federal Reserve on Tuesday agreed to exempt banks with assets of $100 billion to $250 billion from the 2019 supervisory stress testing cycle, an announcement tucked into a suite of other changes unveiled to provide greater transparency to its stress testing regime. The news came as part of a multifaceted release from the central bank on stress testing-related issues, including the 2019 scenarios. Toward the bottom of that release, the Fed said that it would be “providing relief to less-complex firms” by effectively moving them off the 2019 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review stress testing cycle and requiring them to undertake supervisory stress testing in 2020. “The Board announced that it will be providing relief to less-complex firms from stress testing requirements and CCAR by effectively moving the firms to an extended stress test cycle for this year,” the Fed’s press release said. “The relief applies to firms generally with total consolidated assets between $100 billion and $250 billion.” The Fed said the banks that do not have to undertake a 2019 stress testing cycle would still be subject to the results of the 2018 stress test, meaning that capital disbursements would still be restricted if supervisors observed outflows out of line with the firms' existing capital plans. Letters to the individual firms detailing these constraints would be published promptly, a Fed spokesperson said, but were not ready for publication along with the rest of the release. The firms covered by the statement are Ally Financial, American Express Company, BB&T, Citizens Financial, Discover Financial, Fifth Third Bancorp, Regions Financial Corp., Huntington Bancshares, KeyCorp, M&T Bank, SunTrust, BBVA Compass Bancshares, BMO Financial, BNP Paribas, MUFG Americas, RBC U.S. Group and Santander Holdings USA. Banks had urged the Fed to exempt banks with $100 billion to $250 billion of assets from the 2019 stress testing cycle in their comments to the agency last month related to a pending series of proposed changes to enhanced prudential standards for large banks. The Fed's 2019 stress testing scenarios were notable in their own right, including a severely adverse scenario that sees a 6-point increase in unemployment and harsher macroeconomic conditions than those featured in last year’s scenario.

Goldman Pulling Back From FICC Trading After Abysmal Q4 Revenue - Weeks after Goldman Sachs worst quarterly FICC revenue line print since the financial crisis left the bank's reputation as the savviest trading house on Wall Street in tatters, Bloomberg and WSJ have reported that the bank is considering serious cutbacks in its trading business, including curtailing its fixed income trading and possibly cutting its commodity trading unit entirely. Not long after the last of the Goldman's former ruling triumvirate of Lloyd Blankfein, Gary Cohn and Harvey Schwartz left the bank, the unit from which all three men began their ascent to the top of the storied investment bank - namely, the commodities trading unit - is now on the chopping block, per WSJ. After suffering its worst year on record in 2017, commodities trading revenue improved slightly last year. But analysts say the unit is unlikely to match the profitability from the 2000s, when commodities trading contributed some 15% to the bank's pre-tax profits. In more than one sense, news that the bank could shutter its commodities unit is a surprise: Goldman stuck with commodities trading even as other banks cut back. Goldman even recently announced an expansion into a green energy business for corporate clients while dipping its toe into nascent LNG markets. 

House committee to examine credit bureau reforms this month — House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., is putting a spotlight on the credit reporting agencies as she has set the panel’s hearing schedule for February. A hearing titled “Who’s Keeping Score? Holding Credit Bureaus Accountable and Repairing a Broken System” has been scheduled Feb. 26. It is one of seven hearings Waters announced for the month as she moves forward with the new Democratic majority’s financial services agenda. The committee will hold four hearings next week. On Tuesday, the full committee will examine the use of sanctions in addressing national security and foreign policy challenges. On Wednesday, the full committee will convene a hearing on the homelessness crisis. Also on Wednesday, the newly renamed Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions subcommittee, now chaired by Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., will hold a hearing to discuss the issue of access to banking services for cannabis-related businesses. It’s the first time the committee will address marijuana banking, as the industry has pushed for more clarity on whether they can service cannabis businesses in states where the substance is legal. The Housing, Community Development, and Insurance subcommittee, now led by Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., will hold a hearing focused on affordable housing next Thursday. That hearing comes after reports that the Trump administration is planning a path to reform of the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and as Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, released his own outline for housing finance reform. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is also scheduled to give his semiannual Humphrey-Hawkins monetary policy address Feb. 27 to the House committee. Powell’s testimony comes as President Trump has been critical of the Fed’s interest rate decisions and as the regulator works to implement the new regulatory relief bill that was signed into law in May.

CFPB takes big step toward unwinding payday lending rule -The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Wednesday proposed an overhaul of its payday lending rule that would roll back tough underwriting requirements that were championed by the agency in the Obama administration. In a major victory for payday lenders, the agency — led by new Director Kathy Kraninger — plans to rescind the centerpiece of the original rule: rigorous steps forcing lenders to assess borrowers' ability to repay credit. The ability-to-repay provision was seen by supporters as a protection against spiraling consumer debt, but lenders said it threatened their business model. Kraninger, a Trump appointee who has been on the job less than two months, was widely expected to eliminate restrictions on payday lenders by arguing there was insufficient evidence to support mandatory underwriting of small-dollar loans. The original rule was finalized in 2017 under then-Director Richard Cordray, but the key parts of the rule have not yet gone into effect. “The Bureau is concerned that these provisions would reduce access to credit and competition in states that have determined that it is in their residents’ interests to be able to use such products, subject to state-law limitations,” the CFPB said in a press release. The new proposal would leave intact the rule's payment restrictions, which limit the number of times a lender can try to access a consumer's checking account to two consecutive attempts. The restrictions were designed to protect borrowers’ funds from being garnished by payday lenders or from incurring repeated overdraft fees. However, the CFPB signaled that it may also consider easing the payment restrictions at a later date, further winnowing down the original rule. The agency noted that it has received petitions from the industry to exempt debit card payments and certain types of lenders or loan products from the payment limits. It also may delay the compliance date for the payment provisions.

Siding With ‘Loan Sharks’ Over Consumers, Trump CFPB Moves to Gut Payday Lender Regulations - In what progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups decried as the Trump administration's latest "shameful" attack on vulnerable families, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unveiled a plan on Wednesday that would gut regulations protecting consumers from predatory payday lenders. Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, denounced the CFPB's plan as "a slap in the face to consumers—especially people of color—who have been victims of predatory business practices and abusive lenders." "This decision will put already struggling families in a cycle of debt and leave them in an even worse financial position," Gupta added. "This administration has moved the CFPB away from protecting consumers to protecting the very companies abusing them." Detailed in a statement by Trump-appointed CFPB director Kathy Kraninger, the agency's proposal would dramatically weaken an Obama-era rule that would have required payday lenders to verify that borrowers have the financial ability to repay their loans—an effort to help vulnerable people avoid falling into debt traps. In its explanation of the rule change, the CFPB said it wants consumers to have even more access to payday lenders, despite their long record of exploiting the poor. "Kraninger is siding with the payday loan sharks instead of the American people," Rebecca Borné, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, said in a statement. "We urge director Kraninger to reconsider, as her current plan will keep families trapped in predatory, unaffordable debt."

Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders call for restricting corporate share buybacks - Senate liberals are proposing legislation that would prevent companies from buying back their own shares unless they first pay workers at least $15 an hour and offer paid time off and health benefits. Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont outlined their plan in a New York Times op-ed published Sunday. The proposal would slap "preconditions" on a company's ability to buy its own shares. "Our legislation would set minimum requirements for corporate investment in workers and the long-term strength of the company as a precondition for a corporation entering into a share buyback plan. The goal is to curtail the overreliance on buybacks while also incentivizing the productive investment of corporate capital," they wrote. Last year, more than $1 trillion in buybacks were announced by large companies after a corporate tax cut pushed through Washington in late 2017 left companies with a lot of extra cash to spend. But instead of significantly raising worker pay or investing in equipment, companies mostly used the cash to buy their stock. And some large companies are buying back billions of dollars of shares while announcing layoffs and factory and store closings, the senators wrote. For example, Walmart announced a $20 billion share buyback while it was laying off hundreds and closing Sams Club stores. The column cites a Roosevelt Institute analysis that the retailer could have used the money instead to raise hourly wages to $15.Last June, more than a dozen lawmakers, including Schumer and Baldwin, wrote to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton urging him to open public comments on the rules for stock buybacks, which they said hadn't been updated in over a decade. They cited a Brookings Institute study that found from 2004 to 2014, the largest U.S. companies spent 51 percent of profit on buybacks.

The Real Reason Stock Buybacks Are a Problem - Yves here. Even though this article on stock buybacks by Steve Roth, cross posted below after this lenghty introduction, makes an important central point, I believe it is missing the forest for the trees. Roth acts as if stock buybacks are merely an alternative to dividends (or investing or paying workers more). It’s far worse than that. Since the crisis, many companies have been borrowing to buy back stock. And why is that? Duh, because executives have big time incentives to goose the stock price, and stock buybacks have become a socially acceptable way to manipulate share prices. We have from time to time published the work of William Lazonick, who has made a much more comprehensive critique of stock buybacks, with considerable underlying data. It’s great to see his ideas finally going mainstream with the publication of an op-ed in the New York Times by Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders (odd couples like that tell you the tectonic plates are moving), and more important, their plan to introduce legislation to curb buybacks. As they sketched out: Our bill will prohibit a corporation from buying back its own stock unless it invests in workers and communities first, including things like paying all workers at least $15 an hour, providing seven days of paid sick leave, and offering decent pensions and more reliable health benefits. In other words, our legislation would set minimum requirements for corporate investment in workers and the long-term strength of the company as a precondition for a corporation entering into a share buyback plan. The goal is to curtail the overreliance on buybacks while also incentivizing the productive investment of corporate capital. As you’ll see, this is actually a modest proposal, although forcing companies to take care of workers before they engage in share price manipulation is an important reordering of priorities. By way of contrast, here is the key section of a 2018 post by Lazonick, who also gives credit to the Congresscritters who have been dogging this abuse for some time:

  • First, the stock-based compensation of senior executives incentivizes them to do distributions to shareholders. Annual mean remuneration of CEOs of the same 475 companies listed on the S&P 500 from 2007 through 2016 ranged from $9.4 million in 2009, when the stock market was in the dumps, to $20.1 million in 2015, when the stock market was booming. The vast majority of this total remuneration, ranging from 53 percent in 2009 to 77 percent in 2015, was in the form of realized gains from stock-based options and awards.
  • Second, for more than three decades, executives of major U.S. corporations have preached, conveniently masking their self-interest, that the paramount responsibility of their companies is to “create value” for shareholders. Most recently, from 2007 through 2016, stock repurchases by 461 companies on listed on the S&P 500 totaled $4 trillion, equal to 54 percent of profits. In addition, these companies declared $2.9 trillion in dividends, which were 39 percent of profits. Indeed, top corporate executives are often willing to incur debt, lay off employees, cut wages, sell assets, and eat into cash reserves to “maximize shareholder value.”
  • Third, in recent years hedge fund activists have ramped up the pressure on companies to do buybacks. With their immense war chests of billions of dollars of assets under management, these corporate predators have used the proxy voting system, “wolfpack” collaboration among hedge funds, and direct engagement with management, which was once illegal, to participate in the looting of the U.S. business corporation.

Crypto CEO Dies Holding Only Passwords That Can Unlock Millions in Customer Coins - Digital-asset exchange Quadriga CX has a $200 million problem with no obvious solution -- just the latest cautionary tale in the unregulated world of cryptocurrencies. The online startup can’t retrieve about C$190 million ($145 million) in Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether and other digital tokens held for its customers, according to court documents filed Jan. 31 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Nor can Vancouver-based Quadriga CX pay the C$70 million in cash they’re owed. Access to Quadriga CX’s digital “wallets” -- an application that stores the keys to send and receive cryptocurrencies -- appears to have been lost with the passing of Quadriga CX Chief Executive Officer Gerald Cotten, who died Dec. 9 in India from complications of Crohn’s disease. He was 30. Cotten was always conscious about security -- the laptop, email addresses and messaging system he used to run the 5-year-old business were encrypted, according to an affidavit from his widow, Jennifer Robertson. He took sole responsibility for the handling of funds and coins and the banking and accounting side of the business and, to avoid being hacked, moved the "majority" of digital coins into cold storage. His security measures are understandable. Virtual currency exchanges suffered at least five major attacks last year. Japan, home to some of the world’s most active digital-asset exchanges, has also hosted two of the biggest known crypto hacks: the Mt. Gox debacle of 2014 and the theft of nearly $500 million in digital tokens from Coincheck Inc. last January. The problem is, Robertson said she can’t find his passwords or any business records for the company. Experts brought in to try to hack into Cotten’s other computers and mobile phone met with only "limited success" and attempts to circumvent an encrypted USB key have been foiled, his widow, who lives in a suburb of Halifax, said in the court filing.

Cryptocurrency Firms Regularly Lose Codes and Money - naked capitalism - Yves here. This Real News Network segment covers another one of our pet themes, “cryptocurrencies = prosecution futures,” by looking at scams perpetrated against cryptocurrency users.

‘A lot of people are going to get hurt’: Petrou on fintech risk - Fintech companies like to say they’re democratizing finance, helping the little guy escape the high fees and elitist practices of the big banks.Many fintechs offer apps and services that help people save, budget, get low-rate loans, reduce their debt and the like.But the financial services analyst Karen Shaw Petrou forcefully argues in a paper published Monday that fintechs also pose serious risks that policymakers must address.If not more thoroughly regulated, tech and fintech companies could create financial products that are more elitist than those traditional banks offer today, she argues. The flip side to the great promise these companies offer could be new forms of bias, threats to data privacy, security violations, misleading marketing and even systemic risk, according to Petrou.As Congress and other policymakers examine big tech companies like Facebook for privacy, antitrust, cybersecurity and political-integrity weaknesses, they should also review the potential impact on economic equality and systemic safety as these companies delve more into financial services, Petrou said in a recent interview.  “My goal with this paper is to get finance on the agenda so that solutions can be put on the table because the real lesson we learn over and over again in banking is that retroactive consumer protection leaves a lot of badly hurt, vulnerable households in the ditch," she said. "It needs to be thought of now, before these products become even larger and more dominant in the financial system.”  To be sure, fintechs and challenger banks accuse banks of failing to protect their customers' best interests and of gouging customers living paycheck to paycheck with fees that make their financial lives impossible. They also say they are heavily regulated by state bank regulators and federal authorities such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The real risk, from a fintech point of view, is continuing the status quo. But Petrou, co-founder and managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, is a veteran observer of banking in politics who has a history of insightful reads on the operational, reputational and political pitfalls that often lie ahead of banks (especially big ones), secondary markets, lawmakers and regulators.

The Fed January 2019 Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices - The January 2019 Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices addressed changes in the standards and terms on, and demand for, bank loans to businesses and households over the past three months, which generally corresponds to the fourth quarter of 2018.1 Regarding loans to businesses, respondents to the January survey indicated that, on balance, banks tightened standards for commercial real estate (CRE) loans, while standards and most terms on commercial and industrial (C&I) loans remained basically unchanged. Meanwhile, demand for loans to businesses reportedly weakened. For loans to households, banks reported that their lending standards for most categories of consumer loans and residential real estate loans remained basically unchanged on balance. Credit cards were the one exception, with standards reportedly tightening over the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, banks reported weaker demand for all categories of loans to households. In addition, the survey included a set of special questions inquiring about banks’ expectations for lending policies and loan performance over 2019. Banks reported expecting to tighten standards for all categories of business loans as well as credit card loans and jumbo mortgages. Demand for most loan types is expected to weaken, on net, with the one exception being credit card loans, for which demand is expected to remain unchanged. Meanwhile, banks anticipate that loan performance will deteriorate for all surveyed categories.

More Alarm Bells As Banks Report Tightening Lending Standards While Loan Demand Slides - The latest alarm signal that the US economy is on collision course with a recession came after today's release of the latest Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey (SLOOS) by the Federal Reserve, which was conducted for bank lending activity during the fourth quarter of last year, and which reported a double whammy of tightening lending standards and terms for commercial and industrial loans on one hand, and weaker demand for those loans on the other. Even more concerning is that banks also reported weaker demand for both commercial and residential real estate loans, echoing the softer housing data in recent months. This tightening in C&I lending standards coupled with sharp declines loan demand, especially for mortgage and auto loans, is shown below. Here are the details via Goldman:

  • 20% of banks surveyed reportedly widened spreads of loan rates over the cost of funds for large- and medium-sized firms, while 16% narrowed spreads. 14% of banks surveyed reported higher premiums charged on riskier loans, while 4% reported lower premiums. Other terms, such as loan covenants and collateralization requirements, remained largely unchanged. Demand for loans reportedly weakened on balance.
  • Relative to the last survey, standards on commercial real estate (CRE) loans tightened on net over the fourth quarter of the year. On net, 17% of banks reported tightening credit standards on loans secured by multifamily residential properties, while 13% of banks on net reported tightening standards for construction and land development loans. As above, banks reported that demand for CRE loans across a broad range of categories moderately weakened on net.
  • Banks reported that lending standards for residential mortgage loans remained largely unchanged on net in 2018Q4 relative to the prior quarter. However, this benign environment was largely as a result of slumping demand for credit, as banks reported weaker demand across all surveyed residential loan categories, including home equity lines of credit.
  • While banks reported that lending standards on consumer installment loans and autos remained largely unchanged, banks reported that lending standards for credit cards had tightened slightly. Here too demand - for all categories of consumer loans - was moderately weaker, while respondent willingness to make consumer installment loans tumbled to the lowest value since the financial crisis.

40% of Rural Bankers Peg Loan Defaults as 2019’s Biggest Challenge -The January 2019 Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) reveals the rural economy is seeing continued neutral growth. The monthly survey of bank CEOs in a 10-state Midwest region dropped to 51.5 for this month. In December 2018, the index was 54.2. January marks the 11th time in the past 12 months the index has been above the growth-neutral rating of 50.“Our surveys over the last several months indicate the Rural Mainstreet economy is expanding outside of agriculture,” says Ernie Goss, who chairs Creighton’s Heider College of Business and leads the RMI. “However, the negative impacts of tariffs and low agriculture commodity prices continue to weaken the farm sector." Bank CEOs were asked what they expected to be the biggest economic challenge for agriculturally dependent community banks in 2019. The results were:

  • Rising loan defaults: 42.9%
  • Competition from Farm Credit: 14.3%
  • Falling farmland values: 11.6%
  • Low loan demand: 11.4%
  • Rising regulatory costs: 5.7%

Bank CEOs were also asked: How would you describe the economy in your area? Slightly less than half of respondents, 45.7%, reported little or no growth, while 31.4% reported modest economic downturn. The remaining bankers, 22.9%, reported modest economic growth.  Tariffs, trade tensions, weak agriculture commodity prices and the partial federal government shutdown negatively influenced the economic outlook of bank CEOs, Goss says.

 Otting hopes for joint CRA rule, but says OCC could go it alone — Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said he is "hopeful" all three bank regulators will jointly propose Community Reinvestment Act reforms by the summer, but he hinted that, if they cannot agree, his agency is ready to proceed with a CRA revamp on its own. “My preference 110% is to be able to do things jointly,” but “I have a responsibility to the banks to which we regulate and the communities across America that are beneficiaries of CRA,” Otting said Thursday at a meeting of Women in Housing and Finance. “And if I really feel that it can benefit those communities and we’re restricting that, it doesn’t mean we all have to do things the same.” Otting, who serves as the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency as well, also addressed recent questions about whether the Trump administration or Congress will take the lead on reforming the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Otting's comment at a recent FHFA staff meeting stoked speculation that the administration may try to end the GSEs' conservatorships without legislation. Congress has been at an impasse over what to do with the mortgage giants for years. "Our preference would always be [a] legislative fix to these issues. But this has sat here for a long period of time," Otting said. Not to get too technical but you have administrative and legislative actions. And there are enormous powers" to allow the Treasury secretary and the FHFA director "to take steps. But I do think it needs to get resolved and I do think it needs to get resolved where those entities are well capitalized and have good liquidity and are executing proper management."

 GSE reform, CFPB underwriting rule are on collision course --As Congress and the Trump administration chart a future for the government-sponsored enterprises, they face a fast-approaching deadline when a huge chunk of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's loans could be in violation of federal underwriting requirements.The White House and Senate Banking Committee are pursuing parallel tracks to end the GSEs' federal conservatorships. Any resulting plan must deal with whether GSE-backed mortgages are still exempt from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Qualified Mortgage rule. The exemption, known as the GSE "patch," sunsets in January 2021 or when the conservatorships end, whichever comes first. Unless the patch is extended or the CFPB eases underwriting requirements for all loans, nearly a third of loans backed by the GSEs could face new legal liability. Other government-backed loans such as those insured by the Federal Housing Administration have a similar exemption. “Not doing something to extend the patch would be highly disruptive,” said Bob Broeksmit, the president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association.The Federal Housing Finance Agency is said to be working with the Treasury Department and White House to end the conservatorships without Congress, which has long been at an impasse over GSE reform. But just Friday, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo released a new legislative outline.Yet talks are also picking up about the effects of the CFPB mortgage underwriting rule, which discourages loans with debt-to-income ratios above 43%. Under the GSE patch, Fannie and Freddie loans are in compliance with QM even if they have higher DTIs as long as they meet the mortgage giants' underwriting criteria. The issue of the patch came up at a recent meeting attended by Broeksmit and other trade group leaders with CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger. Mortgage lenders — which have long fought to ease the QM rule — and others are concerned about either an administration or legislative plan to end the conservatorships that did not extend the GSE patch or take other measures. Some in the Trump administration want to reduce the government’s footprint in the mortgage market while encouraging the expansion of private capital. If GSE reform stalls or does not address the QM rule, Kraninger could face increasing pressure either to extend the patch or ease the rule by raising the DTI cap. Currently, nearly a third of GSE loans have DTIs between 43% and 50% but still meet the QM definition. Some observers believe the CFPB should revamp the QM rule to focus on factors other than DTI. In a sudden twist, some advocacy groups have supported eliminating the DTI cap altogether. Instead of using DTIs as the standard, the Urban Institute has proposed a plan to provide the safe harbor for loans with annual percentage rates of no more than 150 basis points over the average prime offer rate. That APR limit is currently in the QM rule, but the group has proposed removing the DTI limit as a factor.

Cheat sheet- Crapo plan reasserts Capitol Hill’s role in GSE reform— Just as the Trump administration appears focused on releasing a framework to overhaul the housing finance system, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo on Friday signaled Congress wants to reassert its role in the reform effort.The legislative outline released by the Idaho Republican is another stab by lawmakers to reform the government-sponsored enterprises following a string of failed attempts. Crapo's latest plan also shifts some attention away from whatever administrative overhaul the White House and acting Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Joseph Otting are readying without Congress.“In our view, a role for Congress is critical to effectuate these important changes,” Michael Bright, the president and CEO of the Structured Finance Industry Group and a former acting president of Ginnie Mae, said in a letter to Crapo supporting his plan.Otting has reportedly said the administration may unveil a plan in the coming weeks possibly to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But Crapo's plan focuses on more comprehensive structural changes to the housing finance system, which require legislation.Crapo's framework suggests turning Fannie and Freddie into private guarantors while allowing for other private guarantors to compete with the mortgage giants, using Ginnie Mae to provide a government backstop. It was not immediately clear if Crapo's plan has enough congressional support to be enacted, but it is worth noting that he previously authored the most successful GSE reform bill to date since the 2008 conservatorships. The bill he helped spearhead with then-Chairman Tim Johnson, S.D., in 2014 — when Crapo was the committee's ranking Republican — passed the Banking Committee but never made it to the Senate floor.Since then, Ginnie Mae has drawn more attention as part of a potential GSE reform solution. Crapo's new outline follows a House bill co-introduced by former Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling and a Milken Institute white paper co-authored by Bright that all point to a more expanded role for Ginnie. Just last year, former Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tried to revive Senate discussions around a plan to expand Ginnie's role.Here is a closer look at how Crapo's plan would revamp the housing finance system and affect the continuing GSE debate.

Trump administration, not Congress, may institute GSE reform in 2019 -- Despite the release of Senate Banking Committee Chairman Michael Crapo's outline of a government-sponsored enterprise and housing reform plan, most policy changes will likely come from the White House, and may even materialize this year, according to Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Sen. Crapo's proposed plan, released Friday, was not presented in legislative form nor was it comprehensive, leading some to believe the not-thought-out plan served as an avenue for him to stay ahead in mortgage policy discussions. Crapo's actions, in addition to recent press-related reports and comments from Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Joseph Otting, point to signs that the Trump administration will propose a recapitalization plan for the GSEs and release them from conservatorship, which they've been in since September 2008, said a KBW report. This will likely not come to pass until the White House's nominee for FHFA director, Mark Calabria, is confirmed by the Senate. There seems to be no movement by Congress to reform the GSEs, but the administration can legally do so without Congress' involvement. Logistics for reform, however, will be questionable, and may significantly dilute the common shareholders; common shares are up 140% for Fannie and 132% for Freddie, according to KBW. Each of the four reform bills introduced to Congress in the last decade (the most recent being the 2014 Johnson-Crapo Bill) propose to eliminate the existing GSE structures, meaning there would be no value in the common or preferred equity in those instances, said the report. The government's role in the mortgage market still stands in three of the four bills, which are those most focused on. The GSEs still owe the government $191 billion, which is just one hurdle for the White House as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac only have about $6 billion in equity. Even if a scenario were to alleviate or shrink that debt, the GSEs still need considerable incremental capital — potentially as much as $180 billion — according to a framework set forth by the FHFA in 2018.

Ocwen settles DOJ claims that PHH illegally foreclosed on military members - Ocwen Financial subsidiary PHH Mortgage will pay a total of $750,000 to six military members and increase employee training to settle Department of Justice allegations that it conducted foreclosures that violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Each military member will receive $125,000 following a DOJ review of all of PHH's nonjudicial foreclosures from January 2010 to September 2018. The six improper foreclosures all occurred before 2012, the DOJ said. "We take our responsibilities to assist service members very seriously, and we regret whenever any customer experiences a hardship that could be avoided," John Lovallo, a spokesman for the mortgage servicer, said in a statement. "PHH decided to settle this matter because it was in the best interest of these service members, and allows the company to move forward and avoid protracted litigation," the statement adds. In addition to the financial settlement, PHH must increase and provide ongoing SCRA compliance training to its employees. PHH will also request that credit bureaus remove the foreclosures from the credit reports of the servicemembers and their coborrowers. "Our men and women in uniform deserve to be able to focus on their job of keeping our country safe without worrying about losing their homes to an unlawful foreclosure," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a press release. "The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the rights of our service members from unlawful conduct." The SCRA bans foreclosure during active military service plus one year after return. Servicers seeking foreclosure then need a court order if the mortgage originated prior to the service member's time of duty.

Don’t Build the Wall, Build Affordable Housing - Alexis Goldstein - Trump’s vanity wall is a solution in search of a problem. The only emergency is the one created by Trump and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with their brutal repression and moves todeny migrants fleeing violence their legal right to seek asylum. Research shows that immigrants are actually an economic boon, so this manufactured crisis aimed at repressing asylum seekers literally costs us all. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that we are facing an epic crisis in housing in the United States. Instead of building a wall, the US should build more public housing. Even before the shutdown, the country was already facing an affordable housing crisis. In New York City, there are more than 209,180 families on the waiting list for its 175,636 units of public housing. A 2018 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) found that average renter wages are not enough to afford modest rental apartments. The problem has gotten so bad that we’ve even seen private companies like Microsoft devote money to new loans for affordable housing development. But rather than wait for Band-Aids from corporate actors, we could choose to invest in housing as a nation. However, Congress has created major barriers to addressing this crisis. A key example of this is the Faircloth Limit, which effectively bans any new public housing from being created. At a time when we are discussing Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, and pushing the boundaries of political possibility, we need to start addressing the housing crisis by repealing draconian limits like the welfare-reform-era Faircloth Limit. Thankfully, Rep. Maxine Waters, the new chair of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, already has a bill to abolish the Faircloth Limit — and more. Waters’s Public Housing Tenant Protection and Reinvestment Act would repeal the Faircloth Limit, allocating money to make the needed repairs in existing units, and adding new money to create new units. The bill requires that any public housing unit demolished is replaced (“one-for-one replacement”), a requirement that does not exist in the current rules. The bill also includes new protections for tenants, so they have the option to stay in their communities if their housing is going to be demolished and rebuilt.

Mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures recede to prerecession rates - - Better credit quality and the influx of refinancing during the low interest rates of the last few years pushed mortgage performance to the highest levels since the turn of the century, according to Black Knight. Foreclosure starts hit an 18-year low in 2018, totaling 576,000 — a year-over-year drop of 11%. However, December's 46,300 starts was an annual increase of 4% for the month and a 2.4% rise from November. Delinquency rates crept up in December to 3.88%, but still sit below the 4.71% from a year ago. "Across the board, 2018 year-end numbers are good news from a mortgage performance perspective," Ben Graboske, executive vice president of Black Knight's data and analytics division, said in a press release. "All four major performance metrics — delinquencies, serious delinquencies, active foreclosures and total noncurrent inventory — ended the year below prerecession averages for the first time since the financial crisis." Seriously delinquent mortgages — those late in payment by 90 days or more — dropped to 1.51% from 2.06% in December 2017, a change of 26.89%. They did, however, edge up from last month's rate of 1.5%. The year-end numbers reflect the healthier atmosphere mortgages incubated in since the housing bubble. "The high credit quality and corresponding lower risk we've seen in the post-crisis origination market for the better part of a decade continues to pay dividends in terms of mortgage performance. In addition, the low interest rate environment we've enjoyed for so long had — until very recently — resulted in a refinance-heavy blend of originations for years," said Graboske. By-and-large, refinances perform better than purchases since borrowers lock in a lower interest rate with their refis. The low unemployment rate also helped consumers make their payments on time.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor for December --Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for December today. According to Black Knight, 3.88% of mortgages were delinquent in December, down from 4.71% in December 2017. Black Knight also reported that 0.52% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.65% a year ago. This gives a total of 4.40% delinquent or in foreclosure. Press Release: BBlack Knight: Active Foreclosure Rate and Inventory End 2018 Below Pre-Recession Averages; Total Year Foreclosure Starts and Sales Hit More Than 18-Year Lows  “Across the board, 2018 year-end numbers are good news from a mortgage performance perspective,” said Graboske. “All four major performance metrics – delinquencies, serious delinquencies, active foreclosures and total non-current inventory – ended the year below pre-recession averages for the first time since the financial crisis. Just 576,000 foreclosures were initiated throughout the entirety of 2018 – an 18-year low – and the vast majority of these were repeat actions. In fact, first-time foreclosures were down 18 percent from the year before, hitting the lowest point we’ve seen since Black Knight started reporting the metric in 2000. Even repeats – though making up more than 60 percent of all foreclosures – were down 6 percent from 2017.  “These year-end numbers are further proof of what we’ve been observing for some time now.The high credit quality and corresponding lower risk we’ve seen in the post-crisis origination market for the better part of a decade continues to pay dividends in terms of mortgage performance. In addition, the low interest rate environment we’ve enjoyed for so long had – until very recently – resulted in a refinance-heavy blend of originations for years. Refis, as a whole, tend to outperform their purchase mortgage counterparts, which has boosted mortgage performance as well. On top of that, we’ve had the benefit of strong employment and housing markets, which have helped the vast majority of homeowners meet their debt obligations, while those few who may have faced a possible default have gained enough equity to be able to sell rather than face foreclosure.”

Mortgage defect risk rises to four-year peak because of higher rates -- Mortgage application defect risk was at its highest level in four years because of higher interest rates as well as natural disasters during the latter part of 2018, according to First American. But for 2019, a reduction in application defects is likely as the market shifts to adjustable-rate mortgages and California recovers from last year's wildfires. The First American Loan Application Defect Index was 87 in December, up 7.4% from November and 4.8% from December 2017. It is the highest point for the index since October 2014, when it was 88. The refinance component was up 8.2% over November and the purchase segment was up 7.1%. But it is the rise in the purchase index that is more concerning to First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming. "While loan application defects can happen on either purchase or refinance transactions, there is a greater propensity for fraud and misrepresentation with purchase transactions," Fleming said in a press release. "We have seen this before, in 2013, as mortgage rates increased, so did overall defect, fraud and misrepresentation risk." The highest all-time index value was recorded in October 2013 at 102. There was an increase in defects in mortgage applications from every state in December compared with November, and with 39 states on a year-over-year basis. The California wildfires also contributed to the increase in application defect risk. "Before July, defect, fraud and misrepresentation risk was declining in California. Since July, California's defect risk has steadily increased. In California, fraud risk was 14.5% higher than one year ago, and 6% higher than November," Fleming said. Higher mortgage rates typically result in an increase in ARM applications to purchase a home. There is a lower defect risk associated with those loans than for fixed-rate mortgages, he said.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey - From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications decreased 2.5 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending February 1, 2019. The previous week’s results included an adjustment for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.... The Refinance Index increased 0.3 from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 5 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 13 percent compared with the previous week and was 2 percent lower than the same week one year ago....“Mortgage rates for all loan types declined last week, with the 30-year fixed mortgage rate falling seven basis points to 4.69 percent – the lowest rate since April 2018,” said Joel Kan, Associate Vice President of Industry Surveys and Forecasts. “Despite more favorable borrowing costs, and after a three-week surge in activity, purchase applications have slowed over the past two weeks, and are now almost 2 percent lower than a year ago. However, moderating price gains and the strong job market, including evidence of faster wage growth, should help purchase growth going forward.”Added Kan, “Refinance applications saw a very slight increase compared to the previous week, despite the broad decline in rates.”... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 4.69 percent from 4.76 percent, with points decreasing to 0.45 from 0.47 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Mortgage applications drop, although rates fell to 10-month low -  Mortgage applications decreased 2.5% from one week earlier, even as interest rates fell to their lowest levels in 10 months, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.The MBA's Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending Feb. 1 found that the refinance index increased 0.3% from the previous week. The previous week's results included an adjustment for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 41.6% of total applications from 42% the previous week.  "Mortgage rates for all loan types declined last week, with the 30-year fixed mortgage rate falling seven basis points to 4.69%, the lowest rate since April 2018," Joel Kan, the MBA's associate vice president of industry surveys and forecasts, said in a press release.The seasonally adjusted purchase index decreased 5% from one week earlier, while the unadjusted purchase index increased 13% compared with the previous week and was 2% lower than the same week one year ago."Despite more favorable borrowing costs, and after a three-week surge in activity, purchase applications have slowed over the past two weeks, and are now almost 2% lower than a year ago. However, moderating price gains and the strong job market, including evidence of faster wage growth, should help purchase growth going forward. Refinance applications saw a very slight increase compared to the previous week, despite the broad decline in rates," Kan said.Adjustable-rate loan activity decreased to 7.8% from 7.9% of total applications, while the share of Federal Housing Administration-guaranteed loans remained unchanged from 10.5% the week prior.

CoreLogic: House Prices up 4.7% Year-over-year in December - The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA). From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports December Home Prices Increased by 4.7 Percent Year Over Year  CoreLogic® ... today released the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI™) and HPI Forecast™ for December 2018, which shows home prices rose both year over year and month over month.Home prices increased nationally by 4.7 percent year over year from December 2017. On a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.1 percent in December 2018. (November 2018 data was revised. Revisions with public records data are standard, and to ensure accuracy, CoreLogic incorporates the newly released public data to provide updated results each month.)Looking ahead, the CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates home prices will increase by 4.6 percent on a year-over-year basis from December 2018 to December 2019. Comparing the annual average HPI and HPI forecast for 2018 and 2019, average price growth is forecasted to slow from 5.8 percent to 3.4 percent. On a month-over-month basis, home prices are expected to decrease by 1 percent from December 2018 to January 2019. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices calculated using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. Values are derived from state-level forecasts by weighting indices according to the number of owner-occupied households for each state. “Higher mortgage rates slowed home sales and price growth during the second half of 2018,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Annual price growth peaked in March and averaged 6.4 percent during the first six months of the year. In the second half of 2018, growth moderated to 5.2 percent. For 2019, we are forecasting an average annual price growth of 3.4 percent.”

After losing their homes, Paradise residents are being pushed off their land  - Survivors of a wildfire that obliterated an entire California town have been told they cannot continue to camp on their burnt-out lots and must leave. Officials in Paradise, which was swept by a blaze that killed at least 86 in November, passed an ordinance on Monday that will make it illegal for residents to live on property that hasn’t been cleared of burned debris. Crews began cleaning up the remnants of more than 14,000 destroyed homes last week, and the process could take at least a year. More than 100 residents who returned to the town in December and January will have to relocate.  “If there was any other place to go, we would be there,” said Anastasia Skinner, a mother of four. After their home burnt down, she bought an RV with her husband on the understanding that they would be able to continue to live in Paradise. “They said we could come back – that’s why we bought the RV. Now we have to spend more money we don’t have,” Skinner said. “I didn’t think it was possible for them to kick us off our own land.”  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) recently warned the town that if it allowed people to live on properties that had not been cleared of debris and hazardous material it could lose the $1.7bn allocated toward cleanup costs. Fema said its decision to fund the cleanup was based on a warning from the Butte county health department over the potential for widespread toxic exposures and threats to public health. “It was a terrible position to be put in,” said Jody Jones, the town’s mayor. “We can’t give up billions of dollars in cleanup money or our town will look like a war zone for 20 years.”  The mayor said the town was not trying to criminalize people for living on their own properties, and is working to find a place for residents to take their RVs and trailers.

Update: Framing Lumber Prices Down Year-over-year - Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.   Lumber prices declined from the record highs in early 2018, and are now down about 25% year-over-year.  This graph shows two measures of lumber prices: 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through January 18, 2019 (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.  Right now Random Lengths prices are down 28% from a year ago, and CME futures are  down 25% year-over-year.  There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability.

Consumer Credit Hits $4 Trillion As Student, Auto Loans Hit All Time High - After a few months of wild swings, in December US consumer credit normalized rising by $16.6 billion, just below the $17 billion expected, after November's whopping $22.5 billion. The surge in borrowing in November brought the total to just above $4 trillion for the first time ever on the back of a America's ongoing love affair with auto and student loans. Revolving credit increased by $1.7 billion to $1.045 trillion, a modest slowdown since November's $4.8 billion. Perhaps more notably, the lowest increase in December credit card usage since 2012. There was barely a change in the monthly increase in non-revolving credit, i.e. student and auto loans, which jumped by $14.8 billion, bringing the nonrevolving total to a new all time high of $2.965 trillion. And while slowdown in December credit card use may prompt fresh questions about the strength of the US consumer during the all-important holiday spending season, the recent dramatic upward revision to personal savings notwithstanding, one place where there were no surprises, was in the total amount of student and auto loans: here as expected, both numbers hit fresh all time highs, with a record $1.593 trillion in student loans outstanding, an impressive increase of $10.3 billion in the quarter, while auto debt also hit a new all time high of $1.155 trillion, an increase of $9.5 billion in the quarter. In short, whether they want to or not, Americans continue to drown even deeper in debt, and enjoying every minute of it.

JCPenney To Stop Selling Furniture, Appliances; Still Selling Clothes - In a desperate attempt to revitalize her company's struggling business after Bill Ackman and a succession of CEOs failed to turn the struggling retailer around, new JC Penney CEO Jill Soltau revealed on Wednesday a plan to stop selling appliances and concentrate on clothes in the latest attempt to arrest the decline of the US retail world's second-fastest melting ice cube, According to Bloomberg, the struggling retailer, which is facing the risk of a bankruptcy filing in the not-too-distant future, will also stop selling furniture as part of its latest inventory overhaul. Though regular shoppers will be relieved to know that JCP will continue to sell clothes.  The decision to drop appliances marks the undoing of one of the signature strategies of one of Soltau's predecessors, Marvin Ellison, who led the department store into the appliance business in 2016 in an attempt to fill the void left by Sears after it sold off its Kenmore brand. However, the plan achieved less-than-stellar results, and Ellison unexpectedly quit JCP last year to join Lowe's.Since her arrival at the company in mid-October, Soltau has been struggling to streamline operations at the 116-year-old retailer, mostly by dropping poor-selling inventory and closing poor-performing stores. As the company revealed in a statement announcing the reorganization, the decision to drop appliances will help the company "better meet customer expectations" and "improve financial performance."

Sears Lives- Judge Approves Lampert's $5.2BN Bid To Keep Bankrupt Retailer Alive - Having been taken to the brink of liquidation, bankrupt retailer Sears will live to fight another quarter or two, after Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain on Thursday approved Chairman Eddie Lampert’s $5.2 billion bid to keep the once-iconic retailer alive. The court decision, which had been challenged by Sears' creditors, assures that Lampert’s quest to preserve about 425 stores and 45,000 jobs will continue for the foreseeable future. Drain said on Thursday he will enter the order on Friday, making it official. For Sears, which filed for bankruptcy in October, Lampert's bid was the only option that could have saved it. The deal though, has been protested by its unsecured creditors, which have lambasted the deal as a "scheme to rob Sears and its creditors of assets." They accused Lampert of using his unique position as Sears' longtime chairman, CEO and largest shareholder to orchestrate deals that unduly benefited him. As CNBC notes, in a trial that spanned three days and two courtrooms within the White Plains, New York courthouse, Drain overheard a litany of concerns from Sears' unsecured creditors, who pointed to flaws in ESL's business plan and its previous failures running the retail giant. It attacked the bankruptcy sale that Sears ran as it looked for a buyer and argued that ESL's bid was deficient.

 Payless Prepares Second Bankruptcy In Under Two Years --It feels like it was just yesterday that we wrote about Payless (ShoeSource) Inc. filing for bankruptcy back in 2017. Well, it's deja vu time because less than two years after emerging from its first Chapter 11, Payless is is preparing for its second trip to bankruptcy court with a plan to shrink the size of the discount shoe chain even further, according to Bloomberg.It's unclear if this filing will be a Chapter 11 or a Chapter 7 liquidation: the retailer, which is seeking a DIP loan, is said to be discussing plans to shutter a significant portion, and potentially all of its North American stores.Once it files - again - Payless will be the latest in a wave of retail bankruptcies (and re-bankruptcies) during the past two years as online rivals and heavy debt overtake once-iconic brands like Toys “R” Us and Sears.And, as we wrote earlier this week, there is no end to the pain in sight, with at least half a dozen names going bust so far this year, including Shopko, FullBeauty Brands, Charlotte Russe, Things Remembered and Gymboree, which like Payless, also filed for bankruptcy last month and is also liquidating most of its operations. In total, since 2016, some 35 retail chains have filed for chapter 11 reporting more than $100M in debt according to Reorg First Day. Payless, which employs more than 18,000 globally and operates about 3,600 outlets worldwide, with more than 2,700 in North America, was founded in 1956 with the goal of selling affordable shoes in a self-service setting and is, or rather was the largest specialty footwear chain in the Western Hemisphere; it was doing great until its 2012 LBO by Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital Partners, which saddled it with untenable debt, and ended up filing for bankruptcy protection in April 2017. A few months later, it emerged with fewer stores, half the debt load, creditors owning the equity.

 Fighting back against the billionaires - As a wave of bankruptcies hits the retail sector, workers want to know why their bosses are coming out ahead.The fall of Sears, once an icon of American retail might, has hit Bruce Miller hard.The 56-year-old started at the department store out of high school, rising to be a senior auto technician.But since Sears closed his New Jersey location last April, he has lost his health insurance and his house. Now his pension is at risk.For Mr Miller's bosses, however, fortunes look brighter. Veteran journalist Michelle Celarier has estimated that longtime Sears chairman and former chief executive Eddie Lampert has made nearly $1.4bn (£1.1bn) off his investment in the company, thanks to performance fees, dividends and other payments.Meanwhile, its top 340 executives were collectively granted a potential $25m in bonuses in December, just months after the firm declared bankruptcy."It's utterly ridiculous to me," says Mr Miller, who is now relying on odd jobs to help pay bills. "How can you reward somebody for driving a business into the ground?" Laments like Mr Miller's have surfaced repeatedly in recent years, amid a wave of bankruptcies in the US retail sector that has claimed household names such as Toys R Us, Payless Shoe Source and Nine West.Much of the blame has focused on the disruption caused by online shopping. But analysts say many of the firms have another feature in common: investors who took control of the retailers, loaded them with debt, and extracted fees, dividends and other assets for their own benefit.

The Retail Apocalypse Isn't Over- It Is Only Just Getting Started - Last year's holiday sales season was one of the strongest in years. But unfortunately for America's struggling retailers, many missed out on the sales bonanza as Amazon and other e-commerce platforms accrued nearly all of the sales growth while foot traffic at US malls was stagnant. Already, Kohl's and Macy's have helped crush the narrative of the strong consumer by slashing their earnings guidance, something that doesn't bode well for Q4 GDP, thanks to what we warned would be an unsustainable inventory build up that has inflated growth numbers in recent quarters. The retail space has already seen the first headline-grabbing retail bankruptcy of the year (see: Gymboree). And as Bloomberg warned in a story published this week, even after high-profile bankruptcies including Sears and Toys R' Us, the "retail apocalypse" is far from over. Though the Fed has capitulated to the whims of the market, retailers still make up about one-fifth of the universe of distresses borrowers. And on Friday, the head of the biggest mall owner in the US warned that more bankruptcies are coming this year. Economists are increasingly worried about a recession this year or next. Simon Property Group CEO David Simon told investors on Friday during a conference call that there are chains that his company is "nervous" about. Anybody who has traveled to a US mall recently may have noticed this change: Where once there were shoppers, now they halls look disconcertingly empty.  As Barry Bobrow and Lynn Whitmore at Wells Fargo Capital Finance warned, the industry is likely heading for a "prolonged restructuring" as the pre-crisis debt binge undertaken by retailers continues to haunt the broader industry. Retailers who are already weighed down with debt are also facing pressure to innovate and pivot to e-commerce. But their financial pressures are leaving them little wiggle room. Put another way, the problems facing Sears are effectively an extremely acute version of the problems facing the broader industry.

February short leading data starts out decent --  We’ve had two pieces of forward looking data in the last week (in addition to the leading bits in the employment report).The first was the ISM manufacturing index: Contrary to my expectations, the most leading new orders component rebounded sharply, up to 58.2. This is closer to its “hot” readings of mid-2018 than to its tepid 51.3 in December. The second was motor vehicle sales. After housing, this is usually the second aspect of consumer spending to turn. While not great, it was OK:(H/t Calculated Risk). Motor vehicle sales tend to have long plateaus during expansions, before turning down in the 6 to 12 months before a recession. For me to think such a deterioration has started, I would need to see more than one month of less than 16.5 units sold. In January, 16.6 units were sold on an annualized basis. No signs of any imminent downturn in this data, even though both have backed off from their best readings.

US trade deficit narrows much more than expected in a win for Trump - The U.S trade deficit with its global partners fell in November for the first time after five straight months of increases as the shortfall with China and several other countries declined. Tightening the balance between imports and exports has been a major goal of the Trump administration, which last year started levying tariffs in an effort to close the gap. A release from the government Wednesday showed the gap had closed in November, the most recent month for which data was available, to $49.3 billion from $55.7 billion in October, representing an 11.5 percent decline. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for a deficit of $54.3 billion. The decline was largely due to a slide in imports, which fell 2.9 percent to $259.2 billion. Exports edged lower to $209.9 billion, a 0.6 percent drop. In all, the year-to-date goods and services deficit increased by $51.9 billion, a 10.4 percent rise from the same period in 2017. Exports rose $157.1 billion or 7.3 percent, while imports gained $208.9 billion or 7.9 percent. On a broader level, the drop in the trade deficit will serve as a boost to fourth-quarter GDP, which is expected to show a 2.5 percent increase, according to CNBC's Rapid Update tracker as well as the Atlanta Fed's GDPNow measure. How the trade tensions play out over a longer period, though, is unknown as the U.S-China talks continue ahead of a March 2 deadline for imposition of another round of tariffs. "America's trade fight with the world has finally started to slow global trade and only time will tell whether this is a good thing for the economy in the long run," Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG, said in anote. Among individual countries, the gap with China closed $2.8 billion to $35.4 billion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC in an interview Wednesday that trade talks have been "very productive."

Trade Deficit decreased to $49.3 Billion in November --From the Department of Commerce reported: The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $49.3 billion in November, down $6.4 billion from $55.7 billion in October, revised. November exports were $209.9 billion, $1.3 billion less than October exports. November imports were $259.2 billion, $7.7 billion less than October imports. Exports and imports decreased in December. Exports are 27% above the pre-recession peak and up 4% compared to November 2017; imports are 12% above the pre-recession peak, and up 3% compared to November 2017.In general, trade has been picking up, although trade has declined slightly recently. The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum. The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.Oil imports averaged $57.54 in November, down from $61.23 in October, and up from $50.10 in November 2017. The trade deficit with China increased to $37.9 billion in November, from $35.4 billion in November 2017.

AAR: January Rail Carloads up 1.7% YoY, Intermodal Up 0.5% YoY -- From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission. Total U.S. rail carloads were up 1.7%, or 21,054 carloads, in January 2019 over January 2018,while U.S. intermodal volume was up 0.5%, or 6,008 containers and trailers. You can split the five weeks of January 2019 into two parts. In weeks 1-3, total carloads were up 8.1% over last year and intermodal was up 5.7%. In weeks 4-5, though, carloads were down 6.6% (including an 8.4% decline in week 5) and intermodal was down 6.5% (including a 9.6% decline in week 5). Clearly, harsh weather at the end of January hurt rail traffic. This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).  Red is 2019.  Rail carloads have been weak over the last decade due to the decline in coal shipments. U.S. railroads (excluding the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads) originated 1.238 million carloads in January 2019, up 1.7%, or 21,054 carloads, over January 2018. Weekly average total carloads in January 2019 were 247,697, the fewest for any month since January 2018. In terms of rail carloads, January (which consists of weeks 1-5) had two parts. For weeks 1-3, total carloads were up 8.1% this year over last year. For weeks 4-5, though, they were down 6.6%. The extreme cold this year at the end of January in many parts of the country limited rail operations substantially, though it’s impossible to precisely calculate what carloads would have been if weather had been more normal.  The second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):In addition to carloads, U.S. railroads originated 1.316 million containers and trailers in January 2019, up 0.5% over January 2018. Weekly average intermodal volume in January 2019 was 263,234 units, the most ever for January.Like carloads, intermodal suffered from the weather. In the first three weeks of 2019, intermodal volume was up 5.7% over last year; weeks 2 and 3 this year were the highest-volume intermodal weeks in January in history for U.S. railroads. In weeks 4-5, though, intermodal was down 6.5% this year over last year, including a 9.6% decline in week 5, when weather was especially cold in much of the country. Again, it’s not possibly to precisely quantify the impact, but it’s reasonable to expect some make-up volume in February.Traffic in 2019 was off to a strong start, but then declined sharply due to the weather.   AAR expects some "make-up volume" in February.

 BEA: January Vehicles Sales at 16.6 Million SAAR, 2018 Annual Sales slightly higher than 2017 - The BEA released their estimate of January vehicle sales. The BEA estimated sales of 16.60 million SAAR in January 2019 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), down 5.1% from the December sales rate, and down 3.0% from January 2018.  Total annual sales were 17.21 million in 2018, up slightly from 17.14 million in 2017.  So 2018 was the fourth best year on record after 2016, 2015, and 2000.This graph shows annual light vehicle sales since 1976. Source: BEA. Sales for 2018 were the fourth best ever. The second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967. Vehicle SalesNote: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 16.60 million SAAR. This was a weak start to 2019, but a small decline in sales this year isn't a concern - I think sales will move mostly sideways at near record levels. This means the economic boost from increasing auto sales is over (from the bottom in 2009, auto sales boosted growth every year through 2016).

After Abysmal January Sales, Car Dealers Are Overflowing With Unsold Cars - We recently discussed the dismal sales start for the US automobile industry in 2019. Now, a follow up by the WSJ paints an even more pessimistic picture for the start of February.According to the report, dealers are starting 2019 with a growing surplus of inventory of unsold vehicles, which will likely pressure them to cut output: there were 3.95 million vehicles in lots at the end of January, a 4% increase from December and up nearly 3% from last January.And even though seasonality exists in the industry and the winter is traditionally slower for automotive sales, the inventory build up could be problematic because dealers are starting the year with more unsold inventory than they had when auto sales peaked three years ago. Back then, 17.55 million cars were sold and now, while the latest estimates expect less than 17 million vehicles to be sold in 2019.  In response to the production glut, we already documented over the weekend that General Motors is slashing thousands of jobs across its North American factories. Meanwhile, Ford has worked to phase out slow selling sedans and shift its production to SUVs. This follows a strong year which saw 17.3 million sales in 2018, better than estimated. Alas, starting 2019 the trend has reversed, and auto sales were down 1% and passenger sales, including sedans, were down 4% last month. This continues amid a shift from sedans to SUVs.As noted previously, auto companies were also relying on fleet sales to keep results looking good. Fleet sales and rental car sales are some of the last channels that auto companies have to try and juice results. Mark Wakefield, a co-head for the automotive practice at distressed consulting firm AlixPartners called this move a "short term band-aid".  And yet, despite the clear industry headwinds, the plan still is to build about 17 million cars in North America this year, with most of those destined for the United States. And manufacturers continue to try to avoid heavy discounting to sell vehicles: the industry spent about $3720 per vehicle in January to incentivize sales, which was down $140 from the prior year's record incentives.

Class 8 Heavy Truck Orders Crash 68% in January - Among the latest dismal news about the strength of the US economy, on Tuesday ACT Research released preliminary truck orders for January 2019 which showed that Class 8 truck orders collapsed an astounding 68% for January. The decline is being attributed to a 300,000+ vehicle backlog potentially prompting fleets to halt purchases in the near term.   Specifically, in January Class 8 net orders were 15,800 units (14,700 SA; 176,400 SAAR), down 68% YoY and down 26% MoM. Class 5- 7 January net orders were 23,400 units, down 24% YoY but up 3% MoM. Class 8 trucks are one of the more common heavy trucks on the road, used for transport, logistics and occasionally (some dump trucks) for industrial purposes. Typical 18 wheelers on the road are generally all Class 8 vehicles, and traditionally are seen as an accurate coincident indicator of trade and logistics trends in the economy. Stephen Volkmann of Jefferies told Bloomberg that the collapse "should not be a surprise, but is likely to feed the bears". He also guessed that upgrade demand could continue to "support high production through 2020". We'll believe that when we see it.  According to Neil Frohnapple at Buckingham, January is the third month in a row of year over year declines after Q3 of 2018 proved to be better than expectations. Frohnapple told Bloomberg he was "a little surprised" that net orders for January came in at just ~16,000. According to JPMorgan, the New Orders component of the ISM Manufacturing Index tends to be the best leading indicator of future freight trends and truck demand. Specifically, the year-over-year change in New Orders has historically led the year-over-year change in the Cass Freight Index (the bank's preferred broad-based indicator of  freight trends) by 6-9 months. The ISM New Orders index was 58.2 in January, down 11.0% YoY but still well above 50. The Cass Freight Index was down 0.8% YoY in December (the latest month available).

US Factory Orders Tumbled In November --After tumbling in October, US Factory Orders were expected to rebound (albeit modestly) in November's (shutdown-delayed) data, but they didn't... US Factory Orders tumbled 0.6% MoM, notably worse than the 0.6% rebound expected after October's 2.1% plunge... This is the first consecutive monthly contraction since June 2016... Worse still ex-Transports, orders tumbled 1.3% MoM.Year-over-year, factory order growth slowed dramatically to just 4.1% YoY... The final updates for Durable Goods data was also disappointing with Core Capex slumping 0.6% MoM (after the same drop the previous month) and shipments dropped 0.2% (against expectations of unchanged). The headline Durable Goods Orders data also slowed dramatically from the preliminary print (rising just 0.7% against expectations of a 1.5% rebound). Finally, we note that the relationship between US factory orders and the 'hard' broad macro data of the US economy has decoupled in recent years... But more worryingly, 'soft' data has collapsed since the factory orders data was created... Probably nothing...

U.S. factory orders fall; core capital goods unrevised (Reuters) - New orders for U.S.-made goods unexpectedly fell in November amid sharp declines in demand for machinery and electrical equipment, government data showed on Monday, suggesting a slowdown in manufacturing as 2018 ended. Factory goods orders fell 0.6 percent, the Commerce Department said, after an unrevised 2.1 percent drop in October. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast factory orders rising 0.2 percent in November. The release of the report was delayed by a recently ended five-week partial shutdown of the federal government. A survey from the Institute for Supply Management published last Friday suggested manufacturing activity picked up at the start of the year, driven by a sharp rebound in orders in January. But some manufacturers continued to complain that tariffs on steel imports were pushing up prices of raw materials. In November orders for machinery tumbled 1.7 percent after gaining 0.2 percent in October. There were large declines in orders for industrial and metalworking machinery, as well as ventilation, heating, air‐conditioning and refrigeration equipment. Orders for electrical equipment, appliances and components dropped 1.1 percent after rising 1.0 percent in October. But orders for transportation equipment rebounded 3.0 percent after plunging 12.4 percent in October. Orders for civilian aircraft and parts rose 6.9 percent in November. Motor vehicles and parts orders edged up 0.1 percent. The Commerce Department also said November orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, which are seen as a measure of business spending plans on equipment, dropped 0.6 percent as reported in December. Orders for these so-called core capital goods increased 0.5 percent in October. Shipments of core capital goods, which are used to calculate business equipment spending in the gross domestic product report, slipped 0.2 percent in November instead of the previously reported 0.1 percent dip. Core capital goods shipments jumped 0.8 percent in October. 

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index decreased to 56.7% in January  --The January ISM Non-manufacturing index was at 56.7%, down from 58.0% in December. The employment index increased in January to 57.8%, from 56.6%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction. From the Institute for Supply Management: January 2019 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business® “The NMI® registered 56.7 percent, which is 1.3 percentage points lower than the December reading of 58 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector, at a slower rate. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 59.7 percent, 1.5 percentage points lower than the December reading of 61.2 percent, reflecting growth for the 114th consecutive month, at a slower rate in January. The New Orders Index registered 57.7 percent, 5 percentage points lower than the reading of 62.7 percent in December. The Employment Index increased 1.2 percentage points in January to 57.8 percent from the December reading of 56.6 percent. The Prices Index increased 1.4 percentage points from the December reading of 58 percent to 59.4 percent, indicating that prices increased in January for the 20th consecutive month. According to the NMI®, 11 non-manufacturing industries reported growth. The non-manufacturing sector’s growth rate cooled off in January. Respondents are concerned about the impacts of the government shutdown but remain mostly optimistic about overall business conditions.” This graph shows the ISM non-manufacturing index (started in January 2008) and the ISM non-manufacturing employment diffusion index. This suggests slower expansion in January than in December.

Markit Services PMI: "Joint-weakest rise in new business since October 2017" - The January US Services Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 54.2 percent, down 0.2 from the final November estimate of 54.47. The Investing.com consensus was for 54.2 percent. Markit's Services PMI is a diffusion index: A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector; below 50 indicates contraction. Here is the opening from the latest press release:Commenting on the PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said:“The robust economic growth signalled by the US PMI surveys at the start of the year sits in stark contrast to the near-stalling of growth seen in Europe, China and Japan. At current levels, the surveys are consistent with annualised GDP growth of around 2.5% at the start of the year." [Press Release]Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 234,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending February 2, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 234,000, a decrease of 19,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 253,000. The 4-week moving average was 224,750, an increase of 4,500 from the previous week's unrevised average of 220,250. The previous week was unrevised. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

 Leading scenes from the employment report not so positive - I seem to have been the only person to pick up on the weakness in the underlying leading aspects of last Friday’s jobs report.While the number of job gains was great, and that average wages for non-managerial workers had their second best showing, at 3.4%, of the entire expansion, just behind last month’s 3.5%, the leading aspects of the report, with one exception, were not so positive. Let’s start with temporary and manufacturing jobs. Here are two graphs showing their month over month percentage gains over the last 20 years (manufacturing is multiplied *2 for scale purposes): Both of these advance less than 0.2% m/m and ultimately decline m/m before a recession begins. Now here is a close-up on the last year: Manufacturing jobs increased just shy of +0.2% as scaled, and temporary jobs less than +0.1% for the second time in three months. Even the three month average for temporary jobs is only +0.1%. Next, let’s look at the manufacturing work week. This is one of the 10 components of the Index of Leading Indicators, and generally turns before manufacturing jobs do. At 42.0 hours in January, they are 0.4 hours below their recent peak: While a turndown of at least -0.5 hours has generally been necessary prior to a recession, the recent decline isn’t just noise and in the last 20 years has usually coincided with a slowdown, such as in 1984, 1994, and 2002. Next, here is short time unemployment (less than 5 weeks). This is one of the short leading indicators identified by Prof. Geoffrey Moore, and while they are obviously noisy, his research indicated they usually made a bottom before initial jobless claims: These are clearly within the range of noise, but they have not made a new low for close to a year. Finally, here are construction jobs for the duration of this expansion. These had one of the 10 best months of the entire 10 year expansion in January: In fact, they stand out in sharp contrast to the weakness in the housing market, so much so that I suspect there will be a substantial downward revision in a month’s time. In summary, of the five leading indicators in the jobs report, only one — construction jobs — was clearly positive. Two — temporary jobs and manufacturing jobs — while positive, have decelerated significantly and are consistent with a slowdown in the near future. Two — the manufacturing work week and short term unemployment — outright declined. The latter is within the range of noise, but the former is also consistent with a slowdown.

Employment: January Diffusion Indexes - The BLS diffusion index for total private employment was at 61.0 in January, down from 66.3 in December. For manufacturing, the diffusion index was at 59.9, down from 63.2 in December. Note: Any reading above 60 is very good. Think of this as a measure of how widespread job gains are across industries. The further from 50 (above or below), the more widespread the job losses or gains reported by the BLS.  From the BLS: Figures are the percent of industries with employment increasing plus one-half of the industries with unchanged employment, where 50 percent indicates an equal balance between industries with increasing and decreasing employment. Overall both total private and manufacturing job growth was widespread again in January.

Updated employment multipliers for the U.S. economy -  Economic Policy Institute  When it comes to the ripple effects that spread to the rest of the labor market, one lost dollar of economic output or one lost job is not the same as another.Each industry has backward linkages to economic sectors that provide the materials needed for the industry’s output, and each industry has forward linkages to the economic sectors where the industry’s workers spend their income. Therefore, in addition to the jobs directly supported by an industry, a large number of indirect jobs may also be supported by that industry. The subtraction (or addition) of jobs and output in industries with strong backward and forward linkages to other economic sectors can cause large ripple effects.This brief calculates employment multipliers by industry to illustrate the importance of these linkages, updating earlier work by Bivens (2003) and Baker and Lee (1993). Employment multipliers measure how the creation or destruction of output or employment in a particular industry translates into wider employment changes throughout the economy.

Private contract workers left without pay following federal government shutdown -- Following the five-week-long United States federal government shutdown, in which hundreds of thousands of workers were furloughed, huge numbers of federal contract workers have been unable to collect back payments for the time they were unable to work, even though bills, medical expenses and other financial requirements have continued to mount. The 35-day partial government shutdown, leaving over 800,000 thousand federal workers and an unknown number of private government contractors without pay for weeks, was an unvarnished act of political contempt and cruelty toward American workers. Hundreds of thousands of employees deemed “essential” to the functioning of the state were forced to work despite not being paid, a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which forbids slave labor.Such treatment led tens of thousands of workers to sell belongings, take additional jobs as well as line up outside of soup kitchens. On Saturday, in an apparent suicide, a Transportation Security Administration officer jumped to his death from a hotel window inside the Orlando International Airport in Florida. While the psychological causes of the worker’s death are still undetermined, such an act must be viewed in the context of the stress and desperation confronting the workforce during the shutdown. While federal workers began to receive their first bit of back pay late last week, workers employed by the federal government’s vast network of private contractors were not so lucky. “My company isn’t allowing us any opportunity to work overtime to make up lost wages, nor are they paying us for any federal holidays that occurred during the shutdown,” the worker said, adding that the company is suggesting that they exhaust all of their paid time off (PTO), leaving them with no sick days or vacation time, or simply consider the 35-day shutdown as unpaid time off.

The reality of capitalism: GM makes $11.8 billion in profits while closing plants, eliminating 14,000 jobs - General Motors made $11.8 billion in profits in 2018, according to a company statement released yesterday. This included $10.8 billion in North American earnings last year and a 9.5 percent profit margin in the final quarter. These giant profits were announced as GM accelerates it plans to shut five factories in the US and Canada and destroy more than 14,000 jobs. GM’s corporate board initiated the jobs massacre two days before the release of the profit report, which showed an eight percent decline over last year’s profits. The aim is to reassure Wall Street that GM will not bow to popular outrage over the plant closings and mass layoffs. On Monday, the first of 4,000 engineers, technicians, managers and other white-collar workers, including 1,300 workers at the GM Tech Center in the Detroit suburb of Warren, were laid off and escorted out of their work locations. The half-century old Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant is scheduled to be closed next month. The Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant is to be closed on June 1, and the Oshawa, Ontario plant shut down by the fourth quarter of 2019. The company also plans to close transmission plants in Baltimore and Warren by April 1 and August 1, respectively.  Now, even as the auto companies are flush with cash, the corporations are demanding even more sacrifices from workers and handing over billions to Wall Street.  Since 2015, GM squandered $10.6 billion on stock buybacks to boost the value of the company’s shares, more than double the $4.5 billion GM is expected to save next year from the job cuts.Billions more have been spent on dividend payments to wealthy shareholders. This means even greater personal fortunes for top GM investors like Warren Buffett, the world’s third richest man (net worth $84.4 billion) whose Berkshire Hathaway owns 52.4 million GM shares, and Paul Schwarzman (net worth $12.4 billion) whose BlackRock investment firm controls 79 million GM shares.

Lordstown GM plant closing: Another blow to northeastern Ohio --The threatened closure of the General Motors (GM) Lordstown Assembly Plant, scheduled for March of this year, will be a devastating blow to the Warren-Youngstown, Ohio, area, a community that has been ravaged by decades of deindustrialization. Located about halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh along interstate 80, the plant is one of only a few industrial sites remaining in the Warren-Youngstown area. The other targeted GM plants include two in Michigan (the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Warren transmission), one in Oshawa, Ontario, and another near Baltimore, Maryland.  The plant closures and layoffs have evoked widespread opposition. However, the United Auto Workers (UAW) is working closely with General Motors to prevent a struggle in defense of jobs, including those of thousands of salaried workers. Instead, the UAW is seeking to divert workers’ anger against their class brothers and sisters in Mexico, blaming Mexican workers for taking American jobs. At the same time, it is telling workers to keep quiet and hope to be one of the few who may get offered a transfer to other GM plants. Frank, an electrician at Lordstown Assembly, said, “We have to fight this. I can’t move. I’ve been living here too long. Nobody is going to hire someone my age, and I can’t blame them. They want someone young who is going to be able to put time in with the company. “We gave all the concessions, and the company got all this money, and now they are closing the plants. Everybody knows the union is working with the company. They don’t fight for us.” The closing of Lordstown Assembly will have a devastating impact on a region that has long been depressed. At one point, the facility was listed as the second largest employer in the region, after the Diocese of Youngstown. It is larger than the city and county governments, the regional health care systems and the state university.

 African-Americans’ Economic Setbacks from the Great Recession Are Ongoing – and Could Be Repeated - The financial crisis of 2009, the worst since the Great Depression, was hard on all Americans. But arguably no group felt its sting more than African-Americans, who were already the most economically and financially vulnerable segment of the population going into it.Even today, a decade since the Great Recession hit, blacks still haven’t fully recovered and remain in a precarious financial condition. What’s worse, Wall Street and policymakers are beginning to worry another downturn may be on the horizon. I teach a class at the University of Florida called “Black Wall Street,” in which we explore the issue of capitalism as it pertains to African-Americans and examine historical data on income and wealth. In a nutshell, the numbers show blacks are woefully behind other groups and may never emerge from their rut if political leaders don’t do something about it soon.The notion that blacks are especially prone to financial instability in the U.S. economy is hardly a new revelation.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, often highlighted the particular plight of African-Americans in his crusade for civil rights. In 1967, during a speech in Harlem, he said, “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”The data before the Great Recession of 2008-2009 tell a stark story. In 2007, the average black family earned US$55,265, just 64 percent of a white, non-Hispanic household income of $86,732. For the poorest fifth of African-American families, the situation is even worse. They earned just 43 percent of the income of their white peers in 2005. Furthermore, more than 20 percent of African-Americans earned less than $15,000 a year in 2008, nearly or more than double that of whites, Asians and Hispanics. African-Americans are also far more likely to be unemployed. In the years before the Great Recession hit in 2008, for example, the jobless rate among blacks was typically around 10 percent, more than doublewhat it was for whites.

Living Paycheck-To-Paycheck- The New Crisis And Normal For The American Middle Class - According to recent studies, the vast majority of the American middle class is only one missed paycheck away from poverty. About 78% of workers in the United States are living paycheck to paycheck, and the statistics don’t improve from there.Only 39% of Americans actually have saved enough money to cover a $1000 emergency. Nearly 3 in 4 workers say they are in debt and of those, more than half think they always will be, according to statistics posted by Forbes. Any rise in interest rates or the cost of food could leave some Americans with the tough choice of eating or paying the car payment to get to work.A similar 2016 GOBankingRates survey found that 69 percent of Americans had less than $1,000 in total savings and 34 percent had no savings at all.  That means many Americans would have to put an emergency expense on a credit card or borrow money another way just to cover the cost of a $1000 expense.Making matters worse, the 2017 Report on the Economic Wellbeing of US Households stated that, when asked how they would cover an emergency expense of $400, only 59% of Americans said they could easily cover the expense using entirely cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement. But “four in ten adults would either borrow, sell something or not be able to pay” if faced with a $400 emergency expense.The government shutdown recently highlighted the fact that a large number of Americans are wholly unprepared for any kind of economic downturn, let alone another recession. According to the newest op-ed article by Market Watch, the government shutdown is perfectly proving that Americans are not prepared for a financial disaster of any kind, let alone an economic recession. Many have long assumed that the government (which as we all know is almost $22 trillion in debt) will be using their money (stolen funds aka, taxation) to bail out those who get themselves into trouble. But the shutdown is proving just how little the government actually does and just how financially illiterate many Americans have allowed themselves to become. It’s been ten years since the Great Recession left many Americans jobless with no money, and it appears most have learned nothing. The government shutdown serves as a painful warning and preview for what will happen once unemployment rises from 50-year lows.  Americans are far too dependent on others, including the government, for their survival.

TAKEN: How police departments make millions by seizing property -- When a man barged into Isiah Kinloch’s apartment and broke a bottle over his head, the North Charleston resident called 911. After cops arrived on that day in 2015, they searched the injured man’s home and found an ounce of marijuana. So they took $1,800 in cash from his apartment and kept it.  When Eamon Cools-Lartigue was driving on Interstate 85 in Spartanburg County, deputies stopped him for speeding. The Atlanta businessman wasn’t criminally charged in the April 2016 incident. Deputies discovered $29,000 in his car, though, and decided to take it. When Brandy Cooke dropped her friend off at a Myrtle Beach sports bar as a favor, drug enforcement agents swarmed her in the parking lot and found $4,670 in the car. Her friend was wanted in a drug distribution case, but Cooke wasn’t involved. She had no drugs and was never charged in the 2014 bust. Agents seized her money anyway. She worked as a waitress and carried cash because she didn’t have a checking account. The Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail examined these cases and every other court case involving civil asset forfeiture in South Carolina from 2014-2016. Our examination was aimed at understanding this little-discussed, potentially life-changing power that state law holds over citizens — the ability of officers to seize property from people, even if they aren't charged with a crime. The resulting investigation became TAKEN, a statewide journalism project with an exclusive database and in-depth reporting. It’s the first time a comprehensive forfeiture investigation like this has been done for an entire U.S. state, according to experts.

NYPD Orders Google to Stop Showing People Where Cops Are At  — The New York Police Department (NYPD) sent a cease and desist letter to Google last week, demanding that the company stop allowing its customers to report police checkpoints using their GPS apps. The report mentioned Google Maps and Waze, the popular GPS app that allows users to share information about hazards on the road, including the presence of police. The app allows drivers to pinpoint the exactly location of police and report sightings to fellow drivers, saving untold people from speeding tickets and arrests due to victimless crimes.  However, the NYPD says that Google is helping users break the law. The letter sent to Google last week focused specifically on the issue of impaired drivers. The statement read: “The NYPD has become aware that the Waze Mobile application … currently permits the public to report DWI checkpoints throughout New York City and map these locations. Accordingly, we demand that Google LLC, upon receipt of this letter, immediately remove this function from the Waze application.” “Further, the NYPD requests that Google take every necessary precaution to ensure that GPS data of NYPD DWI checkpoints, or any other substantially similar data, is not uploaded or posted at a future time on the Waze Mobile application, google.com, Google maps, or any other associated internet/websites, or web portals and platforms under Google LLC’s, its partners’ sponsors’ or affiliates’ control.” Ann Prunty, NYPD’s Acting Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters and author of the letter, says users who post data of police locations could be breaking the law:  “The NYPD will pursue all legal remedies to prevent the continued posting of this irresponsible and dangerous information,” Prunty added. The app has infuriated police for years because it allows users to gain an upper hand on the harassment and revenue generating schemes police often engage in. Now with the recent tensions between police and the public hitting new heights, the push against this equalizing technology has been stronger than ever before.

Over a thousand federal inmates in New York City jail held for more than a week in dark, frigid conditions -- Over 1,600 inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn have been without heat and hot water, and with limited electricity and communications for a week.  A fire at the federal jail on January 27 left the inmates, most of whom have not been convicted but are awaiting trial, in the cold and near darkness during a period in which New York City experienced record cold temperatures as low as 2 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 Celsius) due to the Polar Vortex weather pattern which claimed the lives of nearly two dozen people across the US last week.  Reports indicate that the temperature inside the federal detention center’s housing units have dipped to 34 degrees (1 Celsius). Prisoners have resorted to banging on their cell windows, flashing lights and screaming “We’re freezing!” and “No hot food, no hot water!” in order to alert the outside world of their situation.  “They’re really, really scared,” Rachel Bass, a paralegal at the Brooklyn federal defenders office, told the New York Times on Thursday after she had spoken to 15 inmates by phone. “They don’t have extra blankets. They don’t have access to the commissary to buy an extra sweatshirt.”  Problems at the facility may have begun as early as January 5, according to the president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents the prison guards. Apparently unrelated failures of both the electrical and heating systems combined to create catastrophic conditions. Guards and other jail employees have been compelled to work clothed in winter coats, hats, and scarves.   MDC officials initially attempted to blame the local utility, Con Edison, for the electrical problems, a claim that was firmly denied by the utility.  Communications by inmates with the outside have been extremely limited—restricted to one dedicated phone line to Federal Defenders, a non-profit legal aid organization. Inmates represented by other attorneys are effectively incommunicado.  No outside visitors, including attorneys and family members, are permitted to enter the facility, making independent verification of conditions virtually impossible. Packages from friends and relatives are not being accepted.

Power restored at Brooklyn detention center after days without heat, lighting - Power was restored at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sunday after days of inmates living without heat and lighting.The Bureau of Prisons told CNN in a statement that "staff are working to restore the facility to normal operations."More than 1,600 inmates live in the center that went without heat during a frigid week in New York where temperatures dropped as low as two degrees.Director of Federal Defenders of New York David Patton and a union leader told CNN that many of those inmates were stuck in dark, cold cells all weekend.Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for the Justice Department to investigate reports of power loss at the center earlier Sunday."Prisoners are human beings. Let's treat them that way," Cuomo wrote on his Twitter. "I'm calling on the @TheJusticeDept to immediately investigate the circumstances at the #MDC in Brooklyn. New York stands ready to provide any support necessary to keep the heat, hot water and electricity running." 

The Power Is Back on at Brooklyn Jail, but a Visiting Federal Judge Found Untreated Gunshot Wound, “Black Blotchy Mold,” and Ongoing Crisis - The power is back on and the heat has been turned up at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, where incarcerated people endured freezing temperatures, dark cells, and deprivation of access to legal counsel for the past week, prompting outcry and the intervention of federal legislators. While many celebrated the moment the lights came back on in the federal jail Sunday evening and looked forward to the hearings promised by concerned legislators, cases in federal court over the past two days have made it impossible to ignore the fact that the humanitarian crisis at the federal detention facility extends far beyond the electrical fire that shut down primary power to much of the facility on January 27. Federal court hearings this week have revealed a staggering pattern of neglect: incarcerated people left on their own, in the dark and cold, to deal with medical crises and mental breakdowns. One incarcerated person had to physically stop their cellmate from hanging themselves. People housed at the federal jail reported that as many as nine incarcerated people were left without potentially lifesaving medical equipment because of the power shut down. Another incarcerated patient was left with an untreated gunshot wound. The revelations have left federal judges with a slate of cases to hold the federal officials running the jail — as well as the U.S. attorney’s offices stonewalling to defend the jail’s conduct — to account. Several of the judges have been openly incredulous as they dealt with the cases — evincing frustration with the federal lawyers as well as the Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, which runs the facility.

Illinois Supreme Court Affirms Biometric Privacy Law, Clearing the Way for Lawsuits -- The Illinois Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision late last month holding that a plaintiff needn’t prove actual injury or adverse effect to recover under the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), the bellwether for state-level protection of an individual’s biometric data. This decision clears the way for more than 200 pending lawsuits to proceed, and will spur plaintiffs’ attorneys to pursue no-injury class action lawsuits under BIPA in Illinois. In Rosenbach v Six Flags , the court decided that a plaintiff only needs to show that a defendant used his biometric data without consent to recover under the statute’s generous terms, $1000 or $5000 for each violation, depending on whether it was negligent or willful; attorneys’ fees and costs, including expert witness fees and other litigation expenses; and injunctive relief – meaning the offending party must stop using the data. Illinois enacted its landmark BIPA statue in 2008. Three other states have followed with similar statutes. Yet Illinois is the only state that currently provides for a private right of action — meaning an individual can sue to enforce his/her rights. According to Biometric Privacy: Illinois Supreme Court Decision Allows Claims to Proceed Without Showing of Actual Harm, a blog post published by the law firm Foley & Lardner:   Due to the increasingly popular use of biometric data and the potentially liquidated significant damages offered by the statute, the number of BIPA class action claims filed against companies for their allegedly improper collection of biometric data has ballooned in recent years. Plaintiffs in these cases have generally fallen into two categories: (1) employees of companies that allegedly utilize biometric data, such as fingerprints, for time keeping or physical security purposes; and (2) customers of companies that use biometric data to enhance the consumer experience.  A mother brought the action on behalf of her fourteen-year old son, who provided his fingerprint in order to purchase a pass to the Six Flags Amusement Park. The park never asked for nor received his consent.  Six Flags argued that the plaintiff needed to prove some actual injury, and that mere collection of his biometric data was not enough to recover under the statute. The Illinois Supreme Court roundly rejected the argument that the collection of Rosenbach’s data was merely “technical” in nature:

Prisons Across the U.S. Are Quietly Building Databases of Incarcerated People’s Voice Prints --Via: The Intercept:In New York and other states across the country, authorities are acquiring technology to extract and digitize the voices of incarcerated people into unique biometric signatures, known as voice prints. Prison authorities have quietly enrolled hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people’s voice prints into large-scale biometric databases. Computer algorithms then draw on these databases to identify the voices taking part in a call and to search for other calls in which the voices of interest are detected. Some programs, like New York’s, even analyze the voices of call recipients outside prisons to track which outsiders speak to multiple prisoners regularly.Corrections officials representing the states of Texas, Florida, and Arkansas, along with Arizona’s Yavapai and Pinal counties; Alachua County, Florida; and Travis County, Texas, also confirmed that they are actively using voice recognition technology today. And a review of contracting documents identified other jurisdictions that have acquired similar voice-print capture capabilities: Connecticut and Georgia state corrections officials have signed contracts for the technology (Connecticut did not respond to repeated interview requests; Georgia declined to answer questions on the matter).

A 5th grader’s boredom while visiting her mom’s job led to $70,000 for the elderly in need – CNN - Ruby Kate spends a lot of her summer at nursing homes near Harrison, Arkansas. Her mom's a nurse practitioner and Ruby Kate likes hanging out with the residents.But the 11-year-old admits it can get boring.That's why she approached the woman in the wheelchair as she sat watching her dog of some 12 years walk away. A friend had just brought him by for a visit, and the woman didn't know when she might see her dog again."It was very sad. We have a lot of dogs and I could feel her pain," Ruby Kate told CNN.Ruby knew it cost money to get a pet sitter to bring the dog to the resident more often. Many in her hometown of 12,000 don't have extra to spare.That encounter last summer led the little girl to think: how many other residents couldn't afford simple things that brought them joy.She decided to do something about it. She began by writing their wishes down.  Ruby Kate started a project and Facebook page called "Three Wishes for Ruby's Residents."Her mother helped her set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for those wishes.The girl began asking residents what three things in the world they wish they had right now. She wrote down their answers in a  spiral notebook that she had left over from the 3rd grade. One man said he wanted some pants that fit.Another asked for fresh fruit. The resident said she hadn't had a fresh strawberry in eight years."Talking about it still makes me emotional," her mom Amanda Milford Chitsey told CNN.

Judges jailed for taking bribes from private juvie prisons to send kids to jail  -- Two senior Pennsylvania judges have been sentenced to seven years in prison for taking bribes from juvenile detention centers -- in exchange for the bribes, the judges turned in guilty verdicts for the teens who appeared before them and sent them to juvie, thus enriching the operators of the kiddy gulag. For this, the judges received $2.6 million in kickbacks. First, the judges helped the detention centers land a county contract worth $58 million. Then their alleged scheme was to guarantee the operators a steady income by detaining juveniles, often on petty stuff. Many of the kids were railroaded, according to allegations lodged with the state Supreme Court last year by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group. In asking the court to intervene in April, the law center cited hundreds of examples where teens accused of minor mischief were pressured to waive their right to lawyers, and then shipped to a detention center.One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online. Such unwarranted detentions left "both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized," center lawyers said. "Very few people would stand up" to the Luzerne judges, according to the law center's executive director, Robert G. Schwartz.

Florida schools to allow real-time video monitoring by the police -- Broward County, Florida school board officials have authorized police to conduct real-time monitoring of students in school via video surveillance cameras. The action is one of a number of new police measures being instituted nationally in what President Donald Trump called the “hardening” of schools in the aftermath of the mass shooting last year in Parkland. While hundreds of millions of dollars are being allocated nationally to increase and arm more police in schools, the real causes of mass shootings—never-ending predatory wars, the glorification of the military, historic levels of social inequality, the general brutalization of social relations, and the destruction of social programs and health care—are being covered up. For the time being, the Broward County Sheriff’s department will only have access to the video feeds during emergencies. This compromise was reached after some school board members, including superintendent Robert Runcie, raised concerns that the monitoring would violate the privacy rights of students. The Broward County school district has also purchased a new $621,000 dollar surveillance system that will be installed in 36 schools in the district. The new system will have artificial intelligence capabilities, including facial recognition software. Attempts to install similar systems in schools in New York and Arkansas faced opposition from the ACLU, who have argued that the advanced technology involved in the new surveillance systems are both invasive and vulnerable to hacking. Other measures taken in the aftermath of last year’s mass shooting include providing spaces inside classrooms where students can hide from potential shooters, limiting access points on each campus to a single point of entry, and improving the existing public address systems in each school.

L.A. County supervisors to consider phasing out pepper spray in juvenile halls - The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to weigh a plan next week to “phase out” the use of pepper spray in its juvenile detention facilities, following recent scrutiny about its excessive use.The board will consider a motion asking the county’s Probation Department, which handles the supervision and detention of more than 7,000 juveniles involved with the county criminal justice system, to develop a plan to stop using oleoresin capsicum, commonly known as pepper spray.  The supervisors received a report this week from the county’s Office of Inspector General about inappropriate and avoidable use of the substance to subdue detainees in the county’s juvenile halls and camps.The review came after the board became alarmed by reports of skyrocketing use of the spray, which can incapacitate people by causing irritation to their eyes and skin. Incidents in which detention officers deployed the spray increased by 150% from 2015 to 2017, for example, data released by the department shows.In addition to increased use in violent situations, the inspector general’s report found that officers sometimes used the spray when it wasn’t necessary or out of compliance with the department’s use-of-force rules — and that they on occasion didn’t properly help decontaminate the juveniles.The report found that juveniles were sprayed in the face, back and buttocks, and were sometimes inadvertently or accidentally sprayed when others violated the rules. In other cases, juveniles were sprayed for excessive periods of time, according to the report and motion. Perhaps most troubling, the supervisors said, were reports that detention officers used the spray as a default act of intervention in tense situations, rather than relying on less drastic methods for de-escalation. The report found that the spray was at times used punitively — and that officers sometimes submitted inaccurate reports of aggressive behavior by juveniles that didn’t hold up to later scrutiny of video evidence.

Cory Booker Hates Public Schools - Black Agenda Report -  Cory Booker rose to prominence as a fanatical backer of school privatization, yet poses as a friend of public education and teachers.“Booker has openly praised Republican leader Betsy DeVos’s organization American Federation for Children.” Sen. Cory Booker (NJ–D) announced his presidential campaign last week. There’s plenty about Booker’s record worth examining, from his extremely cozy relationship with pharmaceutical companies to his bizarre public defense of Wall Street. But nothing in Booker’s past is as damning as his record on schools.For close to two decades, Cory Booker has been at the forefront of a nationwide push to dismantle public education.According to Booker, the education system is the main cause of our society’s fundamental problems, rather than, say, inequality and unchecked corporate power. As he explained in a 2011 speech , “disparities in income in America are not because of some ‘greedy capitalist’ — no! It’s because of a failing education system.” Public schools, Booker continued, are also responsible for mass incarceration and racial injustice. To combat such evils, Booker has openly praised Republican leader Betsy DeVos’s organization American Federation for Children for fighting to win the final battle of the civil rights’ movement.

West Virginia teachers battle legislative “education reform” -- This week, West Virginia public school teachers and staff are voting on possible actions against an “omnibus” education bill which attacks teachers and seeks major inroads at privatizing education in the state.The “Comprehensive Education Reform” legislation, Senate Bill 451, was approved by the Republican-led Senate yesterday and now goes to the House of Delegates. It is an escalation of the attacks on public education pursued over decades by Democrats and Republicans, as well as a reaction of religious and business interests to the nine-day strike that shook the state a year ago.The three school workers’ unions—the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), WV School Service Personnel Association (WVSSPA), and the state section of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-WV)—are polling their membership for authorization “to call a statewide work action” should “circumstances… merit such a work stoppage.” The poll stipulates that the union leadership should “determine the appropriate time for that action to take place.”Fearing a repeat of the independently-organized upsurge among educators that occurred last February, the school workers’ unions are now trying to get out in front, the better to suppress a struggle. For this reason, they held a press conference and announced the balloting. But they were also quick to hedge even on this tepid measure. AFT-WV President Fred Albert’s “special assistant” Kris Mallory told the Gazette-Mail that, in the paper’s words, “ballots requesting authorization for statewide action might not be sent out, saying he saw prospects for the bill’s passage as dim.” Similarly, WVSSPA Executive Director Joe White told reporters last Friday that the unions would not name a “trigger” for a strike. “The biggest issue is we feel each item of this bill should stand on its own merit. The omnibus bill is not the best way to go,” he said. WVEA President Dale Lee added that he hoped the legislature “does the right thing.” Most explicit of all was AFT-WV President Fred Albert who told school employees last week, “if you walk out tomorrow, you’re playing into [SB 451’s sponsor, Republican] Mitch Carmichael’s bait. He’s baiting us to do that so he can turn that against us. I believe that with everything in me.”

LA Teachers Show the Way Forward  - Exactly one week after the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) membership ratified an agreement that ended their first strike in three decades, the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) met to vote on a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter expansion in the district while the state completes a study assessing their impact on the public system.That the school board would hold such a vote was one of the terms of the deal, but its outcome was far from certain. After all, this is a body that charter interests just two years ago spent almost $10 million to monopolize.For a time, that money seemed well spent. The charter backers held a 4-3 majority until a felony conspiracy charge related to his campaign forced school board president Ref Rodriguez to resign in disgrace last summer. But last Tuesday, with a few dozen students and others bussed in by the California Charter Schools Association watching, the remaining six members voted 5-1 in favor of the resolution. For eight to ten months, while the state investigates the issue, there won’t be any new charter schools in the district.  The privatizers were not long ago on the march within LAUSD. Now, they are starting to bend to the demands of those committed to expanding public education. The story of how we got from there to here is a story of movement building — one with important lessons not just to Californians but anyone around the country fighting the decimation of public education in their communities.

Oakland, California teachers overwhelmingly vote to strike -- The Oakland Education Association (OEA) announced Monday that its members voted by 95 percent to authorize a strike in polling conducted over the previous week. Teachers in the California Bay Area city have been kept on the job without a contract for over 20 months, during which their working conditions have continued to deteriorate. The unprecedented 84 percent turnout for the strike authorization vote is indicative of the educators’ desire to join the struggle of teachers across the country against the decades-long assault on public education. The union and school district are currently in the final “fact-finding” phase of contract negotiations, in which a three-person panel meets with each side and issues a non-binding report, which is expected to be delivered on February 15. If no settlement is reached by that point, the union is legally allowed to call a strike.The past year has seen statewide strikes erupt in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, along with a series of local strikes across Washington state and last month’s week-long strike by 33,000 Los Angeles teachers. Educators across the country, most recently in Virginia and Colorado, have held protests to express their outrage over low wages, large class sizes, understaffing and privatization by means of charter schools.Oakland teachers have the lowest median pay of any large school district in California. At the same time, Oakland teachers must deal with the growing social crisis in the city, which results in increasing numbers of hungry, impoverished and even homeless students in their classrooms. Meanwhile, they have to contend with ever fewer resources. These conditions have produced a 20 percent yearly turnover rate.  The district has responded by bringing in more new teachers who have emergency credentials and assigning them to impoverished schools without adequate support staff. Fully a fifth of special education teachers in the district are not certified. These crisis conditions are the outcome of bipartisan efforts to allow private interests to exploit the $600 billion spent nationwide on public education to turn a profit.

Teachers at four Chicago charter school campuses walk out - With contract talks stalled after nine months of negotiations, 175 teachers at four Civitas campuses, part of Chicago International Charter School (CICS), walked out on strike Tuesday at 6 a.m. Teachers and staff are seeking raises, smaller class sizes, a reduction in healthcare costs and more support staff including social workers. The talks broke down over the demand for 8 percent raises in the first year. CICS says it would accept the proposal only by eliminating crucial support staff, like social workers and counselors.The four schools—ChicagoQuest, Northtown, Wrightwood and Ralph Ellison schools—are managed by Civitas Education Partners and have an enrollment of about 2,200 students. This walkout is the second strike of charter teachers in the US; the first took place at Acero Charter Schools, also in Chicago, last December. Charter schools are publicly-funded by taxpayers but privately managed.CICS has kept the schools open with non-union strikebreakers and school administrators, according to the Sun Times. The charter operator said there would be “enough adults in the building to ensure that students are safe,” and students will be in “online learning, recreational and arts activities.” Justifying this decision, Civitas CEO LeeAndra Khan said, “Our first responsibility is the safety and well-being of each of the 2,200 students who attend our four schools. If teachers go on strike, it is simply too great a burden on the families of those students to close our schools when many families will struggle to find alternative care for their children.”

Charter Schools Are Pushing Public Education to the Breaking Point - When striking Los Angeles teachers won their demand to call for a halt to charter school expansions in California, they set off a domino effect, and now teachers in other large urban districts are making the same demand. Unchecked charter school growth is also bleeding into 2020 election campaigns. Recently, New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait berated Democratic Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren for having opposed a ballot initiative in her home state in 2016 that would have raised a cap on the number of charter schools. “There may be no state in America that can more clearly showcase the clear success of charter schools than [Massachusetts],” declared Chait. But while Chait and other charter school fans claim Massachusetts as a charter school model, the deeper reality is that charters are driving Boston’s public education system to the financial brink. As the Boston Globe recently reported, the city is experiencing an economic boom, but its schools resemble “an economically depressed industrial center.” The state’s unfair funding formula is part of the problem, but an ever-expanding charter school industry also imposes a huge financial drain. “Two decades ago, state educational aid covered almost a third of Boston’s school expenses,” writes Globe reporter James Vaznis. Today, “city officials anticipate that in just a few years every penny from the state will instead go toward charter-school costs of Boston students.    As charter schools suck students and their per-pupil funding from the public system, the impact on Boston’s schools are glaring: “Decades-old buildings plagued by leaks. Drinking fountains shut because of lead pipe contamination. Persistent shortages of guidance counselors, nurses, psychologists, textbooks—even soap in the bathrooms.  As funds for Boston schools dwindle due to the drain from charter schools, the district’s alternatives are painful any way you look at it. Closing schools is not a good alternative. First, it would have minimal impact on savings to the district. Also, school closures can significantly set back the academic achievement of students, particularly those students who transfer to new schools. The negative effects are most apt to be experienced in low-income communities and communities of color. Attempts to raise local taxes for schools would likely be attacked by no-tax stalwarts and the business community as money-wastes for a “failing” school system. So if Boston’s public schools are going broke because of charter schools, what does that say about Massachusetts as a model for charters?

The Zombification Of America Accelerates - 45% Of Teens Are Online Almost ConstantlyFully 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online 'almost constantly', according to the latest Pew Research Center poll, increasing concerns, about what The Atlantic's Jean Twenge calls the most crucial question of our age... "have smartphones destroyed a generation?" Despite the nearly ubiquitous presence of social media in their lives... Pew notes that there is no clear consensus among teens about these platforms’ ultimate impact on people their age. A plurality of teens (45%) believe social media has a neither positive nor negative effect on people their age. Meanwhile, roughly three-in-ten teens (31%) say social media has had a mostly positive impact, while 24% describe its effect as mostly negative. There is slightly less consensus among teens who say social media has had a mostly negative effect on people their age. The top response (mentioned by 27% of these teens) is that social media has led to more bullying and the overall spread of rumors.“Gives people a bigger audience to speak and teach hate and belittle each other.” (Boy, age 13) “People can say whatever they want with anonymity and I think that has a negative impact.” (Boy, age 15) “Because teens are killing people all because of the things they see on social media or because of the things that happened on social media.” (Girl, age 14) Meanwhile, 17% of these respondents feel these platforms harm relationships and result in less meaningful human interactions. Similar shares think social media distorts reality and gives teens an unrealistic view of other people’s lives (15%), or that teens spend too much time on social media (14%). “[Teens] would rather go scrolling on their phones instead of doing their homework, and it’s so easy to do so. It’s just a huge distraction.” (Boy, age 17)Another 12% criticize social media for influencing teens to give in to peer pressure, while smaller shares express concerns that these sites could lead to psychological issues or drama. But, as we detailed previously, there is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives - and making them seriously unhappy.

 ICE Snags Hundreds Of Illegals With Pay To Stay Scheme - Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) netted hundreds of illegal immigrants after setting up a fake university, according to the The Detroit News.    The University of Farmington had no staff, no instructors, no curriculum and no classes but was utilized by undercover Homeland Security agents to identify people involved in immigration fraud, according to federal grand jury indictments unsealed Wednesday.Eight student recruiters were charged with participating in a conspiracy to help at least 600 foreign citizens stay in the U.S. illegally, according to the indictments, which describe a novel investigation that dates to 2015 but intensified one month into President Donald Trump's tenure as part of a broader crackdown on illegal immigration. -The Detroit News   Dubbed operation "Paper Chase," the scheme used undercover Homeland Security agents to identify recruiters and entities engaged in immigration fraud - which collectively received $250,000 in cash and kickbacks to located students to attend the university, according to the indictment. "... the university was being used by foreign citizens as a 'pay to stay' scheme which allowed these individuals to stay in the United States as a result of of foreign citizens falsely asserting that they were enrolled as full-time students in an approved educational program and that they were making normal progress toward completion of the course of study," reads the indictment.   Fraudulent immigration papers were compiled by the recruiters, who would use them to help foreign citizens create fake records, including transcripts, according to prosecutors. 

Forget taking out a student loan. Purdue University has come up with a new way to pay for college - More than 20 million students are enrolled in American collegesand universities, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and most of them are making an incredibly risky bet. If they cannot get a decent job after graduation, they are still on the hook for potentially crippling student loan debt. But a new college financing arrangement is aimed at reducing that risk. Instead of taking out loans, the student agrees to pay back a portion of his or her income for a set period after they graduate. Purdue University says it is the first four-year institution in the country to offer the option, known as an income-sharing agreement, or ISA. Under Purdue's Back a Boiler program, graduates make payments for 10 years after graduation. The percentage graduates pay depends on their major and the amount of funding they receive. The less they make, the less they are required to pay. And if they do not work, they do not pay anything. "It gives them certainty and some protection and safety. They're not going to have that much money borrowed, piling up, compound interest whether they're doing well or not," said Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who is a former Indiana governor and White House budget director under President George W. Bush.

Popularity of brief Uber, Lyft rides on campus raises environmental concerns --UCLA students call about 11,000 Uber and Lyft rides that never leave campus every week, raising concerns about the environmental impact of unnecessary trips.UCLA Transportation determined this number using data provided by the two ride-hail companies, said Abdallah Daboussi, senior administrative planning and policy analyst at UCLA Transportation.Even though these are short trips, they still produce a large amount of carbon emissions, said Yifang Zhu, associate director of the Center for Clean Air and an environmental health sciences professor.Tailpipe emissions are responsible for releasing various types of pollutants in most cars, she said. Typical chemical pollutants include carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide.“The pollutants coming out of the tailpipe heavily contribute to Los Angeles’ smog problem,” Zhu said.Smog can also lead to a wide range of adverse health effects, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, lung disease and premature death, she said.CJ Macklin, a Lyft spokesperson, said Lyft recognizes the need to prevent climate change, and that all Lyft rides across the country are now carbon neutral. He added that Lyft has invested millions of dollars in carbon offsets, such as renewable energy programs and forestry projects, to cancel out the carbon emissions from their rides.  Uber did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Why are international students turning their back on American colleges? - Evidence is mounting that the U.S. is becoming a less attractive place for international students to study. The latest sign: A report published Thursday by the Council of Graduate Schools, which found that applications from international students to U.S. graduate schools dropped 4% between fall 2017 and fall 2018, the second year in a row of declines. First-time graduate student enrollment is also down 1% for the second year in a row. CGS views “that result with some concern,” said Hironao Okahana, the associate vice president of research and policy analysis at CGS and one of the authors of the report. It’s hard to point to a definitive reason why international graduate student applications and enrollment is down, but the political climate is likely playing a role. President Donald Trump famously initiated a ban on people entering the U.S. from multiple Muslim-majority countries, all of which have historically sent students to America to study. U.S. graduate school applications from Iran, one of the countries targeted by the travel ban, fell 27% between fall 2017 and fall 2018. In addition to the travel ban, the Trump administration has floated changes to student visas that would curtail the amount of time international students can stay in the U.S. What’s more, officials have also reportedly weighed putting more restrictions on Chinese students entering the U.S. out of a concern they may be spying for their home country during their time here. “We live in very interesting times in terms of U.S. visa and immigration policy,” Okahana said, adding that stakeholders are watching how the policy conversation, political climate and rhetoric surrounding immigration is impacting the flow of students coming to the U.S. to study. The CGS findings come as colleges and universities grow increasingly concerned about changes to the flow of international students coming to the U.S. Students from other countries enrich the experience of domestic students studying at U.S. colleges and, particularly in the case of graduate students, fill crucial roles in universities’ research efforts, they say.

Chinese students in US told to speak English: more than just racism? - The now notorious incident in which Duke University biostatistics graduate students from China were told by their programme director that they should speak English “100 per cent of the time” while on departmental premises deservedly attracted condemnation in the United States higher-education community, and among Chinese in the US and China.As a professor of ethnic Chinese origin myself (I am Singaporean) with 35 years’ experience teaching at the University of Michigan – which has scholarly links with China that go back well into the 19th century, and which for decades has had a large population of Chinese students and faculty – two things about the incident particularly surprised me.First, international students’ significant presence on US university campuses, and their proclivity to speak with compatriots in their native languages, is well established. At my business school it is the norm to hear multiple languages spoken in the hallways and common areas. Most faculty and students enjoy the cosmopolitan ambience even though we cannot (and do not need to) understand what is being said. After all, American students in study-abroad programmes speak English among themselves, unless in foreign-language-immersion courses. The second surprising thing is that two faculty members went to the programme director asking to identify the students in question so they could exclude them should they apply for an internship or as a research assistant. This is very strange. The students’ private language use has no necessary bearing on their professional competence in English, which is easily assessed by faculty in classroom discussion or an office interview when the student applies or requests a recommendation for a position. Why the programme director did not simply counsel the faculty complainants thus is a puzzle.

 American Bar Association- Higher Standards Are Unfair To Minorities - The American Bar Association rejected a proposal on Monday to require at least 75 percent of law students at accredited schools to pass the bar exam no later than two years after their graduations.   ABA's House of Delegates argued that the requirement would “be unfair to institutions that serve minority students," according to Inside Higher Education. An overwhelming majority of the ABA’s House of Delegates voted against the proposal, with a final tally of 88-334.  Several ABA leaders concerned with diversity in the legal profession sent a letter, claiming that “proposed changes to Standard 316, the bar passage rule, will have an adverse impact upon diversity within legal education, the legal profession, and the entire educational pipeline.”The letter also mentions several data points from the past 10 years of ABA-accredited HBCU law schools that were underperforming in bar passage results, noting that if the new standard for bar passage were to be applied to results from 2016 and 2017, the list of schools that would have lost accreditation “could include five of the six HBCUs." Aside from the impact on HBCU schools, which significantly contribute to racial diversity in the legal profession, the changes in bar passage standards would also impact other contributors, including “schools in Puerto Rico, most of the schools in California, and other schools across the country,” according to the letter. In 2018, “the first time pass rate for graduates of California ABA-accredited law schools dropped 6 percentage points from July 2017 to July 2018 (70% to 64%),” according to the aforementioned letter.

Marriage Rates Down, Cohabitating Rates Up- It's Not Just Student Debt To Blame - Young adults are delaying marriage longer than ever. Student debt is a key reason... A St. Louis Fed study shows As Fewer Young Adults Wed, Married Couples’ Wealth Surpasses Others’.Since the 1960s, the median age at first marriage has steadily increased for both women and men. The last three decades were no different for young adults: The age at first marriage went from 26.2 for men and 23.8 for women in 1989 to 29.5 and 27.4, respectively, in 2016. As marriage rates decline in young adulthood, more young adults are choosing to cohabitate (reside with an unmarried partner) and are doing so at earlier ages. The increase in unmarried partnered young adult couples is evident. The share of married households dropped steadily from around 57 percent in 1989 to 37 percent by 2016, while partnered households grew from about 7 percent to 21 percent. As the share of married young adult households declines, their median net worth (both total and when omitting housing-related assets and debts) has remained consistently higher than that of single households. From 1989 to 2016, the typical married household had around three times as much wealth as a partnered or single household. The shifting share of married versus unmarried young adult households is also associated with changes in the composition of debt. This shift is most pronounced when examining the rise of student loan debt. Recent research suggests that growth in student debt levels is associated with marriage delays or avoidance. This suggests that young adults increasingly feel that their debt is an economic barrier to transitioning to adulthood and forming a family. In 2013, the share of young adult households with student loan debt, 42.1 percent, surpassed the credit card debt rate, 40.1 percent, for the first time. By 2016, 46 percent of young adult households had student loan debt, triple the 1989 percentage. NPR reports Heavy Student Loan Debt Forces Many Millennials To Delay Buying HomesHomeownership rates for people ages 24 to 32 dropped nearly 9 percentage points between 2005 and 2014 — effectively driving down homeownership rates overall. In January, the Fed estimated 20 percent of that decline is attributable to student loan debt. "It's not that they're not going to buy homes. It's just that they'll purchase these homes later in life,"  Baby boomers were 25, on average, when they purchased their first homes; millennials, by comparison, are waiting almost a decade longer, Kushi says.

 It Is Affecting My Blood Pressure - Americans Over 60 Are Struggling With Student Debt -- Though millennials catch the most flack for taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay for worthless college degrees that do little to improve their financial prospects in the "real world," for older Americans who take out loans to finance their education later in life, the repercussions can be ten times worse.  While it might not seem like much compared with the overall $1.4 trillion mountain of student loan debt rattling around the American economy, according to the Wall Street Journal, Americans over the age of 60 are struggling to pay down an aggregate $86 billion in student loan debt.  Student loan borrowers in their 60s, on average, owed $33,800 in 2017, up 44% from 2010, according to data compiled by credit-reporting firm TransUnion. Total student loan debt for people aged 60 and older rose 161% between 2010 and 2017, the biggest increase of any age group.  Rising student debt is the biggest contributor to the overall increase in the debt burden. for Americans aged 60 and older. US consumers who are 60 or older owed around $615 billion in credit cards, auto loans, personal loans and student loans as of 2017, up 84% since 2010, the largest increase of any age group. And for many, the results are nothing short of ruinous. Take Ante Grgas-Cice, 66. After a restaurant venture failed, he took out loans to go back to school, a decision he said "will haunt him for the rest of his life." Because he has had difficulty paying down his $30,000 debt burden, the government garnished his social security check for a period last year. At 66, Ante Grgas-Cice owes about $29,000 in student loans. His only income is a roughly $1,600 monthly Social Security check, which the federal government garnished for a period last year because he wasn’t paying his student loans. He signed up for student loans to attend the Art Institute of New York City in 2003 and 2004, after a restaurant venture failed. At the Art Institute, he studied culinary art and restaurant design and layout to upgrade his skills, he said. Subsequent restaurant ventures didn’t work and he’s currently unemployed.

One In Two New York Millennials Work At Restaurants To Repay Student Debt -  Not only have student loans become an unavoidable problem that is "affecting the blood pressure" of people over 60 and leading senior citizens to have their Social Security pay garnished, but nearly one in two millennials in New York are now reportedly tending bar or waiting tables to help pay off their student loan debt, as well. A new analysis shows that thousands of borrowers work as bartenders and waiters while paying down their student debts and seeking "more gainful employment" in their chosen field. The article pointed out some striking state and Federal figures:

  • New York state’s outstanding student debt now totals $90.6 billion.
  • 45% of adults 18 to 35 in New York state owe student loan debt.
  • 20% of New York state consumers have outstanding student debt.

If that wasn't bad enough, Millennials lives may be about to turn even gloomier as many in New York's restaurant industry are dreading the elimination of NY state's "tip credit" which allows restaurants and bars to pay tipped employees less. Many restaurant employees believe that if this is eliminated, the size of gratuities could fall, putting even more financial pressure on them. Tezra Bryant, who works in hospitality in New York told the Post: "Many young people in New York who work in local bars and restaurants are paying off student loans and paying for college — and they don’t want to see the tip credit eliminated. They don’t want to see a decline in their incomes."  Staff believes that the reduction in base pay continues to encourage diners to tip in the 20% range. Those that work in hospitality generally make about $25 per hour. Restaurant workers came together last week in Chinatown to make their voice heard and insist that Gov. Cuomo preserves the tip credit. Owners argue that margins are already too slim to absorb the tip credit elimination and that it would cause prices to move higher for customers.

Some Workers Can Now Trade Vacation Time for Student Loan Relief - As Bloomberg News reported Wednesday, Unum Group—which, it should be said, provides 28 or more paid days off per year, well above the national average—will allow employees to trade in unused time for the equivalent in payment toward their student loan debt. Given that some workers might not use all their vacation time, it certainly seems preferable that they get help with their debt burden rather than let that paid time-off waste away. As 30-year-old Unum employee Jimmy Valentine told the outlet, "I should take more days off. But I continue to work to make sure I keep up with everything.” The problem, as the Bloomberg piece noted, citing a popular recent BuzzFeed essay called "How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation," is that young workers graduate from college with incredibly high debt in the first place. The lucky ones find steady work that compensates them well enough to start paying down that debt, but some millennials are so overwhelmed by student loans that they literally flee the country. Plenty of others may find themselves trapped in jobs they hate—high-paying or otherwise—or neighborhoods they despise for fear that they might otherwise start seeing wages garnished at a new gig or evenlose their driver's licenses due to not paying back their loans. Though wages for American workers have recently showed signs of growth, employees may still feel theirs is a tenuous position in a post–financial crisis reality where hot companies tank after a bad quarter and entire skillsets can become irrelevant in the blink of an eye. Those feelings of uncertainty may only be exacerbated when your employer is providing you with money for loan repayments.

2 Million Syringes Still Missing As San Francisco's Drug Addicts Outnumber High-School Students -  In an effort to reduce infections and disease transmission among injection drug users, San Francisco handed out a record 5.8 million free syringes last year - about 500,000 more than in 2017.“The drugs of choice among the homeless appear to be heroin during the day, and methamphetamine at night - to stay up,” said Eileen Loughran, who heads the city’s syringe access and recovery program. Loughran said on average an addict shoots up three times a day, “but some people do more.” There's just one problem - well, more than one - despite spending an extra $1.8 million last year in an effort to retrieve needles, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the department handed out about 2 million more syringes than it got back... many of which are now washing around the streets of one of the richest cities in America (along with the feces of their users).  “There is an opioid epidemic in this country, and San Francisco is no exception,” Deputy Director of Health Dr. Naveena Bobba said. The problem is particularly visible in the Tenderloin, where police reported more than 600 arrests for drug dealing last year. And where 27 suspects were booked into County Jail for dealing drugs in the first 20 days of the new year. None of this should be a surprise - free needles (among many other factors) has enabled the San Francisco injection-drug-addicted population to soar to 24,500 (an increase of about 2,000 serious drug users since 2012, the last time a study was done).  That's about 8,500 more people than the nearly 16,000 students enrolled in San Francisco Unified School District’s 15 high schools.

Healthcare Triage: Sleeping in a Hospital is Just Awful – Dr Aaron Carroll – video - Being sick enough to go to the hospital is not a great experience. You know what’s worse? Staying overnight in the hospital. There’s a very good chance you’re going to get your sleep interrupted frequently, and that’s not going to speed up recovery. Let’s look at the research.

 Sen. Bernie Sanders will ask why a once-free drug now costs $375,000 - U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders plans to send a letter to Catalyst Pharmaceuticals on Monday asking it to justify its decision to charge $375,000 annually for a medication that for years has been available to patients for free. The drug, Firdapse, is used to treat Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), a rare neuromuscular disorder, according to the letter, made available to Reuters by the senator's office. The disorder affects about one in 100,000 people in the United States. The government is intensifying its scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry and rising prescription drug prices, a top voter concern and a priority of President Donald Trump's administration.    Both the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, controlled by Republicans, have begun holding hearings this year on the rising costs of medicines. Sanders is an independent who usually votes with Democrats. In the letter dated Feb. 4, Sanders asked Catalyst to lay out the financial and non-financial factors that led the company to set the list price at $375,000, and say how many patients would suffer or die as a result of the price and how much it was paying to purchase or produce the drug. For years, patients have been able to get Firdapse for free from Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small New Jersey-based drug company, which offered it through a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) program called "compassionate use." The program allows patients with rare diseases and conditions access to experimental drugs outside of a clinical trial when there is no viable alternative. Florida-based Catalyst received FDA approval of Firdapse in November, along with exclusive rights to market the medication for several years. The company, which bought rights to the drug from a company called BioMarin in 2012, develops and commercializes drugs for rare diseases.

WHO Report Flags Distortion of Investment and Innovation in Cancer Research - High prices of cancer drugs hurting desperate patients have caught the attention of policymakers everywhere. But do high prices of medicines that provide huge financial returns to pharmaceutical companies also distort innovation? A new cancer report by World Health Organisation (WHO) has both countries and the pharma industry debating on just how much profit cancer drugs generate for pharmaceutical companies. At stake is not only how much money the drug industry makes from high priced cancer drugs, but also, as the report suggests – is this investment really efficient? Is too much money chasing too few cancer drug candidates with only marginal benefits, diverting funds away from other therapeutic areas? The technical report that minced no words, said that “pharmaceutical companies set prices according to their commercial goals, with a focus on extracting the maximum amount that a buyer is willing to pay for a medicine”. The industry denounced the report as flawed. The report showed that in some cases, the return on investment on research and development fetched companies as much as $14 for every dollar invested.

As Pelvic Mesh Settlements Near $8 Billion, Women Question Lawyers’ Fees - Litigation over pelvic mesh, also called transvaginal mesh, ranks as one of the biggest mass tort cases in United States history, in terms of claims filed, number of corporate defendants and settlement dollars. Seven medical device manufacturers, including Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, are paying nearly $8 billion to resolve the claims of more than 100,000 women. A decade ago, doctors were quick to implant synthetic mesh to deal with health issues caused by a woman’s bladder pressing against her vagina. But then women began complaining of complications like bleeding and searing pain. Lawyers aggressively advertised for women who had received mesh implants, and they signed up women by the thousands to file claims against the device manufacturers. The result is a supersized federal court litigation that hasn’t paid off as expected — the average settlement is less than $60,000, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times and interviews with more than a dozen women. That is less than settlements reached in other mass torts, even though the jury verdicts some women have won in pelvic mesh cases suggest the figure should be higher. And those settlements are worth a lot less after the lawyers take their shares and other fees — cuts that became unusually hefty even for the world of mass tort litigation. Retainer agreements and confidential documents permit some lawyers to take 40 percent of each settlement, and in some cases 45 percent. And generous expense provisions allow some firms to add costs not only for meals and hotel stays but travel by private plane. Some lawyers have found yet another way to pad their bottom lines: Hire companies they have a financial interest in to review a client’s medical records, a crucial part of assessing the potential value of a claim. Now some women are considering suing their lawyers over how their cases were handled. Lawyers have begun scouting for women willing to sue, and a Dallas firm has set up a website seeking women who feel their lawyers didn’t drive a hard enough bargain. “Eight billion dollars sounds like a lot in theory, but once you start divvying it up, it’s less so,”

Call for retraction of 400 scientific papers amid fears organs came from Chinese prisoners -  A world-first study has called for the mass retraction of more than 400 scientific papers on organ transplantation, amid fears the organs were obtained unethically from Chinese prisoners. The Australian-led study exposes a mass failure of English language medical journals to comply with international ethical standards in place to ensure organ donors provide consent for transplantation. The study was published on Wednesday in the medical journal BMJ Open. Its author, the professor of clinical ethics Wendy Rogers, said journals, researchers and clinicians who used the research were complicit in “barbaric” methods of organ procurement. “There’s no real pressure from research leaders on China to be more transparent,” Rogers, from Macquarie University in Sydney, said. “Everyone seems to say, ‘It’s not our job’. The world’s silence on this barbaric issue must stop.” A report published in 2016 found a large discrepancy between official transplant figures from the Chinese government and the number of transplants reported by hospitals. While the government says 10,000 transplants occur each year, hospital data shows between 60,000 to 100,000 organs are transplanted each year. The report provides evidence that this gap is being made up by executed prisoners of conscience.

12,000 Chinese Blood Treatments Found To Be Contaminated With HIV - Just as China's Lunar New Year is being rung in, the ruling communist party is facing another major healthcare scandal.One of the country's state run pharmaceutical companies found the HIV virus present in an estimated 12,000 doses of immunoglobulin treatment, an immune therapy treatment made with antibodies from blood plasma. The state-owned Shanghai Xinxing Pharmaceutical Company, China’s second-biggest medical blood products manufacturer, notified authorities on Tuesday of the news, according to China's National Health Commission.In response, the National Health Commission (NHC) warned hospitals to immediately suspend use of the batch after the provincial health commission and disease control center of eastern China’s Jiangxi detected traces of HIV in it.This contamination is the latest in a long line of shocking failures by the Chinese healthcare system, which has included the deliberate use of expired polio vaccines on children to save money, a scandal which eventually forced President Xi to apologize, especially after public anger spilled over, resulting in protests which ended violently for the parents involved.But that paled in comparison with July’s vaccine scandal, in which 252,600 faulty rabies vaccines made by Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology, one of China’s biggest vaccine firms, were administered to thousands of toddlers.Even worse, the news comes just two weeks after the communist party announced a new campaign to fight the "rampant irregularities" in the Chinese healthcare system according to the SCMP.

 AP Explains- Why Congo's Ebola outbreak still going strong - (AP) — The Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo, the second deadliest in history, marks six months on Friday and is moving toward the major border city of Goma, a development that would greatly complicate any hope of stopping the virus’ spread in the unstable region.This may be the most challenging Ebola outbreak ever. Health workers face the threat of attack from rebel groups and resistance from frightened communities. A highly mobile population produced two scares in the past week alone: The discovery of an infected, wide-ranging young trader led to vaccinations in a new, third province near the South Sudan border. And two contacts of Ebola victims slipped away and were found in the capital of neighboring Uganda — free of the virus.And yet this outbreak has seen a number of advances, including the widespread use of an experimental Ebola vaccine and a clinical trial of experimental treatments. Health workers say conditions have improved from the devastating West Africa outbreak a few years ago, when some patients were housed by the dozens in sweltering tents and used buckets for toilets. Congo’s health ministry reports 759 cases, including 705 confirmed ones and 414 confirmed deaths. Ebola is spread via infected bodily fluids, including those of the dead.More than 70,000 people have received the experimental Ebola vaccine, whose efficacy has yet to be determined. Some people who have received the vaccine have still fallen ill. As concerns about the vaccine stockpile grow, drugmaker Merck last week said it will ship another 120,000 doses or so to Congo by the end of this month.Women and children make up a worrying number of cases, including more than 160 children under age 18. More than 280 children have been orphaned, the U.N. children’s agency says.  Cases are still emerging without any link to confirmed ones, a sign of how difficult it is to track the virus in a dense and often wary population in a region with little infrastructure.

Typhus Epidemic Worsens in Los Angeles - (w/ news video) A veteran Los Angeles City Hall official is one of the latest victims of an epidemic of the infectious disease typhus that continues to worsen across LA County.For months, LA County public health officials have said typhus is mainly hitting the homeless population.But Deputy City Attorney Liz Greenwood, a veteran prosecutor, tells NBC4 she was diagnosed with typhus in November, after experiencing high fevers and excruciating headaches."It felt like somebody was driving railroad stakes through my eyes and out the back of my neck," Greenwood told the I-Team. "Who gets typhus? It's a medieval disease that's caused by trash." Greenwood believes she contracted typhus from fleas in her office at City Hall East. Fleas often live on rats, which congregate in the many heaps of trash that are visible across the city of LA, and are a breeding ground for typhus."There are rats in City Hall and City Hall East," Greenwood added. "There are enormous rats and their tails are as long as their bodies." Last year set a new record for the number of typhus cases — 124 in LA County for the year, according to the California Department of Public Health. Last October, Mayor Garcetti vowed to clean up piles of garbage throughout the city to combat the typhus epidemic.The Mayor allocated millions of dollars to increase clean-ups of streets in the Skid Row area, known lately as "the typhus zone." But four months later, the I-Team documented huge piles of garbage just outside the "typhus zone." "You can't solve it (the typhus epidemic) until you hit the cause,"  "and the cause of it is that you still have these mountains of trash." Added Greenwood: "This is a terrible illness and I wouldn't wish this on anybody. But it's not just homeless folks getting it." She believes the city should fumigate City Hall and City Hall East to protect the thousands of workers and visitors who could be at risk from getting typhus.

‘It will take off like a wildfire’: The unique dangers of the Washington state measles outbreak WaPo — Amber Gorrow is afraid to leave her house with her infant son because she lives at the epicenter of Washington state’s worst measles outbreak in more than two decades. Bor- n eight weeks ago, Leon is too young to get his first measles shot, putting him at risk for the highly contagious respiratory virus, which can be fatal in small children.  Gorrow also lives in a community where she said being anti-vaccine is as acceptable as being vegan or going gluten free. Almost a quarter of kids in Clark County, Wash., a suburb of Portland, Ore., go to school without measles, mumps and rubella immunizations, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) recently declared a state of emergency amid concern that things could rapidly spin out of control. Measles outbreaks have sprung up in nine other states this winter, but officials are particularly alarmed about the one in Clark County because of its potential to go very big, very quickly.  The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the nation’s most vocal and organized anti-vaccination activists. That movement has helped drive down child immunizations in Washington, as well as in neighboring Oregon and Idaho, to some of the lowest rates in the country, with as many as 10.5 percent of kindergartners statewide in Idaho unvaccinated for measles. That is almost double the median rate nationally.  Libertarian-leaning lawmakers, meanwhile, have bowed to public pressure to relax state laws to exempt virtually any child from state vaccination requirements whose parents object. Three states allow only medical exemptions; most others also permit religious exemptions. And 17, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho, allow what they call “philosophical” exemptions, meaning virtually anyone can opt out of the requirements.  All those elements combine into a dangerous mix, spurring concern about the resurgence of a deadly disease that once sent tens of thousands of Americans to hospitals each year and killed an estimated 400 to 500 people, many of them young children.

How Unvaccinated Kids Impact Your Health, Database to Find Out How Many Kids Aren’t Vaccinated at Local Schools — It started as one case of chicken pox at the Asheville Waldorf Private School. That bumped up to seven. Then 36 sick kids left medical experts scratching their heads until they looked at the campus’s vaccination records. 72 percent of students did not have the chicken pox vaccine, which is such a high number, the Health Department calls it a community issue."They go to the grocery store, they go to the library, they go to schools where there is likely to be an immune-compromised person, and now you're risking not only the health of your own child but the public health,” Dr. Lindsay Diamond said. Researchers at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute went even further saying unvaccinated kids put your vaccinated kids at risk.“Absolutely. The thing about vaccines is no vaccine, or truthfully no medical intervention of any type, is perfect," said Dr. Tony Moody.So if you got the vaccine and it wasn’t 100 percent effective for you, being surrounded by unvaccinated people is dangerous. They can pass the disease on to you. But if everyone else has been vaccinated, you’re protected too. It’s called herd immunity.  And the Duke researchers say it works for some of the most dangerous diseases like Measles, as long as you don’t have more than 5 percent of the population that’s unvaccinated.

Common e-cigarette chemical flavorings may impair lung function - Harvard School of Public Health – Two chemicals widely used to flavor electronic cigarettes may be impairing the function of cilia in the human airway, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Impaired cilia function has been linked with lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. “Although chemicals used to flavor e-cigs are frequently used, little has been known about the mechanism of how they impact health. Our new study suggests that these chemicals may be harming cilia—the first line of defense in the lungs—by altering gene expression related to cilia production and function,”  The study was published February 1, 2019 in Scientific Reports. It is the first to look at the impact of flavoring chemicals in human epithelial cells, which are the type that line the lungs. Millions of people use e-cigarettes, and a recent rise in use among school-aged children has alarmed public health experts. In mid-December, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams labeled youth e-cigarette use an epidemic.  In a previous study, Allen and Harvard Chan colleagues found flavoring chemicals—primarily diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione—in over 90% of e-cigarettes they tested. In addition to being used in e-cigarettes, diacetyl is used as a flavoring agent in foods such as butter-flavored microwave popcorn, baked goods, and candy; it can create a variety of flavors. Diacetyl is considered a safe ingredient in foods, but evidence suggests that it can be dangerous when inhaled. It has been previously linked with bronchiolitis obliterans, a debilitating lung disease that was dubbed “popcorn lung” because it first appeared in workers who inhaled artificial butter flavor in microwave popcorn processing facilities.

Chemicals in Cosmetics Linked to Lung Damage in Children, New Study Finds -- Children exposed to chemicals commonly found in personal care products may be at a higher risk of suffering from lung damage later in life, according to a new European study.The longitudinal study published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal, conducted by a team of European scientists, found that babies exposed in utero and shortly after birth to three classes of chemicals—phthalates, parabens and the fluorinated compounds known as PFAS—had diminished lung function at six and 12 years of age.  It's believed to be the first study to look at the effect on children's lung function of exposure to chemicals before or after birth. Although the chemicals cited in the study have multiple uses, all three classes are found in cosmetics and other personal care products. "This study provides even more evidence that it's time to finally regulate the chemicals in cosmetics," said the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber. "As if increasing the risk of cancer and infertility were not enough for Congress to act, now we can add lung damage in kids to the list of harms caused by these everyday products."Parabens are chemical preservatives widely used in cosmetics and have been linked to other health problems, including breast cancer. Parabens were found in one-fifth of the products in EWG's Skin Deep® cosmetics database, which analyzes ingredients in more than 70,000 products.PFAS chemicals have been linked to serious health effects, including cancer, thyroid disease and liver problems. EWG researchers recently scoured the Skin Deep database and found PFAS chemicals in 66 different products from 15 brands. Phthalates are industrial compounds used in fragrance mixtures and in body care products. They're potent hormone disruptors that can alter the reproductive development of male infants and are associated with sperm damage in adult men.

5G Wireless- A Massive Health Experiment That Could Cause Cancer And Global Catastrophe -  Experts are warning that superfast broadband known as 5G could cause cancer in humans, and the usage of 5G is nothing more than a “massive health experiment.” 5G could very well be a global catastrophe that kills wildlife, gives people terminal diseases, and causes the Earth’s magnetic field to change, according to shocking claims by a technology expert. Arthur Robert Firstenberg is an American author and an activist for electromagnetic radiation and health. In his 1997 book Microwaving Our Planet: The Environmental Impact of the Wireless Revolution, he claimed: “The telecommunications industry has suppressed damaging evidence about its technology since at least 1927.” Firstenberg has also founded the independent campaign group the Celluar Phone Task Force and since 1996 he has argued in numerous publications that wireless technology is dangerous. According to a report by the Daily Star, Firstenberg has also recently started an online petition calling on world organizations, such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation (WHO), and European Union to “urgently halt the development of 5G,” which is due to be rolled out this year. In fact, Verizon has activated the world’s first 5G networks in four cities in the United States: Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. According to the Firstenberg, wireless networks are “harmful for humans” and the development of the next generation is “defined as a crime” under international law, as he states it in the online petition. When speaking to The Daily Star Online, Firstenberg said this 5G rollout is deadly. “There is about to be as many as 20,000 satellites in the atmosphere. The FCC approved Elon Musk’s project for 12,000 satellites on November 15th and he’s going to launch his in mid-2019. I’m getting reports from various parts of the world that 5G antennas are being erected all over and people are already getting sick from what’s there now and the insect population is getting affected,” Firstenberg stated

Evidence mounts that gut bacteria can influence mood, prevent depression - Of all the many ways the teeming ecosystem of microbes in a person’s gut and other tissues might affect health, its potential influences on the brain may be the most provocative. Now, a study of two large groups of Europeans has found several species of gut bacteria are missing in people with depression. The researchers can’t say whether the absence is a cause or an effect of the illness, but they showed that many gut bacteria could make substances that affect nerve cell function—and maybe mood.“It’s the first real stab at tracking how” a microbe’s chemicals might affect mood in humans, says John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland who has been one of the most vocal proponents of a microbiome-brain connection. The study “really pushes the field from where it’s been” with small studies of depressed people or animal experiments. Interventions based on the gut microbiome are now under investigation: The University of Basel in Switzerland, for example, is planning a trial of fecal transplants, which can restore or alter the gut microbiome, in depressed people. Several studies in mice had indicated that gut microbes can affect behavior, and small studies of people suggested this microbial repertoire is altered in depression. To test the link in a larger group, Jeroen Raes, a microbiologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, and his colleagues took a closer look at 1054 Belgians they had recruited to assess a “normal” microbiome. Some in the group—173 in total—had been diagnosed with depression or had done poorly on a quality of life survey, and the team compared their microbiomes with those other participants. Two kinds of microbes, Coprococcus and Dialister, were missing from the microbiomes of the depressed subjects, but not from those with a high quality of life. The finding held up when the researchers allowed for factors such as age, sex, or antidepressant use, all of which influence the microbiome, the team reports today in Nature Microbiology. They also found the depressed people had an increase in bacteria implicated in Crohn disease, suggesting inflammation may be at fault.

Fruit juices, for kids and adults, may include lead and other metals - Another knock against fruit juices: Many contain potentially harmful levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead, according to Consumer Reports.The non-profit consumer research and advocacy group tested 45 fruit juices (apple, grape, pear and fruit blends) sold across the U.S. and found elevated levels of those heavy metals in nearly half of them. Particularly concerning to the researchers was that many of the juices were marketed to children.  Consumer Reports tested 45 drinks and found 21 contained enough of a single heavy metal or a combination of the metals to concern experts who worked with Consumer Reports on the study. Drinking just 4 ounces a day can cause concern, said Consumer Reports chief science officer James Dickerson.   Drinking lots of fruit juice could compound their risk, the researchers say, because children may also encounter elevated levels of heavy metals in baby foods, rice products, and other foods, as well as from water and the environment. “Exposure to these metals early on can affect their whole life trajectory,” says Jennifer Lowry, a physician and chairperson of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, in the report. “There is so much development happening in their first years of life.” The drinks tested were from 24 national, store, and private-label brands including Capri Sun, Gerber, Minute Maid, Mott's and Welch's. Researchers bought three samples of each product from retailers across the country.

Wheeler’s EPA Keeps Brain-Damaging Chlorpyrifos in Food -- Health and labor organizations will have to argue again in court that chlorpyrifos, a brain-damaging pesticide, must be banned from all food uses, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday. The decision comes four months after Andrew Wheeler's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the court to rehear the case either by the three-judge panel that originally banned chlorpyrifos in 2018, or by a panel of 11 judges.The court will schedule proceedings that will likely include further briefings and argument."EPA's own scientists have said for more than two years that chlorpyrifos is harmful, particularly to children," said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case. "Any delay to ban this toxic chemical is a tragedy. Chlorpyrifos should be banned based on the agency's own scientific conclusion, and the law."Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered EPA to finalize its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos based on undisputed findings that the pesticide is unsafe for public health, and particularly harmful to children and farmworkers. That court ruling happened nearly two years after the Trump administration reversed EPA's own proposal to ban this pesticide. Chlorpyrifos is a widely-used agricultural pesticide linked to reduced IQ, attention deficit disorder and other developmental damage in children. Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate that comes from the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, is used on staple foods, such as strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli and more. Weeks after former EPA boss Scott Pruitt met with the head of the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, Dow Chemical (now DowDuPont), Pruitt falsely claimed in 2017 the science is "unresolved" and decided EPA would study the issue until 2022. First developed by the Nazis for chemical warfare, organophosphates like chlorpyrifos were later repurposed for agriculture. Chlorpyrifos has been banned from home use for about two decades, as it is too toxic to children.

Costco Stops Selling Roundup - Via: Moms Across America: On Friday, January 18, Elizabeth Desiree of Washington state posted on Facebook that she just got a call from an employee at Costco and he told her that Costco would no longer be selling Roundup. She had written him a letter and he was calling her back. I was excited but reserved my excitement. There is so much fake news these days. I called the headquarters, and after two days of messages and calls, I did finally confirm with three people that Costco was not ordering Roundup or any glyphosate-based herbicides for the incoming spring shipments. They would not be selling it in any stores, all across America. This is HUGE! How fantastic! One employee mentioned that they had looked into organic alternatives first and were happy with the results. More than one employee mentioned the lawsuit (Johnson V Monsanto) for part of the reasoning. They said they just felt like it was the right thing to do. I asked for an official statement and was told that usually, Costco does not issue press releases, etc discussing which items they have discontinued. Despite not hearing back from the Costco PR department, I decided to announce the information anyway. I told them that the 89,000 people who signed a petition to Costco, Home Depot, and Lowe’s deserved to have an answer. I knew that they would be happy to know that Costco was doing the right thing.

Neonic Pesticide May Become More Toxic in Tap Water  - Pesticide water monitoring experts at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) paired up with scientists from the University of Iowa in a federally funded collaboration to track neonicotinoid pesticides or " neonics" in tap water, including the potential to form chlorinated disinfection byproducts (DBPs) from the pesticides and their metabolites that may be more toxic than the original compounds. And the news isn't good.Following up on previous research finding neonicotinoids in tap water (Klarich et al. 2017), the scientists now explore whether the neonic compounds or their metabolites that are generated in the environment are transformed into disinfection byproducts during common, important drinking water treatment processes used to protect public health, such as chlorination (Klarich Wong et al. 2019). This paper is the first report of two known metabolites of imidacloprid in tap water; desnitro-imidacloprid and imidacloprid-urea. This is especially concerning because desnitro-imidacloprid is about 319 times more toxic to mammals than imidacloprid, so even much lower levels could be harmful.In addition to discovering the presence of the two metabolites in tap water, the authors demonstrate the likelihood that these metabolites are further transformed to a new form of neonic-derived chlorinated disinfection byproduct during routine water treatment processes. The scientists simulated the conditions that would occur during realistic drinking water conditions, to show under laboratory conditions that chlorinated chemicals are produced. These new chlorinated contaminants are untested, untracked and potentially harmful. In other words, their potential impacts on human health could be a big deal! Other types of disinfection byproducts in drinking water are highly toxic, linked to a risk of cancer and birth defects.

For Detroit Students, Water Fountains are Health Hazards - For the last six months, the nearly 50,000 students enrolled in Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have not been able to use the drinking fountains. In August, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti tested the water quality at 86 DPS schools. There is no law requiring schools to test their water, but Vitti had good cause for concern. At 57 of the schools tested, results showed elevated levels of lead and copper. Vitti ordered all drinking water to be shut off at every school in the district. Lead is rarely found naturally in lakes, rivers or wells. It tends to enter drinking water through the corrosion of aging pipes, solder and faucets. Copper may enter into drinking water either by directly contaminating well water or through the corrosion of copper pipes. The presence of both lead and copper in drinking water at DPS schools is the result of corrosion."It's all about the infrastructure. In DPS schools, they didn't take care of the infrastructure. They didn't do what they were supposed to do,"   "They have not put money into keeping up the pipes." The tests results have left students worried. "When they told us the water was being shut off because it had lead and copper in it, they didn't give us any information on how the contaminated water affects us, so I looked it up on my own," said Southeastern High School freshman Isiah Pearl. "I found out drinking water with lead and copper in it makes you dumber."  In children, exposure to even low levels of lead has been linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ, hyperactivity, stunted growth, impaired hearing and anemia.

Worrisome nonstick chemicals are common in U.S. drinking water, federal study suggests  -In recent weeks, the leadership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., has been dithering on whether to protect drinking water from unregulated industrial chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Meanwhile, the agency’s scientists have found that the compounds are more widespread in drinking water than they previously knew.PFAS chemicals are widely used to make nonstick and water-proof products, including foams used to fight fires. Two of the most common forms—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)—are no longer made in the United States, but in some cases have been replaced by related chemicals. The compounds can persist in the environment for decades and have been found in many drinking water supplies. That has raised health concerns because studies have linked PFAS to cancer and developmental defects.EPA is facing pressure to set a national limit on PFAS concentrations in drinking water. (Some states have already set their own limits.) But the agency has not yet acted, and has disputed reports that it will not issue a standard. In the meantime, many communities have been pushing officials to test water supplies in order to document the extent of any contamination.  A study quietly released earlier this month by scientists at EPA and the United States Geological Survey suggests the chemicals are widespread. They found some combination of 14 PFAS compounds in all 50 drinking water samples they tested, a dramatic jump from a similar 2016 study that used less sensitive testing methods and found the chemicals in less than 3% of samples. The study does not indicate how many people might be drinking the tested water, because the sampling locations are confidential. But using 2016 data collected by federal scientists, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., estimates that up to 110 million people are served by water supplies with PFAS.

Drinking Water PFAS Contamination Crisis: Ex-Koch Chemicals Executive Playing Key Role in Shaping EPA's Response -A former chemical and fossil fuel industry executive who recently oversaw the anti-environmental agenda of the Koch brothers is playing a lead role crafting the Trump administration's plan to address the crisis of PFAS contamination in the nation's drinking water supply, according to a report Monday by Politico.David Dunlap, a top political appointee in the Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has played a significant role in shaping the agency's plan for addressing PFAS contamination in the tap water supplies of more than 100 million Americans. According to documents obtained by Politico through a public records request, Dunlap began working on the issue almost immediately after coming to EPA, in October, and has participated in at least nine meetings on PFAS, including one briefing with Andrew Wheeler, the agency's acting administrator.Dunlap, a chemical engineer, had been the director of environmental affairs at Koch Industries since 2010, before coming into the Trump administration. On his LinkedIn profile, Dunlap described his position at Koch Industries as a "subject matter expert" on water, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, chemical management and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Before working for Koch, Dunlap worked at the Chlorine Institute.Last week, Politico Pro's Annie Snider reported that, according to her sources, Wheeler will not move to regulate any of the PFAS family of fluorinated chemicals by setting a legal limit, known as a maximum contaminant level, under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Studies have linked PFAS chemicals to cancer, kidney disease, weakened childhood immunity and other health problems.

Senate judiciary gives industry more time to review water quality - West Virginia lawmakers voted Friday to give companies that discharge cancer-causing chemicals into West Virginia waterways another year to gather information before new water quality standards would be implemented. Companies have already had several years to gather that information, as the new standards were first recommended by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2015. The Clean Water Act, a federal law, requires states to review water quality standards every three years. In 2015, the EPA recommended that West Virginia update water quality standards for 94 pollutants known to have human health effects, including pesticides. The standards specify concentrations of pollutants allowed in rivers and streams. The EPA had changed the way it calculates the standards, taking into account that people were eating more fish and drinking more water. Those are two of the ways people are exposed to the list of pollutants, along with recreation. The EPA also took into consideration a higher national average for body weight, based on the assumption that larger bodies can handle more exposure to pollutants. Last year, the DEP proposed a rule that addressed 56 pollutants. Under their proposal, two-thirds of the standards would have allowed for less pollution in the water, while one-third of the standards would have allowed for more pollution. In November, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association asked a joint committee comprised of members of the House of Delegates and state Senate rule-making review committees not to implement the standards just yet. Rebecca McPhail, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, told lawmakers, at the time, that they wanted the DEP to consider that West Virginians drink less water, eat less fish and are heavier than the national average. The EPA allows states to consider state-specific information about its population when proposing water quality standards.

W.Va. Senate Committee Strips Water Standards From Rule, Offers Compromise Timeline -The West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to remove a set of 60 proposed updates from Senate Bill 167, a rules bill that outlines a state regulation limiting pollution discharges into the state’s streams and rivers. In a hearing that lasted about 15 minutes Friday afternoon, members of the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve a proposed committee substitute to Senate Bill 167. The meeting took place during a brief recess from a floor session where members were debating amendments to a controversial education reform bill. The Judiciary Committee’s substitute removed 60 updated human health criteria that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had proposed in July be added to the state's Water Quality Standards. It also added language that creates a timeline for new proposed updates to be brought before the Legislature. Speaking during the committee hearing, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump (R-Morgan) characterized the committee substitute as a compromise. “Is it a fair characterization of that to say that that got made and made absolutely everyone mad and dissatisfied at some level with this slight change, but does provide a delay,” he said. “And it provides a longer delay than environmental community would like to see. They’d like to see it move forward with no delay. And it provides less of a delay than the regulated community would like to see.” Under the committee substitute, DEP must propose updates to the human health criteria in the rule before April 1, 2020 and put them out for public comment. The agency will submit the proposed updates for consideration by the 2021 legislative session.

At a crossroads, Ohio River agency weighs dueling proposals on role - In 2014 President Barack Obama made Tom FitzGerald an insider by appointing him to the governing board of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, more commonly known as ORSANCO. Today, FitzGerald is at the epicenter of a fierce industry-led struggle meant to end one of ORSANCO’s core missions — setting and enforcing safety limits on biological and toxic pollutants spilling into the river. Since its establishment in 1948, the multi-state environmental agency has played an outsized role in improving water quality and ecology on America’s most important industrial river. Founded by an act of Congress and an interstate compact signed by the eight states of the 204,000-square-mile Ohio River Basin, ORSANCO has served as an innovator of policies and practices to reduce biological and toxic chemical discharges to the river. It developed and implemented so-called “pollution control standards” compelling cities and towns to stop dumping raw sewage into the Ohio River. It did the same for cleaning up chemical and toxic effluents from coal-fired power plants, refineries, and metals manufacturers along the river. ORSANCO’s safety standards have been adopted by the six states that border the river, and incorporated by several states as requirements in discharge permits. It is widely credited for its big role in significantly improving water quality and ecological conditions along the river, which 5 million people depend upon for their drinking water. The push to fundamentally change ORSANCO’s role is supported by some board members. But FitzGerald has fought back with a separate proposal that would maintain the pollution control standards and expand the agency’s work to help reduce biological and toxic chemical pollution. This month the full commission meets to weigh the competing measures.

Management of Australia’s Murray–Darling basin deemed ‘negligent’ - An independent inquiry into the management of Australia’s troubled Murray–Darling Basin river system has delivered a scathing report, accusing the agency responsible of mismanagement and negligence.A royal commission was established last year by the state of South Australia, where the Murray River ends, to review the state and national legislation and policies that manage how water is shared in the country’s largest basin, which stretches across four states.In his report released on 31 January, commissioner Bret Walker, a barrister in Sydney, wrote that “politics rather than science” had driven the setting of limits on how much water could be taken from the river system for uses such as agriculture.He also noted that the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, the statutory agency that was established by the national government in 2007 to manage the basin’s water resources, was extremely secretive, which is “the bane of good science”.The premier of South Australia, Steven Marshall, said his government would consider the report’s recommendations. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority issued a statement denying that it had acted improperly or unlawfully. It said it is confident the plan to manage the basin was based on the best available science.The commissioner recommends that water allocations be reset to restore and protect the basin’s key environmental assets and ecosystem functions. He also calls for an urgent review of the system’s vulnerability to climate change. In the past month, the lower end of Darling River in New South Wales has experienced mass fish die-offs, linked to fluctuating temperatures affecting oxygen levels, and low water levels.

Even groundwater is contaminated with microplastics -- It seems that no part of the planet is safe from the scourge that is microplastics. Not only are they found floating in the air and in deep ocean trenches, but now a study from the University of Illinois has found that underground aquifers, which supply one-quarter of the world's population with drinking water, are contaminated, too. The researchers took 17 groundwater samples from wells and springs. As a press release explains, 11 came from a highly fractured limestone aquifer near the St. Louis metropolitan area and six from an aquifer containing much smaller fractures in rural northwestern Illinois.  Every samples but one contained microplastic particles, with a maximum concentration of 15 particles per litre. These concentrations are said to be comparable to those of surface water concentrations found in the rivers and streams in the Chicago area.  How does an underground aquifer get contaminated? Study co-author John Scott explained that "groundwater flows through the cracks and voids in limestone, sometimes carrying sewage and runoff from roads, landfills and agricultural areas into the aquifers below." Because the samples also contained traces of pharmaceuticals and other household contaminants, it seems likely that the particles originated in household septic systems. In Scott's words, "Imagine how many thousands of polyester fibers find their way into a septic system from just doing a load of laundry. Then consider the potential for those fluids to leak into the groundwater supply, especially in these types of aquifers where surface water interacts so readily with groundwater." The researchers say that the findings cannot be interpreted in great detail, as there is very little data on microplastics in groundwater. Yessenia Funes wrote for Earther, "We still don’t know much about the impacts of microplastics on our bodies, so there’s no concentration that’s deemed unsafe or illegal." There's something deeply disturbing about the thought of drinking plastic waste in a glass of water. It goes to show how Earth's systems are deeply interconnected and how there is no 'away'; just because waste is out of sight does not mean it's not there, and it will come back to haunt us.

Microplastics Found in Every Marine Mammal Surveyed in UK Study - Microplastics are being widely ingested by Britain’s marine mammals, scientists say, with samples found in every animal examined in a study. The research on 50 stranded creatures including porpoises, dolphins, grey seals and a pygmy sperm whale is the most comprehensive analysis of microplastics in the digestive tracts of both wild cetaceans and seals. “It’s shocking – but not surprising – that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said Sarah Nelms, of the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), lead author of the research published in the journal Scientific Reports. The study found that nylon made up more than 60% of the microplastics, with possible sources including fishing rope and nets, clothing microfibres and toothbrush bristles. Polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) and polyester were also widely present. As well as accidental consumption, microplastics are ingested indirectly when predators consume contaminated prey such as fish. On average, 5.5 particles were found in the guts of each animal, suggesting they pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated. “The low number of microplastics in their gut at any one time doesn’t necessarily correlate to the chemical burden within their body because the exposure is chronic and cumulative,” said Nelms. “It’s also not yet understood how synthetic particles physically interact with the gut wall as they pass through.” Dr Penelope Lindeque, the head of the marine plastics research group at PML, has found microplastics in animals at every level of the food chain, from tiny zooplankton to fish larvae, turtles, and now marine mammals. “It’s disconcerting that plastic is everywhere – all animals are exposed to it and they are ingesting it in their natural environment,” she said. “The ocean is a soup of microplastics and it’s only going to get worse, so we need to reduce the amount of plastic waste released into our seas now.” Species with a long lifespan such as dolphins and seals are good indicators of marine ecosystem health, but as top predators they are susceptible to the accumulation of pollutants such as toxins or plastics. Lindeque said: “There’s a risk that chemicals within the plastic and chemicals that stick to the outside of the microplastics, such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), could affect these animals. We are increasingly worried that microplastics could also be a vector for viruses and bacteria.”

Key West Bans Coral-Damaging Sunscreen - City officials in Key West have put the cap on sunscreen—or at least varieties that contain chemicals believed to harm coral reefs and increase coral bleaching and death. The Florida Keys is home to the third largest living coral barrier reef system in the world. The ecosystem is a habitat for fish species and other marine life and also serves as economically important touristic and recreational spot.On Tuesday, the City Commission voted 6-to-1 to prohibit sales of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, according to FLKeysNews. The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021."We have one reef, and we have to do one small thing to protect that. It's our obligation," Mayor Teri Johnston said before the vote, as quoted by FLKeysNews.  People with medical prescriptions are exempt from the ban, Johnston told The New York Times. The first offense would be met with a warning and the second offense would incur an as yet undetermined fine. The move follows efforts from Hawaii, which became the first state to ban sunscreens with the same two chemicals last year. The Aloha State's ban takes effect in 2021.Last year, the Pacific archipelago of Palau also banned sunscreens containing any one of 10 chemicals that may be reef toxic.  Oxybenzone and octinoxate, which filter UV rays, can be found in more than 3,500 sunscreen products, including popular ones sold by Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat and Coppertone.

Border Wall Construction Imminent at Most Diverse Butterfly Center in U.S. - Construction equipment has arrived to build a border wall through the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, a protected habitat for more than 200 species of wild butterflies and other unique wildlife. A planned 5.5 mile section of concrete and steel border wall that is already funded will cut off 70 percent of the 100-acre property. The barrier will be built on top of a levee of the Rio Grande that runs through the sanctuary. An excavator and eight law enforcement units arrived around the center on Sunday, the National Butterfly Center wrote in a Facebook post. "Effective Monday morning, it is all government land," a Mission police department officer said, according to the post. Bulldozing for the wall, which is expected to be about three stories tall, will commence any day now, the center wrote in another post on Tuesday. The butterfly center's fate was sealed in December when the Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife to appeal a federal court decision that the Trump administration can waive 28 environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, in order to build 33 more miles of wall, including the section that runs through the refuge. The project was funded in the 2018 Omnibus spending bill in March. In a recent Facebook Live with EcoWatch, Marianna Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center said morale on the ground was "pretty bad." "The potential impacts are devastating," Wright continued. "Especially for animals like the ocelot where we have fewer than 80 known in existence."

Skyscrapers Made of Wood Are Making a Comeback - More than a century after steel and concrete became the standard for building high-rise buildings, the humble tree is making a comeback. Sidewalk Labs LLC, a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., is planning to use timber to construct all of its buildings for a mixed-use community along Toronto’s eastern waterfront. Meanwhile, Oregon became the first U.S. state to amended its building code to permit taller buildings made from timber. The material can “contribute to people’s wellness, are beautiful, easy to assemble, and strong enough support to build dozens of stories," said Karim Khalifa, director of buildings innovation at Sidewalk Labs. “And unlike concrete and steel, which are very carbon intensive to produce, using timber in buildings takes carbon out of the atmosphere." The push comes as timber becomes more cost competitive as steel prices rise, and the use of pre-fabricated wood panels allows for quicker construction with less labor. As opposed to the heavy timber construction from 100 years ago, builders are using so-called mass timber from younger, smaller trees that are engineered together, said architect Michael Green, an early proponent of the material. Unlike traditional two-by-four lumber, cross-laminated timber consists of layers of wood glued together to form solid, thick panels that can be made in custom dimensions for anything from walls and floors to beams and roofs.

Haiti looks set to be entirely wiped of its native forests - Several factors are contributing to extreme deforestation in Haiti, with the poor economic state of the country primary among them  Already blighted by natural disasters, disease and poverty, Haiti looks as though it will soon become entirely devoid of biodiversity as the Caribbean country approaches 100 per cent deforestation.   The Haitian portion of the island of Hispaniola (shared with the Dominican Republic) had 4.4 per cent forest cover in 1988, a figure that had shrunk to 0.32 per cent by 2016. New research reveals that 42 of Haiti’s 50 largest mountains are now stripped of their primary forest, leaving only a handful of remote vestiges of tree cover left, themselves expected to disappear within the next two decades, wiping out native reptiles, amphibians and other species in the process.   ‘There are many contributing reasons for the extreme deforestation of Haiti, but the poor economic state of the country, combined with the large number of people, would be the primary reason,’ says Dr Warren Cohen, a research associate at the College of Forestry, Oregon State University. ‘Trees are cut to make cooking fuel, charcoal, and for subsistence agriculture. Most homes use charcoal rather than electricity or other energy sources. There are efforts to change the source of energy, but it would take years and a large inflow of funds for a country of this size to make such a transition in its infrastructure. It is doubtful that the primary forests would survive by then.’

Lack of forest connectivity threatens Sabah’s Sunda clouded leopards - Studies say a lack of forest connectivity in Sabah threatens the Sunda clouded leopard population. According to studies conducted by researchers from Oxford University’s WildCRU et al, patchy forests are also hampering gene flow in the species. Dr Andrew Hearn from WildCRU, who led the study, said Sabah was a stronghold for the Sunda clouded leopard on Borneo. “Yet these rarely seen animals are found at very low population densities, typically as few as one to five animals for every 100 square kilometres of forest,” he said in a statement Sunday (Jan 27). Such rarity, he said, coupled with the fact that their forest home was shrinking and becoming increasingly isolated, may expose these beautiful cats to the negative effects of population isolation, as individual animals struggle to disperse across the landscape. Dr Hearn said from their research, they found that core areas of Sunda clouded leopard habitat are comprised of large and unfragmented forest blocks, and areas of reduced forest cover comprise barriers among patches of predicted remaining habitats.

Anti-grizzly-Fever-Grips-Wyoming-Again - Last week’s press was peppered with hostile rhetoric from people in high places. Several inane bills are being debated in the state legislature that presume to strip federal grizzly bear protections and institute a grizzly bear hunt with the stated goal of “ensuring public safety.” Brian Debolt of Wyoming Game and Fish further fueled public confusion by publicly claiming that the 59 grizzly bears captured during conflicts last year was “about normal,” when that number is, in fact, twice the 2005-2017 annual average.  And after only a few days in office as Wyoming’s Governor, Mark Gordon called for punitive management of grizzly bears by the state, saying to a group of reporters: “bears have no respect for us.” His statement fits squarely in the tradition of invoking violence and punishment as means of instilling “respect,” which is conservative shorthand for “fear.”  Last week’s antics build on widespread anti-bear vitriol in the “Equality State” that seems to be increasing since the Judge’s ruling.  Never have Wyoming wildlife managers killed so many grizzly bears in one year: 32, all outside National Park boundaries, almost all associated with conflicts over livestock. This toll is about half of the total 65 grizzlies that died ecosystem-wide. Moreover, the 2018 deaths are 30% higher in Wyoming than the previous record set during 2016. The only year when more bears were captured in response to conflicts was during 2010, when 65 bears were trapped. For Wyoming’s grizzlies, there was absolutely nothing normal about 2018. 

The killing of large species is pushing them towards extinction, study finds The vast majority of the world’s largest species are being pushed towards extinction, with the killing of the heftiest animals for meat and body parts the leading cause of decline, according to a new study. While habitat loss, pollution and other threats pose a significant menace to large species, also known as megafauna, intentional and unintentional trapping, poaching and slaughter is the single biggest factor in their decline, researchers found. An analysis of 362 megafauna species found that 70% of them are in decline, with 59% classed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Direct killing by humans is the leading cause across all classes of animals, the study states. A range of maladies including intensive agriculture, toxins and invasive competitors are also helping to trigger these declines. This situation adds to the “mounting evidence that humans are poised to cause a sixth mass extinction event”, according to the research, published in Conservation Letters. Humans have hunted the largest animals for thousands of years but technology has allowed them to be targeted far more efficiently, the study notes, with nine megafauna species becoming extinct in the past 250 years, including two types of giant tortoise and two varieties of deer.  Besides the intrinsic value of imposing creatures such as rhinos, sharks and tigers, many of them perform an important ecological role as predators at the top of the food web or by spreading seeds throughout habitat. ••••• The crisis in the natural world has been laid bare by recent research, which illustrated that only 4% of the world’s mammals, by weight, are wild, with the other 96% made up of humans and livestock. Since 1970, populations of wild mammals, birds fish and amphibians have, on average, slumped by 60%.

Desperate Mongolians send children into countryside to escape choking winter smog (Reuters) - Mongolia has extended school winter holidays in the world’s coldest capital and many families have sent children to live with relatives in the vast, windswept grasslands to escape choking smog and respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. The temperature is expected to drop to minus 32 degrees Celsius (minus 26F) in Ulaanbaatar on Monday night, as residents burn coal and trash to try to keep warm and concentrations of smog particles known as PM2.5 routinely exceed 500 mg per cubic meter, 50 times the level considered safe by the WHO. Mongolia, a former Soviet satellite landlocked between Russia and China, has invested public money and foreign aid to tackle pollution, but improvement has been slow, with residents saying inaction has been compounded by a corruption scandal that has paralyzed parliament. The children are nearing the end of a two-month break, with schools due to reopen next Monday. About 60 percent of Mongolia is covered by grassland, where the mining of copper, gold, coal and other minerals provides employment, while the Gobi desert envelops the South. But almost half the population live in Ulaanbataar. Reuters calculations based on U.S. Embassy data show annual average PM2.5 concentrations hit 100 micrograms in Ulaanbaatar in 2018. They soared to 270 in December. PM2.5 in China’s most polluted city of Shijiazhuang stood at an average 70 micrograms last year, down 15.7 percent from 2017. The World Health Organisation recommends a concentration of no more than 10 micrograms. The WHO said 80 percent of Ulaanbaatar’s smog was caused by coal burning in “ger” districts, where thousands of rural migrants, used to a nomadic lifestyle, have pitched huts. It estimates air pollution causes more than 4,000 premature deaths a year. A joint study by the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Mongolia’s National Centre for Public Health said children living in one smog-prone district of Ulaanbaatar had 40 percent less lung function than those living in the countryside. 

Tasmania is burning. The climate disaster future has arrived while those in power laugh at us - As I write this, fire is 500 metres from the largest King Billy pine forest in the world on Mt Bobs, an ancient forest that dates back to the last Ice Age and has trees over 1,000 years old. Fire has broached the boundaries of Mt Field national park with its glorious alpine vegetation, unlike anything on the planet. Fire laps at the edges of Federation Peak, Australia’s grandest mountain, and around the base of Mt Anne with its exquisite rainforest and alpine gardens. Fire laps at the border of the Walls of Jerusalem national park with its labyrinthine landscapes of tarns and iconic stands of ancient pencil pine and its beautiful alpine landscape, ecosystems described by their most eminent scholar, the ecologist Prof Jamie Kirkpatrick, as “like the vision of a Japanese garden made more complex, and developed in paradise, in amongst this gothic scenery”. “You have plants that look like rocks – green rocks – and these plants have different colours in complicated mosaics: red-green, blue-green, yellow-green, all together. It’s an overwhelming sensual experience really.” I had understood that climate change’s effects on Tasmania would be significant but not disastrous; the changes mitigated by Tasmania being surrounded by seas that were not heating as quickly as others: the island’s west would get wetter, the east a little warmer and drier, but compared to much of the world it didn’t seem catastrophic. But it wasn’t so. Tasmania’s sea waters were warming at two to three times the global rate. Davies’ work, with that of other scientists, was revealing the warming and drying of Tasmania’s west and highlands, and the growing impact this was having. The highland lakes of Tasmania would, for example, in the next 70 to 100 years see between a 10% and 20% drop in rainfall, coupled to a 20% to 30% increase in evaporation. By the end of this century a significant proportion of these lakes and wetlands will cease to exist or be largely dried out much of the year. Then there was the startlingly new phenomenon of widespread dry lightning storms. Almost unknown in Tasmania until this century they had increased exponentially since 2000, leading to a greatly increased rate of fire in a rapidly drying south-west. Compounding all this, winds were also growing in duration, further drying the environment and fuelling the fires’ spread and ferocity. Such a future would see these fires destroy Tasmania’s globally unique rainforests and mesmerising alpine heathlands. Unlike mainland eucalyptus forest these ecosystems do not regenerate after fire: they would vanish forever. 

Extreme Rainfall in Australia Forces Evacuations, Could Flood 20,000 Homes -- A once-in-a-century flooding disaster in northeast Queensland, Australia forced authorities in the city of Townsville to fully open the floodgates of the Ross River dam on Sunday night, causing nearly 2,000 cubic meters (approximately 70,629 cubic feet) of water to pour out of the dam every second from 9 p.m.,News.com.au reported."We've never seen anything like this before," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told Today, according to News.com.au. "In Queensland, of course, we're used to seeing natural disasters, but Townsville has never seen the likes of this."Nearly 1,000 people in Townsville have sought refuge in relocation shelters, Australia's ABC News reported. Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said Monday it had carried out 18 rescues from swift water and 1,100 relocations in the past 24 hours. So far, around 500 homes in Townsville have been flooded, News.com.au reported, but that number could increase."It could move up to the 10,000, 20,000 [mark]," district disaster coordinator Steve Munro said, according to News.com.au. "That's the worst case scenario we're looking at if things keep going pear-shaped. We don't want to get to that stage."   Townsville has received more than 20 times its average rainfall for late January / early February at around 3.3 feet in the past week. This breaks the record previously set by the Night of Noah flood in 1998, BBC News reported. BOM meteorologists have said water spouts and tornadoes could form along parts of the Queensland coast, but the rain should move further south of Townsville, ABC News reported. However, another half-a-meter to meter (approximately 1.6 to 3.2 feet) of rain could fall in north and central Queensland in the next few days, according to News.com.au.

Earth’s oceans are routinely breaking heat records - Two recently published peer-reviewed studies make clear that the planet’s oceans are continuing to set hottest-yet temperature records nearly every year and, secondly, that the rate of ocean warming is in virtual lockstep with what modern climate models have projected.Taken together, the findings, from studies led by Lijing Cheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute for Atmospheric Physics, demonstrate that climate scientists have developed an increasingly clear picture of the rapid warming of Earth’s oceans and its consequences.One study, led by Cheng and colleagues and published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, concludes that 2018 was the hottest year ever recorded in the oceans. In fact, since the turn of the century, all but three years – 2007, 2010, and 2016 – have set a new ocean heat record.Those three exceptions shared a key trait: Each was characterized by significant El Niño events, which transfer heat from the ocean to the air. As a result, for heat at Earth’s surface (in the air above both the land and oceans), 2007 was the second-hottest year up to that time, and 2010 and 2016 both subsequently broke the surface temperature record. 2018 was the fourth-hottest on record at the surface as a result of a La Niña event that year that kept more heat in the oceans than was the case in 2015 through 2017.About 93 percent of global warming goes into heating the oceans, compared to about 2 percent warming the atmosphere. As the hottest year in the oceans, 2018 therefore was the hottest year ever recorded for the planet as a whole. And the amount of heat currently building up on Earth is equivalent to the amount of energy released by more than five atomic bomb detonations per second, every second.    But most of the heat trapped by the tens of billions of tons of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year is absorbed by the oceans; it’s there that Earth overall is regularly breaking temperature records in the oceans, in the air, or in both … and doing so almost every year.

 Climate Change Will Alter the Color of Half of Earth's Oceans by 2100 - Half of Earth’s oceans will change color by 2100 as a result of warming global temperatures, according to a study published Monday in Nature Communications. Blue ocean surfaces are expected to shift to a darker blue, said the authors, who were led by Stephanie Dutkiewicz, a principal research scientist and marine ecologist at MIT. Meanwhile, green-tinted marine habitats could become more intensely verdant.The shifts in color will be the result of marine phytoplankton—microscopic organisms that live in the sunlit layers of the ocean—responding to the effects of human-driven climate change.Phytoplankton uses the pigment chlorophyll to harvest solar radiation into energy, which bounces green rays back into the environment. As a result, large communities of phytoplankton act like a biological dye tinting the ocean surface green, while marine habitats that are depleted of phytoplankton are more of a navy blue color.“There will be a noticeable difference in the color of 50 percent of the ocean by the end of the 21st century,” Dutkiewicz said in a statement. “It could be potentially quite serious. Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, that will also change the types of food webs they can support.” Using computer models, the team projected that some blue regions of the ocean, including subtropical gyres, are likely to become bluer in the coming decades due to a reduced phytoplankton presence in the warmer waters. Meanwhile, phytoplankton blooms will become common in the water around Earth’s poles, suggesting those regions might have an emerald shade in the coming decades.

Cod stocks on course to crash if ocean warming continues - The North Atlantic cod stock in the Barents Sea is likely to first rise and then crash, possibly to almost zero before the end of the century if climate change isn’t addressed, says the scientific paper, published by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. The grim forecast is based on the most comprehensive study to date of the effects of climate change on cod, which – for the first time – takes into account ocean acidification as well as warming. It found larvae mortality rates were 75% higher when exposed to the combined pressures of the two factors – both of which are caused by emissions – than to heating alone. As a result, fish numbers, catches and revenues will decline faster than previously estimated. The Barents Sea, which is in the Arctic, is a major source of seafood nutrition for northern Europe. Along with Iceland, it is a key source of cod imports into the UK, which has over-fished its own waters. More Atlantic fish are migrating into this region as a result of global warming. But this ocean has the highest level of acidification in the world because cold water absorbs more carbon dioxide, which changes its pH level. It is also the ocean that is experiencing the fastest rates of heating. While the global average is a rise of 1.1C since the start of the industrial revolution, the coastal breeding grounds of the cod in the Barents Sea have experienced a temperature increase of 3.5C. Unless the warming trend is controlled, the stocks will see a boom and then a bust. A temperature rise of up to 4.5C is beneficial to the cod. By this time, catches are projected to be worth 255 million Norwegian kroner per year (£23m). But after this point, the larvae rapidly start to die off. At 6C of warming (less than 3C for the rest of the world), they completely disappear.  The numbers may yet prove an under-assessment of the risk because oxygen depletion – another side-effect of man-made climate change – is not accounted for. “We are trying to show the magnitude of risk and it looks very significant,” 

Sonar Makes Beaked Whales Suicidal - Scientists have figured out why exposure to naval sonar drives beaked whales to beach themselves in bizarre bouts of apparently suicidal behaviour. According to new research, the mammals are driven to suicide by the bends, also known as decompression sickness. Just like when scuba divers suffer from it, nitrogen bubbles form in the whales' bodies. But instead of being caused by rising to the surface too quickly, the gas forms due to fear "In the presence of sonar they are stressed and swim vigorously away from the sound source, changing their diving pattern," explained lead author Yara Bernaldo de Quiros, a researcher at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain. "The stress response, in other words, overrides the diving response, which makes the animals accumulate nitrogen," Dr Bernaldo de Quiros added in Proceedings of the Royal Society. "It's like an adrenaline shot."Academics are placing the blame on sonar developed in the 1950s to detect submarines, especially sonar buzzing at around five kilohertz as used by the US and NATO allies. It was around the 1950s when the mass beachings of beaked whales began in the Mediterranean. According to the researchers, there were 121 mass strandings between 1960 and 2004, at least 40 of which were closely linked to naval activities. The so-called "atypical" mass strandings didn't feature individuals or old and sick animals, but a handful or more of beaked whales washing ashore within a day and a few kilometres of each other. During one NATO naval exercise in 2002, 14 whales were stranded over a 36-hour period in the Canary Islands. "Within a few hours of the sonar being deployed, the animals started showing up on the beach," Dr Bernaldo de Quiros said. While these whales showed no outward sign of disease, inside their veins were filled with nitrogen gas bubbles and their brains had suffered severe haemorrhaging.

Will Hawaii Ban Purposeful Killing and Abuse of Sharks and Rays? - Hawaiian lawmakers and conservationists are pushing for a landmark law to protect the Aloha State's sharksand rays.House Bill 808, which outlaws the intentional killing, capture, abuse or entanglement of sharks and rays in state marine waters, passed its first committee meeting on Wednesday. The upper chamber version, Senate Bill 489, secured its first committee approval late last month and passed a second reading on Monday.If the proposal becomes law, Hawaii could be the first state in the nation to have such sweeping protections for the marine creatures, according to the Guardian.Penalties for a first offense would range from $500 and goes up to $10,000 for a third or subsequent offense, according to a press release. Exemptions are allowed for research, cultural practices and public safety.The bills were re-introduced on Jan. 18 by state Sen. Mike Gabbard, who chairs the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee, and state Rep. Nicole Lowen, who chairs the House Environmental Protection and Energy Committee.Last year, a similar measure unanimously passed in the Senate but stalled in the House."As apex predators, sharks and rays help to keep the ocean ecosystem in balance, and protecting them from unnecessary harm is essential to the health of our coral reefs," Lowen said in the release. "I'm hopeful that this year will be the year that we are able to take this important step."

20,000 Seabirds Mysteriously Wash Up Dead on Dutch Coastline - About 20,000 guillemots, a black-and-white seabird of the northern seas, have mysteriously washed up dead on Dutch beaches in recent weeks, according to public broadcaster NOS.Scientists in the Netherlands now are trying to understand the reason behind the deaths."The working hypothesis is that it is a combination of bad weather plus something else, and we are trying to find the smoking gun," Mardik Leopold, a biologist from Wageningen University, told The Guardian. "We have dissected some of the birds. They are clean but they were very skinny, with gut problems, which is indicative of starvation. But we need a larger sample and so have been asking people to collect birds for us."Leopold told NOS that such mass deaths have not been seen since the 1980s and 1990s. The seabird wrecks have only occurred in the Netherlands, from the island of Schiermonnikoog to Zeeland, the country's westernmost province."We do not get these reports from Germany and Belgium," Leopold explained.The birds that do not show up dead on Dutch beaches are sick, skinny or severely weakened and are taken to animal shelters for treatment.Guillemots have diets that usually consist of fish, crustaceans and marine invertebrates. A suggested culprit behind the mass deaths is ingestion of marine pollution and other contaminants. On the night of Jan. 2, a storm caused a large container ship to spill 291 containers and its contents into waters north of the island of Ameland, The Guardian reported. An operation to retrieve the containers has been underway but 50 of them are still unaccounted for.

Our Plastics, Our Selves -  On the deck of the 72-foot shiny-bright Sea Dragon, moored here in the island capital of British Columbia for just one day, are four young women, part of the crew of the research voyage “eXXpedition.” They’re hauling heavy buckets of black sludge up to the deck from the ocean floor, their labor set to a tinny radio serenade of Drake and Selena Gomez.  The team will meticulously pack the sludge — actually wet sand from the harbor floor — into little glass jars like you would some fresh vegetables you planned to pickle. These jars will be added to a library of sand, water, and air samples that they’ve collected over the past six weeks from across the North Pacific. They’ll ship some of those samples off to Plymouth, England, to be analyzed by eXXpedition’s marine scientist Imogen Napper. The idea is that by cataloging this library, she and the team will begin to get a better sense of what kind of plastic is out there in the ocean.  One thing they already know, because they’ve seen it every day for weeks: There is a whole lot of it. The Sea Dragon, with an all-woman crew of 14 aboard, launched from Hawaii in mid-June, traversing a part of the North Pacific Gyre known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a swirling mass of trash the size of two Texases. The name conjures the image of great islands of refuse gently bumping up against each other, like a Waterworld made of old tires and sandwich bags. But, as eXXpedition founder Emily Penn tells me as we sway a bit on deck, it’s really more of a plastic soup, trillions of little bits and particles seasoning a million square miles of ocean. “When we sailed into the southern edge of the Gyre, we started to see a piece of plastic over the side of the boat every 10 seconds — a cigarette lighter, a bottle, some sort of container,” she said.  “Then when you wake up the next morning, and it’s still going, and wake up seven days later, and it’s still going, and you’re 800 miles from the nearest human being — it’s that relentlessness that’s just so overwhelming.”

Sea Shepherd Ship Attacked by Rocks, Molotov Cocktails in Vaquita Refuge -- The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says that its vessel, the M/V Farley Mowat, was ambushed on Jan. 31 by a group of poachers posing as fishermen while the ship was conducting maritime conservation patrols in a vaquita refuge in Mexico's Gulf of California. It's the second such attack in less than a month. The conservation organization says its ship was surrounded by more than 50 assailants on 20 high speed boats, according to a press release shared with EcoWatch. Sea Shepherd said the side of the Farley Mowat caught fire and its windows shattered because the attackers were hurling molotov cocktails and projectiles such as lead weights and large stones at the vessel.The group also released dramatic footage of the confrontation: SEA SHEPHERD SHIP’S WINDOWS SMASHED AND HULL SET ON FIRE BY POACHERS – YouTube  Crew onboard the Farley Mowat used high-pressure fire hoses to defend the vessel while Mexican Navy soldiers and federal police stationed aboard opened fire into the air and sea to deter the attackers. Neither the crew nor the security personnel sustained injuries. No arrests have been made.  The Farley Mowat was similarly attacked by roughly 35 fishing boats in the waters on Jan. 9.  "These repeated attacks have made Sea Shepherd's vital conservation efforts within the Vaquita Refuge challenging in recent weeks, casting a doubt on the vaquita's chances of survival," the press release states.

2018 was Earth's fourth hottest year on record, NOAA and NASA report - The string of hotter-than-average annual temperatures continued in 2018, as Earth experienced its fourth-hottest year on record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.Also in 2018, the United States suffered 14 weather and climate disasters with costs surpassing $1 billion during a warmer- and wetter-than-average year, NOAA reports.Global temperatures across land and sea were 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, making 2018 the fourth-warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880, NOAA said in a report Thursday.In a separate report, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies said global temperatures were 1.5 degrees above the 1951 to 1980 mean, also the fourth highest going back to 1880.   The 2-degrees Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures since the late 19th century has been driven largely by growing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, said the institute's director, Gavin Schmidt.  By both agencies' measures, Earth has now recorded its five hottest annual average temperatures in the past five years."2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend," Schmidt said in a press release. The strongest warming trends are occurring in the Arctic, where the loss of ice sheets continues to contribute to a rise in sea levels, NASA says. The amount of ocean covered with sea ice totaled about 4 million square miles in 2018, the second-smallest annual average on record since 1979, NOAA reports. "The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt — in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change," Schmidt said.

UK's Met Office Warns Global Temperature Could Soar Beyond 1.5°C Threshold Within Five Years - As NASA on Wednesday confirmed that the past five years have been the hottest on record, the United Kingdom's national weather service warned that the next five years could see global average surface temperature temporarily surpass the end-of-the-century target of the Paris climate agreement. The Met Office forecasts that the average for 2019 to 2023 will likely be between 1.03°C and 1.57°C above pre-industrial levels, fluctuating each year depending on variations in human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions as well as natural phenomena such as La Ninã and El Niño.  The global average reached 1.0°C for the first time in 2015, "and the following three years have all remained close to this level," Adam Scaife, head of long-range prediction at the Met Office, noted in a statement. If that trend continues as expected, the decade from 2014 could be "warmest in more than 150 years of records."  While the U.K. researchers predict there is currently a 10 percent chance that the global average will soar beyond 1.5°C—the Paris accord's lower limit—in the next five years, Met Office research fellow Doug Smith pointed out that "a run of temperatures of 1.0°C or above would increase the risk of a temporary excursion above the threshold." "Although it would be an outlier," the Guardian reported that scientists see the potential excursion as "worrying, particularly for regions that are usually hard hit by extreme weather related to El Niño," including western Australia, South America, south and west Africa, and the Indian monsoon belt.

The frigid polar vortex that killed 21 people is on the way out — and temperatures are due to spike by up to 80 degrees - The polar vortex that brought record-low temperatures to the US and killed at least 21 people is coming to an end — and temperatures are expected to spike this weekend.The polar vortex brought temperatures lower than minus 50 degrees, and forecasters are predicting that some places will become up to 80 degrees higher than their lowest temperatures during the week.The rebound in temperature could set records of its own. Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground firm, said, "I don't think there's ever been a case where we've seen [such a big] shift in temperatures," according to The Associated Press. "Past record-cold waves have not dissipated this quickly," he added. "Here we are going right into spring-like temperatures."The more than 20 million Americans who experienced the life-threateningly low temperatures will likely welcome the milder weather after thousands of flights were canceled, schools were closed, and the US Postal Service suspended operations because of the severe weather.But the speed at which much of the country is expected to get warmer brings its own problems.

The Sierra Nevada Has Received 8 Feet of Snow (and Counting) Since Saturday - With record-breaking snow in select locations, the Sierra has three solid pow days ahead ... until the next storm hits. Since Saturday, the Sierra Nevada mountain range received 8 feet of snow … and still counting. Most notably, June Mountain’s unofficial count was 72 inches in 24 hours, beating the record held by Echo Summit, of most snow received in California in a 24-hour timeframe.Although, the count was unofficially measured, so the record is not broken yet. Either way, California is getting dumped on. According to the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada, The storm-total snowfall at June Mountain from Friday through mid-morning Sunday was measured at 96 inches.Tuesday, the forecast in Lake Tahoe and Mammoth is partly cloudy with an expected 2-5 inches of snow. Blizzard warnings were in effect the past few days and a winter storm warning is still in full effect. However, the next two days are expected to be clear, so it’s time to break those pow boards out.

Polar express: magnetic north pole moving ‘pretty fast’ towards Russia - Something’s up in the Arctic: the north magnetic pole is on the move. But rather than drifting around aimlessly as it has for centuries, the pole has picked up speed and is heading fast for Siberia.The curious shift has caught scientists’ attention and forced them to take rare action. Concerned for those who navigate in the Arctic regions, they have updated the official map of the world’s magnetic field to pinpoint the pole’s location. “We know from old ships’ logs that in the past 400 years, the north magnetic pole has hung around northern Canada. Until the 1900s, it moved perhaps tens of kilometres, back and forth,” said Ciaran Beggan, a geophysicist at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.  “But in the past 50 years it started to move north, and in the past 30 years it started to accelerate away,” he said. “It went from moving at about five to 10km [ six miles] a year to 50 or 60km a year today. It’s now moving rapidly towards Siberia.”   The wandering pole mostly affects those navigating in the Arctic. If GPS systems fail, pilots on planes and ships fall back on compass navigation and so need up-to-date maps on their onboard computers. At high latitudes, the US military has named airport runways after their direction in relation to magnetic north, and changes them whenever the poles move. For example, the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska, renamed the 1L-19R runway 2L-20R in 2009.A similar map based on the WMM is used by smartphones and car satnavs to work out what direction they are facing.

Oil giant backs high-tech rescue for collapsing Arctic ice cellars - When Inupiaq hunters wrestle a 100-ton bowhead whale back to land from the high seas, the next challenge is where to store all that meat. For centuries, the Inupiaq, a Native Alaskan group that lives north of the Arctic Circle, have dug cellars into the permafrost as a form of natural refrigeration. Now those "ice cellars" are under threat. Warming temperatures are melting permafrost, while coastal erosion is exposing the underground chambers. Rising water, humidity and warmth create food-safety risks for these once-reliable alternatives to electric freezers. Besides whale meat, Inupiaq hunters use the cellars to store caribou, fish, geese, ducks and walrus, he said. Harcharek, who is at the planning stage of building a family ice cellar, said Utqiagvik, the region's largest settlement, had less of a problem than outlying villages like Point Lay and Kaktovik, where melting permafrost is more of an issue. In Kaktovik, a coastal Inupiaq village of about 260 residents at the northern edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, nearly all the ice cellars are defunct.  Under threat of losing this Inupiaq tradition entirely, the Kaktovik Community Foundation spearheaded a process to design and build a new community ice cellar on the edge of town, which opened in 2017. Unlike traditional cellars that are little more than holes in the ground, this facility is encased in a white metallic shed with reflectors and surrounded by vents. Inside, the cellar is about 3 meters (10 ft) deep, and has enough room for one whale. The community plans to expand it to accommodate up to three whales, the village's seasonal harvest quota. In addition to a winch for meat and safety harnesses for people climbing in and out, this cellar has high-tech heat siphons that eject warm air before it can cause melting and humidity, along with real-time temperature monitoring. The $120,000 investment needed to install the cellar was donated as an act of corporate philanthropy by petroleum company ExxonMobil, which operates the Point Thomson oil field 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Kaktovik. 

A third of Himalayan ice cap doomed, finds report - At least a third of the huge ice fields in Asia’s towering mountain chain are doomed to melt due to climate change, according to a landmark report, with serious consequences for almost 2 billion people. Even if carbon emissions are dramatically and rapidly cut and succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5C, 36% of the glaciers along in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya range will have gone by 2100. If emissions are not cut, the loss soars to two-thirds, the report found. The glaciers are a critical water store for the 250 million people who live in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region, and 1.65 billion people rely on the great rivers that flow from the peaks into India, Pakistan, China and other nations.“This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” “In the best of possible worlds, if we get really ambitious [in tackling climate change], even then we will lose one-third of the glaciers and be in trouble. That for us was the shocking finding.” Wester said that, despite being far more populous, the HKH region had received less attention than other places, such as low-lying island states and the Arctic, that are also highly vulnerable to global warming. The new report, requested by the eight nations the mountains span, is intended to change that. More than 200 scientists worked on the report over five years, with another 125 experts peer reviewing their work. Until recently the impact of climate change on the ice in the HKH region was uncertain, said Wester. “But we really do know enough now to take action, and action is urgently needed,” he added. The HKH region runs from Afghanistan to Myanmar and is the planet’s “third pole”, harbouring more ice than anywhere outside Arctic and Antarctica. Limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels requires cutting emissions to zero by 2050. This is felt to be extremely optimistic by many but still sees a third of the ice lost, according to the report. If the global rise is 2C, half of the glaciers are projected to melt away by 2100.

Gigantic cavity in Antarctica glacier is a product of rapid melting, study finds -  The Thwaites Glacier on Antarctica’s western coast has long been considered one of the most unstable on the continent. Now, scientists are worried about the discovery of an enormous underwater cavity that will probably speed up the glacier’s decay.The cavity is about two-thirds the area of Manhattan and nearly 1,000 feet tall, according to a study released Wednesday by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The hulking chamber is large enough to have contained about 14 billion tons of ice — most of which the researchers say melted in three years.The Thwaites Glacier, which is about the size of Florida, holds enough ice that if it all melted, it would raise the world’s oceans by over two feet, a change that would threaten many coastal cities. Climate scientists tend to watch this glacier closely, usually alongside the nearby Pine Island Glacier, which is also flowing rapidly into the Amundsen Sea. Rising sea levels, among the most obvious threats of global warming, are caused by the melting of ice sheets, as well as the thermal expansions of the ocean. A separate study released last week found that Antarctica was contributing more to rising sea levels than previously thought. The Thwaites Glacier is one of the epicenters of this rapid deterioration. Already, the glacier is responsible for about 4 percent of the world’s rising sea levels, according to a NASA news release.The size and shape of water-filled cavities like the one discovered play an important role in the melting of glaciers, . A cavity is created by relatively warm oceanwater melting the ice shelf. As the glacier becomes exposed to more warm-water currents, the ice will probably melt faster.  “This is the ocean eating away at the ice,” “It’s a direct impact of climate change on the glacier.” NASA’s study found that the ice shelf in that area melted at a rate of more than 650 feet per year between 2014 and 2017. That is enormous by Antarctica’s standards, Professor Rignot said. Before the researchers collected this data, they had no idea the cavity existed,. The first clues of the cavern’s existence were revealed about three years ago in data collected by NASA’s radar technology, which is flown above the glacier on airplanes and can penetrate deep below the surface of the ice.

The Climate Kids Are Coming - If you don’t know who Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is, you can think of her as an international climate-change counterpart to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Like the rock-star congresswoman from New York, Thunberg is a charismatic young woman whose social-media savvy, moral clarity, and fearless speaking truth to power have inspired throngs of admirers to take to the streets for a better world and call out the politicians and CEOs who are standing in the way.   Thunberg, 16, is known for launching the #SchoolStrike4Climate movement—tens of thousands of high-school students worldwide are skipping school on Fridays until their governments treat the climate crisis as an emergency—and for torching billionaires and heads of state at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.  Demolishing the convenient notion that we are all to blame for climate change, Thunberg told a Davos panel that included president Trump’s former chief economics adviser Gary Cohn, “Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money.” She paused before a final thrust of the knife: “I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”  Call them the Climate Kids. Like Ocasio-Cortez and Thunberg themselves, the grassroots activist movements they have roused are comprised almost exclusively of teenagers and twentysomethings. These are not your father’s environmentalists: supplicant, “realistic,” and accepting of failure. These young people are angry about the increasingly dire climate future awaiting them and clear-eyed about who’s to blame and how to fix it. And they seem to have the bad guys worried.  Greta Thunberg was all of 15 years old when she began her solo weekly protests outside the Swedish Parliament last August. With her round, serious face and light brown hair braided into pigtails, the teenager cut a quixotic figure as she held a handmade sign that said, in Swedish, “School Strike for Climate.” But a BBC reporter filed a story, the story got shared on social media, and before long students as far away as Australia were striking too.

House Committees Hold Hearings on Climate Change For First Time in Years - Climate change is back in the House. Emboldened under a new Democratic majority, two main energy and environment committees are holding simultaneous hearings Wednesday to discuss rising global temperatures and averting climate catastrophe, Roll Call reported.This will be the House Energy and Commerce Committee's first hearing on climate change in six years, according to hearing host Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who leads the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. For the Natural Resources Committee, it will be their first hearing on climate change in more than eight years.Climate change has been all but ignored or downright dismissed under years of Republican leadership, but at today's Energy and Commerce hearing, the Democrats plan to build a "powerful record" in Congress on the costs of federal climate inaction and to better understand the benefits of transitioning to a clean energy economy, Tonko said in a video posted to Twitter.  The powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), has oversight on a broad range of agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Restoring environmental rules rolled back by President Trump are on the top panel's list, according to the New York Times.The Natural Resources Committee, led by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), oversees federal conservation and species protection programs, including monitoring onshore and offshore oil and gas, renewable energy development, protecting public lands, species protection and Indigenous peoples affairs.

Let’s Say I Wanted to Escape Climate Change. Where Should I Go? -- So you want to escape climate change. That’s a reasonable impulse — climate change rivals nuclear war for the greatest threat to human life in the history of our species’ existence. Every survival instinct we’ve cultivated to date should, understandably, make us want to get away from it.  Let’s start by evaluating regions of the U.S. based on the basics of what we expect climate change to bring. We know that the seas will swell and temperatures will go up. So that particularly endangers a host of coastal cities with relatively warm climates, especially in the summer — so Miami, New Orleans, Norfolk, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles. A 2017 paper in Nature Climate Change estimated that the 13.1 million people displaced from those cities by sea level rise could head for more inland locales like Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix. But Hurricane Harvey gave an alarming preview of how Houston will fare in a climate-changed future. Phoenix is in the middle of a desert with no reliable water source, where temperatures can surge to 120 degrees F in the summer. And Atlanta is the third fastest-warming metropolitan region in the country.  Forget about those cities. What’s a nice, temperate place? Never gets too hot or too cold, has lots of water? Aha — the Pacific Northwest. Umbra’s home! It’s part-rainforest, after all.  But it’s a rainforest that’s seen bigger, hotter, deadlier, and more unpredictable wildfires in recent memory. Even a small increase in temperature has detrimental effects on plant and soil moisture, which will dry out forests and make them into true tinderboxes. And we’ve had warmer winters, which means less snowpack on the mountains and thus a less reliable water source for the region. Hmmm … how about Alaska? Tons of snow. Really cold. Well, except an increase in average temperatures has already begun to displace thousands of the state’s Native inhabitants along the coast. On top of that,millions of ancient viruses and bacteria to which humans have lost immunity will be unearthed as the permafrost becomes, well, less permanent.   I called Jesse Keenan, climate-adaptation specialist and a faculty member at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, to get a more informed perspective on where one could limit their exposure to climate change. His suggestion: places that aren’t dependent on snowpack, ground-level aquifers, or reservoirs for their water. More specifically, that tends to be rural, wooded, northern areas with lots of clean water wells — so the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), and maybe parts of Montana.

If Property Rights Were Real, Climate-Destroying Companies Would Be Sued Out Of Existence  - If I have a piece of property, and you damage my property, I can sue you. Tort law, which exists to compensate parties for harms, operates on fairly “conservative” premises: When your rights are infringed upon by a private party, and you are harmed, you should receive compensation for your harm. If someone is allowed to destroy my health, my home, and whatever else belongs to me, and there is no legal redress, then my property rights aren’t being enforced. This is a principle that radical free-market libertarians can agree to: They may not believe that “exploitation” is real, but they do think that if you “hurt someone and take their stuff,” the law needs to make sure you get your stuff back and the person who hurt you is punished.  Companies that contribute to climate change are, in effect, stealing. They are gaining a benefit at the expense of others, for which they are not paying. First, have a look at the latest National Climate Assessment put out jointly by 13 federal agencies. It documents the staggering economic costs that are expected to result from climate change. For example, “lasting damage to coastal property and infrastructure driven by sea level rise and storm surge is expected to lead to financial losses for individuals, businesses, and communities,” and “changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities.”  This harm isn’t a mere “act of God.” It results in large measure, as NASA explains, from carbon dioxide emissions through “deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels,” and methane emissions through “the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, and especially rice cultivation, as well as ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock.” These are “human activities,” but not just that, they are the activities of particular parties. One report estimated that “over half of global industrial emissions… can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producing entities,” but regardless of whether that number is accurate, there is a well-demonstrated connection between certain activities and the damage caused by climate change.

With Green New Deal Committee Neutered, Energy and Commerce Democrat Says “Smash and Grab” Is Over - House Energy and Commerce Democrats weren’t thrilled about the suggestion of a new select House committee on climate change, worried that its power would creep into their expansive jurisdiction. Committee leaders flexed what internal muscle they had to make sure that the committee, established at the behest of progressives behind the “Green New Deal,” was defanged, withholding subpoena power and the authority to approve new legislation.Rep. Bobby Rush, the No. 2 Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Intercept that he was pleased to see the end of a “smash and grab” that’s pushed the committee to cede “too much of our jurisdiction over the years.”“The grab is over, as far as I’m concerned, in terms of Energy and Commerce, this smash and grab that’s been going on for too long in this Congress,” he told The Intercept in an interview.“We’re gonna return to regular order as we have exercised it in the past, and we stand on it now. You know, we’re not ceding any of the Energy and Commerce jurisdiction. I’m not in favor of not one measure, not one iota of Energy and Commerce’s jurisdiction to be ceded to other committees.”Asked what he planned to do with that power, Rush said, “We’re gonna do what we’ve always done. Legislate, deliberate, legislate, move bills to the floor. And w e’re going to continue to work hard on behalf of the American people.”

Sweeping Green New Deal Resolution Unveiled by Ocasio-Cortez, Markey - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced on Thursday their highly anticipated joint resolutions on a Green New Deal. The sweeping 10-year plan aims to "mobilize every aspect of American society ... to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all," according to the resolution's FAQs section from Ocasio-Cortez's office posted by NPR. The star freshman Congresswoman acknowledged that the ideas outlined in the non-binding resolution—such as providing "unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security" for all citizens and "meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources"—are incredibly grand but absolutely necessary. As Ocasio-Cortez said on NPR's Morning Edition: "Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us, to our country, to the world." As the resolution points out, the United States has "historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions" so it must take "a leading role" in reducing emissions through economic transformation. The overreaching goal of the Green New Deal is to entirely transition away from nuclear energy and fossil fuels. To do so, the proposal calls for a wide-ranging mobilization of the U.S. economy and creating jobs through infrastructure and industrial projects, such as zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; installing smart grids; updating or creating buildings that are energy efficient; expanding clean energy jobs (like solar, wind turbine, battery and storage manufacturing); cleaning existing hazardous waste sites; and restoration of damaged and threatened ecosystems. Along the same lines, the Green New Deal includes a significant social justice component because it aims to create millions of family-supporting and union jobs and will help protect disadvantaged communities on the frontlines of pollution and climate change.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just released her massive Green New Deal — here's what's in it - Freshman Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and veteran lawmaker Sen. Edward Markey are introducing a resolution spelling out congressional support for a Green New Deal — an ambitious plan to remake the U.S. economy and drastically reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. The resolution largely sticks to a blueprint Ocasio-Cortez laid out when she proposed creating a House select committee to establish a Green New Deal. That framework called for generating 100 percent of the nation's power from renewable sources, making all buildings energy efficient and eliminating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and industry — all within about 10 years. The plan also proposes massive investments in research and development to make the U.S. a leader in clean energy technology. In addition, the Green New Deal envisioned by Ocasio-Cortez aims to implement progressive policies such as a federal jobs guarantee, basic income and universal health care. The resolution being introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey clarifies the scope and scale of the Green New Deal and paves the way for legislation that would lay out explicit projects and policies. Ocasio-Cortez plans to begin crafting that legislation immediately.  The resolution is co-sponsored by 60 members of Congress and nine senators, including 2020 Democratic presidential contenders Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. The same day Ocasio and Markey released the resolution, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the Democratic lineup for the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Ocasio-Cortez, who participated in a protest advocating for bold climate action at Pelosi's office in November, is not on the roster.  On Wednesday, Pelosi appeared to cast aspersions on Ocasio-Cortez's plan, saying it is a "suggestion" that the select committee would discuss. "The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it, right?" Pelosi told Politico.

Pelosi Mocks Ocasio-Cortez Green New DealNancy Pelosi (D-CA) flipped her dentures at the "new face of the Democratic Party," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), as the freshman congresswoman unveils the final draft of her ambitious "Green New Deal" legislation.  "It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive," Pelosi told Politico on Wednesday before Ocasio-Cortez released the plan. "The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?"Pelosi's comments come after the 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez was excluded from the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Ocasio-Cortez is rolling out the "Green New Deal" with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), which she says calls for a "national, social, industrial and economic mobilization at a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal," and is "a wartime-level, just economic mobilization plan to get to 100% renewable energy." The plan also aims "to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities" and other "frontline and vulnerable communities."

Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal offers 'economic security' for those 'unwilling to work' - The Green New Deal that Democrats proposed Thursday looks to create a more environmentally sound country with economic benefits for everyone — even those who don't want to work.   An overview circulated by proponents states the plan seeks a "massive transformation of our society" that could rid the country of fossil fuels and "create millions of family supporting-wage [sic] union jobs." But for those not interested in working, there's something in the plan as well.  The overview notes that the Green New Deal aims to provide "economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work." While the resolution patterns itself after President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which was aimed at rescuing the country from the Great Depression, the FDR plan did not include a proviso for those willingly idle. The Green New Deal seeks to shift the U.S. to all renewable energy in 10 years.  The actual resolution that outlines the Green New Deal does not include the "unwilling to work" part, but the overview document, released by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's office, does include the "unwilling" language. The overview entails the "nuts and bolts" of the plan. Ocasio-Cortez identifies as a democratic socialist. CNBC has reached out to Ocasio-Cortez's office for comment.

AOC and Ed Markey Introduce Green New Deal Resolution (and Let’s Remember It’s a DEAL)  --Lambert Strether -  From the Boston Herald: “Ed Markey pairs with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Green New Deal,” as they introduce “H. RES. 109: Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal,” together. This is remarkable in several ways, first because Markey is a Senator (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is a Represenative), Markey is “the dean of the Massachusetts delegation” (AOC is a freshman), Markey is 73 (AOC is 29), and Markey introduced Waxman-Markey (cap-and-trade) in 2009, back when the greatest orator of our time was President, which narrowly passed the House and was never taken up in the Senate; the previous high-water mark of Democrat efforts on climate change[1]. Markey’s endorsement of the Green New Deal, in other words. is not only an acknowledgement, however implicit, that cap-and-trade isn’t the solution we (and the biosphere) need, but that the other climate policy he endorsed, Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, was directionally incorrect as well. I point this out not to trash Markey, but to point out that the, er, climate on climate change has changed, dramatically so. Before delving into the resolution itself, the sausage-making that went into it, and the nature of the Green New Deal as a deal, and the politics of it all, let me make this important caveat: The Green New Deal (GND) is not enough. As David Wallace Wells wrote in New York Magazine:  As a strategy of avoiding that same threshold of two degrees of warming, the investments of a Green New Deal are what logicians call “necessary but insufficient.”This is not a reflection of the modesty of the legislation, which is not at all modest — in fact, it is perhaps the most ambitious bill put forward in congress in three quarters of a century. It is simply a reflection of the scale of the challenge. In its report, the IPCC compared the transformation required to stay safely below two degrees to the mobilization of World War II. That mobilization was unprecedented in human history and has never been matched since. That time, there was a draft, a nationalization of industry, widespread rationing: The entire American nation turned single-mindedly toward the relevant threat, as did the entire Russian nation — and the two of them, almost inconceivably, in retrospect, allied. That is the kind of mobilization the sober-minded scientists of the world believe is necessary today — to get to half of our current emissions by 2030.  AOC agrees: Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us to our country, to the world. And so while carbon taxes are nice while things like cap and trade are nice, it’s not what’s going to save the planet. It could be part of a larger solution but no one has actually scoped out what that larger solution would entail.

The Economic Impact of the ‘Green New Deal’ Bloomberg. Interview with Stephanie Kelton

Manchin: Green New Deal a bust — West Virginia’s senior U.S. senator has a lot to say about coal and natural gas, and his new committee position will give him a platform to have his voice heard. In December, Manchin was named as the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The two-term senator has served on the committee since 2010 when he was appointed to the committee after winning a special election to replace the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Manchin told the room filled with reporters, editors and publishers that his new position allows him to advocate not just for West Virginia coal and natural gas, but for greater expansion of the nation’s energy potential. “I’ve got the chance now at my level to make sure the storage hub and the Mid-Atlantic energy region is vital to the security of our nation,” Manchin said. Manchin said he plans to push back against any legislation that creates what some call a “Green New Deal.” A joint resolution introduced Thursday by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., calls for switching to 100 percent renewable energy.“It’s people who want to stop anything having to do with fossil fuels,” Manchin said. “The Green New Deal, you’ve heard about that? That shuts everybody down. They think in 10 years we can be down to no gas, no coal, no oil, no nothing. That is not feasible, not practical, and it’s not going to happen.” According to Manchin, 50 percent of the energy generated by India and China is coming from coal-fired utilities. Until new technologies are developed to make coal cleaner to burn, Manchin said there is very little leverage the U.S. has to influence the behavior of serial polluters.

Environmental Groups Oppose DeWine's Pick To Lead PUCO - Environmental groups are opposing Gov. Mike DeWine’s appointment to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. DeWine picked Sam Randazzo to serve on, and eventually chair, the state regulation panel. Randazzo, who recently retired from representing Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, was one of four nominees selected by a nominating council. The environmental groups are specifically targeting Randazzo for his past opposition to renewable energy projects. “We need someone who’s a visionary, someone who really understands not just what Ohio’s like today but what Ohio needs to be in the future to stay competitive,” says Heather Taylor-Miesle with the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund. Industrial Energy Users-Ohio represents large energy ratepayers, with members such as Marathon Gas and McDonald’s franchises. On behalf of the group, Randazzo consistently opposed proposals that resulted in increases on electric bills. That meant opposing renewable energy standards, but it included opposing a cost recovery plan for coal plants. The Environmental Law and Policy Center, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club Ohio Chapter joined the Ohio Environmental Council in its opposition to Randazzo.

ISO New England's interconnection queue contains more offshore wind than gas — ISO New England's generator interconnection queue has significantly grown over the past few months with additions from new resources pushing it to 20,000 MW, 10,000 MW of which is offshore wind, according to a market update presentation given by ISO-NE COO Vamsi Chadalavada at a New England Power Pool meeting Friday. The queue currently contains more offshore wind than gas. A competitive auction for three offshore wind lease areas off the coast of Massachusetts wrapped up in December with winning bids totaling $405 million from Equinor, Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind Energy, a Royal Dutch Shell and EDP Renewables joint venture. Also in December, Connecticut regulators approved a 20-year power-purchase agreement for the 200-MW Revolution Wind offshore wind farm, which is being developed by Orsted US Offshore Wind and will be the first offshore wind project in the state when completed in 2023. MARKET TRENDS The value of ISO-NE's energy market was $480 million in January, down $50 million from December and down $860 million from January 2018, Chadalavada said in the presentation. The data are through January 23. January natural gas prices over the period were 16% higher than December 2018 average values and average real-time hub locational marginal prices at $53.24/MWh over the period were 27% higher than December 2018 averages, the report said. The average day-ahead price was $54.85/MWh. Average January 2019 gas prices and real-time LMPs over the period decreased 57% and 51%, respectively, from January 2018 averages, according to the report.

CMP Offers Hundreds Of Millions In Incentives To Push Transmission Project Through - Central Maine Power Company and Hydro-Quebec are offering a benefit package worth hundreds of millions of dollars to try to win support of their controversial plan to build a transmission line through western Maine forests.CMP wants to upgrade existing transmission lines and build new line through 50 miles of Maine's western forests to bring electricity from Hydro-Quebec's dam systems to customers in Massachusetts.The $1 billion project has drawn fire from local citizen groups and many - but not all - environmental groups. It's won support from some industrial electricity users, unions, construction companies and the state Chamber of Commerce. Now CMP and Hydro-Quebec are trying to win over more. The companies floated the new offer Tuesday to a group of 30 parties to a permit case before the state Public Utilities Commission. Confidential documents from that meeting were shared with Maine Public Radio and other media outlets.  Key elements of the offer made to a group of parties to a case before state regulators in documents shared with Maine Public Radio include:

  • $190 million to reduce rates for Maine residents over 40 years - with $50 million of that set aside for low income consumers.
  • $200 million to improve transmission interconnections, which CMP says will help renewable energy projects in Maine find "headroom" on the grid.
  • $15 million to improve the state's fiber optic network
  • $15 million to subsidize residential heat pump purchases
  • $15 million for an electric vehicle charging station network and rebates for electric car purchases

Millions Could Lose Power Under PG&E’s Plan To Prevent Wildfires - Pacific Gas & Electric could shut off power to more than 5 million customers when extreme weather conditions are ripe for wildfires to break out, the company said Wednesday. It's an expansion of the company's previous power shutoff program, which only let the company turn off power to about half a million customers. Several power companies submitted their required "wildfire mitigation plans" to California regulators this week. But PG&E's plan may be especially consequential, given that its power lines have been blamed for several Northern California fires over the past few years. The company filed for bankruptcy last month in the wake of billions of dollars in potential liability after two years of wildfires. The company told the state's public utilities commission that to address wildfire risk, "shutting off power will likely be necessary and may need to be performed more frequently due to the extreme weather events and dry vegetation conditions." “We understand the urgency of the situation, that lives could be at stake and that we need to move more quickly," the company said. In 2018, the company's "public safety power shutoff" program affected up to 570,000 customers. This year, the company plans to include its entire 5.4 million electric customer base in the shutoff program. PG&E said it would try to alert customers within 48 hours of a power shutoff. PG&E will only turn off power "as a last resort," a company official told The San Francisco Chronicle. And the company stressed it wouldn't consider shutting off power to all customers at once, the Chronicle reported.

Future U.S. electricity generation mix will depend largely on natural gas prices - The mix of fuels used to generate electricity in the United States has changed in response to differences in the relative costs of electricity-generating technologies and their fuels. EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2019 (AEO2019) shows that projected generation and capacity is significantly influenced by natural gas prices. In the High Oil and Gas Resource and Technology scenario, a sensitivity case with low natural gas prices, natural gas provides 54% of all U.S. electricity generation by the end of the projection period. In the Low Oil and Gas Resource and Technology scenario, a corresponding sensitivity case with high natural gas prices, the natural gas generation share falls to 21%.  On an annual basis, natural gas surpassed coal in 2016 as the fuel most used to generate electricity in the United States. In the AEO2019 Reference case, natural gas remains the leading source of electricity generation through 2050. In 2018, natural gas accounted for 34% of total electricity generation, and EIA projects its share to grow to 40% by 2032 and then remain between 39% and 40% throughout 2050. Electricity generation shares from coal and nuclear gradually decline as coal and nuclear become less cost competitive compared with natural gas and renewables. Renewables generation surpasses nuclear by 2020 and surpasses coal by the mid-2020s as tax credits and lower capital costs drive solar photovoltaic and wind capacity additions.  The natural gas share of U.S. electricity generation largely depends on natural gas prices. Relatively low natural gas prices lead to higher utilization of existing plants and to more natural gas power plant construction. The price of natural gas delivered to electric power plants averaged $3.42 per million British thermal units (Btu) in 2018, and in the AEO2019 Reference case, EIA projects that it will average (in real dollar terms) $5.36 per million Btu in 2050. In the Low Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case, higher extraction costs and lower resource availability result in less natural gas production, and the natural gas price for power plants increases to $8.62 per million Btu in 2050. Conversely, in the High Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case, which has the opposite assumptions for resource extraction costs and availability, EIA projects that natural gas prices will remain well below $4.00 per million Btu through 2050.  Because of lower natural gas prices, the share of natural gas-fired generation in the High Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case is considerably higher than in the Reference case, displacing renewables, coal-fired, and nuclear-powered generation.

 Congress retains most energy programs in 2018 Farm Bill through fiscal year 2023  --On December 20, 2018, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) was signed into law, continuing federal support to a number of renewable electricity and bioenergy-related programs. Authorizations in the 2018 Farm Bill cover fiscal years (FY) 2019 through 2023, during which time energy programs will receive $375 million in mandatory funding, with up to an additional $860 million in discretionary funding. These spending levels represent a 46% decrease in mandatory funding and a 12% increase in discretionary funding compared with the 2014 Farm Bill. Even though discretionary spending increased, discretionary federal support is inherently uncertain because this funding must be authorized by Congress in future appropriations bills. Farm bills have tended to be large, multi-year pieces of legislation that outline federal support to a diverse set of rural and agricultural programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The 2002 version of the farm bill was the first to include a dedicated energy title, Title IX. Subsequent farm bills in 2008 and 2014 either created, extended, or repealed these programs. The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized most Title IX programs at the same or lower funding levels relative to the 2014 Farm Bill.  Title IX federal subsidies are provided to eligible recipients in the form of project grants, guaranteed loans, and direct payments. The most common form of assistance is a USDA-guaranteed loan, where the USDA assumes the responsibility for the amount of the loan in case of default. The share of USDA-guaranteed loans under Title IX programs more than doubled during the past four years, from approximately 40% during FY 2009–2013 to more than 80% during FY 2014–2018.  Several Title IX programs account for most of the federal support provided, with the largest amount of funding awarded to the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP offers grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to promote the installation of select renewable energy systems, particularly solar, and energy efficiency retrofits. REAP is set to receive $250 million in both mandatory and discretionary funding over the duration of the 2018 Farm Bill, accounting for two-thirds of mandatory funding and nearly one-third of discretionary funding.

Long, strange trip: How U.S. ethanol reaches China tariff-free (Reuters) - In June, the High Seas tanker ship loaded up on ethanol in Texas and set off for Asia. Two months later - after a circuitous journey that included a ship-to-ship transfer and a stop in Malaysia - its cargo arrived in China, according to shipping data analyzed by Reuters and interviews with Malaysian and Chinese port officials. At the time, the roundabout route puzzled global ethanol traders and ship brokers, who called it a convoluted and costly way to get U.S. fuel to China. (MAP: tmsnrt.rs/2HP1ywa) But the journey reflects a broader shift in global ethanol flows since U.S. President Donald Trump ignited a trade war with China last spring. Although China slapped retaliatory tariffs up to 70 percent on U.S. ethanol shipments, the fuel can still legally enter China tariff-free if it arrives blended with at least 40 percent Asian-produced fuel, according to trade rules established between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the regional economic and political body. In a striking example of how global commodity markets respond to government policies blocking free trade, some 88,000 tonnes of U.S. ethanol landed on Malaysian shores through November of last year - all since June, shortly after China hiked its tax on U.S. shipments. The surge follows years of negligible imports of U.S. ethanol to Malaysia. In turn, Malaysia has exported 69,000 tonnes of ethanol to China, the first time the nation has been an exporter of the fuel in at least three years, according to Chinese import data. 

EPA's Wheeler continues frequent meetings with industry his agency regulates - The Environmental Protection Agency's acting administrator Andrew Wheeler has maintained the custom of his predecessor Scott Pruitt of meeting with far more industry executives and lobbyists than environmental groups. Wheeler held or attended more than 50 meetings with representatives of companies or industry groups regulated by the EPA between April and August of last year, including a company he previously lobbied for, a CNN review of his internal schedules found. He met with three nonprofit environmental groups during that time. The Senate confirmed Wheeler as the EPA's second-in-command in April, but he took over as the agency's acting head after Pruitt resigned in July amidst ethics controversies. President Trump has since nominated Wheeler to serve as the EPA's permanent administrator, and now he awaits the Senate's approval. The meetings with industry representatives represent only a fraction of Wheeler's total meetings during that time. His calendar also shows a variety of talks with federal, state and local government officials, journalists and some political groups. Elena Saxonhouse, an attorney with the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group that obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request, said in a statement to CNN the schedules show "just how cozy Wheeler and his deputies are with the polluters they are supposed to be protecting American families from."

Why Not Start Saving the Biosphere by Outlawing Private Jets? – Lambert Strether - This piece will be a little disjointed, I’m afraid, because saving the biosphere is a large topic, larger even than the aircraft industry, and I don’t feel I’ve quite mastered the material. Note that although the tone will be polemic, this is not a “Modest Proposal“; if indeed “the problem is as dire as much of the science suggests, the policies must match the rhetoric,” and that must include measures like that of the headline, and many more. So, consider this post a forcing device for further discussion. I’ll take a brief tour of the private jet aircraft industry — I’m mostly talking your basic Gulfstream rendition jet, not your Third World dictator Airbus or Boeing, and not your Piper Cub, or hospital helicopter — followed by discussion of the industry’s impact on the biosphere. From there, I’ll discuss how to get rid of them. Finally, I’ll deal with possible objections from the high net worth-owners of private jets. But first, I’ll answer the question in the title, aesthetically:  Figure 1: Luxe Interior I submit that no artifact so symbolic of the costly bad taste and wretched excess of the rich should be permitted to exist. (Sadly, I can’t find an image of the interior of Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express” that I can use. But it’s equally horrid, and so it should be.) Second, logically, I suggest that those who can afford to own and run private jets should get rid of them, in their own best interests, as today’s equivalent of a “wartime sacrifice” in the fight to save the biosphere from cooking itself and everything in it. Basically, it’s the least they could do (“Paris Climate Accord Backers Won’t Say if They Support Ban on Private Jets“). The Windsors, after all, subsisted or were said to subsist on ration cards during World War II, and very successful propaganda it was for them, too. So much better than peasants burning the land records, eh? And what followed?  Now to the private aircraft industry. First, how many private jets are there? From Statista (2017), a handy chart

A climate problem even California can't fix: tailpipe pollution (Reuters) - For three decades, California has led the fight to control tailpipe pollution, with countless policies promoting cleaner gasoline, carpooling, public transportation and its signature strategy - the electric vehicle. Californians now buy more than half of all EVs sold in the United States, and the state’s auto-pollution policies have provided a model being adopted around the world. But they’re not working at home, by the state’s own measure. Tailpipe pollution here is going up, not down, despite billions of dollars spent by one of the most environmentally progressive governments on earth. “The strategies that we’ve used up until now just haven’t been effective,” Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters. That failure has less to do with energy or environmental policies and more with decades-old urban planning decisions that made California – and especially Los Angeles – a haven for sprawling development of single-family homes and long commutes, according to state officials. California’s struggle bodes poorly for other major U.S. cities with similar sprawl and expensive urban housing – such as Houston, Atlanta, and others that planned their cities around cars - and casts doubt on whether the United States can meet its pledged carbon cuts under an international agreement to fight climate change. The state’s troubles also hold lessons for massive economies including China and India, major carbon emitters that hope to control pollution from vehicles as they rapidly urbanize. Transportation is tied with power generation as America’s leading source of carbon dioxide emissions, at 28 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – and it takes top billing in California, at about 40 percent. It makes up a smaller share in the rest of the world, where car ownership is lower but likely to grow. California’s carbon emissions amounted to 429 million metric tons in 2016, the last year for which data is available. That’s the lowest level since 1990 thanks to a shift away from coal-fired electricity toward natural gas, solar and wind. But its next target - calling for a further 40 percent cut by 2030 - will be out of reach without transformative changes in state residents’ driving habits, CARB said in a report published late last year. 

Big Diesel-Burning Pickup Trucks Are Paying for GM’s Electric Future - The vehicles that will secure the next decade for General Motors Co. aren’t covered in self-driving sensors or loaded with batteries. No, the future depends on hulking pickup trucks that often run on diesel and cost more than the average BMW. That’s the irony at the heart of GM’s event this week at its sprawling factory in Flint, Michigan, where the next iterations of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra will be introduced. These revamped heavy-duty pickups, which go on sale in June, feature advanced, lightweight materials and fuel-efficient engines but none of the technology that will supposedly shape the next era of the auto industry. Yet in Detroit that future can’t exist without the profit margins generated by classic pickup trucks. “These vehicles have among the highest margins in the business,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. “You have no tomorrow if you don’t sell these trucks today.” GM’s pickup trucks combine for $65 billion in annual revenue. Heavy duty versions of the Silverado and Sierra make up about 20 percent of GM’s full-size truck sales, the company said, and sell at an average of almost $56,000. Competition in the segment is fierce: Ford Motor Co. is rolling out freshened version of its leading Super Duty models at this week's Chicago Auto Show. The math makes it clear that GM will ride into the future on trucks that first went on sale decades ago. The operating profit on large pickups, according to Morningstar Inc. analyst David Whiston, are at least $12,000 apiece. GM reported sales of 210,000 heavy-duty pickups last year and hopes the new ones will sell even more. In rough math, they bring in more than $2 billion in pretax income. GM is realigning its manufacturing footprint and workforce to make more pickups and other light trucks, even as it cuts back production of less profitable vehicles like sedans.

Oil companies and utilities are buying up all the electric car charging startups-  For decades, oil and gas companies and utilities dismissed electric cars. Now, the old petroleum and power giants are muscling into the driver’s seat of the “new fuels” industry. It’s projected to be a big business. McKinsey counts more than 350 new electric vehicle (EV) models debuting by 2025, one of the conditions for mass-market adoption. Global demand for gasoline is set to peak around 2021 thanks to electric vehicles (EVs) and fuel efficiency gains. The energy research and consultancy Wood Mackenzie predicts charging infrastructure investment in the US will exceed $18 billion annually by 2030 for equipment, installation, operations, and services. China is expected to have three times more energy demand from EVs by then. Now, fossil fuel incumbents want in. They’re investing heavily or outright acquiring electrical infrastructure needed to supply the millions of electric vehicles (EVs) expected in the next few years. Although just 2.2% of the world’s vehicles are electric, a record 2 million or so EVs were sold last year amid exponential growth. While the numbers aren’t huge yet—for example, Shell’s $1 billion in renewable energy and EV investments amounts amounts to just 4% of its annual capital expenditures—they’re growing fast. Globally, $334 billion (pdf) was invested in global clean energy in 2017, reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Public charging infrastructure is ramping up almost everywhere, and each region has its own unique mix of players, says BNEF.   The most recent move was Royal Dutch Shell’s purchase of Greenlots, a startup offering software and services for EV charging networks. The British-Dutch oil giant says it will use Greenlot’s technology, which combines software to optimize battery charging and grid balancing services in one charging platform, to build the “foundation” of its EV business in North America. The company is pouring about $1 billion a year into such deals, according to BNEF, including the acquisition of 30,000 charging stations in Western Europe, as well as a $31 million investment into EV charging startup Ample in 2018.

Winter Is Wreaking Havoc On Electric Vehicles - If there’s one thing electric vehicle owners are learning, it is that extremely cold temperatures are likely going to lead to frustration if they don’t take extra special care of their battery powered vehicles. As we push through the cold that automakers are using as an excuse for poor sales this winter, customers of some companies – notably Tesla – are starting to realize that things are a little bit different with electric vehicles in the winter. Disgruntled owners of Model 3s have been widespread on social media and online forums, talking about numerous issues they’ve had with cold weather on their vehicles. People have complained about battery range draining and Model 3 door handles freezing up. A new report by Fortune highlights several Tesla owners pointing out their issues: "My biggest concern is the cold weather drained my battery 20 to 25 miles overnight and an extra five to ten miles on my drive to work. I paid $60,000 to not drain my battery so quickly," said New Jersey based Model 3 owner Ronak Patel.  The pro-EV lot over at InsideEVs stated frankly back in December, "Cold weather demands a long range battery" before also encouraging people to shell out more money: "...if you reside in a colder region and can afford to spring for the long-range Model 3, then come winter, you’ll be glad you made that choice."  Salim Morsy, an analyst with Bloomberg, stated: "It’s Panasonic that manufactures Tesla batteries. It’s not something specific to Tesla. It happens to Chevy with the Bolt and Nissan with the Leaf."

GOP senator targets electric car subsidy - Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the powerful Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wants the federal government to eliminate incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles. In an op-ed published by Fox News Tuesday, Barrasso said electric car technology had reached a point manufacturers no longer need government assistance and eliminating federal incentives could save $20 billion a year. "The program has served its purpose; the electric-car market is established," he wrote. "Over time, the size of the subsidy has grown. For every electric vehicle sold in America today, U.S. taxpayers pay up to $7,500. It's time to take taxpayers off the hook." So far roughly 360,000 electric vehicles have been sold in the United States. But sales are expected to take off in the years ahead, as manufacturers from GM to Tesla release a wave of new models. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects by 2025 there will be 4 million electric cars on U.S. roads. Barrasso has already introduced legislation to end the federal subsidy, as well as create a fee for alternative-fuel vehicles that would be paid into the U.S. Highway Trust Fund, which funds highway and bridge repairs. "Drivers of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles pay into the fund every time they fill their tanks. Drivers of electric vehicles don't pay this fee," Barrasso wrote.

Duke agreed to pay record fine for lax security — sources -- According to industry sources, Duke agreed to pay a $10 million fine to settle 127 violations of security standards. Duke Energy Duke Energy Corp. agreed to pay a record $10 million fine from regulators to settle 127 violations of security standards meant to protect the electric grid from catastrophic outages, according to multiple industry sources. The North American Electric Reliability Corp., which sets and enforces grid security rules, said utilities that sources identified as being owned by the Charlotte, N.C.-based electric power holding company committed the alleged physical and cybersecurity violations over four years. Regulators had chosen to keep Duke's identity a secret for security reasons, given the potential for Duke to uncover additional gaps in its defenses as it completes a required overhaul of its process for fending off hackers and other threats of sabotage. Industry sources credited Duke for having shored up its security program in recent years, so E&E News is disclosing the utility's identity. The fine is more than triple the previous record for NERC security violations, a $2.7 million penalty issued to San Francisco-based utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. last year. In that case, sources confirmed that PG&E left sensitive grid schematics exposed to the public internet for 10 weeks in 2016, a cybersecurity lapse that was only uncovered and fixed when a "white hat" hacker tipped off the utility. Sources say NERC's escalation to its first-ever eight-figure fine is likely to reverberate at other large utilities exposed to newfound cyber and regulatory risks. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final say over NERC enforcement actions and security standards, could opt to intervene in the settlement by the end of this month. But sources say FERC is expected to sign off on the penalty.

TVA admits potential liability in case of sickened coal ash workers, may hit ratepayers - The Tennessee Valley Authority is admitting publicly for the first time that it made a deal that could put ratepayers on the financial hook for the misdeeds of a contractor accused of poisoning an entire workforce.TVA is publicly acknowledging — via a small section in a 2019 quarterly earnings report — ratepayers may have to foot the bill for Jacobs Engineering’s treatment of disaster cleanup workers at the nation’s largest coal ash spill at the public utility’s Kingston plant a decade ago. TVA put Jacobs Engineering in charge of cleaning up the 7.3 million ton coal ash spill at the TVA Kingston Fossil Fuel Power Plant in December 2008 and keeping workers and the community safe, despite the global contractor’s history of worker safety lawsuits and test tampering allegations. Jacobs supervisors have since admitted — under oath — they lied to the estimated 900 workers employed at the height of the cleanup effort about the dangers of coal ash while exposing them — unprotected — to it for as much as 50 to 55 hours a week for months and years.  More than 40 workers are now dead, and more than 400 are sick.

 Chinese Coal Mine Emissions Soar, Despite Public Pledges - Emissions of potent methane gas from the country's enormous coal mining industry soared by 50 percent from 2010 from 2015, despite an ambitious and well-publicized pledge to start capturing the greenhouse gas, according to a study published Tuesday by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.  The increase – roughly 5.5 teragrams over the five-year period – was comparable to the total methane emissions from Russia or Brazil, themselves the second- and fifth-largest emitters of methane gas, according to a 2012 inventory. China is the world's largest source of methane by orders of magnitude. The U.S., which in 2012 was the fourth-largest emitter of the gas, that year produced only a quarter of the methane released by China. "Our study indicates that, at least in terms of methane emissions, China's government is 'talking the talk' but has not been able to 'walk the walk,'" Scot Miller, an assistant professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University and the study's lead author, said in a statement. China is the world's largest coal producer, and it's heavily dependent on the fuel for electricity: nearly three-quarters of the country's power was generated from coal. Such dependence brings significant climate implications: coal not only produces enormous amounts of air pollution when burned, but mining it also releases large amounts of methane gas. The sector in China is so large, and the emissions from mining so great, that coal mining is believed to be the greatest source of human-induced methane emissions in the country.

‘We won’- Landmark climate ruling as NSW court rejects coal mine - Environmental groups are cheering a decision in NSW's Land and Environment Court that found the emissions of greenhouse gases and resulting climate change from a proposed coal mine were among the reasons to reject the project. Brian Preston, chief judge of the court, handed down his judgment in a case between Gloucester Resources Ltd and the NSW Planning Minister in Sydney on Friday. He concluded the mine project was "in the wrong place at the wrong time". He dismissed an appeal by developers of the controversial Rocky Hill open-cut coal mine near the Mid North Coast town of Gloucester against any earlier planning rejection.Last April, the Environmental Defenders Office of NSW secured approval from the court to join the case, arguing on behalf of its client Groundswell Gloucester that the mine's detrimental impact on climate change and on the social fabric of the town must be considered.

San Francisco gas explosion shoots fire that burns multiple buildings — A gas explosion in a San Francisco neighborhood shot flames into the air Wednesday and burned five buildings, sending panicked residents and workers fleeing into the streets.Utility crews put out the fire about three hours after private construction workers cut a natural gas line, igniting the towering flames, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said. Authorities initially said five workers were missing, but the entire construction crew was found safe, and no other injuries were reported. Officials evacuated several nearby buildings, including a medical clinic and apartment buildings, Hayes-White said. Vehicles on a busy street got rerouted as authorities cordoned off the bustling retail and residential neighborhood. The fire damaged a building housing Hong Kong Lounge II, a popular dim sum restaurant frequented by students at the University of San Francisco and tourists. The restaurant made many "best of" lists. Caroline Gasparini, 24, who lives catty-corner from the fire, said she and her housemate were in their living room when the windows started rattling. She looked up to see flames reflected in the glass. Gasparini said they saw employees of the burning restaurant run out the backdoor and people fleeing down the block. Firefighters worked to keep the fire from spreading while Pacific Gas & Electric crews tried to shut off the natural gas line. "It's complicated," Hayes-White said of stopping the flow of gas through the damaged pipe. Though she later acknowledged that "as a fire chief and a resident, yes, I would have liked to see it mitigated."

Gas line explosion in SF sends people running for lives - A gas line explosion at a busy San Francisco intersection shot flames 40 feet into the air, sent people running for their lives and set five buildings on fire Wednesday afternoon.Crews working for Verizon dug into the street at Geary Blvd. and Parker Ave. in the Inner Richmond and struck a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gas line, setting off the blast at around 1:18 p.m.At nearby Mel’s Drive-In, diners began running out of the restaurant when they heard a booming “rumble and felt the windows shake,” said Antelmo Faria, who had just sat down to have lunch with his girlfriend at the counter.The fire shot out of the ground for more than two hours before PG&E crews shut off a gas valve to stop it. At the scene, PG&E spokesman Blair Jones explained why it took so long: utility workers had to painstakingly used shovels to hand-dig into asphalt in order to shut off the gas valves feeding the flames. Machinery couldn’t be used due to the proximity of the gas line to the surface of the street.“You can imagine having to hand-dig in asphalt. It takes time,” Jones said. “It’s also very cold right now. If we do this wrong, and we shut off gas, to potentially hundreds, maybe thousands of more people in San Francisco, so we’re trying to do this in a way that is safe.”Dozens of residents were displaced and as many as 2,500 customers lost electricity. Wednesday evening, PG&E said power was restored to all but 235 customers. Additionally, about 300 gas customers lost their service.

Rate Counsel Says PSEG, Exelon Failed to Show Need for $300M Nuclear Subsidies - The state should deny $300 million in ratepayer subsidies to PSEG Nuclear and Exelon Generation as the two companies failed to prove their three nuclear power plants in South Jersey will close without the incentives, according to a filing by the New Jersey Rate Counsel.Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand said the two companies, in making a case for nuclear subsidies, have overstated their costs and underestimated revenues. “When their assumptions are examined closely, their claims of financial hardship fall away,’’ Brand said in a redacted filing to the state Board of Public Utilities.The filing is among the responses received by the board on applications submitted by the two companies seeking so-called zero-emission certificates in the form of ratepayer subsidies to keep the Salem I, Salem II and Hope Creek nuclear units from closing within the next three years.The BPU is about to begin a proceeding to determine whether PSEG Nuclear and Exelon, which owns a share in Salem I and Salem II, should be awarded the subsidies. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a controversial law last May establishing a process where the companies could seek subsidies from ratepayers to avert the closing of the units. The Division of Rate Counsel, among a broad coalition of business, consumer and environmental groups, opposed the bill and the award of any subsidies to PSEG during the legislative hearing. The Rate Counsel’s filing responds to an application by the companies filed late in December. In the filing, Brand questions many of the companies’ underlying projections of future energy prices and associated costs, mostly involving operational and market risks. In essence, the filing argues the companies overstated negative outcomes while minimizing possible positive results.“Now, with the applicants providing the best case they could make, we can see that these subsidies are not only unfair and inappropriate, they also are unneeded,’’ the filing said. “The only way the applicant could justify their request is to over-count their costs and under-count their revenues.’’

Legislators pitch a bill to rescue Pennsylvania's nuclear plants - Pennsylvania lawmakers took the first step toward proposing a rescue of the state’s financially challenged nuclear power plants on Monday, setting the stage for a battle of energy giants in the Legislature this spring.Six state senators from both parties and Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, a Republican from Dauphin County, circulated memos inviting other members of the House and Senate to sign on to bills they said could forestall early retirements of the state’s nuclear plants by rewarding them for generating electricity without emitting climate-warming gases.Pennsylvania’s nuclear plants are struggling to compete against a wave of natural gas plants in the electricity market that are taking advantage of cheap, local fuel flowing from the region’s Marcellus Shale wells. Exelon Generation plans to close its money-losing Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg in September. And though the financial picture for the Beaver Valley nuclear plant in Shippingport looks better — the independent market monitor for the regional grid said the plant had a $165.2 million operating surplus last year — its bankrupt owner, Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions, plans to shut down the two reactors in 2021.Without action, the legislators said, “The commonwealth’s three other nuclear power plants are likely not far behind.”The legislators propose to integrate nuclear power into the state’s existing Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, a 2004 law that requires power companies to get an increasing percentage of their electricity from sources like wind, solar, hydropower, landfill methane and waste coal. Currently, 15.2 percent of the electricity sold in each utility’s service territory must come from portfolio sources, with the level rising to 18 percent in 2021.

New House speaker says saving nuclear plants benefits state — New House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) on Friday voiced support for preserving Ohio’s two nuclear power plants as state assets and recognized the narrow window of time to get a rescue plan in place. “We generate a tremendous amount of zero emissions energy in this state,” he said. “And we’ve got to decide whether we’re willing to give that up or whether we’re going to try to work to keep that energy source here.” FirstEnergy Solutions, now in bankruptcy court, has said it will close its nuclear power plants on the shores of Lake Erie — the Davis-Besse plant in Ottawa County and the Perry plant east of Cleveland. They’ve been unable to compete economically with cheap and abundant natural gas as well as increasing access to renewable sources such as wind and solar power. One of Mr. Householder’s top priorities as the newly elected leader of the Republican-controlled House is to create a subcommittee dedicated to energy generation issues in the state. Those issues would also include whether to continue current mandates in state law that utilities find more of their power from renewable sources. Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and its marketing spinoff FirstEnergy Solutions have come up empty in attempts to convince lawmakers to save the plants. The Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance — consisting of representatives of local government, schools, economic development groups, skilled trade unions, and businesses — has pushed to put the issue in front of the new two-year legislative session. It’s an issue for the state, not just the lakefront communities where the plants are located, Mr. Householder said while meeting with Statehouse reporters. “I think it’s a benefit to the entire state of Ohio to have those non-emission plants,” he said.   Past discussions about requiring electricity customers to pay for more expensive nuclear power to keep the plants humming have gone nowhere.

South Carolina Spent $9 Billion to Dig a Hole in the Ground and Then Fill It Back In -- The objection raised most frequently when it comes to a Green New Deal is its cost. It’s preposterous; it’s too expensive; we just can’t afford it. But before scoffing at the prospect of the wealthiest nation in the history of the world funding such a project, it’s worth taking a look at what one of the country’s poorest states was recently able to spend. South Carolina, in a bid to expand its generation of nuclear power in recent years, dropped $9 billion on a single project — and has nothing to show for it. The boondoggle, which was covered widely in the Palmetto State press but got little attention nationally, sheds light on just how much money is genuinely available for an industrial-level energy transformation, if only the political will were there. In South Carolina, lawmakers greenlighted a multibillion-dollar energy project and stuck utility customers with the tab. “In the private sector,” former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Gregory Jaczko told The Intercept, “you would never be able to justify this.” The saga, and related nuclear project failures, calls into question the role of new nuclear energy production in the effort to decarbonize the economy. New plants, Jaczko said, take too long to build for the urgency of the climate crisis and simply aren’t cost effective, given advances in renewable energy. “I don’t see nuclear as a solution to climate change,” Jaczko said. “It’s too expensive, and would take too long if it could even be deployed. There are cheaper, better alternatives. And even better alternatives that are getting cheaper, faster.”

How do you dismantle a nuclear power plant? Very, very carefully   Behind the locked gates of Building 372 at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, past the door to the huge containment vessel where a sign warns of radiation, a large button on the control panel is covered in red plastic and reads: “manual scram.” This is the emergency shutdown button, which nuclear legend says was pushed when it was time to scram. But these days, the dark interior of the Army’s historic nuclear reactor, once called an “atomic-age miracle machine,” is a maze of rusted pipes, peeling paint and pressure gauges reading zero. Keys in the control panel haven’t been turned in years, and switches are set to “off.” The world’s first nuclear plant to supply energy to a power grid has been defunct for years. But the Army is preparing to break it up, check it for lingering radiation and haul it away piece by piece. Dedicated in 1957, as the government was promoting “Atoms for Peace,” the facility was a training site and a prototype for small reactors that could produce power for bases in remote places around the world, the Army said. Hundreds of nuclear plant specialists trained at the SM-1 before it was shut down in 1973. By then, the military’s need for such expensive plants had dwindled, The plant’s uranium-235 fuel and reactor waste were removed in 1973 and ’74 and taken to a storage site in South Carolina. The 64-foot-high concrete-and-steel containment vessel that housed the smaller reactor vessel and other equipment was sealed. But all these years later, there is probably still residual nuclear contamination of some of the internal structures, Army experts said. 

Cost to Taxpayers to Clean Up Nuclear Waste Jumps $100 Million in One Year — The estimated cost of cleaning up America's nuclear waste has jumped more than $100 billion in just one year, according to a DOE report — and a watchdog warns the cost may climb still higher. The Energy Department's projected cost for cleanup jumped from $383.78 billion in 2017 to $493.96 billion in a financial report issued in December 2018. A government watchdog and DOE expert said the new total may still underestimate the full cost of cleanup, which is expected to last another 50 years. "We believe the number is growing and we believe the number is understated," said David Trimble, director of the Government Accountability Office's Natural Resources and Environment team. The cost was calculated by the accounting firm KPMG under contract to DOE. Eighty percent of the increase comes from new projections of the costs of cleaning up radioactive waste and hazardous chemicals at the Hanford site in southeastern Washington. The 586-square-mile site, home to nine former production reactors and processing facilities, produced plutonium for America's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War. Cleaning up Hanford has already cost taxpayers $170 billion over 30 years, but government auditors say the most challenging parts of the clean-up work are yet to be done. Still not cleaned up are 56 million gallons of what the DOE's inspector general has described as "hazardous and highly radioactive waste." The rise in projected cost is due to updated estimates for building and running a waste treatment plant, including "operating costs, tank farm retrieval and closure costs" at the site, according to the report. The report also refers to changes in "technical approach or scope" and "updated estimates of projected waste volumes." 

India-Pakistan Nuclear Standoff: What Does the West Have at Stake in South Asia? - The West, particularly the United States and Canada, are geographically far removed from South Asia. This distance makes many think that any nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would not have a significant impact on life in America and Europe. Dr. Owen Brian Toon and Professor Alan Robock dispute this thinking. They believe the nuclear winter following an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange will kill crops as far as the United States and cause a global famine. Another study by Nobel Peace Prize- winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Physicians for Social Responsibility reached the same conclusion.  Professors Robock and Toon have calculated that the smoke from just 100-200 Hiroshima sized atomic bombs exploding in South Asia would cover the entire globe within two weeks. This smoke would hang 30-50 miles above the surface of the earth where it never rains. This thick layer of smoke would block the sun causing farmers to lose their crops for years to come. The resulting famine would kill billions of people around the globe.   In "Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia", Pakistani-American analyst Dr. Moeed Yusuf talks about the US efforts to prevent India-Pakistan war that could escalate into a full-scale nuclear exchange.   Yusuf argues that the US-Soviet Cold War deterrence model does not apply to the India-Pakistan conflict and offers his theory of "brokered bargaining".  Here is a TED talk by Dr. Owen Brian Toon, professor of atmospheric and ocean sciences at University of Colorado at Boulder. He's citing research he did with Professor Alan Robock, professor of climate research at Rutgers University.  https://youtu.be/O0ZPt60sZ0s

Ohio Utica well permits rose in January - Permits to drill wells in Ohio's Utica shale rose slightly in January from the month prior. The state approved 58 permits in January, up by eight permits from December 2018, according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. December permits soared by 92pc from November, likely on the start-up of more takeaway capacity from the Appalachian production region and expectations of increased winter demand. Monthly permit counts have rebounded recently after spending much of 2018 below levels in 2017. January permits were more than double the 26 approved in January 2018, while December permits were 19pc higher than a year earlier. Permits issued per month in 2018 ranged from nine to 50, and totaled 253 for the full year, a 44pc drop from total permits issued in 2017. Spot natural gas prices at Dominion Transmission South in January averaged $2.85/mmBtu, 10pc lower than a year earlier. Argus forward prices show Dominion South averaging $2.42/mmBtu in March, suggesting lower demand next month. Production in the Appalachia shale region in December topped 31.1 Bcf/d, according to estimates from the US Energy Information Administration, with January output expected to rise above 31.3 Bcf.

Ohio residents file federal civil rights lawsuit, stemming from fracking concerns - (WKBN) - Members from seven community groups in Ohio have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against their board of elections and the Ohio Secretary of State. The complaint stems from citizens wanting a frack-free community and it claims officials have violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights of freedom of speech, right of assembly, right to petition the government for redress of grievances, right to vote, right of due process, and right of local, community self-government.The lawsuit claims the plaintiff communities have collected signatures to place initiatives on the ballot at some point between 2015 and 2018 and that all the communities have been blocked from the ballot by the defendants’ "unlawful actions."The complaint describes these actions as “placing unlawful blockades, insurmountable hurdles, and arbitrary and irrational procedures between the people of Ohio and their exercise and enjoyment of direct democracy.”Members of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, say they have attempted to exercise the right to initiative by preparing and collecting signatures for proposed amendments to the Youngstown Municipal Charter.The proposed charter amendments have addressed such issues as community rights, a ban on horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil and gas, the right to clean water, and the right to free and fair elections. The seven groups filing the suit are from several Ohio cities and counties, including Youngstown, Toledo and Columbus, as well as Portage, Medina, Athens and Meigs counties. “Our government is based on the premise that the people create government to protect their rights and that when government is no longer doing that, the people have the right to alter, reform or abolish that government and form a new one that does,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, Youngstown Plaintiff.  “When the very government that is violating the people’s rights is blocking them from making change, we cannot accept this. We need to challenge it and protect our right to self-govern. In Ohio, we need to protect our right to direct democracy through the initiative process. That is what this lawsuit is about.” You can read the full Lawsuit here.

Environmentalists from Youngstown, six counties file federal lawsuit - WFMJ- A coalition of activists from Youngstown and other parts of Ohio have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the state and local elections boards of violating their constitutional rights by preventing voters from deciding environmental issues. The 62-page civil suit was filed in U.S. District Court by members of grassroots environmental groups in seven Ohio counties, including Susie Beiersdorfer and Dario Hunter of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, which has been unsuccessful eight times in backing a ballot issue to ban fracking inside Youngstown city limits. In addition to former Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, the boards of elections in Mahoning and six other counties are named as defendants. The lawsuit claims that election boards and the Ohio Secretary of State have violated the groups' constitutional right to free speech and due process by rejecting petitions signed by hundreds and thousands of registered voters seeking ballot space on issues dealing with clean water, fracking, injection wells, and other environmental concerns. The groups say election officials and the Secretary of State should not be allowed to keep questions from the voters based on the content of the issues. The suit also challenges the constitutionality of House Bill 463 passed in 2017 which the lawsuit says further enforces the ability of election boards to reject voter initiatives based on the content of those initiatives. In addition to Frackfree Mahoning Valley, other plaintiffs include members of the Columbus Community Rights Group which failed to place an anti-fracking issue on the ballot after it was rejected by the Franklin County Board of elections. Members of Toledoans for Safe Water claim in the lawsuit that Lucas County Board of Elections rejected their initiative to enact a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” after algae blooms in the lake caused a shutdown of the regional water supply in 2014. The Meigs County Home Rule Committee's efforts to enact a home rule charter that included bans on underground injection wells was rejected by the Secretary of State, according to the lawsuit. In southeastern Ohio, the Athens Community Bill of Rights Committee circulated petitions for a county-wide vote to ban injection wells was rejected by the Athens County Board of Elections. Efforts by Sustainable Medina County included an effort to put a stop to the Nexus gas pipeline, which runs from Columbiana County to Michigan. The lawsuit says petitions for a county charter initiative opposing the pipeline were rejected by then Secretary of State Husted. A county charter initiative that would have included prohibitions on fracking and injection wells by the Portage Community Rights Group was given a thumbs down by the Portage County Board of Elections. The suit asks a federal judge to declare as unconstitutional, parts of House Bill 463 that allows the review of ballot initiatives based on their content.

Environmental advocates sue over Ohio's methods of reviewing ballot measures - cleveland.com — Members of environmental activist groups in seven Ohio counties sued Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose and several boards of elections over what it said were unconstitutional tactics that kept certain ballot initiatives from going in front of voters.The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Youngstown, says the system the state has to set up to approve and deny ballot measures violates the First Amendment and other constitutional rights because elections boards and the secretary of state are allowed to review the substance of the measures, instead of just seeing whether those measures conform with state elections law.The activists come from Athens, Franklin, Lucas, Mahoning, Medina, Meigs and Portage counties and all say their measures were unconstitutionally blocked from the ballot. State courts, including the Ohio Supreme Court, previously ruled against placing on the ballot many of the measures the groups wanted to put in front of voters.“For several years, Ohio election statutes have unconstitutionally restricted Plaintiffs’ rights to place proposed measures on the ballot by allowing Defendants to engage in content-based, pre-enactment review of proposed ballot measures,” the lawsuit states.(You can read the lawsuit here or at the bottom of this story.)The lawsuit asks a federal judge to invalidate sections of Ohio law “that permit substantive, content-based review” by elections officials. Among those suing are members of Sustainable Medina County, an environmental advocacy group that sought to place proposals on the ballot that would ban fracking, oil injection wells and oil pipelines from going through the county. The group vociferously opposes the installation of a natural gas pipeline that will run from Ohio to Canada, the lawsuit states. The Medina County Board of Elections certified the group’s petition in 2015, but someone protested. Then-Secretary of State Jon Husted, now the lieutenant governor, subsequently invalidated the group’s petition and the Ohio Supreme Court upheld Husted’s decision, the lawsuit notes.The group altered and re-submitted petitions in 2016 and 2017, but Husted again denied them. The courts provided the group no relief, according to the lawsuit.Similarly, the Portage Community Rights Group tried in 2016 to place a measure on the ballot in Portage County that, among other things, would prohibit fracking and injection well usage. The county elections board denied the measure, saying the governmental structure proposed under the measure did not include a county executive, according to the lawsuit. Husted denied the group’s protest and told the elections board not to place the measure on the ballot. The Ohio Supreme Court later upheld that decision, the suit states.

Northeast Ohio Could be Looking at a New Economic Boost from Underground   - Ethane is critical for making things like polymers, plastic, and paint. It’s also a companion product from natural gas wells--and wells in Ohio’s Utica shale are typically rich with it.  A U.S. Energy Information Administration report finds the country is now leading the world in an international export market for ethane.University of Akron economist Amada Weinstein says that might mean a resurgence of drilling.  And it may convince companies thinking about building multi-billion dollar chemical processing facilities known as crackers to go ahead and do so. “Yes.  So basically, if prices are going up for these petrochemicals for polymers then they have even more incentive to build these cracker plants being built in Pennsylvania and other places.” According to state figures, there has been in excess of $63-billlion in investment in shale development in the Ohio since 2011.  (see comments)

“Salt Water Disposal Wells” (SWD) Are Contaminating Our Region in PA, WV & OH - From a Study by Matt Kelso, FracTracker Alliance, January 31, 2019 - Oil and gas development generates a lot of liquid waste. Some of the waste comes that comes out of a well is from the geologic layer where the oil and gas resources are located. These extremely saline brines may be described as “natural,” but that does not make them safe, as they contain dangerous levels of radiation, heavy metals, and other contaminants. Additionally, a portion of the industrial fluid that was injected into the well to stimulate production, known as hydraulic fracturing fluid, returns to the surface. Some of these substances are known carcinogens, while others remain entirely secret, even to the personnel in the field who are employed to use the additives.  In many states, much of this waste is disposed of in facilities known as salt water disposal (SWD) wells, a specific type of injection well. These waste facilities fall under the auspices of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. Such wells are co-managed with states’ oil and gas regulatory agencies, although the specifics vary by state. The oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania has not used SWD wells as a primary disposal method, as the state’s geology has been considered unsuitable for this process. The ban on surface “treatment” being discharged into Pennsylvania waters has increased the pressure for finding new solutions for brine disposal. This is compounded by the fact that the per-well volume of fluid injected into shale gas wells in the region has nearly tripled in that time period. Much of what is injected comes back up to the surface and is added to the liquid waste stream. Chemically-similar brine from conventional wells has been spread on roadways for dust suppression. This practice was originally considered a “beneficial use” of the waste product, but the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) halted that practice in May 2018. There are numerous concerns with salt water disposal wells. In October 2018, the PA-DEP held a hearing in Plum Borough, on the eastern edge of Allegheny County, where there is a proposal to convert the Sedat 3A conventional well to an injection well. Some of the concerns raised by residents include:

  • >>> Fluid and/or gas migration — There are numerous routes for fluids and gas to migrate from the injection formation to drinking water aquifers or even surface water. Potential conduits include coal mines, abandoned gas wells, water wells, and naturally occurring fissures in crumbling sedimentary formations.
  • >>> Induced seismicity — SWD wells have been linked to increased earthquake activity, either by lubricating or putting pressure on old faults that had been dormant. Earthquakes can occur miles away from the injection location, and in sedimentary formations, not just igneous basement rock.
  • >>> Noise, diesel pollution, loss of privacy, and road degradation caused by a constant stream of industrial waste haulers to the well location.
  • >>> Complicating existing issues — Plum Borough and surrounding communities are heavily undermined, and in fact the well bore goes right through the Renton Coal Mine (another part of which has been on fire for decades). Mine subsidence is already a widespread issue in the region, and many fear that even small seismic events could exacerbate this.
  • >>> Possibility of surface spill — Oil and gas is, sadly, a sloppy industry, with unconventional operations having accumulated more than 13,000 violations in Pennsylvania since 2008. If a major spill were to happen at this location, there is the possibility of release into Pucketa Creek, which drains into the Allegheny River, the source of drinking water for multiple communities.
  • >>> Radioactivity and other contaminants — Flowback fluids are often highly radioactive, contain heavy metals, and other contaminants that are challenging to effectively clean. The migration of radon gas into homes above the injection formation is also a possibility.

Marathon working to fix flare at Detroit refinery that caused odor - Marathon Petroleum Corp. said it was working to fix a malfunctioning flare at its Detroit refinery that created a pungent odor that permeated the air in metro Detroit on Sunday morning.  "We don't have an estimate for when the repair work will be complete, but we have significantly reduced the amount of material going to the flare, and anticipate being able to de-pressure the vessels connected to the flare by the end of the day tomorrow,"   Marathon anticipates workers will finish removing the contents of the vessels connected to the flare by the end of the day on Monday, and this will allow them to deactivate the flare. At that point, repair work will begin, he said.  According to the statement, Marathon believes the odor is largely from mercaptan, which is a substance added to natural gas to give it a detectable smell. The statement added that an investigation to determine what caused the release is ongoing, and once that is determined, Marathon plans to implement "necessary corrective actions so that this does not happen again." The Marathon refinery is located in southwest Detroit and borders the city of Melvindale, Kheiry said. Wind blowing from the west carried the odor north and northeast. Some people noticed it miles away in Warren in Macomb County. Early Sunday, around 4 a.m., Michigan State Police and local 9-1-1 centers began receiving phone calls from metro Detroit residents reporting a strong odor permeating the air, MSP said. In a series of tweets, MSP said it suspected that the smell was coming from Marathon Oil properties, and that its Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division has been in contact with Marathon, plus local authorities around the Detroit/Dearborn border. "At this time Marathon still shows NO air quality issues on their meters," MSP said in a tweet. "Based on wind direction Marathon agrees their facility could be the source."

Consumers fire highlights ongoing gas safety issues in Michigan, regulator says – The fire at Consumers that put Michigan in a precarious natural gas situation during the bitter cold last month is one in a series of concerning natural gas incidents, the Michigan Public Service Commission said when it opened an investigation into the matter Thursday.The commission will investigate a Jan. 30 fire at the Consumers Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in Macomb County that jeopardized heat for Michigan residents during a period of extreme cold. Consumers avoided service interruptions by securing agreements from large energy users to cut back and asking residents to voluntarily turn down their heat to 65 degrees. “Events of the past week, let alone the past year, have significantly heightened the Commission’s safety concerns with Michigan gas utilities,” said Commissioner Norman Saari.He pointed to numerous recent natural gas issues, including aPontiac explosion and a Warren gas line issue.Commission Chair Sally Talberg said in a number of these incidents no one has been injured, but it’s an issue the commission sees and is following.And part of it, she said, comes down to infrastructure.“The gas distribution lines, a lot of them are quite old, they were made of cast iron or bare steel,” she said. “Since 2011 we’ve accelerated the replacement of those so that we can protect against accidents.” Talberg said any time there was an explosion MPSC staff were on-site taking measurements and data to identify the cause and any potential violations. But in this case the commission opened a more formal investigation because of the broad impacts on customers.

Group raises questions about Enbridge's insurance on Line 5 - A new report says the State of Michigan did not thoroughly review Enbridge’s ability to cover costs in the case of a spill from its twin Line 5 oil pipelines before it signed an agreement with the company. The pipelines run underneath the Straits of Mackinac. Water law non-profit “For Love of Water,” or FLOW, released a report saying both Wisconsin and Minnesota have hired experts to assess Enbridge's insurance on its projects in those states, but Michigan has not done the same. Skip Pruss, FLOW’s board chair, said that both assessments in other states found problems with Enbridge's coverage.“Given the fact that our two sister states did comprehensive background analyses and risk management studies and employed experts to do it, we wanted to know what Michigan has done," he said. "Michigan apparently hasn’t done any expert review. No experts have been retained.”Pruss called Enbridge's Line 5 insurance "likely deficient and inadequate," based in part on consultations FLOW had with the firm that did assessments in Wisconsin and Minnesota.Additionally, the report details six specific concerns with Line 5's spill coverage, including the dollar amount of insurance and whether it extends to Enbridge subsidiaries.FLOW released the report during a joint press conference with the group "Oil and Water Don't Mix" and the tribal chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community, Bryan Newland. Newland spoke about his ongoing concern that a Line 5 spill would irreparably damage the ancestral lands of indigenous people in the area."We enjoy a treaty right to use the waters of the Great Lakes for fishing for commercial purposes and also subsistence, and no amount of financial insurance is going to be able to replace that if it's gone," he said. "When the integrity of our sacred locations is disrupted, it can't be repaired by purchasing another place or by getting an insurance check." The Line 5 pipelines carry up to 23 million gallons of crude oil daily.

 State, crews monitoring problem in deep gas well in Westmoreland County  - CNX Resources Corp. has spent the past week trying to get a Utica Shale well near the Beaver Run Reservoir in Westmoreland County under control after a problem there was followed by gas pressures spiking at nearby shallow wells. The Cecil-based oil and gas firm was fracking its Shaw 1G well in Washington Township on Jan. 26 when it detected a strong drop in pressure, the company told environmental regulators. It stopped fracking and found some type of obstruction in the well bore, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Lauren Fraley. CNX also told the DEP that four conventional — that is, shallower, vertical wells — nearby showed spikes in pressure, a sign of communication between the gas in the Utica well and the four other wells in the vicinity. Neighbors described a parade of trucks and hard-hatted workers dispatched to the Shaw pad and to properties with shallow wells, some of which are being flared to relieve the pressure. Residents were on guard about the activity — and what it might mean for conventional wells on their properties. A DEP crew has been stationed at the site around the clock and will remain there until “we feel confident that the situation is under control,” Ms. Fraley said. A special well control team had been summoned from out of state to “kill” the well, a procedure that involves pumping heavy mud into the wellbore to stop the flow and keep it down. That had not yet happened by Saturday evening. The path of the well travels under the reservoir but it isn’t clear how far along that path the well had been fracked when the problem occurred. According to the well records available in DEP’s database, the Shaw 1G well plunged 13,740 feet below the surface, more than 2 miles deep, and extended some 8,000 feet horizontally. It is not yet known how the gas from it impacted the four conventional wells that are many thousands of feet shallower.

CNX says Utica well now under control, after more shallow wells saw pressure spikes. - CNX Resources Corp. reported Tuesday morning that the operation to bring its problematic Utica Shale well in Westmoreland County under control was successful. “While we continue to evaluate the cause of the initial pressure anomaly, we believe it is isolated to this well,” the company said in a statement. “As a precaution, we will continue to monitor the well for the next several days.”Containing the deep, horizontal well meant pumping very heavy mud into the wellbore, a process that began Monday afternoon. The problem began a week from Saturday, when CNX was fracking its Utica Shaw 1G well and lost pressure on it. Over the next week, the company discovered pressure spikes at nine nearby conventional wells, which it was flaring on Monday to relieve the pressure. The company has expanded the search for pressure anomalies in nearby conventional wells to a 2-mile-radius from the farthest impacted well, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Lauren Fraley said Monday. “This includes the discovery of an unpermitted private gas well,” she said. This means that more wells could potentially be diagnosed as impacted, as the company works its way through the area.  It is still not clear what went wrong with the Utica well or how its problem ended up impacting wells thousands of feet away. Ms. Fraley noted that no environment damage has been reported by field staff at the agency’s oil and gas, safe drinking water and air quality departments.None of the impacted conventional wells are in the path of the Shaw 1G, which runs more than a mile in a southeast direction. Instead, the overpressured wells are to the north, west, and east of the Utica well.

Utica shale gas well in Washington Township contained - CNX Resources contained a Utica shale gas well that experienced a significant drop in pressure last week, the company said Tuesday. Well “killing” operations on Shaw 1G well in Washington Township began at about 5 p.m. Monday and were completed by 11 p.m., said Lauren Fraley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Southwest Regional Office. Killing involves pumping heavy mud and cement into the well, essentially sealing it off. “We are still evaluating next steps for the Shaw 1G well and the other three wells on that pad,” CNX spokesman Brian Aiello said, noting well drilling was completed Jan. 5 and fracking started the next day. The Canonsburg-based company experienced a significant loss of pressure with the new well during fracking operations Jan. 26, Fraley said. The pressure decrease was accompanied by “potential communication with other nearby conventional wells,” she said. CNX has since expanded flaring to nine conventional wells in the vicinity of the Shaw 1G well, she said. The DEP describes flaring as a combustion device used to control emissions by burning off flammable gas, often to reduce pressure. In the meantime, fracking operations on the four-well Shaw pad, on the northwestern side of Beaver Run Reservoir, have been suspended while CNX investigates the cause of the incident, the company said in a statement. “We believe it is isolated to this well,” the statement said. Fracking has been occurring near Beaver Run Reservoir, source of water to about 130,000 people in northern Westmoreland County, since 2011. The seven CNX well pads on property owned by the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County currently have 45 Marcellus wells and seven Utica wells, the company said. The municipal authority operates the George R. Sweeney Water Plant at Beaver Run Reservoir, which serves 23 communities in northern Westmoreland County and small portions of Armstrong and Indiana counties. Both CNX and the municipal authority have said there has been no impact to the reservoir and the situation is being closely monitored. 

New Penna. Utica Well Being Plugged After Disturbing Other Wells - CNX Resources Corp. has spent the past week trying to get a Utica Shale well near the Beaver Run Reservoir in Westmoreland County under control after a problem there was followed by gas pressures spiking at nearby shallow wells. The Cecil-based oil and gas firm was fracking its Shaw 1G well in Washington Township on Jan. 26 when it detected a strong drop in pressure, the company told environmental regulators. It stopped fracking and found some type of obstruction in the well bore, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Lauren Fraley. CNX also told the PA-DEP that four conventional — that is, shallower, vertical wells — nearby showed spikes in pressure, a sign of communication between the gas in the Utica well and the four other wells in the vicinity. Neighbors described a parade of trucks and hard-hatted workers dispatched to the Shaw pad and to properties with shallow wells, some of which are being flared to relieve the pressure. Residents were on guard about the activity — and what it might mean for conventional wells on their properties. A PA-DEP crew has been stationed at the site around the clock and will remain there until “we feel confident that the situation is under control,” Ms. Fraley said. A special well control team had been summoned from out of state to “kill” the well, a procedure that involves pumping heavy mud into the wellbore to stop the flow and keep it down. That had not yet happened by Saturday evening. Ms. Fraley said at this point, the agency is not aware of any pollution or impacts to environmental resources as a result of the situation. A statement from the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, which operates the Beaver Run Reservoir and supplies water to more than 120,000 customers, assured that water quality has not been compromised. The path of the well travels under the reservoir but it isn’t clear how far along that path the well had been fracked when the problem occurred.

Beaver Run Reservoir gas remediations successful — CNX Resources Corporation said Monday that efforts had been successful to remediate a gas well and arrest a subsurface flow of natural gas from the Utica shale well near Beaver Run Reservoir in Washington Township, Westmoreland County. “The remediation process was successful and the well has been contained,” the energy provider based in Canonsburg, Washington County, said in a news release. “There were no injuries and no impact to the environment.” The problem was determined to be “a pressure anomaly during hydraulic fracturing operations on the Shaw 1G well,” the CNX release said. “While we continue to evaluate the cause of the initial pressure anomaly, we believe it is isolated to this well.” Still, all hydraulic fracturing operations on the four-well Shaw pad remain suspended while CNX officials assess the incident. “As a precaution,” CNX officials said they will continue to monitor the well for the next several days, as well as “existing nearby gas wells,” managing any residual gas communication with those wells. That included any impact to drinking water supplies, as the 11-billion-gallon Beaver Run facility serves approximately 130,000 Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County customers in parts of Westmoreland, Armstrong and Indiana counties, including Saltsburg, Kiskiminetas Township and Loyalhanna Township.“During the fracking stage of the Utica well, CNX experienced a significant loss of pressure and communication with four other nearby conventional wells which were flared to relieve pressure,” Fraley said. “CNX reported to DEP (Monday) that it expanded flaring to a total of nine conventional wells in the vicinity of the Shaw 1G well.” Fraley said a contractor brought in by CNX was working to “kill” the well by “pumping a thick heavy mud into the well to stop any flow of gas.” She said this was accomplished in a six-hour period Monday night. .

Sunoco pipeline easements expiring in Chester County - —Sunoco’s temporary easements related to construction of the controversial Mariner East pipeline project are expiring at sites throughout Chester County, state Sen. Andy Dinniman said. In a lawsuit filed this afternoon in Chester County Common Pleas Court, attorneys for the Hankin Group, a Chester County-based residential, commercial and retail developer, asked a judge to force Sunoco off four of its properties where it is still constructing the pipeline. The four sites identified in the filing include one at Corner Park Apartments on Boot Road in West Whiteland, one at New Kent Apartments in East Goshen, and two on Stockton Drive and Sierra Drive at Eagleview in Upper Uwchlan. Residents have raised numerous concerns about pipeline construction at these locations, including environmental, air quality and quality-of-life impacts, given their close proximity to multi-family residential dwellings. The complaint contends that Sunoco is in breach of a temporary easement agreement that has elapsed on the Corner Park and New Kent Properties in November and on the Eagleview Properties in January. In turn, the four-count complaint calls for Sunoco to immediately cease all pipeline construction activities at the sites, remove all construction equipment, pipes, machinery and related materials there, and restore the affected areas to their prior condition. In addition, Hankin Group is suing Sunoco for trespassing, breach of agreement and damages. According to the lawsuit, Sunoco’ trespass and breach of easement agreements have caused “damage to the ground caused by excavation; damage from excessive runoff caused by removal of grass and foliage; harm to the value of properties; lost rents; loss of use; and diminution in value of properties.”

PUC seeks school evacuation drills on pipeline route - The Public Utility Commission has asked Sunoco to work with county emergency officials and some school districts to plan evacuation drills in case of a leak in the Mariner East pipelines, a senior PUC official said on Thursday. Paul Metro, Manager of Gas Safety at the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, told a community meeting in Chester County that there was a “communication gap” between school districts and the emergency planners who are responsible for evacuation plans. Although the PUC isn’t responsible for evacuation plans, it facilitated talks with several state agencies, and agreed to ask Sunoco to set up the plans, Metro told the meeting. “Plans are being worked out for these drills,” he said. The school districts include West Chester, whose superintendent, Jim Scanlon, said he had been in talks about holding an evacuation drill but has no immediate plans to do so. “We have discussed that with our administrative team,” he said. “We will probably pick that back up in the summer.” The plans were discussed at the latest public meeting between state and federal pipeline safety officials and residents of Philadelphia’s western suburbs who continue to seek information that might help them feel safer about the multibillion-dollar pipeline project that is now carrying natural gas liquids through their communities. About 150 people gathered in a West Chester middle school auditorium on Thursday evening to hear 10 officials from the Public Utility Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration defend their efforts to ensure the safety of the controversial pipelines. The officials said they were doing everything they can within their jurisdictions to ensure that the pipelines are built and operated safely, but they repeatedly emphasized the limits of their powers.

Delco moves to intervene in suit vs. Mariner East pipeline project - — Delaware County is jumping into the legal battle being waged over the controversial Mariner East pipeline project. Delaware County Council Wednesday voted 4-0 to intervene in a lawsuit against the owners of the Mariner East pipeline. Council authorized county solicitor Michael Maddren to draft a petition to intervene in the suit filed by seven residents of Delaware and Chester counties. County Council Chairman John McBlain abstained since the law firm where he works has done work for Sunoco although he himself has not. In November, several residents filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission against Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners, citing the risk associated with the Mariner East pipeline. “It’s incumbent us to at least have a seat at the table in a proceeding that has clear impact on the safety of our residents,” county Councilman Kevin Madden said. “That’s what filing a motion to intervene would allow us to do.” When Delaware County Council intervenes, they will be joining the Rose Tree Media, Downingtown Area and Twin Valley school districts and East Goshen Township in doing so. The legal maneuver comes just days after a butane leak was reported at the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex Monday..  The 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline has been active since December and moves ethane, propane and butane from western Pennsylvania and Ohio to the Marcus Hook facility, where the natural gas liquids are stored for distribution to local, domestic and international customers. The Mariner East 1 pipeline was shut down last month after a sinkhole exposed the 8-inch portion of the line was exposed in a backyard in West Whiteland, Chester County. It's the same neighborhood where sinkhole problems last winter caused the PUC to shut down Mariner East 1 and halt work on Mariner East 2. At the Jan. 23 Delaware County Council meeting, several residents asked council to consider intervening in the case.

Pipeline company, PUC no-shows at county meeting - Cumberland County Commissioners are scratching their heads, wondering why they had to cancel yet another public meeting with Energy Transfer Partners, the company that operates the Mariner East II pipeline with its subsidiary Sunoco. After the company canceled a July meeting to address concerns in Lower Frankford Township, commissioners asked the state's Public Utility Commission to get involved. Energy Transfer Partners and PUC representatives were invited to a meeting Thursday, but the meeting was canceled after the other parties said they would not be in attendance. Commissioner Jim Hertzler says they don't have an explanation why no one wanted to show. "The company just apparently refuses to meet with the public in various settings to discuss what it is they're doing," Hertzler said. Hertzler doesn't personally have a problem with the pipeline but says it's not right that the public can't get their questions answered. Energy Transfer Partners did not reply to requests for comment.

Pa. suspends review of permit applications for pipeline company -— State environmental regulators on Friday suspended their review of permit applications and other approvals requested by Energy Transfer LP and its subsidiaries after the pipeline company failed to comply with agency orders following an explosion in Beaver County last fall. Texas-based Energy Transfer owns both the ruptured Revolution natural gas pipeline and the controversial cross-state Mariner East gas liquids pipelines in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said the suspension will apply to all reviews of clean water permit applications for the company and will affect the in-service date for the Revolution pipeline, which has not started operating after the explosion. The action means that any new construction on company pipeline projects that require DEP approval are on hold for now. Energy Transfer can continue work at sites where it needs no new permits. The Mariner East 2 pipeline, operated by Energy Transfer subsidiary Sunoco Pipeline LP, is flowing partially through repurposed pipelines while construction of the full project’s twin pipelines is completed. It transfers ethane, propane, and butane across the state to a facility in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. DEP said it is currently reviewing 27 approvals for Mariner East 2, all of which are now on hold. DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said Energy Transfer, which operates the facility in Marcus Hook, failed to comply with the agency’s Oct. 29, 2018, order to stabilize the site of the Revolution pipeline explosion, which was caused by a landslide on the steep hillside in Center Township where the pipeline was buried. “In October, DEP cited for sediment-laden discharges into waterways, improperly maintained erosion controls, and failure to stabilize disturbed areas,” McDonnell said. “Disappointingly, many of these issues persist.”

EQT Reports A 3-Mile Lateral In Pennsylvania -- February 7, 2019  - From Emergent Group today, look at this: EQT reported two completions on a multiple well pad in Washington county, Pennsylvania. Haywood Mon110H24 and Haywood Mon110H25 were completed on January 3 and tested January 7. The H24 produced 15,565 MMcf of gas on its 38 stage lateral with a vertical depth of 7,332 ft.  The H25 was drilled to 7,304 ft with a 129 stage 18,450 ft lateral length. Both wells use frac material provided by FTSI International, perforations by GR Energy Services, and drill out services by Mountain State Pressure Services. The Cogar 592747, drilled on a separate pad in Washington, Pennsylvania, produced 15,341 MMcf of gas. Its 35 stage lateral was drilled to 5,935 ft with perforations from 8,471 ft to 13,299 ft.  It has a vertical depth of 7,621 ft and a measured depth of 3,556 ft. Frac horsepower was provided by Keane and cementing by BJ Cement Services. Did you see that? A three-mile lateral? 129 stages and 18,450 feet lateral length. Actually, three miles is 15,840 feel, so this is well over three miles long.

Gas driller seeking to have man thrown in jail for contempt - A gas driller is escalating its campaign against Kemble, a Pennsylvania homeowner who's long accused the company of polluting his water, demanding that he be thrown in jail over his failure to submit to questioning as part of the company's $5 million lawsuit against him. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam, File)A gas driller is escalating its campaign against a Pennsylvania homeowner who’s long accused the company of polluting his water, demanding that he be thrown in jail over his failure to submit to questioning as part of the company’s $5 million lawsuit against him. Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. sued Dimock resident Ray Kemble and his former lawyers in 2017, claiming they tried to extort the company through a frivolous federal lawsuit that recycled already-settled claims of environmental contamination. Cabot also claims Kemble violated a 2012 settlement agreement by repeatedly “spouting lies” about the company in public. In court papers filed this month, Cabot said Kemble had skipped two depositions in the case, and asked a judge to hold him in contempt and put him behind bars until he meets with the company’s lawyers. Kemble, who has said he has cancer, said he was unable to go the depositions because of his poor health. A hearing is scheduled for Monday. Kemble, who has traveled the country speaking about his experiences with the gas industry, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. But an environmental group that has worked with him for years blasted Cabot’s aggressive posture. “To try to put a man like Ray Kemble in jail speaks volumes about the decency of this industry,” said Scott Edwards, an environmental lawyer at Food & Water Watch. “It’s an outrage.”

Decision Delayed in Cabot's Suit against Man Fighting Natural Gas Drilling ...-- There will be no jail time--at least not yet--for a man being sued for being critical of a natural gas driller in Susquehanna County. It's the latest chapter in the court battle between Cabot Oil & Gas and Ray Kemble. Kemble left the Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose using a walker on Monday. The man from Dimock is facing a lawsuit from the largest natural gas company in the county -- Cabot Oil & Gas. "Well, I've fired my lawyer. I'm done with him, so he's done. He's gone. We're going to get new counsel," Kemble said.  That buys Kemble more than a month before he's agreed to a deposition with Cabot's attorneys. The Texas-based company had asked the judge to jail Kemble because he missed two previous deposition dates. "We want to have him deposed, very simply. He's quick to tell everybody else his plight. We want him to tell that plight through a deposition. You can't avoid these things, can't not show up," said George Stark of Cabot Oil & Gas. This court battle between Cabot and Kemble has been going on for quite some time now. This decision by a judge in Susquehanna County means Ray Kemble has until late March to get another attorney and then have to answer questions for attorneys in this lawsuit. Kemble originally sued Cabot, claiming the company contaminated his and others' drinking water in Dimock. Then the two parties settled. Now, Cabot is countersuing and claims Kemble is a paid activist and is in violation of the settlement agreement. "We're talking about Ray Kemble? We're talking about those folks, those type of actors. They're getting paid, getting employed," said Stark

Ban fracking waste anywhere in New Jersey: Romero - Gov, Phil Murphy’s call for a ban on fracking and the dumping of fracking waste in the Delaware River basin is a bold move to protect a clean drinking water source for millions. But if this toxic drilling waste is a danger to the Delaware, it’s a danger everywhere else. That’s why fracking waste should be banned across the Garden State. A waste ban bill passed the state Senate in November, but it remains stymied in the Assembly. It’s time for Speaker Craig Coughlin to bring this measure up for a vote. Her Millions of gallons of fluid mixture (water, sand and chemicals) are pumped underground per well. The chemical waste that flows up to the surface can combine with naturally occurring contaminants underground such as benzene, arsenic and lead. Oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania generate hundreds of millions of gallons of this leftover toxic slurry, and it has to go somewhere. And the petrochemical industry may have their sights set on New Jersey. This drilling waste creates an array of problems, from earthquakes linked to underground waste storage to the direct threat to waterways from waste spilled from trucks hauling it to treatment facilities. A recent study from Pennsylvania found evidence of chemical contamination in the shells of freshwater mussels even years after the industry had stopped dumping waste in nearby waterways. And the dangers that fracking waste pose to clean water and public health are likely more serious than we think. Fracking companies are allowed to keep the chemicals they pump into the ground a secret, which means that the toxic stew left over from drilling can wind up at conventional treatment facilities that are not equipped to treat radioactive material and other fracking-linked contaminants. This dirty business could be on its way to our state. A law passed last summer would make it easier for the Chemours/DuPont Chamber Works facility in Salem County to get permits to accept outside hazardous waste. This same facility received more than 1 million gallons of fracking wastewater between 2009 and 2010, discharging the treated water into the Delaware River. Other facilities that have accepted drilling waste in the past.

Bill to ban oil and gas drilling in New York’s coastal areas passes State Legislature -- State lawmakers today passed legislation to prohibit oil and natural gas drilling in New York’s coastal areas. The measure would prohibit the use of state-owned underwater coastal lands for oil and natural gas drilling and would prevent the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of General Services from authorizing leases that would increase oil or natural gas production from federal waters. It would also prohibit the development of infrastructure associated with exploration, development or production of oil or natural gas from New York’s coastal waters. Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, sponsored the bill in that chamber. “My colleagues and I held a hearing on Long Island last year and there was unanimous condemnation of the federal government’s proposal to open up our waters to drilling for oil and gas,” Englebright said. In 2017, President Donald Trump issued an “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” as the first step toward opening previously protected parts of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas exploration. Drilling off New York’s Atlantic Coast has been off limits for decades, and as a result some of the state’s laws regulating oil and natural gas drilling have not kept pace,

14,400+ call on Cuomo to Stop the Williams Fracked Gas Pipeline  -  - Today, dozens of members of the Stop the Williams Pipeline NY Coalition gathered in Albany for a press conference before delivering more than 14,400 petition signatures calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo walk the talk on climate action and stop the Williams fracked gas pipeline.  “Stopping the Williams fracked gas pipeline is Governor Cuomo’s first major test of his commitment to a Green New Deal for New York,” said Laura Shindell of Food & Water Watch, an activist with the Stop Williams Pipeline NY Coalition. “That’s why we’re in Albany today, representing the thousands of people who've signed the petition to stop this pipeline.”This comes as reports reveal the Trump administration is considering taking action to limit states’ power to block dangerous fossil fuel projects, such as the Williams NESE fracked gas pipeline. The pipeline would be part of a Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project attempting to transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania across New Jersey into New York City.“There’s no demand for this fracked gas. What we need is a just transition to 100% renewable energy. As Trump and fossil fuel cronies prop up big oil and gas interests ahead of public interest, real action on the climate crisis needs come from places like New York,” said Cata Romo of 350.org and the Stop the Williams Pipeline NY Coa lition. “After banning fracking, Cuomo needs to stop fracked gas projects like the Williams pipeline from wreaking havoc on our communities. There’s absolutely no room for fossil fuels in a Green New Deal.”

Federal court vacates NYSDEC’s pipeline certificate denial - A federal appeals court vacated the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (NYSDEP) denial of a water-quality certificate to the proposed Northern Access natural gas pipeline project on Feb. 5. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit remanded the matter back to the state agency with instructions to more clearly articulate its basis for denial.  Sponsors National Fuel Gas Co. and Empire Pipeline Inc. applied for a NYSDEC certification under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act on Mar. 2, 2016. The agency denied the application on Apr. 7, 2017 after the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the project a certificate of public convenience and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection issued it a state water quality certification. The sponsors sued in federal court to overturn the New York agency’s action. FERC later ruled that NYSDEC waived its authority to deny the permit because it did not act within a year of receiving the interstate natural gas pipeline sponsors’ application for it (OGJ Online, Aug. 7, 2017). “Today's court decision continues the momentum for this project,” a National Fuel Gas spokeswoman said on Feb. 5. “As FERC stated in its Aug. 6 order, [NYSDEC] waived the ability to issue or deny a Clean Water Act Section 401 permit for the Northern Access project.  The Second Circuit also has now made it clear that New York's denial of the permit application failed to provide factual justification for their decision.”

National Grid presses state for new gas pipeline -- National Grid may be forced to declare a moratorium on supplying natural gas to big new projects such as the Belmont Park redevelopment if the company’s plans for a $1 billion gas pipeline don’t receive a needed state permit by May 15, a top company official said. Growing demand, including record gas sales this month, and plans to supply gas for several big development projects necessitate the pipeline, which would provide up to 400 million cubic feet a day of new gas to the region, National Grid New York president John Bruckner said. The plan awaits a critical water quality permit from New York State. But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration last year rejected the application and has hesitated to approve new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. National Grid is seeking state approval for a 24-mile gas pipeline, which includes about 18 miles under New York Bay and connects with existing infrastructure at sea beyond the Rockaways. Bruckner addressed his concerns about adequate supply for the region and the need for the project at a meeting with the Long Island Association on Friday morning. The LIA, a business lobbying group, supports the planned gas line, called the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project.

Columbia Gas Fined $75000 For 2016 Pipeline Pressure Spike Only After Recent Explosions - Two years before homes exploded in the Merrimack Valley, the pressure in Columbia Gas pipes rose dangerously high — a violation of federal safety regulations that only recently led to a $75,000 fine and orders from state regulators for the utility to clean up its act. The Department of Public Utilities issued five violations linked to the incident and levied the previously unreported fine on Columbia Gas two months after the September explosions that killed one person, injured dozens of others and left hundreds without gas in their homes for months. The incident that led to the DPU's reprimand happened in February 2016 in Taunton. The pressure in Columbia Gas’ pipes hit alarming levels for almost a half hour, records show, violating federal pipeline safety regulations for failing to protect against accidental overpressurization or properly maintain its equipment. Gas companies are required to tell DPU when pressure in the pipes gets too high. WBUR discovered through public records Columbia Gas has a history of problems with overpressurization. The utility reported five separate incidents over a six-year period — from 2011 to 2016 — when pipeline pressure climbed beyond what’s considered safe. Any pressure that reaches over 10 percent of what the pipe is designed to handle is a violation of federal regulations. And years earlier, in 1999, Columbia Gas faced reprimands from DPU over pipeline safety standards. Pipeline experts say allowing the pressure to get that high even once is a cause for concern. Richard Kuprewicz was in the pipeline business for 40 years and now works as a consultant. He testified at the congressional hearing in Lawrence on the disaster. He's stunned by Columbia Gas’ track record. “Well you can quote me on this but, are you crazy? You just don't do that,” he said. “That would suggest a systemic issue within the company. … Exceeding 10 percent where it is required — even by a few percent — says a lot about the approach to prevent overpressure within a company culture.” During Columbia Gas’ most significant incident — the one that was the source of the fine — the pressure surged for 27 minutes after an equipment failure. Documents provided by Columbia Gas show the pressure reached more than 15 percent above what it was designed to handle. DPU didn’t explain why there was a two-year lag between the 27-minute spike in pressure and the fine over the incident.

Protesters block access where Vermont Gas line would go - Bearing banners and singing songs, several dozen protesters blocked an expected appraisal Thursday at Monkton resident Claire Broughton’s property, where Vermont Gas Systems is seeking to lay a natural gas pipeline over her objections.  The protesters waited in a cold wind for about an hour before hearing via Broughton’s lawyer that state officials had called off the visit. He said officials deemed the situation too “menacing.” Protesters say they plan to ramp up activities as the pipeline moves forward, now that a recent Public Service Board ruling in its favor has cleared the way. Vermont Gas has built 11 miles of the 41-mile project already, traversing the distance from Colchester to Williston. When complete it will extend to Middlebury. The company says it has reached voluntary agreements with nearly everyone else whose property is in the path of the pipeline. An eminent domain hearing by the Public Service Board involving Broughton’s property was to be held in late December but was rescheduled after protesters became disruptive. Broughton’s attorney, Jim Dumont, said she welcomes the appraisal but opposes the eminent domain proceeding.  “The protests going on outside are on a public road, and as far as Claire is concerned, these folks have a First Amendment right to their opinions, and that’s what they’re doing,” Dumont said Thursday. The protesters indicated they were focused on both Broughton’s situation and the wider threat from burning natural gas. “We believe climate warming is real, it’s human-caused, and it’s really a danger for the future of the world and the people on it, so saving the world is what it’s about,”  The protests will continue, organizers say.  “People are really mad, and it’s really easy to empathize with Claire in there,” said Alex Prolman, of Rising Tide Vermont, one of the groups involved in the protest. “There are opportunities to keep helping our neighbors and our friends during this process, and it’s not a difficult ask for a lot of people. They heard there was an eminent domain procedure happening, and they said, ‘When? Where? I’ll be there.’”

Senate panel gets look at bill that would ban new oil and gas pipelines - If Democratic and Progressive lawmakers have their way, Vermont could become the first state to ban new oil and natural gas pipelines.Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, gave the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee Tuesday a run-through of S.66, a bill that would prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure. “We feel fairly strongly that investing further in the infrastructure at this point in time … would be imprudent given that we hope, as Vermonters addressing climate change — one of the greatest challenges of our time — that we will move to more energy efficient and renewable sources,” she said to the five senators on the committee.The prohibition would not apply to gas stations, fuel trucks or repairs to existing pipelines, said Clarkson.The proposal comes as part of a spate of proposals from environmental advocates to address the state’s rising greenhouse gas emissions. Heating contributes just shy of 28 percent of total emissions, with heating oil and propane accounting for 75 percent of those emissions, natural gas contributing 22 percent and wood heat contributing 3 percent. Portland, Oregon, and King County, Washington have recently enacted similar bans.The bill does not single out natural gas pipelines, but Julie Macuga of 350Vermont — a climate change advocacy group that has been pushing for this ban — said she was not aware of any other major fossil fuel infrastructure being planned in Vermont.  Environmentalists and Vermont Gas, the state’s lone natural gas utility, have squared off in recent years over the company’s plans to build a 41-mile pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury. Although the Addison County pipeline was completed in 2017, the project has been mired in an ongoing state investigation into its construction methods. Nearby residents and the state’s Department of Public Service asked Vermont’s utility regulator to look into concerns including pipeline depth and whether a professional engineer had signed off on the construction plans.

Appalachia's approaching energy boom - — Economic “game changer” is not a phrase often used in Appalachia and rarely a phrase proclaimed in unison by politicians from both parties at the same time on any subject. Yet since 2016, when Shell Chemical announced it was building a $6 billion ethane cracker plant here, an economic revolution began that is far from reaching its potential. The cracker plant in Beaver County is all about a molecular “cracking,” in which extreme heat “cracks” ethane molecules to form new ones that will eventually produce more than a million metric tons of polyethylene, a type of plastic used in all kinds of common household products. The gas found here in the Appalachian region of Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, and West Virginia is low cost and “wet,” meaning it carries highly valued natural gas liquids, or NGLs. When separated and refined, it can become different fuels, such as fertilizer or propane. The project has already created 1,000 new jobs and is expected to top out at 6,000 during the construction and preparation phases over the next decade before the plant is fully operational. The plant itself is expected to employ more than 600 people permanently, a mix of labor, engineers, and chemists, with Shell analysts predicting it will provide work for two to three times that number in its supply chain. In his annual report to Congress late last year, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry recommended that a new ethane storage and distribution hub be built somewhere near this plant, something that could potentially renew prosperity in the tri-state region of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. The DOE’s recommendation was a response to a congressional inquiry about the feasibility of establishing an additional large ethane storage and distribution hub for NGLs somewhere in the United States.  The Appalachian ethane hub would be similar to others run by private industries in Kansas, the Gulf Coast, and the Permian Basin. Perry argues that creating one in the middle of the country, surrounded by the region’s rich natural resources, would increase America’s global market share and solve long-term national security concerns about the impact of a major natural disaster by placing production at different locations around the country.

 Petrochemical pros, cons: ‘Invasion’ forum counters pluses of industry in region - The 42-mile drive from Washington to Potter Township represents the proverbial scenic route as it winds through rural and wooded areas north into Beaver County. Eventually, the relative tranquility gives way to the panorama of a massive construction project: the Shell Chemical Appalachia Petrochemical Complex, taking shape on a 340-tract along the Ohio River and representing a $6 billion investment by one of giants of the oil and gas industry, Royal Dutch Shell.  The purpose of the plant is to break up molecules of ethane – a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – into smaller molecules as a step in the creation of plastics. By industry parlance, the process involves molecules being “cracked,” hence the common reference to cracker plants. Those in favor cite job creation as a major plus: some 6,000 workers during construction and 600 full-time employees when the plant goes into operation in the early 2020s. Further employment opportunities could arise with the development of a regional pipeline system connecting natural gas suppliers with the Shell complex and other similar plants, if built. And according to Marcellus Drilling News, Asian companies PTT Global Chemical and Daelim Industrial Co. have been exploring the possibility of building a cracker plant in Belmont County, Ohio, also along the Ohio River. “Natural gas is the biggest game changer, and everybody in the tri-state should collaborate on this,” Robbie Matesic, executive director of the Greene County Department of Economic Development, said, “We need to be as responsive as we can, as collaborative as we can, as fast as we can and as fearless as we can,” she said. “This is a global market we’re in now.” Then there’s the flipside. “The Petrochemical Invasion of Western PA: Its Environmental Consequences and What Can Be Done About It” served as the theme for a recent forum at Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills in Mt. Lebanon, with a variety of panelists expressing reasons to oppose the prevalence of fossil-fuel-related industries in the region.  “We still have a serious air-quality problem in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and adding to our airshed burden will only make things worse,” he told the forum’s audience. “We consistently get failing grades from the American Lung Association: three F’s several years in a row, the only place outside of California with that distinction.”

Mary Wildfire: One problem with petro storage hub everyone is missing -- Area newspapers are full of editorials and op-eds lauding the proposed petrochemical storage hub as the salvation of the Ohio Valley. Others discuss the downside: the risks of air and water pollution, the degradation of a quiet, rural landscape into an industrial zone, and the increase in drilling and fracking it would spur, with all the associated harms in the nearby gasfields of the Marcellus and Utica shales. Health threats are also mentioned, as is climate change. But I see another risk nobody seems to be talking about. If proponents have their way, scores of billions of dollars will be sunk into this complex of storage caverns, crackers and plastic plants, plus the pipelines to connect all the components. What if the complex doesn’t operate long? We will be left with an enormous, ugly mess lining the Ohio River, and likely no money and other resources left either to clean it up or to build something more practical. I see two possible reasons why this might happen. One is the possibility that the resource is not nearly as extensive as claimed. David Hughes, a Canadian geologist, produced a report a few years ago called “Drilling Deeper” in which he examined the data, well by well, for shale oil and gas in the U.S. He found that estimations by the U.S. Energy Information Administration are highly optimistic in essentially all cases; the word he used for the Marcellus was “extremely” optimistic. The report notes that drillers here, in an effort to become profitable, are concentrating on “sweet spots” — when those are exhausted, they will have to turn to less promising sections. Aren’t they profitable now? Not according to a series by DeSmog Blog, which suggests that most of the gas companies are struggling to pay creditors. The other threat to the long-term viability of the petro complex is that it will ultimately be blocked or shut down by environmental concerns — either local ones such as those mentioned above, or the global ones of climate change and plastic pollution. Key to the complex, after all, is the production of plastic. Meanwhile, renewable energy and batteries keep getting cheaper. So between the possibility of economics causing a decline of the natural gas liquids source, and people being unwilling to accept the “externalities,” an enormously expensive petrochemical complex could become a stranded asset.

Columbia Gas' Mountaineer XPress seeking to start up more facilities in West Virginia — TransCanada's Columbia Gas Transmission asked US regulators on Thursday for approval to begin service on additional segments of its Mountaineer XPress pipeline that will allow the operator to provide another approximately 250 MMcf/d of firm capacity. The 2.7 Bcf/d natural gas pipeline in West Virginia is part of a wave of new infrastructure designed to boost the flow of shale supplies from the Appalachian Basin in the US Northeast to downstream markets. The latest request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission covers more than 20 miles of 36-inch pipeline in Marshall and Wetzel counties and related equipment. It follows previous approvals in October, November and January for other portions of the project, which encompasses about 165 miles of greenfield pipe in West Virginia along with three compressor stations, upgrades to three existing compressor stations and construction of smaller pipeline segment. "Columbia anticipates mechanical completion of the facilities that are the subject of this request as early as February 11," the operator's in-service request states. If approved, Columbia Gas will be able to provide additional firm contracted service to THQ Marketing as an anchor shipper on Mountaineer XPress, the request states. Columbia Gas is seeking approval by February 12. The project is designed to transport growing production from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays to Columbia's TCO Pool and farther south to pooling points on Columbia Gulf Transmission. Along with Columbia Gulf's 860 MMcf/d Gulf XPress project, the expansion is projected to provide incremental capacity between the US Northeast and the Gulf Coast. The company previously hoped to have the Mountaineer XPress in full service in late 2018. But it has faced some challenges, in part due to trouble with erosion controls and land slips that added to the need for restoration. On its Columbia Gas system, TransCanada started up in the fall its 1.3 Bcf/d WB XPress pipeline, which is aimed at expanding WB mainline capacity and, among other things, will help feed Appalachian Basin production to Dominion Energy 's Cove Point LNG export terminal in Maryland.

Oil and Gas Abandoned Well Plugging Fund --This week we saw some bills related to conventional oil wells, HB 2673 – Creating the Oil and Gas Abandoned Well Plugging Fund. The bill will cut the oil severance tax on applicable wells (producing less than 60,000 cu. Ft. per day) from 5% to 0% but introduce a rate of 2.5% that goes to the newly created Oil and Gas Abandoned Well Plugging Fund. The bill passed House Energy and is on its way to House Finance. While this bill does add to moneys to plug current wells, it does not address the growing issue of more abandoned and orphaned wells. Dave McMahon of West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization (SORO) is working on legislation to address the 4500 current orphaned wells, and the predicted 10,000 additional orphaned wells over the next few decades. Proposed legislation will require “plugging assurance” in the form of a bond or escrow for each well rather than a blanketed performance bond. We want this assurance on new wells, wells transferred between drillers, and wells that are no longer producing in paying quantities. We expect the industry to agree to some bills that will provide money to plug a few of the orphaned wells!

Appeals court allows quick-take of land for Mountain Valley Pipeline - An appeals court has upheld the “take first, pay later” approach to building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, in which the company condemned private property in the project’s path before paying opposing landowners for their losses. The ruling Tuesday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a blow to pipeline foes, who have long decried the use of eminent domain to take parts of family farms and rural homeplaces to make way for a 303-mile natural gas pipeline. In their appeal, the landowners did not contest the laws that allowed Mountain Valley to obtain forced easements through nearly 300 parcels in Southwest Virginia. But they challenged a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon, who granted Mountain Valley immediate possession of the disputed land before deciding how much each property owner should be compensated. Dillon’s decision was instrumental in allowing the company to move forward with tree-cutting in February 2018. At the time, Mountain Valley officials testified that they needed to start timbering as soon as possible to keep the project on schedule and to meet a March 31 deadline for the felling of trees before they became the warm-weather habitats of protected species of bats. The company would have suffered serious financial harm if it was forced to wait to begin tree-cutting until mid-November, after the bats had gone back into hibernation, Dillon ruled in allowing Mountain Valley to take first and pay later. Two other federal judges, who preside over districts in West Virginia through which the pipeline will pass, made similar calls. All three of the decisions were consolidated into one case, with a three-judge panel ruling unanimously in Mountain Valley’s favor.

Fire at pipeline construction site under arson investigation (AP) - Authorities say heavy equipment has been set on fire at a Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site in Virginia. News outlets cite a statement from the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office as saying that a caller reported a vehicle on fire Saturday night in the Smith Mountain community. No one was injured. The statement says officers at the scene discovered the vehicle was a piece of earth-moving equipment located on the site of the pipeline construction right of way. There was about $500,000 in damage to the Caterpillar PL87 pipe layer. No other equipment was damaged by the fire. The sheriff's office says fire marshals have concluded that the blaze was intentionally set and are investigating it as arson. The 300-mile (480-kilometer) natural gas pipeline is also being built in West Virginia. 

Dominion delays U.S. Atlantic Coast natgas pipe, boosts costs (Reuters) - Dominion Energy Inc said on Friday the estimated cost of its Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina has risen to $7.0 billion-$7.5 billion, adding that it has delayed the expected completion date to early 2021. The company said previously the project would cost an estimated $6.5 billion-$7.0 billion, excluding financing, and be completed in mid 2020 due to delays caused by numerous environmental lawsuits. “We remain highly confident in the successful and timely resolution of all outstanding permit issues as well as the ultimate completion of the entire project,” Dominion Chief Executive Thomas Farrell said in the company’s fourth-quarter earnings release. He noted the company was “actively pursuing multiple paths to resolve all outstanding permit issues including judicial, legislative and administrative avenues.” Earlier this week, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a previous court decision against U.S. Forest Service permits that allowed Dominion to build the Atlantic Coast pipeline across national forests and the Appalachian Trail. Dominion said it expects construction could recommence on the full 600-mile (966-kilometer) pipeline route during the third quarter of 2019, with partial in-service in late 2020. When the company started work on Atlantic Coast in the spring of 2018, Dominion said it expected the project would cost an estimated $6.0 billion-$6.5 billion and be completed in late 2019.

Bill to restrict Dominion pipeline costs — Legislation that could pose a serious threat to the bottom line of Dominion Energy's planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline continues to advance in the Virginia General Assembly. The bill passed a key House committee Thursday with bipartisan support despite heavy lobbying by Dominion. The legislation would add new restrictions on Dominion's ability to pass along costs of transporting gas from the ACP to its Virginia-based power stations. That could reduce the potential revenues of a project whose costs have already ballooned in the face of fierce opposition from environmentalists and land owners. Dominion said the legislation is unneeded and regulators can already protect customers from unreasonable costs. The energy company is among the most powerful forces at the General Assembly and rarely sees legislation it dislikes become law. 

Union Hill residents see link between racist Northam photo, pipeline decisions -- Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook photo speaks to a broader trend of racism and environmental injustice, members of the Union Hill community in Buckingham County said at a press conference Saturday. Held at the offices of Appalachian Voices in downtown Charlottesville, the press conference featured four members of the Union Hill community who sat quietly around a wooden table, reflecting on their efforts to combat environmental racism and Northam’s connection to it. Union Hill, a historically black neighborhood born out of the freedmen period, is the proposed site of Dominion Energy’s natural-gas compressor station, which would serve the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. For four years, residents of Union Hill have been drawing attention to environmental racism and the dangers a compressor station could cause for the community. “We still have to remember that this is a Southern state and there are Southern values that are very deep-rooted,” said Paul Wilson, pastor of Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church and leader of the movement to stop the compressor station. Northam’s medical school yearbook spread, which features a photo of a man in blackface and another dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe, is certainly shocking, said Wilson, but not to those who have been following Northam’s record. “When these things flare up, it’s hard to just move away from it because you have to look at the individual’s record,” Wilson said. “It really makes you wonder when you look over his record and his life how much of that kind of thinking was reflected in the decisions that he made.” Though he said he would not be the first to cast a stone, Wilson said it may be best for the commonwealth if Northam resigned. .

Public use and private profit: US landowners question forced purchases (Reuters - The Jones farm in Giles County, Virginia, has been in the family for 250 years. But a natural gas pipeline could soon cut a corridor through the property, despite the family’s attempts to thwart it. A pipeline company was able to take a strip of the Jones’ land with government deployment of a legal tool known as eminent domain, a constitutional mechanism reserved for use in the public good. The tool received public attention last month when President Donald Trump threatened to use “the military version of eminent domain” to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Meanwhile, the use of eminent domain for private projects that are said to fulfill some public good remains relatively new, but legal experts say it has resulted in a spate of legal battles such as the Joneses’. “Dad does not want to sell his family land at any price for any reason,” Donald Wayne Jones, the son of property owner George Lee Jones, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “He understands that eminent domain can sometimes be used to provide for the common good of the public.” “But he doesn’t understand how a profit-seeking, out-of-state company can be handed this privilege of taking privately owned land from U.S. citizens — an action he feels will only obtain profit for a private company and its shareholders.” The U.S. Constitution allows governments at all levels to take private property for “public use”, and eminent domain was a key mechanism to build, for instance, the railroad networks that crisscross the country.  A 2005 Supreme Court decision, however, opened up a more complex legal area: the government’s ability to take private land and give it to another private entity, such as a corporation.

Bernstein analysts say Mountain Valley, Atlantic Coast pipeline projects may not get finished - Even with 10 Bcf/d of new pipeline capacity added in the past 15 months, Appalachia’s pipeline buildout may be finished, putting the completion of late comers such as the EQM Midstream Partners LP-led Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC project and the Dominion Energy Inc.-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC project in doubt, analysts at the investment management company Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. LLC told clients Jan. 24.“We had anticipated that building through [North Carolina and Virginia] would be difficult,” Bernstein’s midstream analyst Jean Ann Salisbury said in a research note. “The perfect combo of no major recent new pipelines and no state upstream benefit usually leads to problems —just ask [Williams Cos. Inc.’s Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC].” The costs of the 2-Bcf/d Mountain Valley pipeline and the 1.5-Bcf/d Atlantic Coast pipeline have grown to $4.6 billion and $7 billion, respectively, Bernstein said. These increases may force the operators to charge too high a tariff and make them uncompetitive, according to the firm. “This translates to $1.30-$2.60/MMBtu, almost certainly more than the cost differential to source from another basin,” Bernstein said. “To us this suggests that we are nearing the end of the buildout period, and even that possibly only one of these projects will ultimately get done.” Bernstein said that while producers in the dry gas portion of the Marcellus and Utica shales in northeast Pennsylvania will begin to bump up against a cap on takeaway capacity sometime this year, producers in the southwest portions of Appalachia have lots of running room. With capacity currently available out of both Appalachian regions, producers can look forward to better price realizations, Bernstein said, which is good for companies such as Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Range Resources Corp. and Southwestern Energy Co. However, Bernstein said, there is a danger that the more Marcellus gas is on the national market, the further national prices will fall.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline delayed amid $2 billion - $3 billion price increase -  The completion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been delayed amid a projected cost increase to more than $7 billion, about $2 billion to $3 billion more than initial projections. In a separate development, two research organizations released a report questioning the viability of the project. The report released Jan. 29 by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Oil Change International said lower consumer demand for natural gas and the availability of affordable renewable options were casting doubt on the overall feasibility and potential profitability of the pipeline.The pipeline project has been delayed until late next year with the pipeline not expected to be in full service until 2021, according to a statement released Friday by the company working on the pipeline. Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, which was formed by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Southern Company Gas, is building the pipeline.The 600-mile pipeline is expected to run from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina, where it would end near Pembroke. The proposed route of the 36-inch pipeline runs through the northwest corner of Sampson County and near Godwin, Wade, Eastover, Cedar Creek and Gray’s Creek in Cumberland County, and St. Pauls in Robeson County.

Exaggerated Claims for ACP Pipeline Called Into Question  - Rebecca McPhail of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, (DP-Jan.17) makes so many false and deceptive claims about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), manufacturing in West Virginia and environmentalists, it is hard to know what to correct first.She claims West Virginia “is sitting on a gold mine of energy and economic prosperity,” but environmental activists threaten this prosperity by blocking “construction of the ACP.” She goes on to claim these activists threaten manufacturing jobs in West Virginia and that 4,500 construction jobs will be lost, if the pipeline is not completed.First, the ACP was not designed to support manufacturers in West Virginia; it was designed to move Marcellus shale gas out of West Virginia to supply already saturated markets on the Atlantic seaboard and for export. In fact, the Obama administration granted Dominion Energy, one of ACP’s stakeholders, the right to export natural gas to markets such as Japan and India in 2013.Second, McPhail’s claims about construction jobs are clearly inflated and misleading. ACP provided these numbers, and they are based on a cumulative jobs methodology that counts construction jobs as the average yearly workforce multiplied by the number of project years, in this case six, to complete the work. So, the real number is closer to 750 jobs. Many of these jobs would go to outof-state workers, and in fact the major pipeline construction companies hired by ACP are from Texas, Wisconsin and Oregon. Third, there is a broad coalition of concerned West Virginians opposed to the pipeline for legitimate reasons. Many landowners in the path of the pipeline contest ACP’s use of eminent domain for private gain, as it takes land from its rightful owners for so-called “public infrastructure.” It is clear that the ACP and its supporters make false and deceptive claims to distract from the true cost of pipeline development. Let’s do an honest and impartial assessment of those costs.

Prices Fall Despite Bitter Cold As Temperatures Are Forecasted To Rise - Highlights of the Natural Gas Summary and Outlook for the week ending February 1, 2019 follow. The full report is available at the link below.

  • Price Action: The now prompt March contract fell 33.8 cents (11.0%) to $2.734 on a 19.39 cent range ($2.923/$2.730).
  • Price Outlook: Although temperatures were bitter cold across portions of the country, temperatures in the south were not extreme and the bitter cold abated at the end of the week with temperatures projected to rise well above normal next week. While winter is not over yet, there is little possibility of any real storage issue and price increases will likely be muted for the remainder of the winter.  CFTC data indicated a (28,399) contract reduction in the managed money net long position as longs liquidated and shorts added. Total open interest fell (11,501) to 3.681 million as of December 25. Aggregated CME futures open interest rose to 1.365 million as of February 01. The current weather forecast is now warmer than 4 of the last 10 years. Pipeline data indicates total flows to Cheniere’s Sabine Pass export facility were at 3.2 bcf. Cove Point is net exporting 0.8 bcf. Corpus Christi is exporting 0.050 bcf. Cameron is exporting 0.000 bcf.
  • Weekly Storage: US working gas storage for the week ending January 25 indicated a withdrawal of (173) bcf. Working gas inventories fell to 2,197 bcf. Current inventories rise 0 bcf (0.0%) above last year and fall (347) bcf (-13.6%) below the 5-year average.
  • Supply Trends: Total supply fell (0.2)bcf/d to 83.6 bcf/d. US production fell. Canadian imports fell. LNG imports rose. LNG exports fell. Mexican exports rose. The US Baker Hughes rig count fell (14). Oil activity decreased (15). Natural gas activity increased +1. The total US rig count now stands at 1,045 .The Canadian rig count rose +11 to 243. Thus, the total North American rig count fell (3) to 1,288 and now exceeds last year by +0. The higher efficiency US horizontal rig count fell (7) to 925 and rises +117 above last year.
  • Demand Trends: Total demand rose +4.5 bcf/d to +110.9 bcf/d. Power demand rose. Industrial demand rose. Res/Comm demand rose. Electricity demand rose +4,062 gigawatt-hrs to 83,273 which exceeds last year by +7,339 (9.7%) and exceeds the 5-year average by 4,977 (6.4%%).
  • Nuclear Generation: Nuclear generation rose 138 MW in the reference week to 94,854 MW. This is (1,250) MW lower than last year and +752 MW higher than the 5-year average. Recent output was at 93,615 MW.

The heating season has begun. With a forecast through February 15 the 2018/19 total cooling index is at (2,135) compared to (1,909) for 2017/18, (1,739) for 2016/17, (1,761) for 2015/16, (2,053) for 2014/15, (2,332) for 2013/14, (1,990) for 2012/13 and (1,968) for 2011/12.

Natural Gas Still Can't Find A Floor -The March natural gas contract continued its march lower today, settling down almost 3% as weather forecasts warmed and cash prices were even weaker today.  It was the fourth straight trading session where the March natural gas contract settled lower and the fifth in the last six sessions. Weak cash prices definitely played a role in this move lower.  Lingering concerns following a very loose EIA print last week did too.  As we noted in our Morning Update, forecasts warmed decently from Friday afternoon, with much of the warming actually coming overnight last night after only a very small gap down last evening.  Climate Prediction Center forecasts this afternoon again showed cold risks struggling to roll forward, with key regions in the South and Southeast likely staying warmer through Week 2.  This selling comes as traders shake off what should be a very large storage withdrawal to be announced by the EIA on Thursday. Severe cold swept through the Midwest pulling GWDDs significantly above average for the week.  We broke down our expectations for the draw in our Natural Gas Weekly Update today, which outlines all fundamental aspects of the natural gas market. In it we also looked at the current state of each individual storage region relative to the 5-year average.

Weather Models Keep Gas Bouncing Around - The March natural gas contract had a range of almost 7 cents today yet settled only two ticks higher as prices rallied then sold off on disagreeing weather models.  The March contract was actually the weakest on the day, as later contracts exhibited more strength and warmer early afternoon weather models took their toll at the front of the futures strip the most.  The result was a move lower in the J/V April/October spread even as prices rose.  Prices initially rallied this morning in line with our expectations, as we warned clients in our Morning Update that modest overnight GWDD additions would allow prices to bounce.  However, we also warned that weak cash prices could drag down the March contract after any initial bounce, which played out well.  Then after a second bounce the GEFS weather model guidance trended warmer in the long-range, hitting the March contract hardest (image courtesy of Tropical Tidbits).  For clients today we released our weekly Seasonal Trader Report, running through our latest gas expectations through the next few months and providing an updated seasonal forecast. In it we ran through our latest end of draw season storage number as well as other market expectations and what weather-independent modeling showed as well.

Analysts expect largest draw of US natural gas from storage of season — The EIA is expected to report on Thursday the largest natural gas draw from inventories of the season so far, but prices remained subdued across most of the US except for areas in the Pacific storage region where prices spiked on demand. The EIA is expected to report a 249 Bcf withdrawal for the week ended February 1, according to a survey of analysts by S&P Global Platts. Responses to the survey ranged for a draw of 238 Bcf to 260 Bcf.A 249 Bcf draw would be the largest draw of the season and much more than the 116 Bcf withdrawal in the corresponding week last year and the five-year average pull of 150 Bcf. A withdrawal within expectations of 249 Bcf would decrease stocks to 1.948 Tcf. The deficit against the five-year average would expand to 427 Bcf and the deficit against last year would expand to 147 Bcf.The draw looks to be stronger than the 173 Bcf draw reported last week. It shrunk inventories to 2.197 Tcf, which was 0.6% below the year-ago inventory of 2.211 Tcf, and 13% less than the five-year average of 2.525 Tcf.The mild start to the year closed some of the historic deficit to the five-year average, but frigid weather in the Midwest has pushed recent withdrawals well above normal. Incremental gains in Texas and Southeast production were a drop in the bucket compared to the jump in heating demand for the week, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.However, NYMEX Henry Hub March futures remained low at $2.66/MMBtu Wednesday as demand has dropped precipitously for the week in progress. An early forecast for the week ending February 8 calls for a draw of only 70 Bcf, which would be 90 Bcf below the five-year average draw. While inventory in the East, Midwest and South Central regions have edged closer to the five-year average over the past month, EIA data shows the Pacific region standing more than 26% below the five-year average. Higher demand combined with curtailments have strengthened prices in the region.

US natural gas in storage falls by 237 Bcf to 1.96 Tcf: EIA— US natural gas in storage fell by 237 Bcf last week, the largest draw of the season and in history for the corresponding week, but Henry Hub futures hit year-low prices following the release as it was still below market expectations. Only a double-digit draw is forecast for the week in progress. US natural gas in storage decreased 237 Bcf to 1.96 Tcf for the week ended February 1, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday. The withdrawal was below an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 249 Bcf pull. Similar to last week, the draw was outside the range of survey responses. The lowest response expected a 238 Bcf withdrawal. The withdrawal was still much more than the 116 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2018 as well as the five-year average draw of 150 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 135 Bcf, or 6.4%, below the year-ago level of 2.095 Tcf and 415 Bcf, or 17.5%, below the five-year average of 2.375 Tcf. The NYMEX Henry Hub March contract slid 7.7 cents to $2.585/MMBtu following the 10:30 am EST announcement. Demand losses in LNG feedgas and dramatically reduced heating loads weighed on both cash and futures prices this week, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Since last week's report, the March futures contract price has ground lower, with narrow daily trading ranges and consecutive lower settlements. On Wednesday, the March gas futures settlement was 19 cents lower than the February 27 settlement. The Henry Hub cash price, averaging $2.56/MMBtu, has fallen to levels not seen since February last year. While growing LNG exports at the end of the year may lend some support back to Henry Hub prices, the surge of availability and potential start-up of Nordstream II are likely to put EU Gas Prices and LNG prices under further pressure in the second half of the year, according to Platts Analytics. Frigid temperatures in the US upper Midwest have been unable to push Henry Hub back above $3/MMBtu after steady production growth and mild weather helped stocks build over the last month. This was the largest draw of the current heating season and was the largest pull ever reported for the corresponding week. During the polar vortex of 2014, 231 Bcf was drawn during the same week. But a Platts Analytics forecast only expects a draw of 72 Bcf for the week that will end February 8, 88 Bcf below than the five-year average.

EIA's Reported 237 Bcf Draw Delivers TKO to Natural Gas; Widow-Maker Flips Negative - The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a 237 Bcf withdrawal from storage inventories for the week ending Feb. 1. The reported build fell about 10 Bcf shy of market expectations for a week that featured the coldest temperatures of the winter in key demand regions. Nymex natural gas futures prices, which were already about a nickel lower ahead of the report, fell another penny or so as the print hit the screen. By 11 a.m. ET, the March contract was trading 7.7 cents lower at $2.585, and April was trading 6 cents lower at $2.597. The flip in the March/April spread reflects no concerns about a supply crunch, and the smaller-than-expected withdrawal fueled that sentiment. “This came in bearish to market expectations and reflects a market that did not really tighten at all last week, despite severe cold across the Midwest. Modeling indicated bearish risks with the number today, though after a very surprising bearish miss last week, we were looking for an implicit revision,” Bespoke Weather Services chief meteorologist Jacob Meisel said. Instead, the gas market remains quite loose and will struggle to bounce without clear evidence of tightening in daily supply/demand balances and more bullish weather. March gas at under $2.60 “still seems cheap given lingering cold risks and plummeting imports this week, but this is certainly a bearish EIA number that will limit upside at the front of the gas strip moving forward,” Meisel said. Broken down by region, the Midwest reported an 84 Bcf withdrawal, the second largest pull ever for that region. A 79 Bcf draw was reported in the South Central and a 59 Bcf draw was reported in the East. Both the Mountain and Pacific regions reported pulls of less than 10 Bcf, according to EIA. Total working gas in storage as of Feb. 1 stood at 1,960 Bcf, 135 Bcf below last year and 415 Bcf below the five-year average. Ahead of the EIA report, most market participants had called for a withdrawal in the 240-250 Bcf range. Last year, the EIA reported a withdrawal of 116 Bcf for the same week, and the five-year average draw stands at 150 Bcf.

Another Bearish EIA Print Pushes Gas Lower - There was widespread selling of natural gas futures again today as overnight weather model guidance trended solidly warmer and the weekly EIA natural gas storage update yielded a smaller-than-expected storage withdrawal last week. At the end of the day the March contract settled down a bit more than 4%.   Losses were by far most pronounced at the front of the strip yet again, with bearish weather changes and cash prices not particularly strong in the face of cold weather tomorrow and this weekend.  The result was that the March/April H/J spread finally flipped into contango for the first time.  Much of this move was driven by the morning's EIA Natural Gas Weekly Storage Report, when the EIA announced that 237 bcf of gas was withdrawn from storage versus our expectation of 253 bcf.  This was another very loose print that confirmed we have ample production and gas headed into the tail end of winter and the spring shoulder season. Though not as loose as last week's storage number, it provided little reason to rally.  Immediately following the number we sent out our EIA Rapid Release, which outlined that we saw the number as "Moderately Bearish" for natural gas prices moving forward.  Gas prices then continued lower from there, with afternoon model guidance doing little to help stabilize prices (though European ensemble guidance did add several GWDDs). Climate Prediction Center forecasts showed more warm risks Week 2 over yesterday, which we had covered in our Morning Update.  Now traders will be attempting to position ahead of the weekend, as we've been seeing significant weather model changes each of the last few weekends that have whipped prices around.

Are Investors Finally Waking up to North America’s Fracked Gas Crisis? - The fracked gas industry's long borrowing binge may finally be hitting a hard reality: paying back investors.Enabled by rising debt, shale companies have been achieving record fracked oil and gas production, while promising investors a big future payoff. But over a decade into the “fracking miracle,” investors are showing signs they're worried that payoff will never come — and as a result, loans are drying up. Growth is apparently no longer the answer for the U.S. natural gas industry, as Matthew Portillo, director of exploration and production research at the investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., recently told The Wall Street Journal. “Growth is a disease that has plagued the space,” Portillo said. “And it needs to be cured before the [natural gas] sector can garner long-term investor interest.”Hints that gas investors are no longer happy with growth-at-any-cost abound. For starters, several major natural gas producers have announced spending cuts for 2019. After announcing layoffs this January, EQT, the largest natural gas producer in the U.S., also promised to decrease spending by 20 percent in 2019.  Such pledges of newfound fiscal restraint are most likely the result of natural gas producers' inability to borrow more money at low rates.

ExxonMobil says it expects to 'sanction' Golden Pass LNG export project with Qatar Petroleum  — ExxonMobil expects to advance its long-dormant Golden Pass LNG export project with Qatar Petroleum in Texas and will make a formal announcement in the near future, CEO Darren Woods said Friday. The redevelopment and conversion of the Golden Pass receiving terminal would be a significant addition to US Gulf Coast LNG export capacity, as it sits directly across the water from Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass export facility in Cameron Parish Louisiana. US Department of Energy data shows it has not imported any gas since June 2011. At the World Gas Conference in Washington in June, a senior executive said the company was working toward a final investment decision and felt good about the project moving forward. Since then, several North American export projects have announced positive FIDs, expansions of existing facilities or have suggested that they were close to making decisions. During a conference call to discuss fourth-quarter financial results, Woods said ExxonMobil now expects to "sanction" Golden Pass. "We've also been working very closely with QP, our partner in Golden Pass, to advance that investment and look forward to announcing something here in the very near term," Woods said. He did not specify a time frame for the announcement.

Exxon Mobil and Qatar green light $10 billion project to export natural gas from Texas - Exxon Mobil and Qatar Petroleum on Tuesday announced a final decision to finance a $10 billion-plus project to export liquefied natural gas from the Texas Gulf Coast. The decision moves forward the latest export terminal fueling growing shipments of U.S. LNG, or natural gas cooled to liquid form, for overseas travel. The Department of Energy last month forecast that LNG will play a major role in the U.S. exporting more energy than it imports by 2020, a feat the nation has not achieved in nearly 70 years. The plan to export LNG from Exxon's Golden Pass terminal speaks to the renaissance in U.S. energy production. The facility was originally built to import LNG, but the surge in U.S. natural gas production over the last decade means American drillers are now looking overseas for buyers. Exxon says work to retool the terminal near Port Arthur, Texas, along the Louisiana border will begin this quarter. The oil giant expects the facility to start up in 2024 and says it will ultimately be able to produce roughly 16 million tons of LNG each year.Total U.S. LNG exports were 14.3 million tons in 2017 and climbed to 15 million tons through the first three quarters of 2018, according to Reuters. Trade in LNG reached nearly 300 million tons in 2017 and is growing, particularly in Asia, where China is switching from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas to improve air quality. The shipping channel that straddles the Texas-Louisiana border is already home to the Sabine Pass LNG terminal operated by Cheniere, the first mover in the emerging Gulf Coast export hub. Exxon's partner in the Golden Pass project, state energy company Qatar Petroleum, holds a 70 percent stake in the development. Qatar, the world's top LNG producer, recently left the oil producer group OPEC, saying it would focus on expanding its natural gas business. Exxon holds the remaining 30 percent stake in the project, part of its plan to invest $50 billion in U.S. manufacturing facilities over the next five years, with a focus on the Gulf Coast. The company expects the terminal to support 200 permanent jobs and 9,000 positions while it's under construction.

Will anything slow down the U.S. LNG juggernaut? – It is no surprise that U.S. natural gas producers have been seeking relief from domestic prices that have generally hovered between $2 and $4 per thousand cubic feet for most of this decade.Qatar Petroleum and Exxon Mobil Corp announced last week that they would be adding to investment in Texas in liquefied natural gas capacity for export from the United States, a move that was described as a response the immense volumes of gas coming from American shale deposits. With so many LNG projects being built and on the drawing board, will anything slow down the U.S. LNG juggernaut? The fight over U.S. exports of natural gas is long since over. U.S. producers now have the right—like almost all other U.S. producers of commodities or manufactured products—to sell their products to the highest bidder wherever that bidder may be in the world. U.S.-based industrial consumers of natural gas howled a bit when the federal government lifted restrictions on natural gas exports. But since then gas prices have maintained their ground-hugging trajectory.This is in part because gas associated with the production of oil produced from similar shale deposits has continued to flood the U.S. market. But with the price of oil slumping and a reduction in the pace of drilling expected, that associated gas may not be so plentiful. The irony is that falling oil prices may ultimately lead to a spike in U.S. natural gas prices. But if the pure natural gas shale plays are so productive, how can this be? The answer is quite simply that they aren't. And, that is the secret behind the next bull market in U.S. natural gas. It likely won't come as a result of demand for U.S. LNG so much as a surprise shortage of domestic gas.  It turns out that just two of the six big shale gas plays in the United States are not yet past their peak production. It's a puzzle how this translates into abundance in the long run for America. For context, for 2018 through November (the latest month for which statistics are available) total net natural gas exports amounted to 588 billion cubic feet. That's a tiny fraction of the 29.8 trillion cubic feet of U.S. marketed production during the same period. The great American export boom seems to be a ways in the future if it ever materializes. We're still using almost all of what we produce at home.

Overseas Demand Expansions Key To U.S. Ethane Export Growth -- The U.S. started exporting ethane by ship less than three years ago, first out of Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook terminal near Philadelphia and then from Enterprise Products Partners’ Morgan’s Point facility along the Houston Ship Channel. Good news for NGL producers, right? Well yes, sort of. Because while waterborne export volumes rose through 2016, 2017 and the first seven months of last year, they’ve been flat-to-declining ever since, with further ethane-export growth hampered primarily by a lack of international demand. That demand may soon be ratcheting up — mostly in China, but also in Europe — but it won’t happen overnight. Today, we discuss ethane export trends, the Morgan’s Point and Marcus Hook marine facilities, and plans for new ethane export capacity tied directly to new overseas ethane crackers. U.S. NGL production, NGL fractionation, and the market for NGL purity products (ethane, propane, normal butane, isobutane and natural gasoline) have been frequent topics in the RBN blogosphere the past few months. Back in September, in Hotel Fractionation, we discussed how, with the production of mixed NGLs (aka y-grade) soaring, fractionators at the NGL hub in Mont Belvieu, TX — and elsewhere in Texas and in Louisiana — are running at or near capacity, and that a scramble is on to build new fractionation capacity. Then, in Seasons Change (in December), we looked at what caused most purity-product prices to dive in October and November (one factor was the sharp decline in crude oil prices). And, in our four-part series, Between Mont Belvieu and the Deep Blue Sea, we examined rising U.S. exports of propane and normal butane — the two purity products generally referred to as LPG — and the LPG export facilities in place and being planned to handle those rising volumes.

Trump Touts US as Net Energy Exporter -- President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to tout “a revolution in American energy” that has made the U.S. “a net exporter” -- but some of his celebration might be premature. Although the U.S. briefly became a net petroleum exporter during one week last November, government analysts say it will be at least September 2020 before it claims that title on a steady basis, by shipping out more energy than it imports on an annual basis. The nation is already a net exporter of coal and natural gas. Trump’s brief salute to U.S. fossil fuel dominance -- one passing mention in a speech expected that lasted more than hour -- also invoked a milestone that was partially achieved before he won the White House, under former President Barack Obama. "The United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world," he said, provoking steady applause in the U.S. House chamber. The U.S. has been the world’s top natural gas producer since at least 2009, according to the Energy Information Administration. And it surpassed Russia as the world’s largest crude oil producer last year (though the U.S. has led the world when it comes to a wider array of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013). Trump’s decision to hail fossil fuels isn’t unique in this forum. Obama touted natural gas production in his 2012 State of the Union speech, back when many environmentalists welcomed it as a cleaner-burning coal alternative that could be a bridge to a lower-carbon future. But Trump’s fossil push stands in stark contrast to the priorities of many environmentalists today -- as well as a campaign by progressive Democrats to ratchet down U.S. reliance on oil, gas and coal. A draft of the so-called Green New Deal framework developed by Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts calls for drawing 100 percent of U.S. power from “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources.’’ 

'Fracking' ban bills to be heard in House, Senate -- With Gov. Ron DeSantis supporting the idea, proposals to ban the controversial oil- and gas-drilling technique known as “fracking” could start moving in the House and Senate. The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee and the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee are scheduled Wednesday to take up bills (PCB ANRS 19-01 and SB 314) that would prohibit fracking in the state. Florida has long had oil drilling in parts of the Panhandle and Southwest Florida, but the possibility of fracking has led to repeated debates. Critics of the technique contend it could lead to water contamination. Past attempts to ban the practice have died in the Legislature, but DeSantis, who took office Jan. 8, has called for a prohibition. The bills are filed for consideration during the legislative session that starts March 5.

A School Board Says No to Big Oil, and Alarms Sound in Business-Friendly Louisiana — It was a squabble over $2.9 million in property-tax breaks — small change for Exxon Mobil, a company that measures its earnings by the billions. But when the East Baton Rouge Parish school board rejected the energy giant’s rather routine request last month, the “no” vote went off like a bomb in a state where obeisance to the oil, gas and chemical industries is the norm. The local chamber of commerce took out a full-page newspaper ad, warning of a rise of “radicalism.” The head of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry wrote that “the anti-business crowd has had their fun,” but needed to “cool their jets.” And now, somewhat surprisingly, business-friendly Louisiana finds that it is the latest flash point in a roiling, community-by-community debate that pits liberals and local activists against defenders of the lavish tax incentives offered to woo big business. It has been a David vs. Goliath story in the Louisiana capital, where a grass-roots coalition of black and white churches, activists and ordinary citizens have successfully clamored to democratize a system that used to dole out billions in property-tax breaks without giving the local school boards, city councils and other government entities that depend on those taxes any say in the matter. The vote has also revived a vexing, and defining, Louisiana question about the deference a perennially impoverished state must show to big business. “We’ve allowed the oil and gas industry to hijack our democracy,” said Russel L. Honoré, a retired Army lieutenant general who earned acclaim for leading the military response to Hurricane Katrina, and who had urged the East Baton Rouge Parish school board to reject the exemptions. “The industry will brag about it all the time, how well we’re doing in terms of business development. Well, if we’re doing so well, why are we the second-poorest state?”

Armada of tankers with Venezuelan oil forms in U.S. Gulf: sources, data (Reuters) - A flotilla loaded with about 7 million barrels of Venezuelan oil has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, some holding cargoes bought ahead of the latest U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and others whose buyers are weighing who to pay, according to traders, shippers and Refinitiv Eikon data. The Trump administration’s move to impose sanctions last week was meant to undercut support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by targeting the Latin American nation’s oil exports to the United States, the source of most of its foreign revenue. The sanctions aim to block U.S. refiners from paying into PDVSA accounts controlled by Maduro - one reason numerous tankers are waiting in limbo off Venezuela with payments unclear. The United States buys 500,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude per day. U.S. customers of Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA are required by sanctions to deposit payments into escrow accounts that have not yet been set up. The funds will be controlled by Venezuelan congress head Juan Guaido, whom the United States, the European Union and much of Latin America recognize as the country’s leader. Neither the U.S. Treasury Department nor White House responded to requests for comment. There were over a dozen tankers this week anchored in Gulf of Mexico or outside of Venezuelan waters, according to the Refinitiv Eikon data, as shippers await payment and delivery directions from buyers. Traders said some of the cargoes were used as floating storage by buyers who took advantage of PDVSA’s open market sales ahead of sanctions. Others were held by trading firms struggling to find refiners willing to take the oil due to payment difficulties related to sanctions. 

Why tapping America's oil reserve is a bad idea - President Donald Trump's crackdown on Venezuela threatens to create a shortage of heavy crude, which American refineries need to churn out gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. If prices climb in response to the administration's sanctions on Venezuela and its state-run oil company, PDVSA, the Energy Department might try to cushion the blow by releasing crude that's stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). But analysts caution that tapping the SPR won't do much to ease a shortage, especially not in the long run. The problem is that not all crude is created equal. Different regions produce different grades of crude. Some of it, like what comes out of Venezuela, is so thick and heavy that it can't be put into pipelines. Other crude, like what gets pumped in Texas, is a very light and clear like gasoline. The emergency oil reserve contains crude that is mostly lighter than the 500,000 barrels per day that Venezuela had been shipping to the United States. The reserve includes some medium crude, too. The Gulf Coast refineries are not configured to use what's in the rainy-day fund. The crackdown on Venezuela is a fresh reminder that the United States, which has morphed into an energy super power lately, remains reliant on foreign oil. In the late 1990s, US oil production was believed to be in decline. Refiners could no longer count on light, sweet crude from Texas, and other US states, to churn out gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.Refiners went through a transformation that enabled them to take in heavy, sour crudes from overseas.  Flash forward to today, US refineries regularly mix light crude from shale hotspots like the Permian Basin in West Texas with heavy crude from Saudi Arabia, Canada, Mexico, and of course Venezuela.  Refiners can't just turn on a dime when the heavy crude gets sidelined. Some refiners short on heavy crude could take medium barrels from the SPR. However, they would probably not be able to operate at maximum capacity.

EIA: Venezuela Oil Sanctions Unlikely To Significantly Impact U.S. Refiners - The U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA are unlikely to have a significant impact on the refinery runs of the U.S. refiners, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in an analysis this week. U.S. imports of crude oil from Venezuela have been falling in recent years, and U.S. refiners have been replacing heavy crude from Venezuela from heavy crude grades from other sources, the EIA said.Last week, the U.S. imposed sanctions on PDVSA to “help prevent further diverting of Venezuela’s assets by Maduro and preserve these assets for the people of Venezuela,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin said.Those sanctions will essentially eliminate U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil as the full effects of the sanctions emerge, the EIA said, but noted that it doesn’t expect “any significant decrease in U.S. refinery runs as a result of these sanctions.”Imports of crude oil from Venezuela are still a significant portion of the U.S. Gulf Coast imports, but they have been falling in recent years due to the collapsing Venezuelan oil production. Gulf Coast imports of Venezuelan crude oil fell to an average of 498,000 bpd between January and November 2018 from an average of 618,000 bpd in the first 11 months of 2017, the EIA said.Out of the 14 U.S. refineries that imported crude from Venezuela last year—12 of which in the Gulf Coast—imports in January-November declined by 129,000 bpd compared with the same period in 2017. While imports from Venezuela declined, imports from Canada and Mexico to these refineries rose by 113,000 bpd and 48,000 bpd, respectively, from 2017 levels, the EIA has estimated.“Moving forward, refineries may also choose to run lighter crude oils because transportation constraints may limit the availability of heavy crude oils,” according to the EIA.Refiners with large c apacity to process asphalt and road oils, for which Venezuela’s heavy crude is well-suited, may find it harder to procure adequate replacement, but these refiners have also cut imports from Venezuela recently, the EIA noted.  

Activists Call For Smaller-Scale Fracking Transparency - Illinois began regulating high-volume fracking in 2013, but most wells in the state aren’t large enough to fit that definition. Organizers from Illinois People’s Action and Fair Economy Illinois at a press conference Wednesday said low-volume fracking is more common, and can be kept covert. “A horizontal well could go right under your property and you wouldn’t know about it,” said William Rau of People’s Action. “There are no defensive actions you could take like, for example, getting a test on your water well.” Low-volume fracking is governed by the Oil and Gas Act of 1951. According to People’s Action, a confidentiality clause allows fracking companies to pay a few hundred dollars for a permit and then frack in secret for two years. More than 1,000 such permits were filed in 2014, Rau said, with the number dropping to around 250 the following two years. Since high-volume regulation began in 2013, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources issued just one permit, but the company never used it. The groups support legislation requiring the same oversight for all fracking. It would make two sets of information public: where fracking is happening, and what chemicals are being pumped into the ground. Two other pieces of legislation were discussed at the news conference. One would cap the amount large businesses collect from consumer sales tax through the “retailers’ discount.” Another is aimed at ending so-called offshore tax sheltering. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce issued a statement opposing the latter legislation, claiming it “attempts to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.” 

Two Pipelines Shut Down After 43 Barrels of Crude Leak into Missouri Soil - Parts of two pipelines owned by controversial Canadian pipeline companies remained shut down Thursday following the discovery of a leak near St. Louis, Missouri on Wednesday, CBC News reported.Both TransCanada's Keystone pipeline and Enbridge's Platte pipeline run parallel to each other through the area. The Keystone pipeline, which carries 590,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta, has faced opposition from environmental activists in the area because it transports from Alberta's tar sands."[Leaks] are one more reason on top of climate change to show that tar sands are dangerous and should not be running through our state," Missouri Sierra Club Director John Hickey told St. Louis Public Radio. Residents are also worried the poor quality of the pipeline's steel makes leaks more likely, Hickey said.The leak was discovered by a TransCanada technician 7:14 a.m. Wednesday. The technician found crude oil covering some 4,000 square feet around the pipeline in St. Charles County, Missouri. TransCanada said it was not sure how much oil had leaked, but thought it was around 43 barrels. The company said it was not yet possible to tell if the leak came from the Keystone or neighboring Enbridge pipeline. "Until you can excavate and see the top of the pipes, you can't really determine which pipeline the release occurred from," TransCanada Public Information Officer Matthew John told St. Louis Public Radio.

Two pipelines, including Keystone, shut after oil leak in St. Charles County - Two national oil pipelines have at least been partially shut down as a result of leakage discovered Wednesday in St. Charles County, near the Mississippi River. Questions far outnumbered answers nearly 36 hours after the crude oil leak was first reported to authorities, as crews continued to work around the clock to identify which of two pipelines in the area may be the source of the spill: TransCanada Corp.’s 30-inch-wide Keystone pipeline, or another, 20 inches wide, from Enbridge Inc., called the Platte pipeline. “The release is stopped,” a Missouri Department of Natural Resources official said Wednesday night, adding that the crude oil spill occurred north of the city of St. Charles. DNR officials said Thursday that the leak was about 1,700 feet south of the river and did not threaten it. Both pipelines are buried about 8 feet below ground. Beyond trying to identify which one might have the leak, officials said they also had yet to determine when and why a rupture occurred. “There’s a lot of unknowns at this point,” said Brad Harris, chief of the DNR’s environmental emergency response section. “They’re working their way down to expose that pipeline,” he said of the vacuum trucks on the site. “As you can imagine, it’s very, very sloppy.” He said the spill was estimated to be at least “43 barrels,” or about 1,800 gallons, according to an early report to the department about what was visible at the surface. It was unclear if that estimate would change. “It’s contained in this low area,” Harris said. “I think we’ve gotten lucky. Four thousand square feet is the estimated impacted area.” A survey to determine how many wells are in the area will be done by the DNR and the company found responsible for the leak, Harris said, and samples will be taken to check for water safety. Once a responsible company is identified, he said, a proper cleanup will ensue to remove contaminated soil and water. A TransCanada spokesman said that the leak was discovered by a company technician doing a routine check at the site and that the line was shut down immediately Wednesday. The Keystone pipeline typically moves about 600,000 barrels per day through the area, while the Platte pipeline transports about 150,000 barrels per day. Enbridge’s Platte pipeline was also shut down, Harris said. That line runs 933 miles from Wyoming to Wood River, Ill.

 Keystone pipeline likely source of Missouri crude spill, says TransCanada — no restart date yet - An oil leak near St. Louis, Missouri likely originated from TransCanada Corp’s Keystone pipeline, the company said on Friday, with no projected restart timetable for the portion of the line that remains shut. The leak volume is estimated at 43 barrels of crude oil on land, according to Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources. The spill and subsequent shutdown of portions of Enbridge’s Platte pipeline and the bigger Keystone line raised fresh concerns about pipeline safety, and about the already constricted flow of Canadian oil to U.S. refineries. Crews were excavating a segment of the underground pipeline on Friday, TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said. He said there was no threat to public safety or the environment. The 590,000 barrels-per-day Keystone pipeline is a critical artery taking Canadian crude from northern Alberta to U.S. refineries. The spill in rural St. Charles County, Missouri, on Wednesday led TransCanada to shut an arm of Keystone running between Steele City, Nebraska, and Patoka, Illinois. Brian Quinn, a spokesman for Missouri’s Natural Resources Department, said in an email that if Keystone is confirmed to be the leak’s source, it will remain closed until repairs are made. The exact quantity of oil released cannot be determined until excavation is complete and it’s unclear how long the release lasted, Quinn said. TransCanada told Keystone shippers on Thursday that it was declaring force majeure on shipments affected by the shutdown, according to a notice seen by Reuters. Force majeure is a declaration that unforeseeable circumstances prevented a party from fulfilling a contract. Canadian pipelines are congested because of expanding production in recent years, forcing the Alberta provincial government to order production cuts starting last month. Canadian heavy oil has attracted greater demand following U.S. sanctions against Venezuela’s state oil company.

Sunoco Pipeline and Mid-Valley Pipeline settle oil spill violations - In the latest joint federal-state Clean Water Act enforcement action, Sunoco Pipeline L.P. has agreed to pay civil penalties and state enforcement costs and to implement corrective measures to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and state environmental laws by Sunoco and Mid-Valley Pipeline Company stemming from three crude oil spills in 2013, 2014 and 2015, in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The Department of Justice, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) jointly announced the settlement.  Under a proposed consent decree lodged in the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Sunoco will pay the United States US$5 million in federal civil penalties for the Clean Water Act violations and pay LDEQ US$436 274.20 for civil penalties and response costs to resolve claims asserted in a complaint filed this week. Additionally, Sunoco agreed to take actions to prevent future spills by identifying and remediating the types of problems that caused the prior spills. This includes performing pipeline inspections and repairing pipeline defects that could lead to future spills. Sunoco is also required to take steps to prevent and detect corrosion in pipeline segments that Sunoco is no longer using. Mid-Valley, the owner of the pipeline that spilled oil in Louisiana, is responsible, along with Sunoco, for payment of the civil penalties and state costs relating to the Louisiana spill.   “This settlement holds Sunoco and Mid-Valley accountable for the harms to the environment caused by their oil spills and requires Sunoco to improve its environmental safety compliance for the oil pipelines that it operates in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This excellent result shows how a strong federal and state partnership can bring about effective environmental enforcement to protect local communities in these states.”

Plains keeps open possibility of further Permian oil pipeline consolidation - As concerns loom about a Permian oil pipeline overbuild, Plains All American did not rule out the possibility Tuesday of teaming up with another competing project for its recently confirmed 1 million b/d pipeline to the Texas Gulf Coast. Plains is the latest midstream company to report fourth-quarter earnings in a cycle where the big question is whether the Permian is about to swing from having too little pipeline space to having a glut of it. The Wink to Webster Pipeline joint venture announced last week by Plains, ExxonMobil and Lotus Midstream will carry batched crude and condensate from West Texas to Houston starting in the first half of 2021. Plains owns a 20% stake and will be constructing the line. Asked if too many Permian pipelines were in the works, Plains CEO Willie Chiang said during a conference call on fourth-quarter earnings that the company wanted to get to the point of ordering pipe for Wink to Webster and be in a position to move forward. "What that says is we certainly haven't eliminated an opportunity to make the project stronger, and conversations continue," he said. "At the base core of it, we've got pipe ordered, and we're ready to go." The JV has ordered some 650 miles of domestically sourced 36-inch-diameter line pipe. Plains' 585,000 b/d Cactus II crude pipeline from the Permian to Corpus Christi is on schedule for partial service in late Q3 and full service by April 2020, Chiang said. Asked about the wave of crude export capacity planned for the Texas and Louisiana coasts, Chiang said Plains' strategy is to diversify options for shippers. He said the company initially looked at an integrated pipe and dock system during the open season for Cactus II a few years ago.

Frac Sand Accumulates as Demand Weakens -- Just a year after rushing into America’s busiest oil field with new mines, frac-sand producers may have overdone it. West Texas sand used in the hydraulic fracturing process will drop 19 percent this year to about $30 a ton compared to 2018, according to industry consultant Rystad Energy AS. Sand pricing is a key financial input for oil explorers because fracking is the most expensive phase in drilling an oil well. A slew of new West Texas mines close to Permian Basin drilling sites is elbowing Midwest mines that formerly dominated the frac-sand trade. Miners in and around Wisconsin that controlled 75 percent of the market in 2014 will see that diminish to 34 percent in 2020, Ryan Carbrey, Rystad’s senior vice president of shale research, told Petroleum Connection’s Frac Sand Industry Update conference in Houston on Wednesday. “We do think that things continue to be rather sloppy from a pricing standpoint in 2019,” Chase Mulvehill, an analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in a presentation during the conference. “We’ll see if people renegotiate contracts. What we’ve heard so far is people are actually starting to do that for some in-basin contracts.” The sand oversupply has developed just as demand for fracking is taking a hit from the late-2018 slump in crude prices and more modest exploration programs by oil producers, Mulvehill said. Fracking demand is set to drop 3 percent in 2019, he said. 

Exxon Streamlines Upstream to Support Growth - ExxonMobil Corporation (Exxon) has revealed it will “streamline” its upstream organization and “centralize project delivery across the company” to support previously announced plans to double operating cash flow and earnings by 2025. The reorganization will be effective April 1 and will involve the creation of three new upstream companies; ExxonMobil Upstream Oil & Gas Company, ExxonMobil Upstream Business Development Company and ExxonMobil Upstream Integrated Solutions Company. ExxonMobil Upstream Oil & Gas Company will focus on end-to-end value chain management in five global businesses – comprising unconventional, liquefied natural gas, deepwater, heavy oil and conventional – Exxon revealed. “We’re simplifying and integrating our upstream organization to better capitalize on the industry-leading portfolio we’ve assembled through acquisitions and exploration success in the U.S. Permian Basin, Guyana, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea and Brazil,” Neil Chapman, Exxon senior vice president, said in a company statement. “Our focus is on increasing overall value by strengthening our upstream business and further integrating it with the downstream and chemical segments to take advantage of our unique capabilities across the value chain. A clear example is what we’re doing in the Permian, which includes upstream, midstream and downstream investments, enabling us to maximize value unlike any of our competitors,” he added.

Chevron ties executive pay to methane and flaring reduction targets (Reuters) - Chevron Corp plans to set greenhouse gas emissions targets and tie executive compensation and rank-and-file bonuses to the reductions, the oil major said in its latest climate report released on Thursday. The move is a first for a U.S. oil major and focuses on the company’s oil fields. More investors have been pressuring San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron and other big oil companies to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. Chevron said that by 2023, it will reduce its methane and flaring intensity by 25 percent to 30 percent from 2016 levels, and said the goal would be added to the scorecard that determines incentive pay for around 45,000 employees. “It’s about the mindset and the culture of the company,” said Chevron Vice President Mark Nelson, noting that including most of its global workforce would “harness” ideas from all employees. Chevron, though, does not address reducing the company’s full carbon footprint, said Danielle Fugere, president of investor group As You Sow, and so “will not achieve the reductions needed to stabilize the climate and reduce growing economy wide and thus portfolio wide risk to investors.” Among other oil companies, London-based BP and France’s Total have set short-term targets on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from their own operations. Royal Dutch Shell in December announced it would link executive compensation to reducing carbon dioxide emissions starting in 2020, including Scope 3 emissions from fuels sold to customers around the world. Chevron said it does not support establishing Scope 3 targets. Exxon’s climate report, published on Tuesday, includes a goal of reducing methane emissions from operations by 15 percent and flaring by 25 percent by 2020 compared with 2016 levels. Chevron’s target aims to reduce emissions and flaring as a percentage of production, but does not set a total emissions goal - a measure activist investors prefer. The targets will apply to Chevron’s operations as well as assets it has a stake in but does not operate itself, the company said. 

Rystad Energy: Large-scale projects a factor for profitable shale drilling --As US crude oil production is set to rise substantially over the next decade, analysts still debate whether shale drilling is an actual profitable endeavor. Some skeptics claim operators overstate their well production profiles, while others say operational cash flow from shale wells will never be enough to cover corporate costs and old debt. Analysts and investors are now waiting to see fourth quarter earnings as an acid test on profitable growth in the Permian basin at lower oil prices. Quarterly results have already been published by ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., of which only Chevron appeared to generate positive cash flow from operations in the Permian. ExxonMobil and Anadarko, meanwhile, seemed to still be in investment mode in the play. Rystad Energy believes net cash is now likely in the red for many smaller oil companies that focus entirely or predominantly on the Permian. A number of factors can constrict the internal diameter of wellbore casing and threaten the completion of a well. This article discusses tools and approaches to bypass restrictions and restore well viability.  Having taken a closer look at the detailed economics of the most recent 1,000 wells drilled in the most popular shale hotspot—the Wolfcamp A zone of the Permian Delaware basin—Rystad Energy can see a clear pattern emerging that favors large players.“Our conclusion is that the average well completed during 2017 and 2018, which mirrors the most likely production profile and costs, appears very profitable even at local oil prices of $45/bbl,” said Per Magnus Nysveen, Rystad Energy senior partner.“However, there are also many wells that will not be profitable at this price level, and drilling needs to be conducted on a large scale in order to secure robust cash flows even in the hottest play. Betting on a low number of wells could give more uncertain returns than rolling the dice at the nearest casino.” Operators with scaled operations and large acreage positions exposed to Wolfcamp A in the Permian Delaware should see average returns of 20%, and 3 years’ payback from new wells, even with West Texas Intermediate Midland oil prices at $45/bbl. Smaller operators, meanwhile, would face higher costs for drilling, completion, operation, and transport, and also lower realized oil prices.“These operators might struggle in the current price environment, and their best opportunity to monetize their investment could be to sell their acreage to larger operators with more efficient logistics, better infrastructure, and more negotiating power through the value chain,” Nysveen said. “Size matters, even more so when drilling for shale oil in the Permian basin.”

Hess Needs Higher Oil Prices - Hess Corporation just recently reported its fourth quarter and full-year results for 2018. Readers should note that the financial performance of Hess Corporation is consolidated with Hess Midstream Partners LP  its midstream master limited partnership. After reviewing Hess Corporation’s financial statements for 2018, it's clear that the firm needs higher oil prices to generate positive net income. Let’s dig in. In 2018, Hess reported $6.5 billion in revenue on a consolidated basis, up 20% year over year. Hess reported an enormous $4.2 billion impairment charge in 2017. When factoring that out, its operating loss came in at a whopping $1.3 billion that year, which improved to an operating profit of $0.6 billion in 2018 ($0.7 billion when excluding $0.1 billion in debt extinguishment expenses). However, Hess still reported a net loss of $0.3 billion in 2018. That is much better than its $4.1 billion net loss in 2017, but indicates a lot of work still needs to be done to fundamentally change Hess’ cost structure if it wants to perform better.  Hess notes that when including the impact of its hedging program, the firm’s average sales price for a barrel of crude oil, a barrel of natural gas liquids, and a thousand cubic feet of natural gas during 2018 came in at $60.77, $21.81, and $4.18, respectively. If Hess can’t turn a profit in a $60 WTI/$70 Brent world, that’s a problem. Its international natural gas realizations are influenced by Brent.

Analysis: SCOOP/STACK natural gas production hits record high — As natural gas production volumes in the SCOOP/STACK struck a record high this week, operators in the Oklahoma play are indicating plans to continue accelerating growth throughout 2019 despite uncertainty surrounding commodity prices. Production in the SCOOP/STACK set a new daily record of 3.53 Bcf/d on Monday, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Despite the Polar Vortex striking the region last week, production volumes were hardly phased by freeze-offs at wellheads. And any decline which may have occurred from the frigid weather was quickly reversed. Platts Analytics models show production dropping late last week as population-weighted temps fell as low as 8 degrees. However, it only dropped by 65 MMcf/d from the previous two-week average to 3.41 Bcf/d, which is within the bounds of normal volatility. The cold weather had much less of an impact on production in the region than in the past. For example, last January, when population-weighted temperatures in Oklahoma dipped to an average of 3 degrees, production plummeted by more than 500 MMcf/d before recovering once average temps rose to 30 degrees. A primary driver of the most recent growth in the region has been in Grady County, located over what is referred to as the SCOOP. Sample production is averaging 610 MMcf/d this month to date, which would be a new record if it continues, surpassing last month's record of 587 MMcf/d, according to Platts Analytics. Total SCOOP/STACK production is forecast to grow about 300 MMcf/d from current levels by this time next year. However, WTI's recent price decline could jeopardize this. For instance, Grady County has averaged just 23 active rigs over the past month, down from 29 over the previous six months. Across the entire SCOOP/STACK, the active rig count has averaged 104 over the past month, down slightly from the 107 rig average throughout the back half of 2018. However, producers have been able to produce more with less due to perpetual improvements in drilling and completion techniques. Also, just over a year ago, the state of Oklahoma passed a new law allowing for operators to drill longer laterals in all geologic formations. Private oil and gas producer Chaparral Energy, which operators solely in the Anadarko Basin, increased its production in the STACK during the fourth quarter of 2018 by 60% compared to the fourth quarter of 2017 while only adding one additional rig, according to its latest operational update.

US oil and gas rig count rises by one to 1114 on week — The US oil and natural gas rig count inched up by one rig week on week to 1,114, rising for the second week in a row after a relatively lengthy prior period of declines, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data released Thursday. The basins where gas rigs rose on a net basis appeared to be largely, or somewhat largely, gas-prone -- the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, and the DJ Basin in Colorado, which has a large cache of oil as well as gas.Most likely the small rig gains are simply the result of new budgets and activity programs, Platts Analytics analyst Taylor Cavey said."Crude prices have rallied slightly, which could justify drilling, but I would think it has more to do with producers starting to implement 2019 plans," Cavey said.WTI crude prices, which had dipped below $50/b in late December and early January, have floated above that level for several weeks. Oil, gas and total rigs are all sizably down from recent highs in mid-November. This week, oil rigs rose by eight on the week to 875, although fully 10% below that category's recent high of 976, while gas rigs declined by six to 217, in contrast to a recent high of 235.The total rig count is also nearly 10% off its recent high of 1,233, Platts data showed.A two-rig decline to 17 also was posted this week for rigs not specified for oil or gas. Regions where rigs rose included the giant gas-prone Marcellus Shale, up by two rigs this week to a net 63 and the DJ Basin, up one rig to 30, Platts data showed. Other basins showed mostly net rig losses. The Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas and SCOOP/STACK play in Oklahoma each fell by three rigs, to 91 and 100, respectively. Down two rigs each were the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico, where the count fell to 472, the Williston Basin of North Dakota and Montana, which fell to 59 rigs and the Haynesville Shale in Northwest Louisiana and East Texas, to 66. Rigs in the gas-prone Utica Shale of Ohio remained unchanged at 17. While this week's rig count rose slightly, so did the number of permits approved -- just barely. The number of permits issued was just one higher than last week at 1,227 for the week that ended Wednesday. The DJ Basin, down 78 from last week to 122, showed the most variation, while the Permian fell 29 week on week to 194. Also, 15 fewer permits were issued in the Marcellus this week - at 53. But Eagle Ford permits were up 23 from last week to 65, Utica Shale permits also were up by 23 at 24, while Haynesville permits were up by 19 to 26.

'Valve turners' target oil pipeline equipment in Itasca County -- Itasca County sheriff's deputies apparently took four activists into custody Monday afternoon after they used bolt cutters to break into an Enbridge pipeline facility. The activists, who call themselves the "Four Necessity Valve Turners," are part of the Catholic Worker Movement from Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota. They posted Facebook Live video of the incident, in which they try for several minutes to close an emergency shut-off valve on an Enbridge pipeline using a variety of tools and other objects, such as a rosary. The video ends as they are loaded into sheriff's vehicles. "This was an action to address the imminent damage and destruction that's already being done to the climate, and the fact that government and regulatory agencies have not adequately addressed that imminent and irreversible danger," said Diane Leutgeb Munson, a spokesperson for the Catholic Workers. She added the valve turners felt compelled to trespass and attempt to shut down the pipeline, and they acted "in the spirit of nonviolence" to address the danger posed by climate change. The activists said that Enbridge remotely shut off the flow of oil through its Line 4 oil pipeline after they called the company. An Enbridge spokesperson declined to elaborate on the safety precautions the company took, but said no oil was spilled because of the incident. "The actions taken to trespass on our facility and tamper with energy infrastructure were reckless and dangerous," the company said in a statement. "The people involved claimed to be protecting the environment, but they did the opposite. Their actions put themselves, first responders, neighboring communities and landowners at risk." 

4 Activists Arrested After Prompting Shutdown of Enbridge Pipeline --Four activists were arrested Monday after attempting to shut down an Enbridge pipeline near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, The Associated Press reported. The activists, who call themselves the Four Necessity Valve Turners and are affiliated with the Catholic Worker movement, said their actions were needed to address the urgent threat posed by climate change."The recent scientific study on climate change presented to the UN indicates that the threat of irreversible damage and destruction to our planet is imminent," the activists wrote on their website. "Therefore, having exhausted all legal and political avenues, and having found those avenues lethally inadequate either to curb our dependency on fossil fuels or to stop its expansion, we find it necessary to take this direct action of turning off the flow of this poisonous tar sands oil."   Michele Naar Obed, of Duluth, Minnesota; Allyson Polman, of Denton, Texas and Brenna Cussen Anglada and Daniel Yildirim of Cuba City, Wisconsin broke into a fenced-off area around noon on Monday that held shut-off valves for three Enbridge pipelines, their spokesperson Diane Leutgeb Monson told The Associated Press. After a period of prayer, they called Enbridge to inform them they would be turning off the company's line 4 pipeline, prompting Enbridge to shut it off remotely. The activists were taken into custody by Itasca County sheriff's deputies around 1:30 p.m."The actions taken to trespass on our facility and tamper with energy infrastructure were reckless and dangerous," Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner said in an email reported by The Associated Press. "The people involved claimed to be protecting the environment, but they did the opposite. Their actions put themselves, first responders, neighboring communities and landowners at risk."The Enbridge pipelines targeted by the protesters carry crude oil from Alberta's tar sands through Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. Their action also follows the controversial approval by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission of a plan by Enbridge to replace its aging Line 3 pipeline. In addition to concerns over the need for more fossil fuel infrastructure, environmental and indigenous groups are worried about the risk of an oil spill close to land sacred to the Ojibwe. This is a concern taken up by the valve turners as well. "This act is step towards reparations for the damage that colonization has done both to the indigenous peoples of this continent and the land," Cussen Anglada said in a press release.

Trump to nominate David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist, as the next Interior secretary - President Trump tweeted Monday that he will nominate David Bernhardt, a veteran lobbyist who has helped orchestrate the push to expand oil and gas drilling at the Interior Department, to serve as its next secretary.If confirmed, Bernhardt, a 49-year-old Colorado native known for his unrelenting work habits, would be well positioned to roll back even more of the Obama-era conservation policies he has worked to unravel since rejoining Interior a year and a half ago. He has helmed the department as acting secretary since Jan. 2, when Ryan Zinke resigned amid multiple ethics probes.“David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!,” Trump tweeted.While Zinke reveled in public displays of his affinity for the outdoors — riding horseback while on the job and touting his enthusiasm for hunting — Bernhardt is the ultimate insider. A former Capitol Hill staffer who served as Interior’s top lawyer under George W. Bush, Bernhardt has made it his mission to master legal and policy arcana to advance conservative policy goals.“It’s a humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a Department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, common sense vision of our president,” Bernhardt said in a statement Monday. A former partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, he walked into the No. 2 job at Interior with so many potential conflicts of interest he has to carry a small card listing them all. He initially had to recuse himself from “particular matters” directly affecting 26 former clients to conform with the Trump administration’s ethics pledge.

Promoting 'Another Puppet for Corporate Polluters,' Trump Picks Former Oil Lobbyist to Head Interior Department -  After President Donald Trump announced via tweet on Monday that he is nominating former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt to replace scandal-plagued Ryan Zinke as head of the Interior Department, environmental groups described Bernhardt as yet "another puppet for corporate polluters" and urged the Senate to block his confirmation.  "Trump has once again nominated a corrupt industry hack to lead a critical federal agency," Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "The Senate must reject Bernhardt because he will undoubtedly put his fossil fuel industry friends before the American people and our environment." "Rather than give Bernhardt a promotion, Congress should be working on exposing his numerous conflicts of interest and ethics violations, as a fossil fuel lobbyist and now as a government official," Ghio added. Bernhardt has been serving as acting Interior secretary since Zinke officially resigned from his post last month. As Public Citizen pointed out on Twitter, Bernhardt's nomination fits with a long-standing pattern the Trump White House has followed after high-profile cabinet departures: As the New York Times reports, while Zinke was "the public face of some of the largest rollbacks of public-land protections in the nation's history, Mr. Bernhardt was the one quietly pulling the levers to carry them out, opening millions of acres of public land and water to oil, gas, and coal companies."

Trump Nominates ‘Walking Conflict of Interest’ David Bernhardt to Permanently Replace Zinke as Interior Secretary - President Donald Trump officially nominated David Bernhardt—a former energy lobbyist environmental groups have described as a "walking conflict of interest"—to officially take over as interior secretary afterRyan Zinke stepped down in December 2018 following various scandals. "It's a humbling privilege to be nominated to lead a Department whose mission I love, to accomplish the balanced, common sense vision of our President," Bernhardt wrote in a tweet responding to the president's announcement, also made on Twitter Monday.As deputy secretary, Bernhardt played an active role in the Trump administration's push to open public lands to fossil fuel and mining interests, and he is expected to continue this work if he is confirmed to permanently take over the department he has been running as acting secretary following Zinke's departure, Reuters reported. In 2017, around 150 environmental groups wrote a letter to the Senate urging it to block his nomination to the position of deputy secretary, arguing that his work as a lawyer and lobbyist for oil and water interests at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck gave him too much past history with entities that could stand to benefit from Interior Department decisions. Despite this, he was confirmed 53 to 43, and now famously carries around a list of all his potential conflicts of interest, as The Washington Post reported in November of 2018."David Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest who has no business overseeing America's public lands,"Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement opposing his permanent installation. "The Secretary of the Interior should be someone who respects the mission of the department and sees the value in our public lands and waters beyond their capacity to be drilled, mined, or fracked."

Weld County oil and gas spill report for Feb. 3 -  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. Any spill release that may impact waters of the state must be reported as soon as practical. Any spill of five barrels or more must be reported within 24 hours, and any spill of one barrel or more, which occurs outside secondary containment, such as metal or earthen berms, must also be reported within 24 hours, according to COGCC rules.

  • • HIGHPOINT OPERATING CORP., reported Jan. 26 a tank battery spill about 7 1/2 miles northeast of Roggen, near U.S. 34 and Weld County Road 386. Between one and five barrels of oil spilled. An LACT unit valve was left partially open.
  • • KERR MCGEE OIL & GAS ONSHORE LP, reported Jan. 24 a historical spill about 2 1/2 miles northeast of Platteville, near Weld roads 36 and 29. Less than five barrels of condensate spilled. Waters of the state were impacted or threatened. Crews found impacts while abandoning a gas sales line. About 190 cubic yards of impacted soil was removed and taken to the Kerr-McGee Land Treatment Facility. Groundwater was found in the excavation about 4.5 feet below ground surface.
  • • NOBLE ENERGY INC, reported Jan. 24 a historical tank battery spill about 4 miles southeast of Evans, near Weld roads 50 and 49. Between one and five barrels of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. Crews found impacts while decommissioning the tank battery.
  • • NOBLE ENERGY INC, reported Jan. 24 a historical tank battery spill about 1 1/2 miles northeast of Milliken, near Weld roads 48 and 25. Between one and five barrels each of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. Impacts were found during reclamation. Crews removed 100 cubic yards of impacted soil and took it to the Buffalo Ridge landfill.
  • • WHITING OIL & GAS CORP., reported Jan. 23 a tank battery spill about 5 miles northeast of Keota, near Weld roads 106 and 111. About nine barrels of produced water spilled. Crews are not certain of the exact release point, but believe it came from the produced water tank and spilled inside containment. About three barrels were recovered.
  • • NOBLE ENERGY INC, reported Jan. 22 a historical tank battery spill about 4 miles south of Kersey, near Weld roads 44 and 53. Less than a barrel each of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. Waters of the state were impacted or threatened. Crews found impacts while dismantling the tank battery.
  • • NOBLE ENERGY INC., reported Jan. 22 a historical tank battery spill about 6 miles northwest of Keenesburg, near Weld roads 30 and 49. Between one and five barrels of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. Waters of the state were impacted or threatened. Crews found impacts while dismantling the tank battery.
  • • KERR MCGEE GATHERING LLC, reported Jan. 21 a historical spill in Firestone, near Colorado River Drive and Sunset Drive. Less than five barrels of oil, condensate and produced water spilled. Crews found impacts while removing a meter run and the associated piping.
  • • KP KAUFFMAN COMPANY INC, reported Jan. 20 a historical flowline spill in Frederick, near Little Bell Drive and Copper Drive. More than five barrels of oil and produced water spilled. As part of a relocate agreement with the land developer, the contractor is removing an abandoned flowline and identified impacts.

Commerce City considers proposal to install 160 wells on fracking sites — Battle lines are being drawn again in Colorado over fracking. Extraction Oil & Gas is proposing expansion into Commerce City amid criticism from protestors concerned about the environment, health and safety. Protestors gathered in the lobby of Commerce City’s city hall Monday as city decision makers headed to a closed-door executive session meeting concerning fracking. “I don’t think you can put a price on the safety of our neighborhood,” resident Sean Cuevo said. Commerce City says Extraction Oil & Gas— a company well known in Broomfield— has proposed 160 wells on 6 pads across the northern suburb. Fears of soil and water contamination, fires and cancer have residents insisting their city council members find a way to say “no” to the development. But legally, it’s not so easy, officials warn. The city says it is still weeks away from any potential operating agreement. Council members are, for now, gaining legal advice from city attorneys. The city is attempting to create a focus group for resident feedback and is determining a negotiation strategy on fracking. “There is always room for that public comment period as this process continues to move forward,” said city spokeswoman Jodi Hardee. Organizations advocating for responsible energy development argue stopping development all together is the wrong way to go. Instead, finding a compromise of what works best is the answer. But, Commerce City residents like Cuevo say wells simply don’t belong within city boundaries. The city says, if an agreement does move forward, there will be a 21-day public comment period. 

Investors question Anadarko on political risk to Colorado drilling — Executives from Anadarko Petroleum on Wednesday fielded a persistent line of questioning from institutional investors and analysts about the company's oil and gas assets in Colorado's DJ Basin, where community activists continue to pressure the state government for tougher regulations on the industry. On the company's fourth-quarter earnings call, questioners pushed President and CEO Al Walker for his view on the risks that potential state regulations could pose to Anadarko's Colorado assets. Although only a fraction of Anadarko's production portfolio is located in Colorado, a regulatory change there could jeopardize nearly 4.1 Bcf/d in natural gas production and over 450,000 b/d in crude oil output that comes from the state's Denver-Julesburg, Piceance, San Juan and Anadarko Basins. Walker was somewhat dismissive of investor and analyst concerns, saying that he sees Colorado as having a "constructive environment" relative to the company's position there, and the industry would have to adopt a wait-and-see approach for now. Questions remain, though, about how the investment community might adjust their portfolio allocations with respect producers that operate in states with higher perceived political risk, like Colorado, with one investor even asking if Anadarko had any "big thoughts about restructuring." In the November 2018 election, the resounding defeat of Proposition 112, which would have required that new drilling permits observe a 2,500-foot setback from occupied structures and vulnerable areas, was a notable victory for Colorado's oil and gas industry. The November ballot measure, though, hasn't marked an end to the nearly decade-long battle over the state's oil and gas industry. In the battle over drilling along Colorado's Front Range, which sits at the heart of the highly productive DJ Basin, that last salvo from community activists has come in the form of proposed regulation that could effectively ban drilling in the state. In December, a group of homeowners in Broomfield sued the state to end forced pooling--a practice that's become essential to hydraulic fracturing, especially in locations with multiple mineral rights owners, like the DJ Basin. The case challenges the state constitutionality of pooling, which allows producers to organize multiple mineral rights holders into a single pool. As long as a certain percentage of the people in the pool agree to the terms of the lease, the project can move forward, even without unanimous consent.

Crew injured, diesel fuel spilled into river when train derails in remote Wyoming canyon -- A coal train collision on Monday sent two locomotives partially into the North Platte River, potentially contaminating the waterway with thousands of gallons of diesel in a remote canyon north of the Guernsey Reservoir, according to state officials. Two of the company’s employees, an engineer and a conductor, suffered non-life threatening injuries from the incident, which involved one loaded coal train rear-ending another north of Wendover near Little Cottonwood Creek. The collision resulted in three derailed locomotives and four derailed cars, said Amy McBeth, a company spokeswoman. None of the spilled coal reached the river, but two of the derailed, diesel-fueled locomotives did. From engines that were flipped on their sides, as much as 6,000 gallons of diesel could have spilled, according to Joe Hunter, emergency response coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. That’s a worst-case scenario,” Hunter said. “ I don’t have a good idea of how much went into the river, but it is a significant amount.” The collision happened in a remote area where the tracks skirt the southern edge of the North Platte as it passes through steep terrain. County officials headed to the scene Monday afternoon were unable to reach the actual derailment site because of the narrow canyon, said Terry Stevenson, emergency management coordinator for Platte County. BNSF transported the two injured employees out of the canyon via a company vehicle that can drive on train rails. Cleanup of the diesel in the river could be completed by the end of the week, according to Hunter, who said the agency and the company were exploring multiple remediation options. That work is currently being hampered by the location of the crash. The tracks and overturned locomotives lie at the base of a 300- to 400-foot cliff face, Hunter said.

Dakota Access criminal cases wrapping up in North Dakota (AP) — Hundreds of state-level criminal cases stemming from the prolonged protest in North Dakota against the Dakota Access oil pipeline are mostly wrapped up, and an organization of volunteer attorneys that formed to aid protesters is shifting its focus to other potential battles, including the Keystone XL pipeline and President Donald Trump’s southern border wall. “Whenever the next struggle heats up and takes off, then we will swell our ranks to meet the demand,” said Frances Madeson, spokeswoman for the Water Protector Legal Collective . “Water protector” is what many pipeline opponents called themselves because they fear a spill could contaminate water supplies. Thousands of Native Americans and others who feared environmental harm from the $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners came to southern North Dakota in 2016 and 2017 to protest, resulting in hundreds of arrests over a six-month span and nearly 850 criminal cases in state court. The pipeline that ETP maintains is safe has been moving North Dakota oil to Illinois since June 2017. The nonprofit legal team, which formed in a tent at a protest camp, grew to 31 attorneys from around the country who donated tens of thousands of hours over the past 2 ½ years to help defendants in those cases, most of which have been dismissed or resolved through plea agreements.

Produced water spilled in Stark County - A produced water spill resulting from a tank overflow in Stark County has been reported to the North Dakota Department of Health. The tank is located on an oil pad owned by Scout Energy Management LLC. The incident occurred about 2 miles west of Dickinson on Sunday, and it was reported the next day. Initial estimates indicate about 450 barrels of produced water were released and impacted agricultural land. Health department personnel have inspected the site and will continue to monitor the investigation and remediation.

Leak spills 10,300 gallons of brine at Williams County well — A valve or piping connection leak is being blamed for a spill of nearly 10,300 gallons of saltwater at a well in Williams County. The state Oil and Gas Division says Oasis Petroleum North American LLC on Wednesday reported the spill of 245 barrels of brine at the well about 7 miles southeast of Williston. Brine, or saltwater, is a byproduct of oil production. The spill was contained on-site and was being cleaned up. A state inspector visited the site and is monitoring cleanup.

Company gets water permit for refinery near national park (AP) — A company facing opposition from environmentalists and landowners as it works to build an $800 million oil refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota has cleared another hurdle by obtaining a state water permit, though the matter could still end up in state court.State Engineer Garland Erbele on Thursday followed the recent recommendation of an administrative law judge and issued a permit to Meridian Energy Group allowing the company to draw water from an underwater aquifer for the Davis Refinery, State Water Commission spokeswoman Jessie Wald said Monday.The agency was prepared to issue the permit last summer but three landowners challenged it, citing concerns over how they might be affected and how much of the water would be wasted. Landowner attorney JJ England also argued that Meridian’s plans for treating and using the water were vague and at times conflicting.Administrative Law Judge Tim Dawson held a hearing in November and issued his recommendation Jan. 8, concluding “there is no realistic harm to the public interest” should the permit be issued.England did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether his clients will appeal. They have about a month to decide under state law.A separate challenge in state court by three environmental groups of the refinery’s state air quality  permit recently failed. A state judge ruled in late January that the Health Department had effectively supported its position that the refinery will not be a major source of pollution that will negatively impact the park just 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.

SoCalGas asks customers to curb nat gas use during California cold snap - Sempra Energy's (NYSE:SRE) SoCalGas urges customers to use less natural gas until further notice to avoid straining its system as colder weather covers its service area.  Overnight temperatures in Los Angeles are expected to drop as low as 39 degrees F during Monday-Wednesday, ~10 degrees below normal at this time of year, before rising to near normal levels later in the week. Gas supplies have been tight in Southern California this winter because of limitations on several SoCalGas pipelines and reduced availability of the Aliso Canyon storage field following a massive leak three years ago.  The utility says it has been pulling gas from Aliso to avoid removing too much fuel form its other storage facilities.

Oil Pipeline Firm Tells Investors Spills Happen – A federal judge in Houston was correct to call pipeline spills unremarkable and investors should take them as no surprise either, an attorney for a pipeline company told a Fifth Circuit panel Wednesday. “It is not an industry that you’re not going to have spills, or leaks in, and in fact, Plains makes that very clear in their filings,” attorney Michael Holmes, a partner in shareholder litigation and enforcement at Vinson & Elkins in Dallas, told the three-judge panel. A class of retirement funds led by IAM National Pension Fund appealed a Houston federal judge’s dismissal of the securities portion of their lawsuit against Plains All American Pipeline LP after a California jury last year found the company guilty of criminally negligent conduct for a May 2015 pipeline rupture that sent tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. The securities lawsuit alleged the pipeline company “falsely claimed to have a comprehensive, effective environmental and regulatory compliance program to prevent oil spills” and said the company “repeatedly violated regulatory mandates” all the while having a compliance program that “was close to non-existent.” U.S. Circuit Leslie H. Southwick, an appointee of George W. Bush, appeared skeptical Wednesday during Holmes’ arguments about the inevitability of spills. “I don’t think that’s what Judge Rosenthal had in mind,” Southwick said, referring to U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s dismissal of the securities violations claims.   “There is no recklessness here,” Holmes said. “I think that’s how Judge Rosenthal was looking at it.” Holmes went on to say that in looking at a shareholder contract with a pipeline, the investor can’t simply interpret the terms as they wish because the statements in such contracts are actually for underwriters. Judge Southwick still appeared unconvinced. Holmes continued, “It isn’t that there aren’t any regulatory violations” made by Plains All American, but “there are no regulatory violations that could be reasonably expected to lead to a material adverse effect.”

Pipeline work destroyed salmon habitat, puts orcas at risk, scientists say   - Shoddy work on a section of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Chilliwack, British Columbia has “degraded” a local coho and chum salmon habitat, says a BC-based biologist with more than 30 years’ experience. The biologist, Mike Pearson, says the work is a warning sign of what might happen with future pipeline developments, and could have greater downstream impacts on other wildlife, such as orcas, if Trans Mountain adopts similar methods for other stream systems. Pearson undertook an assessment of Stewart Creek in December 2018 and filed it to the National Energy Board (NEB) later that month. The report found that the fix (placing concrete blocks and crushed gravel on top of a exposed pipe) made the stream unsuitable for salmon. The smooth concrete blocks meant most of the gravel was washed away just months after it was added, leaving no places for salmon to hide or bury their eggs, or for the salmon’s food source (aquatic invertebrates) to grow. “No consideration is given to restoring or mitigating impacts on habitat,” Pearson told me over the phone, adding that he’s seen a lack of consideration for wildlife habitats at other Trans Mountain project sites as well. He says the site is highly visible to the public and logistically simple compared to other stream systems, so there was no excuse for not getting it right. “If under those circumstances sufficient care isn’t going to be taken...then I’m concerned,” Pearson told Motherboard. Pearson says that salmon populations, and the orcas that rely on them as as a food source, could be at risk in the future if other streams receive the same treatment if the pipeline expansion gets the go-ahead.

US Military Fuel Tanks Threaten Aquifer In Hawaii - The North Korean missile scare in Hawaii a year ago was alarming. But that fear has abated. Once again the greatest perceived threat to the island of Oahu comes from our own U.S. military. A massive complex of 20 U.S. military storage tanks is buried in a bluff called Red Hill that overlooks Honolulu’s primary drinking water supply, 100 feet below. The walls on the 75-year-old jet fuel tanks are now so thin that the edge of a dime is thicker. Each of the underground tanks holds 12.5 million gallons of jet fuel; 225,000,000 gallons in total. In 2014, 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked through a weak spot on a tank that had been repaired with a welded patch. The welding gave way and the fuel entered the the water supply. An Ohau beach. Drinking water is currently safe to drink, but traces of petroleum chemicals are being detected in the groundwater near the tanks. Leaks have been going on for years. Studies have documented them since 1947. The continued corrosion of the tank liners constantly risks a catastrophic fuel release. Concerned citizens on the island have for decades been trying to get the U.S. Navy to remove the tanks. The military’s position is that the fuel tanks are of strategic importance to U.S. national security and are being maintained as well as 75-year old tanks can be. 

Trump Administration Drills Down on Alaska’s Arctic Refuge - The Trump administration is barreling ahead with plans to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge in the country and an area of global ecological importance. Many refer to the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge—the very place where oil drilling is being planned—as the "American Serengeti." A home for grizzly bears, wolves, musk oxen and a host of other species, the area is famous as the birthing ground for the enormous Porcupine caribou herd, which each spring floods across the refuge's coastal plain in the tens of thousands, arriving in time to raise newborn calves amid fresh tundra grasses. The coastal plain is also the annual destination for millions of migrating birds, who come from nearly every continent on Earth to raise the next generation of swans, terns and more than 200 other species. In late summer these avian visitors disperse to backyards, beaches and wetlands across the planet. Drilling on the Arctic Refuge has long been opposed by most Americans. Among the staunchest opponents of drilling are indigenous people in northern Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, whose cultures and diets are entwined with the Porcupine herd. They include the Gwich'in people of northern Alaska, who have lived in the Arctic for millennia and reside alongside the Arctic Refuge. Their name for the coastal plain is Iizhik Gwats'an Gwandaii Goodlit, or "the Sacred Place Where Life Begins," a name reflecting the shared destiny of the caribou and the people. For the Gwich'in and others, fighting against drilling is a cultural imperative and a civil-rights issue. When Eisenhower's order protected the area's "unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values," it marked the first time federal law specifically protected a thing called wilderness. As Roger Kaye describes in his book The Last Great Wilderness, the move was a precursor to the 1964 Wilderness Act, which the Muries also helped shape and which remains among our bedrock conservation laws. Later, in 1980, Congress affirmed the national significance of the Arctic Refuge by nearly doubling its size.

Activists air grievances about drilling in Alaska refuge (AP) — Activists pushing against oil development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge dominated a Bureau of Land Management public meeting in Fairbanks. The open house format meeting on plans for lease sales on the refuge’s coastal plain was quickly interrupted by protesters Monday, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported . The meeting was planned to provide information about the project to the public to inform their comments, said Joe Balash, the assistant secretary for land and minerals management. But protesters used it to aired grievances about the meeting style, its short notice and the lack of consultation with Alaska Natives during the drafting process for the environmental impact statement. Jody Potts, head of the Village Public Officer Program for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, spoke out against the meeting’s organization, noting that testimony needs to be able to be heard by the public while also being recorded. “My people, the Gwich’in, will be the most affected by this,” Potts said. “And our government that is supposed to represent all of us equally and freely is preventing us from properly commenting, and I think that needs to be justified.” Balash said he feels the majority of Alaska residents still support drilling in the section of the refuge, but opponents are vocal. “Public sentiment in Alaska for a long time has been largely in favor of leasing and exploring in the coastal plain and ANWR,” Balash said Monday. “But the people who are opposed are incredibly passionate about it and feel very strongly, and I think we’re seeing that here tonight.”

Interior: No 3D seismic exploration in ANWR this winter - —An Interior official has confirmed that there will be no 3-D seismic exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this winter. Steve Wackowski, Interior’s senior adviser for Alaska affairs, made the announcement at a public meeting earlier this week in Kaktovik. That means although Interior still aims to hold an oil lease sale in the refuge’s coastal plain this year, companies will have less information about where the most promising acreage might be. Originally, a company called SAExploration had applied to conduct seismic work across the refuge’s entire coastal plain, encompassing 2,600 square miles. The company had partnered with Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., two Alaska Native corporations on the North Slope. Seismic exploration can only be done in winter, and the company needed approvals from Interior to do the work. Originally, the agency had hoped to get the project permitted last summer. But in November, top Interior official Joe Balash acknowledged the agency was pressed for time to complete the approvals. He said it was taking time for the company to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act. And according to a report in the Anchorage Daily News, the government shutdown further delayed the work. Before the shutdown started, the Bureau of Land Management had yet to publish a notice on its environmental review on the seismic program, which would have kicked off a weeks-long public comment period before the final approval could be issued. However, that process is proceeding. “The status of the application is still pending,” an Interior spokesperson said in a text message. “The applicant has asked us to amend both permits to reflect a December 2019 start date, and it should be coming out in the coming weeks.” 

US keeps arctic leasing date despite seismic delay - President Donald Trump's administration is sticking with plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to development this year despite a delay in gathering new seismic oil and gas survey data. The US Interior Department's senior adviser for Alaska affairs, Steve Wackowski, at a public meeting this week announced there would not be any seismic testing in the Alaska refuge this winter, the only season when the tundra is frozen enough to support the heavy equipment needed to conduct the surveys.  That means plans to gather three-dimensional seismic data that would indicate which parts of the refuge's coastal plain are most likely to hold oil and gas will not be ready until 2020 at the earliest. If a lease sale is still held this year, it would force producers to rely mostly on less detailed two-dimensional seismic data gathered more than 30 years ago.Interior said it would still hold a lease sale this year so long as it is able to finalize an environmental impact statement (EIS) that it released in draft form in December. The coastal plain has long been targeted for development because it holds an estimated 5.7bn-10.4bn of technically recoverable crude and is close to existing infrastructure in Prudhoe Bay.   The companies called for deploying on the tundra a dozen rubber-tracked seismic trucks, each weighing 90,000 pounds, along with personnel carriers, worker camps and a temporary airfield. But Interior assistant secretary for land and minerals management Joe Balash in December said regulators were waiting on permits for polar bears, which build hard-to-spot dens in the snow that could be crushed during surveying. The 35-day government shutdown delayed work on the permits and in seeking comment on the draft EIS. Taxpayer groups say the plans to lease with out-of-date seismic data make it even less likely that a lease sale will raise the $2bn the Republican-controlled US Congress said it would when opened the refuge to drilling through a 2017 tax cut bill. If every tract in the 1.56mn-acre were leased, it would require an average price of nearly $1,400/acre to generate that amount of revenue.

US government appeals ruling that blocked Keystone pipeline (AP) — The Trump administration is appealing a court ruling that blocked the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Justice Department attorneys on Friday appealed the November ruling from U.S. District Judge Brian Morris that blocked a construction permit for the 1,184-mile (1,900-kilometer) pipeline. The line sponsored by Calgary-based TransCanada would begin in Alberta and shuttle as much as 830,000 barrels a day of crude through a half dozen states to terminals on the Gulf Coast. It was rejected by former President Barack Obama in 2015. That decision was reversed in 2017 by President Donald Trump, who has promoted the $8 billion project as part of his effort to boost American energy industries. After environmental groups sued, Morris said the administration had not fully considered potential oil spills and other impacts and that further reviews were needed. 

Alberta Amends Oil Curtailment to Pacify Companies - Alberta is gradually chipping away at its own oil curtailment program to placate energy companies that have grown unhappy with the mandated cuts. The oil-rich Canadian province amended the curtailment rules on Wednesday to allow some oil sands producers, and companies that pump crude from land with freehold mineral rights, to produce more than their quota. That decision came the same day the provincial government announced it would raise the production limit for March by 75,000 barrels to 3.63 million barrels a day. The rule changes will exempt “only a few thousand barrels of production,” Michael McKinnon, government spokesman, said in an email. “We anticipate only a small amount of companies will need to use the regulation change.” The curtailment, announced in early December, was designed to ease a glut caused by a shortage of pipeline space. Since taking effect, the measure has reduced inventories by 5 million barrels, the government said Wednesday. They also caused local oil prices to surge, with Western Canadian Select falling to a discount of less than $10 a barrel to West Texas Intermediate futures, after the gap narrowed last month from $50 in October. Prices have also been supported by U.S. sanctions on Venezuela that have cut supplies of heavy crude to some U.S. refiners. The cuts from Alberta and how they are being administered has grown increasingly contentious since taking effect in January. Even Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., a supporter of the reductions, warned service companies it would have to shut its ECHO oil pipeline following a previous rule change in December, according to two people who saw the notice. The government’s decision to ease curtailment will allow the company to continue operating the pipeline that links Western Alberta oil fields to the Hardisty oil hub, Canadian Natural said Friday. Husky Energy Inc., which opposed curtailment from the start, said the new limits didn’t go far enough. “It’s a modest step forward, but the bottom line is we’re still going to have to curtail more barrels in February than we did in January,”

Suncor calls for early end to Alberta oil cuts because 'rail economics are severely damaged' - Shipping crude by rail into the United States is no longer financially sustainable — Suncor Energy Inc. is calling on the Alberta government to make an earlier-than-planned exit from the oil curtailment program it enacted on Jan. 1 because of its “unintended consequences.” CEO Steve Williams says the program designed to draw down crude storage and free up space on export pipelines has worked too well, reducing local price discounts to the point that shipping crude by rail into the United States is no longer financially sustainable. The same charge was levelled last week by Imperial Oil Ltd. CEO Rich Kruger, who said his firm would cut its crude-by-rail shipments to near zero this month, a major setback in oil movements as it had been responsible for about half of Canada’s rail shipments in December. On a conference call to discuss Suncor’s fourth-quarter results, Williams said the production cuts are also having a long-term negative affect on investor confidence in Canada. The criticism came as Suncor reported a $280-million net loss in the fourth quarter of 2018, in part due to the very price discounts the curtailments were designed to reduce.

Trudeau paid ‘sticker price’ for pipeline, budget watchdog says - Canada’s government purchased Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain pipeline at the higher range of its valuation, according to the nation’s budget watchdog.The Parliamentary Budget Office, in a report published Thursday in Ottawa, estimated that the 710-mile pipeline and proposed expansion had a combined value of between C$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion) and C$4.6 billion. It warned, however, that regulatory delays could further erode the value of the project.Justin Trudeau’s government bought the pipeline last year for C$4.4 billion as Kinder Morgan threatened to abandon the expansion project. The purchase price also included related assets, like terminals, that the budget watchdog didn’t include in its valuation, because it considered their value to be almost entirely tied to whether the expansion is completed or not.“If it was a car, we’d say they paid sticker price,’’ Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said. If there is a delay that raises the cost and reduces potential revenues, he said it would then be “quite clear to us the government will have overpaid.’’The watchdog estimated that baseline total construction costs for the expansion will be C$9.3 billion. Regulatory and political hurdles, however, hurt the value of the project. A one-year delay in construction completion would reduce the value by about C$700 million, the PBO projects.Kinder Morgan, when the sale was finalized to the government, estimated an in-service date of Dec. 31, 2021. But a court ruling in August sent the government back to the drawing board on the project. The PBO used that date as its baseline, but there’s ample downside risk to the construction timeline, meaning most signs point to added costs from construction, Giroux said.

Oil Supermajors Smash Analyst Estimates -- The world’s biggest oil companies are pumping out cash like crude’s at $100 a barrel again, and investors love it. Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp. and BP Plc smashed analysts’ earnings estimates for the fourth quarter, giving investors assurance that their dividends and buybacks are secure even with oil trading near $60. Those companies together generated close to $43 billion of cash flow from operations, the highest in more than four years. They achieved this despite a deep slump in crude prices at the end of the year, maintaining returns by keeping a tight grip on spending and squeezing more out of projects at lower prices. "The 12-month rolling cash flow continues to point upwards, and I think that’s what’s important,” said Oswald Clint, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd. “It isn’t just refining-led improvements, it isn’t just an upstream oil price, it’s widespread across the businesses.” Clint expects the sector to generate record free cash flow in 2019, the second year in a row. BP surged the most in almost three years after its profit beat even the most optimistic analyst estimate. Shell’s B shares gained 3.6 percent when it reported earnings on Jan. 31, while Exxon and Chevron increased by a similar amount on Feb. 1. France’s Total SA, the fifth member of the oil-supermajor group, reports earnings Feb. 7. The group’s strong performance comes at a crucial time. They need to remain attractive for shareholders who stuck with them through a years-long downturn because of the reliability and size of their dividends. Shell’s cash payout of almost $15.7 billion was the largest in the world, besting its Big Oil rivals and other corporate giants such as Apple Inc. and AT&T Inc. Beyond the dividend, major oil companies need to demonstrate they can maintain share buybacks, increase production, and still invest to grow. Shell’s Chief Financial Officer Jessica Uhl said the company can “do it all.” BP can curb debt, repurchase shares and invest with oil at $50 a barrel, CFO Brian Gilvary said. Chevron gave the market a pleasant surprise with a $25 billion stock-buyback pledge. Exxon surpassed analysts’ forecasts with the biggest refining bonanza in six years and Permian Basin crude output that almost doubled. Exxon Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods said he would ramp up both spending and asset sales this year as the company plows billions into new drilling and refinery expansions. ‘

 Drilling recovery to spur more oil, gas finds this year: Wood Mac — Global discoveries of conventional oil and gas could jump to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent this year as an industry-wide recovery in exploration activity continues to ramp up, research group Wood Mackenzie said Monday. In 2018, exploration drilling discovered at least 10.5 billion boe in conventional resources, of which 40% was oil and 60% was gas, according to the UK-based consultancy. Although still the lowest for "several decades", Wood Mac said it expects the 2018 figure to increase due to further disclosure and appraisal drilling, noting that historic resource "creep" from initial year-end estimates has averaged around 40% over the last decade. But with a number of key exploration wells targeting new plays and large volumes in 2019, Wood Mac is expecting global discoveries this year to add around 15 billion-20 billion boe of new conventional resources. "We are seeing a long-overdue recovery in the sector," Wood Mac's vice president for global exploration Andrew Latham said in a note. "Last year conventional exploration returns hit 13% -- the highest calculated in more than a decade. As 2018's discoveries are appraised and projects move through the development cycle, we expect these economics to improve further." Since the 2014 oil price slump, most oil majors have slashed upstream spending and directed more capex to develop quick-return US shale plays. As a result, fewer conventional wells are being drilled with companies much more selective with their drilling targets. Meanwhile, cheaper rig rates has meant offshore drilling costs have fallen sharply since 2014, making them more competitive with US tight oil plays. Helped by the lower industry costs, exploration activity is recovering slowing with global exploration and appraisal spending this expected to remain close to its 2018 level of just under $40 billion, Latham said. "A stronger oil price, lower cost base, refocused portfolios and greater drilling success in 2017-2018, and a healthy inventory of new quality acreage have cheered up the industry," Latham said, "It is using more efficient rigs at lower rates, and avoiding technical complexity." He said corporate upstream spending is not about to "burst open" however, with financial discipline and prudence meaning companies will continue to focus on their best prospects.

In squeezed oil industry, some rethink hunt for new barrels (Reuters) - New partnerships are emerging in the global hunt for oil discoveries, with some explorers essentially offering an outsourcing service for the riskiest part of the energy business. Central to this new strategy are efforts to find an ally earlier in the process of discovering new fields, and on a larger scale, in order to save money as budgets remain tight after the oil price slump of 2014. While giants such as Total and Eni revamp exploration in-house, BP and Royal Dutch Shell have been more open to having partners do the heavy lifting of exploration in certain geographies. Kosmos Energy and BP, for example, joined forces to hoover up exploration licenses in the northern part of the African Atlantic, rather than competing against each other. In October, Kosmos entered a similar partnership with Shell to search for new oil off southern Africa. “Having a built-in partner with a supermajor from the beginning is very different and allows us to share cost and share risks from the inception of a project,” said Kosmos’ exploration chief Tracey Henderson. “That differs from what used to be a traditional model where a company like Kosmos would pick up acreage in frontier and emerging basins and take more risk upfront ... Then we would spend a year and a half identifying and maturing that prospectivity and then go through a farmout process (to sell a stake).” In such partnerships, responsibilities are clearly defined. Kosmos is in charge of exploration and BP of developing discoveries into producing fields. BP gets a nimble partner with a proven frontier-basin track record in Kosmos, which employs around 350 people. This compares to BP’s 74,000 employees in hundreds of sites around the globe, all vying for budget allocation and embedded in complex decision-making structures.

US oil heads to China, but it's too early to declare victory in the trade war - The first U.S. oil shipments to China in months will reach their destinations just days from now, punctuating a pledge by President Donald Trump in December that China would begin buying more American products despite an ongoing trade battle. The shipments, which left ports in Texas in late December, are not a clear sign of U.S. victory, however. They are among a handful bound for China or points near it currently as a March negotiating deadline on a new trade deal draws near. And the amount of U.S. oil being shipped to China is well below what it was a year ago, when the trade war erupted. The U.S. sent the equivalent of 500,000 barrels per day to China in 20 shipments during the months of February, March and April, according to data from Genscape, the world's largest vessel monitoring company. There was only one shipment from the U.S. to China last fall before the two that left in December. Those final two held an average shipment equivalent to 100,000 barrels a day, about one-fifth the size of the spring peak. "So while the oil deliveries are promising, the fact no subsequent ships are set to arrive after the tariff deadline shows you the pace of the trade discussions," said Hillary Stevenson, director of oil markets and business development at Genscape. "We just have to wait and see. China is buying U.S. crude again but not at its old pace." Two ships, The Manifa and The Jag Lakshya, are estimated to arrive in China in the middle of February. Genscape can track their movement across the ocean using marine radar technology that shippers use to avoid running into each other on the open water. The journey from Texas to Asia takes about a month and a half, and ships often mark their destination as Singapore when they are really only refueling there before traveling another five days to China.

Britain's richest man blasts designer over opposition to fracking - Britain's richest man has launched a blistering attack on Dame Vivienne Westwood over her opposition to fracking. Chemicals tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe – who is worth £21billion – said the designer did not care about the jobs it would create, and accused her of living in a London bubble. Dame Vivienne, 77, hit back, calling Sir Jim, 66, a liar bent on destroying the environment. His firm, Ineos, is a key player in the dash for shale gas. The fuel is extracted through fracking – a controversial process in which high-pressure water, sand and chemicals are blasted into rocks deep underground to release trapped fossil fuels. Critics claim the process causes earthquakes and increases pollution. Dame Vivienne, a pioneer of 1970s punk fashion, has been a vocal campaigner against fracking, which she wants to be banned. But Sir Jim – whose company has been granted the rights to look for shale gas in North and South Yorkshire, Cheshire and the East Midlands – said she was standing in the way of progress. ‘It’s ridiculous we’re not allowed to do the science to find out if we’re sat on decent shale gas deposits,’ he said. ‘There are a lot of people in the North of England who are not very well off and they’re not going to have jobs and there’s no investment. So it’s all very well the politicians who live in Chelsea and Knightsbridge pooh-poohing shale, and Vivienne Westwood [wanting to show] a film every fashion show about how she’s anti-shale ... but she doesn’t have to live in the North of England and she isn’t without a job.’ 

  Tests at Cuadrilla's British fracking site show substantial gas flows (Reuters) - Tests of the first shale well at Cuadrilla’s site in northwest England show a rich reservoir of high quality and recoverable gas, the British firm said on Wednesday, adding that rules that have constrained its testing work should be eased. Cuadrilla is using a technique called hydraulic fracturing that involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure to break up rock and extract gas. The practice, known as fracking, can cause tremors and environmentalists oppose the development. The company repeatedly stopped operations last year at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire because of minor seismic events. British regulations demand work be suspended if seismic activity of magnitude 0.5 or more is detected. Cuadrilla said it could only partially test the horizontal shale well because of the operating limits. It said it fully fractured 2 out of 41 stages along the horizontal well and less than 14 percent of sand was injected. “Nonetheless the natural gas still flowed back from the shale at a peak rate of over 200,000 standard cubic feet (scf) per day and a stable rate of some 100,000 scf/day,” Chief Executive Officer Francis Egan. Scaling up the results suggested a flow range of between 3 million to 8 million scf/day for a 2.5 km (1.6 miles) section once all stages were hydraulically fractured, Cuadrilla said. “We have also confirmed that the Bowland shale formation fractures in a way that, from U.S. experience, is typical of an excellent shale gas reservoir,” Egan said. Fracking techniques were pioneered in the United States, which has turned from an importer of gas to a net exporter. Cuadrilla said more production data was needed to refine the preliminary results and this could only be done if seismicity limits are lifted to allow more effective fracturing. The firm has asked the regulator to review rules on seismic activity to allow more thorough testing of exploration wells. Depending on the outcome, Cuadrilla plans to complete fracking its first well at Preston New Road, start a second and carry out flow testing of both later this year. 

The Guardian view on fracking- the end can't come soon enough - Editorial - Less than four months after what was supposed to be a new beginning for fracking in England, when Cuadrilla resumed operations at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire, it appears increasingly unlikely that there is a future for this industry in the UK at all. Minor earthquakes rapidly halted fracking at Preston New Road, and led to a row about whether the legal limit for underground seismic activity, set at 0.5-magnitude after earthquakes in 2011, is unrealistically low. Now Jim Ratcliffe, chairman of petrochemicals firm Ineos and the UK’s richest man, has launched his own attack both on the 0.5 limit and on the planning system that has seen all three of Ineos’s applications to frack rejected by local authorities – although two were later granted on appeal. The government’s refusal to change the law in the industry’s favour, he said, means that it is “shutting down shale by the backdoor”. Having watched the success of the shale gas industry in the US since 2000, Mr Ratcliffe and politicians including former chancellor George Osborne decided that fracking should become a UK industry too.  They were wrong. The UK is unsuited to fracking, for political and geological reasons that have become clearer over the past few years, and all the money (Ineos alone has spent £150m) and effort expended on trying to foist a new and dirty industry on communities who do not want it has been thrown away. Fracking was always a bad idea, because of climate change. Cutting carbon emissions means reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. To develop a new gas industry is to do the opposite, and arguments that shale gas is needed to “bridge” a gap in energy supply when existing nuclear power stations are decommissioned, and before they are replaced, are largely spurious. The idea that the UK’s energy security is threatened is similarly unfounded. Unlike eastern European countries that rely on gas from Russia, our imported gas comes mostly from Norway. The government’s most recent assessment concluded that supplies are resilient. Dramatic recent falls in the cost of renewables have greatly strengthened the case against fracking, as well as providing one of the few glimmers of hope in a darkening global climate picture.

 Over 67,000 Signatures Against Proposed Fracked Gas LNG Terminals in Germany -  With the existing Nord Stream pipeline, Gazprom is able to bring Russian gas directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea, allowing Moscow to bypass European transit countries such as Poland, Belarus, and crisis-hit Ukraine. Germany and Gazprom are now heavily pushing in favour of the construction of a second pipeline, Nord Stream II, which would double the current Russian gas influx capacity, from 55 to 110 bcm per year. But instead of stopping the project or starting a debate about the real need for gas in Germany, the country is additionally investing public money in counter-projects of Nord Stream 2 such as the Southern Gas Corridor. It also welcomes the propopals for the construction of the first LNG terminal in Germany, and provides a budget for fracked gas LNG import terminals. Bowing down to pressure from the Trump administration, Germany’s Economy Minister, Peter Altmaier, has invited US LNG export companies to a conference in Berlin on February 12th.  Despite their otherwise expressed support for the shale gas fracking ban in Germany,  German politicians at both the national and federal state levels are all of a sudden overly excited about importing fracked US LNG for petrochemicals and fertilizers. But people have definitely enough of this ongoing hypocrisy and opposition is growing throughout the country. Food & Water Europe found in October the support of over 20 environmental NGOs and grassroots groups for a first official statement against the proposed LNG terminal at Brunsbüttel. A first expert discussion organized by the Greens gave us the opportunity topresent our arguments on November 19 in the parliament of Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel and forced the investor to open up a public dialogue with several events to come in February 2019. In the early hours of January 31, we surprised politicians and industry officials (who met for a so-called parliamentary breakfast to celebrate themselves and the proposed LNG terminal at Brunsbüttel) with a protest action in the front of the permanent representation of the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein in Berlin. Our unexpected protest action was picked up by the local media. We also made use of the presence of the prime minister of Schleswig-Holstein and handed out a petition against the proposed LNG terminals in Germany – signed by over 67,000 people by the end of January.

 EU Won't Block Controversial Nord Stream 2 Pipeline -  As The European Union and the US struggle to block the controversial international pipeline project Nord Stream 2, a 760-mile pipeline that would allow Russia to export natural gas directly to Germany - depriving Ukraine of badly needed gas transit fees along the current route for Russian supplies - France on Friday officially announced its opposition to the project, revealing that it would vote with a bloc of EU nations seeking to torpedo the project.Earlier reports suggested that the opposition in Paris is rooted in the fear that the pipeline would confer too much "strategic power" on Moscow, potentially complicating its relationship with Brussels. Reuters has previously reported that Paris's vote against the project could rob Germany of the blocking minority it needs to move the project forward. But later on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a deal had been reached on Nord Stream 2. A vote is expected to be held next week on an amendment to the EU's gas directive that could allow the European Commission to cancel the pipeline project, according to Sputnik. The project itself has been spearheaded by Gazprom and five European energy companies, and engineers for Gazprom said recently that the raw pipeline could be finished as early as later this year. Following reports that France would effectively kill the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, EU officials including German Chancellor Angela Merkel affirmed on Friday that an agreement has been reached which will allow construction of the pipeline to move forward - handing a major victory to Germany and Russia (and a stunning defeat for President Trump). At a meeting in Brussels on Friday, EU diplomats advanced a draft gas-market law, initially proposed in late 2017, while greatly cutting back a provision that would have effectively blocked the pipeline. The deal will allow negotiations with the European Parliament on a final version of the legislation to begin. Both sides are aiming for an official agreement as soon as next week, and no later than the end of May.

Mexico investigates 3 officials from state oil company (AP) — Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday that three management-level officials at Mexico’s state-controlled petroleum company will be asked to resign as investigations proceed into suspicious contracts awarded to universities for technical expertise. “We can’t tolerate anything that has to do with corruption or even accept suspicions,” he said. Mexico comptroller Irma Erendira Sandoval said that the Pemex officials, including the current head of exploration and production, had signed off on 25 suspicious contracts since 2012. The contracts for technical assistance were subcontracted various times, despite language barring the practice, Sandoval said. The result was higher costs to the company for services that did not meet its needs. The three Pemex officials, as well as people close to them, were also found to be partners in some of the subcontracted firms. Other firms appeared to be empty fronts, she said. Investigators have dubbed the fraud a “master scam.” The investigations continue and findings will be turned over to federal prosecutors, Sandoval said. Previous audits at Pemex had raised flags about the contracts, but Sandoval said her predecessor in the administration of former President Enrique Pena Nieto had cleared them and not followed up. The government is also analyzing the employees’ property. Lopez Obrador has made rooting out government corruption his administration’s priority and speaks regularly about cleaning up Pemex, once the pride of Mexico but now a company that suffers from falling production and massive debt.

US issues new threats of war for oil against Venezuela -- President Trump, Vice President Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton escalated threats to launch a war against Venezuela, as large pro- and anti-government demonstrations filled Venezuela’s streets on Saturday.  In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” program that aired before the Super Bowl yesterday, Trump reiterated that military intervention “is an option.” Pence assured a crowd of far-right Venezuelan exiles in Miami on Friday that “this is no time for dialogue, it is the moment for action, and the time has come to end the Maduro dictatorship once and for all… Those looking on should know this: all options are on the table.”  Bolton, who helped author the playbook that was used to launch the 2003 invasion of Iraq, issued a blunt threat Friday that the US would kill or jail and torture Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro if he did not resign. Comparing Maduro to Nicolae Ceaușescu and Benito Mussolini—both of whom were killed—Bolton told right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt: “The sooner he takes advantage of that [i.e., resignation], the sooner he’s likely to have a nice quiet retirement on a pretty beach rather than being in some other beach area like Guantanamo.”  Self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó, the US and their allies in South America and Europe are preparing a new provocation aimed at forcing the Venezuelan military to abandon Maduro, with Guaidó announcing that the US will deliver aid at three locations along the Venezuelan border in the coming days.  While Maduro and the Venezuelan military leadership have said they will refuse the aid, the US hopes that images of crowds gathering to receive food and medication will either provoke the military to defect to the opposition and help distribute the aid or provide valuable propaganda footage justifying the need for a “humanitarian” intervention.

These Are the US Companies Backing the Venezuelan Coup Attempt - At present, there are only two American major oil and oil service companies with a significant presence in Venezuela – Chevron and Halliburton. However, Chevron is by far the leading American investor in Venezuelan oil projects, with Halliburton having written off much of its remaining business interests in the country just last year — losing hundreds of millions of dollars as a result.These two companies have long been “historic partners” and have had a solid business relationship between them for decades. In addition, both have reaped the benefits of past U.S. interventions abroad — such as the Iraq War, where the U.S. government “opened” that country’s nationalized oil industry to American oil companies with military force.Now with Venezuela’s nationalized oil industry in the crosshairs, Chevron and Halliburton are again set to benefit from Washington’s regime-change policies abroad. Furthermore, as Bolton’s recent statements suggest, these companies are also the top corporate sponsors of the current U.S.-backed coup to topple the government in Caracas. Chevron’s history in Venezuela is long and storied, as its presence in the country dates back more than a century. Over that time, Chevron’s presence in Venezuela has remained a constant despite the rule of drastically different governments, from military dictatorships to the socialist Chavista movement.For much of its history in Venezuela, Chevron has had to deal with the Venezuelan government’s laws regarding oil production, particularly a 1943 law that held that foreign companies could not make greater profits from oil than they paid to the Venezuelan state. A few decades later in the 1960s, foreign corporations were made to manage their oil extraction projects in Venezuela by working closely with the Venezuelan Oil corporation, which later gave way to the current state oil company PDVSA, created in 1976. It was around this period that Halliburton first began work in Venezuela. However, foreign corporations — particularly American ones — disliked having to settle for minority stakes in PDVSA projects and longed for the early days of Venezuela oil extraction when companies like Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil made wild profits off their Venezuelan oil assets.

U.S. cracks down on foreigners dealing in Venezuela oil (Reuters) - U.S. sanctions will sharply limit oil transactions between Venezuela and other countries and are similar to but slightly less extensive than those imposed on Iran last year, experts said on Friday after looking at details posted by the Treasury Department. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-oil-sanctions/u-s-sets-deadline-for-foreigners-dealing-in-venezuela-oil-idUSKCN1PQ4PB Treasury’s notice makes more explicit that the sanctions restrict foreign entities from doing business with Venezuela using the U.S. financial system or U.S. brokers after April. With most oil transactions conducted in dollars, that is expected to sharply curtail off Venezuela’s efforts to seek buyers around the world. U.S. officials imposed sanctions on state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, this week, seeking to cut off President Nicolas Maduro’s primary source of foreign revenues. Most of the Western Hemisphere has thrown its support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido after Maduro was re-elected in a contest last year widely seen as fraudulent. “On one hand, the sanctions aren’t as severe as on Iran yet. We don’t ban any country that does business with Venezuela from doing business in the U.S.,” said Robert McNally, president of Rapidan Energy, a Washington D.C. consultancy. “On the other hand, the goal of regime change is explicit and very clear.” Venezuela sells oil to buyers around the world, including India and Europe, and the country has been seeking buyers elsewhere to replace the roughly 500,000 barrels a day it sells to the United States. Even before Friday’s notice, European buyers had pulled back on taking shipments from Venezuela due to concerns about how to make payments. Europe may also join the sanctions, experts have said, further constraining options for transporting the crude. 

US gives non-US firms three months to wind down PDVSA deals - The US Treasury Department said Friday that transactions between non-US firms and PDVSA, Venezuela's state-owned oil firm, which involve the US financial system or US commodity brokers would be prohibited after April 28. In a series of answers to "Frequently Asked Questions," Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control clarified that these non-US entities had three months to wind down these transactions with PDVSA, indicating US sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector may be more extensive than many analysts initially thought. But these sanctions are not secondary sanctions, explicitly prohibiting oil and product trade between PDVSA and foreign firms, sources said. "While it superficially looks like secondary sanctions, my understanding is that it means third parties can't use dollars, not that they can't trade in non-dollar currencies," said Kevin Book, a managing director with ClearView Energy Partners. "It wouldn't surprise me, however, if Treasury wrote it this way as sort of a high inside pitch for those who might be looking for an end-around." In the FAQ document Friday, Treasury's OFAC also explicitly prohibited swap transactions, under which US refiners would buy Venezuelan crude sold by PDVSA through a third party. "It is certainly clarifying that this category of trade cannot occur," said Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former senior sanctions adviser at the Department of the Treasury. "I don't think this was a loophole more than it was an area of enormous confusion for the last couple of days." But Treasury Friday did not provide additional clarity on US shipments of diluent, which were subject to an immediate prohibition Monday. PDVSA uses naphtha from the US to thin its heavy crude so it can be shipped. Several US shippers had diluent shipments in process to Venezuela when sanctions were announced Monday, and those shipments have been left in limbo since

Guaido plans Citgo leadership shakeup, new Venezuela hydrocarbons law: sources — Venezuela's self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido, will announce plans to revamp the board of Citgo Petroleum to give the embattled refiner fresh leadership and ease political pressures on the company, sources close to the opposition leader told S&P Global Platts. The announcement could come as soon as today, the sources said, as Guaido aims to build momentum behind his move to oust President Nicolas Maduro following violent protests Wednesday that left 13 dead. Citgo is the US-based refining subsidiary of Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA, with units in Louisiana, Texas and Illinois. Current Citgo President Asdrubal Chavez is barred from entering the US after the White House revoked his visa. Just under half of the refiner has been leveraged as collateral to Russia's Rosneft to cover a $1.5 billion loan to the Venezuelan government, and other creditors have laid claims to the company over unpaid debts. Guaido, the opposition leader who was recently named head of Venezuela's National Assembly, declared himself the country's interim president on Wednesday and was quickly recognized by the US, Canada and several other countries. Mexico, Russia and Cuba, however, have said they will stand by Maduro, who said he would break diplomatic and political relations with the US. In addition to reshaping the leadership of Citgo, Guaido 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, as well as enact an anti-corruption law aimed at PDVSA, sources said. A new hydrocarbons agency would be created to offer bidding rounds for projects in natural gas and conventional, heavy and extra-heavy crude, the sources added. Guaido has not settled on any appointments for oil minister or PDVSA chief yet, "but they will be people with experience," one source said. The current oil minister and head of PDVSA is Manuel Quevedo, a former brigadier general in the National Guard with no previous oil experience before being tapped to his position by Maduro in late 2017. Quevedo, in his capacity as Venezuela's top OPEC representative, currently holds the rotating OPEC presidency for 2019, which involves chairing meetings, calling any extraordinary meetings and serving as the organization's main ministerial spokesman..

Juan Guaidó Promises Oil Deals for US Gas Giants if He Takes Power  – Making the empires ambitions clear, US stooge Juan Guaidó has promised Venezuelan oil to US corporations.The US-backed Venezuelan “government” of Juan Guaidó has said there will be plenty of money to be made for Wall Street under a government without the current President, Nicolas Maduro.According to reports, this offer was made during a meeting between US officials and delegates of the Guaidó cabinet in Washington. Apparently, Guaidó has promised that if he should take control of the actual levers of state power in Venezuela he would end the control over Venezuelan oil projects currently given to the state oil company, PDVSA.The current law in Venezuela states that any projects involving Venezuelan oil that PDVSA must have, at least, a 51% stake. According to the delegates in Washington, this is the best way to reinvigorate Venezuelan oil production.In an interview following their official meetings in Washington, one Guaidó envoy, Carlos Vecchio, explained this strategy as a part of a broader policy “to go to an open economy.” Vecchio then went on to say that this “openness” would be what brings the oil sector back and reassured US speculators that “the majority of the oil production that we want to increase will be with the private sector.”While this is obviously the reason backs the Guaidó “government” it is stunning to hear it so openly. Vecchio was just as brazen when asked about whether PDVSA’s North American subsidiary, Citgo would go bankrupt or not. Vecchio explained that Guaidó “wants to keep the operation running” which likely reflects on recent moves by Guaidó and his cheerleaders to try to hand control of Citgo’s US assets and profits to the fraudulent president. This has been a common measure proposed by many analysts to try to create a slightly less-illegal-looking way to steal Venezuelan money. Yet now that we have confirmation that Guaidó does, in fact, intend to immediately begin selling off rights to Venezuela’s resources if he should ever get power, we know exactly where Citgo’s profits will go in the future. Guaidó may desperately want to control some Citgo and PDVSA assets for now, but he is also all too willing to sell them to Wall Street should he get the chance.This idea that selling off PDVSA to companies like Exxon – one of the oil giants kicked out of Venezuela by Hugo Chavez – will somehow make things better for average citizens of the country, is obviously ridiculous. Beyond the sheer stupidity and obvious theft, however, this narrative put forth by Guaidó and the US media totally whitewashes what is, for all intents and purposes, a US economic blockade of Venezuela and the host of sanction on the nation’s oil industry.

US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Guaido will name a new Citgo board, Sen. Rubio tells the WSJ --In a bid to block Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from the country's lucrative oil business, opposition leader Juan Guaido will name a new governance board for the country's Citgo Petroleum, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.This comes after Guaido, supported by the U.S. President Donald Trump and several European nations, declared himself to be the country's interim president in January. The U.S. has since placed sanctions on Venezuelan oil to weaken Maduro's government and wrestle assets over to the opposition.In an interview with the Journal, Rubio said the new board — which he said will be named "as early as today or tomorrow" — will be backed by the U.S. as Citgo's controlling legal entity."We are aware that there may be new members elected to the Citgo Petroleum Corp. board of directors. In corporate governance, as with all matters, we will follow the laws of the United States," a company spokesman told the Journal in a statement.The Journal said it had yet to receive comment from Guaido's officials, the U.S. Treasury and the White House. The Commerce Department has declined to comment.  Read more about Rubio's remarks in The Wall Street Journal's report.

Chevron, Halliburton Cheer On US Venezuelan Coup - For much of the past twenty years, critics of U.S. foreign policy have noted that it is often countries with sizeable oil reserves that most often find themselves the targets of U.S.-backed “humanitarian” interventions aimed at “restoring democracy.” Analysis of the nearly two-decades-long U.S. effort aimed at regime change and “democracy promotion” in Venezuela has long linked such efforts to the fact that the South American country has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. However, the current U.S. effort to topple the government led by Chavista politician Nicolás Maduro has become notable for the openness of the “coup architects” in admitting that putting American corporations – Chevron and Halliburton chief among them — in charge of Venezuelan oil resources is the driving factor behind this aggressive policy. Last week, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) – a key player in the Trump administration’s push for regime change in Caracas – tweetedBiggest [American] buyers of Venezuelan oil are Valero Energy & Chevron. Refining heavy crude from Venezuela supports great jobs in Gulf Coast. For the sake of these U.S. workers I hope they will begin working with administration of President [Juan] Guaidó & cut off illegitimate Maduro regime.”  In January, the U.S. government recognized Juan Guaidó of the U.S.-funded and CIA-linked Popular Will Party as the “legitimate” president of the country.  Biggest buyers of Venezuelan oil are @ValeroEnergy & @Chevron. Refining heavy crude from #Venezuela supports great jobs in Gulf Coast.  For the sake of these U.S. workers I hope they will begin working with administration of President Guaido & cut off illegitimate Maduro regime. — Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 24, 2019   A few hours after Rubio’s tweet, National Security Adviser John Bolton — who actively supported the U.S.-backed failed Venezuela coup in 2002  — appeared on Fox News and told host Trish Regan the following: “We’re looking at the oil assets. That’s the single most important income stream to the government of Venezuela. We’re looking at what to do to that.”

Pompeo: US Military Obligated to “Take Down” the Iranians in Venezuela  — As a U.S.-backed effort to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro continues,U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Wednesday that Hezbollah “has active cells” in Venezuela—a claim that was immediately scrutinized and compared with the second Bush administration’s lies to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Hezbollah, a political and militant Shi’ite Muslim group based in Lebanon, has been on the U.S. State Department’s “Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations” list since 1997. In the interview with Fox Business, Pompeo, who previously served as President Donald Trump’s CIA director, also charged that Iran and Cuba are strongly influencing the country.  “The Cubans invaded Venezuela. The Cubans have been controlling the security apparatus, protecting Maduro, and destroying the way of life for the Venezuelan people for an awfully long time,” he said. “People don’t recognize that Hezbollah has active cells—the Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America. We have an obligation to take down that risk for America.”  @SecPompeo confirms to me exclusively that #Hezbollah is active in #venezuela – WATCH: pic.twitter.com/kQm37SIhep — Trish Regan (@trish_regan) February 7, 2019   Pompeo’s latest claims on Wednesday were met with sarcasm, skepticism, and concern for how they may be used to justify further American intervention—including military action that hasn’t been authorized by Congress—in a country already enduring political and economic crises:

China and Russia loaned billions to Venezuela — and then the presidency went up for grabs -  Venezuela is in the middle of a power struggle at the highest level, and that could mean trouble for its two biggest foreign allies: China and Russia.The socialist petrostate is home to the largest oil reserves on the planet, but endemic corruption has devastated its economy. Beijing and Moscow have helped the country stave off collapse by repeatedly extending financial lifelines — to the tune of tens of billions of dollars over the last decade.For the most part, those oil-for-debt swaps were good for all parties involved. But that may be changing. With the United States and others backing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate president over dictator Nicolas Maduro, it could take longer for Russia and China to get their money back. And in the case of some loans, they may not get anything back at all. "I don't think they like regime change. I don't think they like the idea that the U.S. is seemingly declaring somebody president," says Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets. "Both Xi and Putin would be horrified if the U.S. got any ideas about trying to do this in any of their countries, or countries that they view as satellite states." Guaido has said all lawful agreements approved by Venezuela's National Assembly will be honored, a statement widely seen as an olive branch to China. Thus far, Beijing is still publicly backing Maduro.

This Russian Oil Giant Is Driving Putin Toward Showdown With Trump In Venezuela -- “Russia is now so deeply invested in the Maduro regime that the only realistic option is to double down,” writes senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center Alexander Gabuev.He details in a Financial Times op-ed that Moscow-based state oil giant Rosneft owns two offshore gas fields in Venezuela and further has "stakes in assets boasting more than 20m tonnes of crude." But as embattled President Nicolas Maduro faces US-led efforts to oust him in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido, billions are on the line for Moscow making its interest in preserving the regime run deep. In total Caracas owes Rosneft $3 billion, according to Gabuev, which could lead to "a new sort of proxy conflict in America’s backyard," which is at once economic, political, and could increasingly turn to proxy military intervention. Indeed the Kremlin has already accused the US of "meddling" in the affairs of a sovereign country in order to foster a "slow motion coup"."Any solution to the internal political crisis in Venezuela is possible only by Venezuelans themselves," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. "Imposing any solutions or efforts aimed at legitimizing the attempt of usurping power is, in our view, just direct and indirect meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs," Peskov said. "This does not contribute in any way to the peaceful, effective and vital settlement to the crisis, which Venezuelans are enduring and who should, as we believe, pull through it on their own," the Kremlin spokesman noted. This comes after a significant weekend development in which US National Security Adviser John Bolton promised that the United States will begin humanitarian aid shipments into Venezuela via Brazil and Colombia, despite Maduro denying acceptance of such aid. Guaido, considered "Interim President" by Washington has "authorized" such aid. But as Gabuev suggests in FT, Rosneft's powerful Chief Executive Igor Sechin's involvement in decision-making on Venezuela means Moscow's foreign policy is “increasingly driven by a combination of corporate interests and ambitions” led by Putin's oligarchic inner circle. Sechin is “arguably the most powerful man in Putin’s entourage” and oversees Russia's energy sector.

Global deepwater oil output set to top 10 million b/d in 2019: Rystad— Global deepwater oil production was expected to grow 700,000 b/d this year to hit a record high of more than 10 million b/d, according to estimates by Norwegian research group Rystad. With a number of large fields starting up in Brazil and US Gulf of Mexico, deepwater liquid production will reach 10.3 million b/d in 2019, Rystad said Friday. In addition to Brazil and the US, Angola, Nigeria and Norway will continue to be the largest deepwater producers, Rystad said. Deepwater projects have attracted nearly half of global exploration investment over the past decade and have delivered a similar share of new production volumes. As global oil production from maturing shallow water areas such as the North Sea declines, new offshore volumes were expected to become increasingly reliant on flows from deepwater fields. The International Energy Agency has estimated that the share of deepwater in total offshore production will rise to 30% in 2040, from 23% currently. Brazil will be by far the largest source of future deepwater growth, the IEA estimated, by nearly doubling its current output by 2040. Last month, UK energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie predicted that total annual deepwater capital expenditure would rise to nearly $60 billion by 2022 from around $50 billion currently. Most of the new deepwater spending will be directed at major projects in Brazil, Guyana and Mozambique, Wood Mac said. It said, however, that the expected rising spend on deepwater projects could accelerate a return to cyclical cost inflation in the offshore sector. Rig day rates, for example, could double by the early 2020s, according to Wood Mac, as deepwater rig capacity was expected to fall.

Fuel oil spills into Namibia’s Windhoek’s sewerage system – The purification of water at the Windhoek’s sewerage system has been placed on hold after a spill of fuel oil into the system, the Namibian Sun has reported.Ohlthaver and List Group spokesperson, Roux-ché Locke, disclosed that the spill of somewhere between 4 000 and 6 000 litres of heavy fuel oil occurred yesterday morning at the Namibia Dairies factory in Avis after a technical problem was experienced with a pipeline“We took immediate action when we became aware of the spill. Along with stakeholders, including the City of Windhoek, we worked to halt any further damage and pollution,” she said adding that an investigation into the scope of the spill is currently under way.According to Locke, the Namibia Diaries has taken on the full responsibility to ensure that all aspects of environmental pollution and damage are being treated in the most responsible manner. The polluted water cannot be treated and purified by the Gammams plant as it would damage the systems.

Saudis and allies reportedly trying to extend oil cooperation with Russia - Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister and OPEC conference president Khalid al-Falih, and OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo attend a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producing countries in Vienna, Austria, May 25, 2017.Saudi Arabia and a group of OPEC members are reportedly trying to commit Russia and other oil-producing nations to continue managing supply for up to three more years.The so-called OPEC+ coalition reached a historic deal in 2016 to slash output in a bid to end a punishing oil price downturn. The group of two dozen producers briefly lifted the caps last year, but agreed to fresh production cuts in December after a three-month collapse in oil prices.OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo and some oil ministers have long sought to make the alliance permanent, but Russia essentially nixed that idea in December.Now, some OPEC nations including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are trying to lock their allies into another several years of coordination, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some of the nations are expected to debate the proposal when they meet in Vienna later this month, according to the Journal."It is an effort to put a formal framework around an ad hoc relationship," Helima Croft, global head of commodities strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told CNBC. She said OPEC clearly does not want Russia to abandon them.An OPEC spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

OPEC Proposes Formal Oil-Production Alliance With Russia - Even as the US brought sanctions against Venezuela's state-run oil company, oil prices have slumped over the past week, erasing some of a January rebound that saw crude prices rebound alongside equities. But oil bulls who worried that Saudi Arabia and Russia's tandem production cuts wouldn't be enough to finally wedge a floor under crude prices can relax: Because if a plan reported Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal pans out, OPEC might recover the price-setting power it is in fear of ceding to the US as the shale boom continues to...well...boom. With the US having cemented its new position as the biggest oil producer in the world thanks to shale, and President Trump exerting pressure on Saudi Arabia to drive oil prices lower, WSJ reports that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in OPEC have proposed a formal alliance with a 10-nation group of petroleum producers led by Russia - and alliance that would "transform the cartel" (which has recently suffered speculation that it has lost its relevance after Qatar announced its plans to leave the bloc). However, Iran and some of its allies within the cartel have opposed the tighter partnership, fearing it could lead to Saudi Arabia and Russia dominating the organization.The proposal would formalize the loose union between members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the group led by Moscow, which includes some former Soviet republics and other countries. The two groups have increasingly worked together in recent years, including in December when they agreed on a deal to curb production.Iran and other producers have opposed a tighter partnership, fearing it could be dominated by Saudi Arabia and Russia, according to officials in the cartel. Riyadh and Moscow are the world’s top two oil exporters. A Russian energy ministry spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.Given that Saudi needs oil back at $80 a barrel to balance its national budget, the alliance would likely be geared toward Saudi and Russia achieving the goal of higher prices. To achieve higher prices, they need more leverage against the US.To be sure, it's not like this level of collusion between OPEC and non-OPEC producers would be unprecedented. The two groups have been increasingly working together in recent years. As recently as December, the 14-member OPEC and the 10-member bloc led by Russia struck a deal to cut production in a bid to lift prices after global oil prices shed more than one-third of their value during the month of October. According to a proposal detailed by WSJ, once formalized, the deal - which would function like a non-legally-binding, informal arrangement, wouldn't be all that different than the process that led to the December agreement.

Saudi Arabia pumps 10.21 mil b/d crude oil in Jan, eight-month low: Platts survey — OPEC pumped the fewest barrels since March 2015 in January, with crude output plunging to 30.86 million b/d, a fall of 970,000 b/d from December as new supply quotas went into force, according to an S&P Global Platts survey of industry officials, analysts and shipping data. The month-on-month fall was the biggest since December 2016, the survey found, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE leading the group in production discipline, while Libya kept its largest oil field offline due to security risks. The 11 OPEC members obligated to reduce oil output under the agreement signed late last year achieved 76% of their required cuts in January, with their production falling 619,000 b/d from October, the benchmark month from which the quotas were determined, except for Kuwait, which is using November. At the last OPEC meeting in Vienna, the members agreed to slash output by 812,000 b/d, with Russia and nine other non-OPEC allies committing to a cut of 383,000 b/d for the first six months of 2019. Venezuela, Iran and Libya were exempted from the deal, and those three countries contributed to 25% of OPEC's production decline for January. Saudi Arabia has backed up the strong words of its energy minister Khalid al-Falih, with January production falling to 10.21 million b/d. That is below its allocation of 10.31 million b/d under the deal, as crude exports declined by around 500,000 b/d to 7.20 million b/d in January, Platts trade flow software cFlow showed. It is also the lowest output figure since May 2018 when the kingdom produced 10.01 million b/d. The UAE, which has recently emerged as OPEC's third-largest producer, pumped 3.07 million b/d in January, down 180,000 b/d from December, in line with its quota. Sanctions-hit Iran saw its output fall to its lowest level in over six years to 2.72 million b/d, a fall of 80,000 b/d from the previous month. Production in Libya plunged to 850,000 b/d, the lowest since July as its largest oil field Sharara remains shuttered since armed forces occupied it in early December. Venezuelan production dropped 10,000 b/d to 1.16 million b/d in January as the country's political crisis worsened, with key Western nations endorsing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate president. Nigeria produced 1.87 million b/d, a fall of 30,000 b/d from the previous month but output remains well above its quota of 1.69 million b/d. Nigeria's ministry officials insist some of the country's crude should be categorized as condensate, which is not subject to production limits.

Saudi Oil Output Cuts Exceed OPEC Pledge-- OPEC crude output fell the most in two years last month as the group implemented almost 80 percent of its new production cuts deal. Top exporter Saudi Arabia cut deeper than pledged, while its close allies the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also made sizable reductions. Those deliberate curbs were compounded by involuntary output drops in Iran, targeted by U.S. sanctions, and Libya, both of which were exempt from the group’s agreement. Output from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ 14 current members fell by 930,000 barrels a day last month to 31.02 million, according to a Bloomberg survey of officials, analysts and ship-tracking data. OPEC’s 15th member, Qatar, left the group at the end of December. OPEC and its allies renewed their production cuts accord in December after a 40 percent plunge in crude prices, prompted by record American shale flows and doubts about the strength of demand. The group, which is known as OPEC+ and includes Russia, agreed to remove 1.2 million barrels a day from the market, compared to October levels, during the first six months of 2019. OPEC’s share of the cut is 800,000 barrels a day, to be delivered by 11 members excluding Iran, Libya and Venezuela. Those 11 nations implemented 79 percent of their pledged cuts in January, the survey found. That means they would need to cut about another 170,000 barrels a day to fully implement the agreement. Saudi Arabia followed through on its pledge to make a quick and early start to the agreement. It cut production by 450,000 barrels a day from December to reach 10.2 million, about a third deeper than required under the terms of the deal. This is a huge reduction from record output of 11.1 million barrels a day in November. Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said he expects to reduce oil output “well below” the kingdom’s target and promised deeper cuts in February. Its voluntary limit under the OPEC+ accord is 10.3 million barrels a day. Iraq, which among major OPEC producers had the worst record of implementing the previous round of output cuts agreed in 2016, pumped 4.69 million barrels a day last month, above its agreed target of 4.51 million. As is often the case with OPEC, a big portion of the curbs were involuntary. Iran’s output fell by 150,000 barrels a day to 2.74 million as customers were discouraged by U.S. sanctions. Production is down 39 percent since Trump announced in May he was abandoning a nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic. Libya, plagued by clashes and unrest since the fall of former leader Moammar Qaddafi in 2011, pumped 900,000 barrels a day in January, a drop of 100,000 and the lowest since July. The country’s biggest oil field, Sharara, remains shut after being occupied by an armed group for almost a month. The nation’s exports have also been hampered by the repeated closure of oil terminals due to bad weather. Although Venezuela posted a small production increase of 50,0000 barrels a day to 1.27 million last month, its industry remains vulnerable. The U.S. imposed sweeping sanctions against its state oil company, which could turn out to be a de facto oil embargo unless President Nicolas Maduro bows to pressure from the Trump administration and steps aside.

Oil bears sent back into hibernation by economic optimism, OPEC cuts and Venezuela sanctions (Reuters) - Hedge funds are becoming steadily less bearish towards oil as OPEC output cuts and U.S. sanctions on Venezuela remove large volumes of crude from the market amid increasing confidence a global recession can be averted. Hedge funds and other money managers were net buyers of another 30 million barrels of Brent crude futures and options in the week to Jan. 29, according to position data from ICE Futures Europe. Fund managers have been net buyers in seven of the last eight weeks and have increased their position by 96 million barrels since Dec. 4 (https://tmsnrt.rs/2Bfloe4 ). In common with previous weeks, fund managers mostly closed out old bearish short positions (-18 million barrels) rather than opening new bullish long ones (+12 million). Bearish short positions have fallen by more than 60 percent from a peak of 122 million barrels on Dec. 11 to 48 million as fund managers have become convinced that the fourth-quarter sell-off is over. In contrast, bullish long positions have risen by just 27 million barrels over the same period, as portfolio managers remain cautious. However, weekly increases have started to accelerate, in a sign of growing confidence. Funds now hold almost 6 bullish long positions for every bearish short one, up from a ratio of 2:1 in mid-December, and the most bullish overall position since mid-October. OPEC’s early and aggressive output reductions have removed some of the downside supply risk to oil prices even as traders remain uncertain about the risk of recession and the potential hit to consumption growth in 2019. U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA, since broadened to include third-country purchasers of Venezuela’s heavy crude, are also likely to reduce global oil supplies.

Trump can't count on Saudi Arabia to keep oil prices stable from Venezuela sanctions -  President Trump likely won’t be able to count on Saudi Arabia to help defray the impact of his Venezuela oil ban, which could cause prices to rise. Saudi Arabia’s medium sour grade of oil is a good enough substitute for the sludgy, heavy product from Venezuela, which is rare and craved by U.S. Gulf Coast refiners built to process it. But Saudi Arabia has little incentive to help after Trump successfully prodded the kingdom to boost exports last year to offset his oil sanctions on Iran, only to see the president later grant exemptions to eight countries, allowing them to continue buying Iranian oil because he feared higher prices, thereby creating oversupply. In reaction, the Saudis began implementing an OPEC pact with Russia in January to cut production in order to raise low prices — a deal the Saudis say they are committed to carrying out, despite complaints from Trump. As a result, the Saudis are not predisposed to aid Trump, even though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, announcing the sanctions on Monday at the White House, leaned on them to help prevent an oil market mess, saying, "Many of our friends in the Middle East will be happy to make up the supply as we push down Venezuela's supply."“Although Saudi barrels are a good candidate to replace Venezuelan supply, Saudi caution is understandable after they were burned in November when the Trump administration very publicly bullied them for more oil, only to grant a slew of Iran sanctions waivers at the last minute,” said Antoine Halff, a senior research scholar with the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. The oil market so far has barely responded to the the Trump administration sanctions against Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA, an effort to kill the main source of revenue for the regime of Nicolas Maduro and empower opposition leader Juan Guaido. The sanctions divert the proceeds of U.S. purchases of the country’s oil to a blocked account, preventing the Maduro regime from receiving it.

BP CEO Bob Dudley makes his prediction for oil prices in 2019 --Oil market conditions should improve over the coming months, BP CEO Bob Dudley told CNBC on Tuesday.His comments come at a time when energy market participants expect U.S. sanctions on crisis-stricken Venezuela, as well as OPEC-led production cuts, to offset a potential supply glut this year."As we look it, it feels like the markets will be firmer," Dudley said, when asked for his energy market forecast for 2019. "I couldn't predict the oil price but we are planning BP between $50 and $65," he added.Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil prices, was trading at $62.22 a barrel Tuesday afternoon, down 0.4 percent, while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $54.30, down 0.5 percent.OPEC and its allied producers, including Russia, agreed to impose output cuts from the beginning of January in order to prevent a global supply overhang.The Middle East-dominated group began capping supply in partnership with Russia and several other nations in January 2017 to end a punishing downturn in oil prices."I think there's a lot of uncertainty (in oil markets) we're looking at a high volatility for this year," Joseph Gatdula, head of oil and gas at Fitch Solutions, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Tuesday.  "All that uncertainty is based on a few known events that we have, the Iranian sanctions waivers and the Venezuelan sanctions but also the OPEC-plus cuts, those are expected to go for the first six months of the year — and then it's uncertain what's going to happen," he added.

Oil prices slide after hitting 2019 highs on tighter supply outlook - Oil hit a two-month high near $64 a barrel as OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions against Venezuela's oil exports brightened the supply outlook, but prices fell back on uncertainty about prospects for the global economy. Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, hit $63.63 a barrel, the highest since Dec. 7, before turning negative. Brent slipped 82 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $61.93 around 10:50 a.m. ET (1550 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude hit a 2019 high of $55.75, its best intraday price since Nov. 21. WTI was last down $1.36, or 2.5 percent, at $53.90. The slump appears to be tied to U.S. dollar strength, which makes oil more expensive to holders of other currencies, and pipeline movements that suggest a potentially big increase in crude stockpiles at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery hub, where WTI is priced, said Edward Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup. OPEC and its allies began a new round of supply cuts in January. These curbs, led by Saudi Arabia, have been compounded by involuntary losses that the Venezuelan sanctions could deepen. "You have the sanctions on Venezuela, on top of the reduced supply from Saudi Arabia," "There's no sign of overhang in the crude oil markets." OPEC supply fell in January by the largest amount in two years, a Reuters survey last week found. That offset limited compliance with the output-cutting deal so far by non-OPEC Russia. The U.S. sanctions on Venezuela will limit oil transactions between Venezuela and other countries and are similar to those imposed on Iran last year, some analysts said after examining details announced by the government. Underlining the lack of excess supply, Jakob cited a rapidly clearing West African crude market and the structure of Brent crude futures, in which the first-month contract is trading near the price of the second month. While OPEC and its allies are cutting output, the United States is expanding supply. Nonetheless, figures on Friday showed a drop in the number of U.S. oil rigs to their lowest in eight months, lending prices some support.

Oil slides on disappointing U.S. data after hitting two-month high (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Monday after disappointing U.S. factory data sparked fresh concerns about a slowdown in the global economy, but losses were limited as OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions against Venezuela pointed to tighter supply. Brent crude futures dropped 24 cents, or 0.38 percent, to settle at $62.51 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 70 cents, or 1.27 percent, to settle at $54.56 a barrel. Weighing on oil markets, U.S. government data showed new orders for U.S.-made goods unexpectedly fell in November, with sharp declines in demand for machinery and electrical equipment. “In a market that’s looking for direction, there’s concern that any slowdown in the manufacturing sector would slow down demand. Because the number was a little disappointing, it played into the slowing demand scenario,” said Phil Flynn, oil analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. Prices also dipped after data showed U.S. crude inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for U.S. crude futures, rose by more than 943,000 barrels in the week to Feb. 1, traders said, citing data from market intelligence firm Genscape. Crude futures earlier posted around two-month highs. Brent reached $63.63 a barrel, the highest since Dec. 7, while WTI climbed to $55.75 a barrel, the strongest since Nov. 21. Prices have been buoyed by a new round of supply cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies that began in January. OPEC supply fell last month by the largest amount in two years, a Reuters survey last week found. Russia has been in full compliance with its pledge to gradually cut its oil production, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in a statement on Monday, adding that production decreased by 47,000 barrels per day (bpd) in January from October. 

Oil prices wobble as poor US factory data offset tighter supply - Oil prices struggled for direction in choppy trading on Tuesday, a day after data showing a decline in U.S. factory orders dragged both benchmarks down from 2019 highs. Despite the slide, investors expect U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and production cuts led by OPEC to head off a glut this year, buoying prices. U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures were down 4 cents at $54.35 per barrel around 10:15 a.m. ET (1515 GMT), after earlier falling more than 1 percent to $53.62. WTI touched its highest in more than two months at $55.75 the previous day. International Brent crude futures were up 12 cents at $62.63 a barrel, bouncing from a session low at $61.72 and off Monday's two-month high of $63.63. Trading proceeded at lower volumes in parts of East Asia due to the Lunar New Year holiday. "Disappointing U.S. factory data sparked fresh concerns over a slowdown in the global economy, although losses were limited as OPEC cuts and U.S. sanctions on Venezuela continued to point to a tighter supply picture," Cantor Fitzgerald Europe said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, agreed to production cuts effective this month to forestall an overhang. The oil industry generally believes the curbs will help balance the market in 2019. "You'll see OPEC disciplined and therefore prices look fairly robust around where they are", BP CFO Brian Gilvary told Reuters, adding that he expected demand growth of 1.3 to 1.4 million bpd in 2019 -- similar to 2018. Analysts said U.S. sanctions on Venezuela had focused market attention on tighter global supplies.

 Oil Rally Halts On Economic Concerns - Outages in Venezuela is pushing crude higher, but some profit-taking, along with a few weak economic indicators on U.S. factory orders, kept prices in check. Press reports suggest that Venezuela is having difficulty finding buyers for its oil, with U.S. sanctions encircling the country. Satellite imagery shows several tankers idling off the coast of Maracaibo, the country’s second largest city. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a “flotilla loaded with about 7 million barrels of Venezuelan oil has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, some holding cargoes bought ahead of the latest U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and others whose buyers are weighing who to pay.” U.S. sanctions are biting much harder than first expected, and a sizable chunk of Venezuela’s oil exports could be in jeopardy.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has faced internal resistance to his idea of launching a public offering of state-owned Saudi Aramco. The Saudi bureaucracy slow-walked the IPO plans, and ultimately convinced MbS to delay the offering until 2021 at the earliest, the WSJ reports. Moreover, many officials are intent on preventing the IPO from ever happening because they feel it will expose the company’s internal workings, open up the company to legal blowback abroad, and also cost the country economically. Related: Oil Prices Drop After Touching 2019 High  The oil majors posted impressive earnings for the fourth quarter and full-year in 2018, despite the collapse of oil prices. The five largest oil companies posted a combined $84 billion in profits last year, up from just $10 billion four years ago, according to the Wall Street Journal. The majors, by and large, are focusing on increasing returns to shareholders. Chevron, for instance, announced a $25 billion share repurchasing program. . Bank of America Merrill Lynch sees oil demand growing slowly over the coming decade before peaking in 2030. Demand growth slows from 1.2 mb/d in 2019 to just 0.6 mb/d by 2024. By 2030, annual growth falls to zero.

Oil fumbles on global economic worries, dollar strength (Reuters) - Oil prices slipped on Tuesday, falling from two-month highs as concerns over a global economic slowdown crept back into the market, and a stronger dollar also weighed. Prices sagged after a survey showed euro zone business expansion nearly stalled in January. That, coupled with disappointing U.S. factory orders data a day earlier, stoked worries about softer demand, analysts said. Brent crude futures fell 53 cents to settle at $61.98 a barrel. They touched their highest level in more than two months at $63.63 the previous day. U.S. crude futures dropped 90 cents to settle at $53.66 a barrel, or down 1.7 percent. Futures held lower after the close, when the American Petroleum Institute said U.S. crude stocks rose by 2.5 million barrels last week, more than analyst expectations. Oil also felt pressure from a strengthening dollar, which rallied for a fourth straight session, which makes crude more expensive for non-U.S. buyers. “It really seemed to be a dollar influence here today,”  Investors were shifting assets into equities and away from markets more sensitive to Washington-Beijing trade relations and movements in the dollar,   “Oil is just not in favor today, and they are going after the equity markets,” he said. Wall Street was slightly higher on Tuesday. U.S. sanctions on Venezuela have been viewed as supportive of prices by helping tighten global supplies. Numerous tankers are currently in the water off the Venezuelan coast, unable to move because state-owned PDVSA is demanding payment, which would run afoul of U.S. sanctions. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, agreed to production cuts effective from last month to beat back supply growth. A Reuters survey found that supply from OPEC states had fallen the most in two years. Concerns about the pace of global economic growth were fanned by a weak start for the year for euro zone businesses. A Tuesday survey showed demand declined for the first in over four years. New orders for U.S.-made goods fell unexpectedly in November, according to data released a day earlier. 

U.S.-China talks dominate oil outlook: Kemp (Reuters) - The deadline for the United States and China to reach a trade deal before U.S. tariffs increase on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports (scheduled for March 2) is the most important date in the calendar for oil traders. The deadline will probably have more impact than the next OPEC+ joint ministerial monitoring committee (March 18), OPEC’s extraordinary meeting (April 17-18) or even the White House review of Iran sanctions waivers (May 4). The outcome of trade talks will have a decisive influence on the oil consumption outlook for the rest of the year since the threat of tariffs and associated uncertainty are proving the largest drag on global economic growth. Because the trade deadline comes first, the outturn will shape the subsequent strategic choices made by OPEC and its allies over oil production and the White House on how far to toughen Iran sanctions. Uncertainty about the outlook for global trade has already pushed the world economy close to the brink of recession, judging by a range of business surveys and statistics on trade volumes (https://tmsnrt.rs/2TyUPrn ). China’s manufacturers reported a fall in business activity in December and January, and the official purchasing managers’ index has fallen to its lowest level for three years. Global manufacturers have reported declining export orders for five months now, according to the new export orders component of the JPMorgan Global PMI, with new business falling at the fastest rate since 2016. Freight flows through Hong Kong International Airport, the world’s busiest air cargo hub, are also falling at the fastest rate since 2016, according to government statistics. The only significant exception to the global slowdown has been the United States itself, where manufacturers report a continued widespread upturn, albeit more slowly than the frenzied rates in late 2017 and early 2018. In the rest of the world, the slowdown has taken a toll on current and prospective oil consumption growth, pushing the global market towards surplus and causing prices to fall sharply in the fourth quarter. The biggest impact of the slowdown is being felt in the consumption of middle distillates such as diesel and jet fuel used in trucking, shipping, railroads and airlines as well as by manufacturers, miners and farmers. Given distillate’s predominant use in freight transport and industry, distillate consumption and prices have been closely correlated with the business cycle at U.S. and global levels in the last 50 years. 

WTI Bounces But Inventory Builds Spark Glut Alarm Bells - WTI has extended losses following last night's broad inventory builds reported by API, briefly dropping to a $52 handle.“The API set a bearish tone after reporting builds across the board,” PVM Oil Associates analysts including Stephen Brennock wrote in a report.“All in all, these figures will do little to silence the U.S. glut alarm bells,” Brennock said in a separate note.Bloomberg Intelligence's Senior Energy Analyst Vince Piazza noted that turmoil in Venezuela is behind the recovery in WTI prices after a December swoon in a crude market driven by geopolitics. We remain skeptical, based on a recent drop in Asian demand and concern that trade tensions will slow growth in developed economies. U.S. termination of waivers for sanctioned Iranian barrels this year is a key risk for balances. Resilient domestic production and a healthy backlog of almost 8,600 uncompleted wells informs our more cautious stance.  API

  • Crude +2.514mm (+1.5mm exp)
  • Cushing +889k (+400k exp)
  • Gasoline +1.731mm (+1.5mm exp)
  • Distillates +1.141mm (-2mm exp)

DOE:

  • Crude +1.263mm (+1.85mm exp)
  • Cushing +1.441mm (+400k exp)
  • Gasoline +513k (+1.5mm exp)
  • Distillates -2.257mm (-2mm exp)

With refinery maintenance season perhaps upon us, crude inventories rose for the 3rd week in a row (and gasoline stocks also rebounded)...

Oil prices rise as US crude stockpiles rise, distillate stocks fall - Oil prices reversed losses on Wednesday after weekly government data showed a drop in inventories of some fuels and a smaller rise in U.S. crude stockpiles than industry figures suggested. Benchmark Brent crude was up 60 cents, or 1 percent, at $62.58 a barrel around 11:10 a.m. ET (1610 GMT), after rallying about 15 percent in January. U.S. crude rose 44 cents to $54.10. U.S. crude inventories rose by 1.3 million barrels last week, according to the Energy Information Administration. That compared to the 2.5 million-barrel increase reported by industry group the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, gasoline stockpiles rose by about half a million barrels, while stocks of distillates, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 2.3 million barrels. Crude futures fell earlier on the API report and as concerns faded over the impact of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela on global oil supplies. The U.S. announced the sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company last week, a move which could further curb supplies, although the development has yet to result in steep price gains. "It would seem that the market is really not too worried yet about the potential loss of Venezuelan barrels," said analysts at JBC Energy in a report. "This is either because the market assumes that the size of the impact will not be large, or at least it will be of short enough duration," they wrote. Worries about weaker global economic growth and the trade dispute between the United States and China have also weighed on the market. Oil fell on Tuesday after a survey showed euro zone business expansion nearly stalled in January. In his State of the Union address, U.S. President Donald Trump said a trade deal was possible with China. Senior U.S. and Chinese officials are poised to start another round of trade talks next week.

Oil rises 1 pct on signs of tightening global oil supply (Reuters) - Oil prices rose about 1 percent on Wednesday, boosted by signs of strong U.S. demand for distillate products and tightening global crude supply, but gains were capped by a rising U.S. dollar and ongoing concerns about a global economic slowdown. Brent crude futures gained 71 cents, or 1.15 percent, to settle at $62.69. The benchmark earlier fell to a session low of $61.05. U.S. government data on Wednesday showed that domestic crude inventories rose less than expected last week even as refineries hiked output. Stocks increased 1.3 million barrels in the week ended Feb. 1, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 2.2 million barrels. Gasoline stocks increased by 513,000 barrels, less than anticipated, while distillate stockpiles fell a greater-than-expected 2.3 million barrels. "Distillate demand increased sharply last week due to the extreme cold weather, which contributed to the declining distillate stocks," Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch said. "All in all this report is bullish for crude oil and refined product prices." Market participants have focused on signs of tightening global crude supply after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies began an agreement in January to cut output. The producers known as OPEC+ started cutting production by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from last month to avert a new supply glut, and OPEC has delivered almost three-quarters of its pledged cuts already, a Reuters survey showed last week. U.S. sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company could also lift prices, though they have yet to trigger any sharp increase.

U.S. oil prices dip on rising crude inventories, record output - (Reuters) - U.S. oil prices dipped on Thursday after U.S. crude inventories rose and as production levels in the country stayed at record levels, but OPEC-led supply cuts and the crisis in Venezuela supported markets. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $53.82 per barrel at 0036 GMT, down 19 cents, or 0.35 percent, from their last settlement. International Brent crude oil futures had yet to trade. U.S. crude oil inventories C-STK-T-EIA climbed by 1.3 million barrels in the week that ended Feb. 1, to 447.21 million barrels, data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed on Wednesday. Meanwhile, average weekly U.S. crude oil production remained at the record 11.9 million barrels per day (bpd) C-OUT-T-EIA it reached in late 2018. Countering the rising U.S. crude output and inventories are voluntary supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) aimed at tightening the market and propping up prices. Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry are expected to knock out at least 500,000 bpd of crude exports. “We expect the oil price to rise in the first-half of 2019 on tightening supply conditions and decline in the second-half on weakening economic activity and an increase in U.S. crude exports to international markets,” said French bank BNP Paribas. It added that it saw average 2019 prices for Brent at $68 per barrel and for WTI at $61 per barrel, both down by $8 from its previous outlook.

Oil falls as US maintains record output, inventories climb - Oil prices fell on Thursday after U.S. crude inventories rose and the country's production held at record levels, but OPEC-led supply cuts and Washington's sanctions against Venezuela supported markets. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $53.66 per barrel at 0744 GMT, down 35 cents, or 0.7 percent, from their last settlement. International Brent crude oil futures fell 39 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $62.30 per barrel. U.S. crude oil inventories climbed by 1.3 million barrels in the week that ended Feb. 1 to 447.21 million barrels, data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed on Wednesday.Meanwhile, average weekly U.S. crude oil production remained at the record 11.9 million barrels per day (bpd) it reached in late 2018. The United States is currently the world's largest oil producer, ahead of traditional top suppliers Russia and Saudi Arabia.There are also concerns that an economic slowdown could soon weigh on growth in fuel demand, with German industrial output unexpectedly falling in December for the fourth consecutive month. Despite the overall rise in U.S. supply, traders were watching how long a partial closure of the Keystone oil pipeline would last after the discovery of a possible leak in the area of St Louis, Missouri.Providing global markets with price support are supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) aimed at tightening the market."The key supply story remains the ongoing OPEC production cuts," U.S. bank Goldman Sachs said on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela's oil industry are expected to freeze sales proceeds of Venezuelan crude exports to the United States."Around a third of Venezuela's exports head to the U.S. As such, we expect Venezuelan exports to quickly fall by 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to around 700,000 bpd," ANZ bank said on Thursday.  "The risks are rising that this political standoff will deepen the fall in output as funds dry up and mass defection of workers accelerates."

US crude falls 2.5%, settling at $52.64, as US-China trade dispute weighs on demand outlook -- Oil prices tumbled on Thursday as the market confronted concerns that global demand growth would lag in the coming year. A rebound from late December lows seemed to stall amid worries that a trade war between the U.S. and China would continue, weighing on demand. The market also contended with the possibility that oil producers would not adhere strictly to cuts agreed to last year. Crude futures fell with the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average droppedmore than 250 points after a senor administration official told CNBC a meeting between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping is highly unlikely to take place before a critical March deadline to avoid higher U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled $1.37 lower at $52.64 a barrel for a or 2.5 percent loss. International Brent crude oil futures fell $1.05 a barrel, or 1.7 percent, to $61.64 around 2:30 p.m. ET.  "There seems to be uncertainty about what is going to happen with the trade talks, with global economic growth and demand in the coming year," he said. In particular, he said, the market is worried about whether demand is sufficient to absorb growing crude production from the U.S. "Supply fundamentals have increasingly been turning supportive in recent weeks, but against this the market still worries about the yet-to-be-realized if at all impact on demand from weaker macroeconomic fundamentals," . Though the United States published robust jobs data last week, global markets remain nervous after China reported the lowest annual economic growth in nearly 30 years in January. That focuses yet more attention on the outcome of U.S.-China talks to end the trade war between the world's top two economies.

$80 Brent Acceptable for All -- $80 per barrel Brent is an acceptable level for all to live with. That’s according to Mohammed Ali Yasin, chief strategy officer at Al Dhabi Capital Ltd (ADCL), who expressed the view in a television interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday. “I think there’s a consensus … across the world, even for the United States. An $80 Brent or maybe around the $64 WTI [West Texas Intermediate] is an acceptable level for all to live with,” Yasin stated in the interview. The ADCL representative told Bloomberg that his company is “a bit more bullish” now in terms of Brent prices. “I think now we’re looking more towards … $75 on average,” he said in the interview. “We don’t think that the supply in the market is that huge and … OPEC … and Russia what they’re doing is reacting immediately to any surplus in the market and they’re lowering and they will continue to lower until they get their prices,” he added. Last month, analysts at Fitch Solutions Macro Research forecasted that the price of Brent will average $75 per barrel in 2019. According to Wood Mackenzie’s latest price forecast, Brent will average $65 per barrel this year. ADCL is the asset management company of Al Dhabi Investment. Yasin is part of the top management of ADCL. 

Bank Of America: Oil Demand Growth To Hit Zero Within A Decade - By 2030, oil demand could hit a peak and then enter decline, according to a new report. For the next decade or so, oil demand should continue to grow, although at a slower and slower rate. According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the annual increase in global oil consumption slows dramatically in the years ahead. By 2024, demand growth halves, falling to just 0.6 million barrels per day (mb/d), down from 1.2 mb/d this year.But by 2030, demand growth zeros out as consumption hits a permanent peak, before falling at a relatively rapid rate thereafter. The main driver of the destruction in demand is the proliferation of electric vehicles. Bank of America did offer a few caveats and uncertainties. The growth of EVs hinges on a handful of key metals. Lithium, for instance, is mined and produced in large concentrations in a few Latin American countries.  But cobalt looms as a larger concern for some automakers. Roughly 62 percent global cobalt output is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An executive from Ford said recently that automakers might feel compelled to invest directly in cobalt production over fears of securing adequate supply. “I fully anticipate we’re going to keep a lot of pressure on that cobalt production,” Ted Miller, head of energy storage strategy and research at Ford, said at a mining event in South Africa.  The DRC just held a divisive election, and although the transfer of power has been mostly peaceful, the country has historically suffered from political instability. “Any major disruption to cobalt today would likely curb EV proliferation in the early 2020s, in turn supporting long dated crude oil prices,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch warned. There are alternatives to cobalt, but that would merely put pressure on other materials. “Car producers may gradually substitute from cobalt to nickel over the next two decades. In turn, this shift may lead to soaring demand for nickel, creating another supply squeeze as mine expansion plans are limited,” BofAML analysts wrote in their report. There are a long list of other uncertainties that complicate such medium- and long-term forecasting. A brewing economic downturn, which may or may not hit in the next year or next few years, could linger into the 2020s. That would alter oil demand forecasts, but in complicated ways. Slower economic growth would put a dent in oil prices via lower demand, but a lower price itself could keep consumers hooked.

Oil falls on economic slowdown, but OPEC output cuts offer some support - Benchmark oil prices were choppy on Friday, but remained on track for a weekly loss, pulled down by worries about a global economic slowdown.OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions against Venezuela provided crude with some support.International Brent crude futures had erased earlier losses around 9:55 a.m. ET (1455 GMT), gaining 19 cents to $61.82 per barrel. On the week, they are set for a loss of about 1.5 percent. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures stood at $52.59 per barrel, down 5 cents and looking at a nearly 5 percent weekly slump, their steepest this year. Weighing on financial markets were concerns that a trade dispute between the United States and China would remain unresolved, denting global economic prospects.U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he did not plan to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping before a March 1 deadline set by the two countries to strike a trade deal.Adding to demand concerns, the European Commission sharply cut its forecasts for euro zone economic growth due to global trade tensions and an array of domestic challenges.Another factor weighing on oil prices this week was a strong dollar."It seems that macro risk still prevails over constructive supply fundamentals in the oil market," Harry Tchilinguirian, global head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas, told the Reuters Global Oil forum.Supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries lent support. OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia reduced its output in January by about 400,000 barrels per day to 10.24 million bpd, OPEC sources said. Another risk to supply comes from Venezuela after the implementation of U.S. sanctions against the OPEC member's petroleum industry in late January. Analysts expect this move to knock out 300,000-500,000 bpd of exports. For the time being, though, the sanctions impact on international oil markets has been limited.

What Is Keeping Oil Prices Subdued? - Oil prices have been flat for several days, weighed down by concerns about the health of the global economy, plus the potential return of supply from Libya. “Growing economic concerns, falling stock markets and emerging doubts that the trade conflict between the US and China will be resolved are putting oil prices under pressure,” Commerzbank wrote in a note on Friday.  U.S. sanctions on Venezuela threaten to shut in a major portion of the country’s oil production. Not only do sanctions bar Venezuelan oil from flowing to the U.S., but crucially, it also prohibits U.S. diluents from heading to Venezuela. Without diluents, Venezuela cannot process its heavy crude and would be forced to shut down output. However, Russia’s Rosneft is reportedly sending some oil products to Venezuela to keep production from collapsing, according to the New York Times. As a result, Venezuela’s oil production may not utterly collapse, which could keep Maduro in power a little while longer. However, U.S. sanctions could still lead to mass starvation, exploding the already terrible humanitarian crisis.  More than 20 tankers loaded with 9.6 million barrels of oil from Venezuela are sitting idle in the U.S. Gulf Coast, according to Reuters, unable to make delivery because of sanctions. There are other cargoes sitting off the coast in Europe and in the Caribbean.   President Trump said he would not meet Chinese President Xi Jingping before the March 1 trade deadline. A meeting of the two, experts suggest, would be an indication that the U.S. and China were close to reaching a sweeping trade deal. Trump has promised to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10 to 25 percent. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said that there is a “pretty sizable distance” to go on the trade talks. The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. business titans are urging Trump to make a deal.  Legislation that would give the U.S. Justice Department authority to sue OPEC members over antitrust violations is progressing through the U.S. Congress. However, major international oil companies are lobbying against it, fearing blowback on their operations. The legislation has bipartisan support in the Congress, although it’s not clear where President Trump stands. “We are just a tweet away from Nopec becoming law,” Bob McNally at consultancy Rapidan Energy told the FT.

 Oil Rig Count Rises As Oil Prices Stabilize -Baker Hughes reported an increase 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 4 rigs, according to the report, with the number of active oil rigs increasing by 7 to reach 854 and the number of gas rigs decreasing by 3 to reach 195.The oil and gas rig count is now 74 up from this time last year, 63 of which is in oil rigs.Oil prices were mixed earlier on Friday as signals indicated there may be no resolution to the China trade deal prior to the March 1st deadline that China and the United States set for sealing a deal. This, mixed with tightening supplies from Venezuela, Libya, and OPEC in general—particularly Saudi Arabia whose January production fell 400,000 from December levels—as well as the prospect of unfavorable economic conditions going forward, including slower oil demand growth, culminated in sending WTI lower and Brent higher.Shortly after data release, WTI was trading down $2 per barrel week on week, while the Brent benchmark was trading essentially flat week on week. Canada’s oil and gas rigs decreased by 3 rigs this week. Canada’s total oil and gas rig count is now 240, which is 85 fewer rigs than this time last year.The EIA’s estimates for US production for the week ending February 1 shows an increase at an average rate of 11.9 million bpd­—a record for the US—for the fourth week in a row. By 1:09pm EDT, WTI had dipped 0.06% (+$0.03) at $52.61 on the day. Brent crude was trading up 0.42% (+$0.26) at $61.89 per barrel.

Conflict erupts for control of Libya’s largest oil field - Fighting has broken out over the future of Libya’s largest oil field, as forces loyal to the UN-recognised Tripoli-based government battle Libyan National Army (LNA) forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the leading figure in fractured Libya’s east. Al-Sharara field, 560 miles south of Tripoli, is capable of producing 315,000 barrels of crude a day – about a third of Libya’s total current output. But it has been closed by the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) since December when the installation was seized by local tribes demanding the Tripoli government did more to lift the area out of poverty. The fighting has the potential to disrupt the UN’s long prepared plans to convene a national conference, possibly next month, that is supposed to lead to either parliamentary or presidential elections and a new constitution. No date or venue for the conference has been set by the UN, which is still trying to win an agreement on those attending the meeting and the broad agenda. Haftar forces, already in control of large tracts of Libyan oil including in the “oil crescent” in the north, moved south last month in what was billed as an operation to push out terrorists and militias. An LNA spokesman, Lt Gen Ali Suleiman Muhammad claimed on Wednesday that Haftar’s forces had seized al-Shara oil fields largely without a fight, in conjunction with the forces that had previously controlled the field. This was later contradicted by other local reports that suggested five people had been killed and 16 injured in the fighting.

 OPEC's Oil Princes Are Fighting For Survival -  The already strained relationship between U.S. lawmakers and two of President Trump’s staunchest supporters, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, seems to be worsening. In recent days, reports have indicated that a growing number of U.S. congressmen and women is expected to pass a resolution which will end U.S. involvement in Yemen’s civil war. This resolution would represent a direct challenge to President Trump, who would then have to consider using a presidential veto. While Trump’s Middle East strategy may lack clarity, it is undeniable that both MBS and MBZ are pivotal to his influence in the region. The hostility between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress has been particularly intense under the current president. The ongoing support by the Trump Administration of the Saudi-led military coalition fighting against the Houthi rebels in Yemen has become the latest focal point of this tension. U.S. media sources have indicated that a group within congress is considering reproducing a version of the resolution that passed the Senate 56-41 last month to rebuke the White House and Saudi Arabia following the Khashoggi murder. In the Middle East more broadly, Trump’s strategy is failing to instill confidence in the two Arab leaders at the center of this struggle. The ongoing threat of a full withdrawal of U.S. troops and the abandonment of Kurdish forces in Syria has sent shivers down the spines of both MBS and MBZ. The two young leaders, currently heavily engaged in transforming their own societies and economies, are aware that Washington’s support for these two key U.S. allies could be changed by one tweet.  Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are increasingly worried that U.S. support is wavering, with even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo being unable to quell growing fears. The continuation of anti-OPEC or anti-Saudi oil strategy tweets by Trump are failing to address the fears of these two key OPEC figures.

Exclusive Report: Sold to an ally, lost to an enemy – Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States, a CNN investigation has found.The weapons have also made their way into the hands of Iranian-backed rebels battling the coalition for control of the country, exposing some of America's sensitive military technology to Tehran and potentially endangering the lives of US troops in other conflict zones.Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its main partner in the war, have used the US-manufactured weapons as a form of currency to buy the loyalties of militias or tribes, bolster chosen armed actors, and influence the complex political landscape, according to local commanders on the ground and analysts who spoke to CNN.By handing off this military equipment to third parties, the Saudi-led coalition is breaking the terms of its arms sales with the US, according to the Department of Defense. After CNN presented its findings, a US defense official confirmed there was an ongoing investigation into the issue.The revelations raise fresh questions about whether the US has lost control over a key ally presiding over one of the most horrific wars of the past decade, and whether Saudi Arabia is responsible enough to be allowed to continue buying the s ophisticated arms and fighting hardware.  Previous CNN investigations established that US-made weapons were used in a series of deadly Saudi coalition attacks that killed dozens of civilians, many of them children.  The developments also come as Congress, outraged with Riyadh over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, considers whether to force an end to the Trump administration's support for the Saudi coalition, which relies on American weapons to conduct its war.

CNN Catches Saudi Arabia Providing US Weapons to Al-Qaeda in Yemen  — Bolstering the already overwhelming case for cutting off U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s years-long assault on Yemen, a “bombshell” CNN investigation published late Monday found that the Saudis have sold or freely “passed on” American weapons to al-Qaeda fighters and other militia groups that have helped create the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. According to CNN, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have for years been transferring “American-made weapons to al-Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen… as a form of currency to buy the loyalties of militias or tribes, bolster chosen armed actors, and influence the complex political landscape.”Citing analysts and local commanders on the ground in Yemen—where an estimated 14 million people are on the brink of famine due to the U.S.-backed Saudi assault—CNN reported that “terror groups have gained from the influx of U.S. arms, with the barrier of entry to advanced weaponry now lowered by the laws of supply and demand.”“Militia leaders have had ample opportunity to obtain military hardware in exchange for the manpower to fight the Houthi militias,” CNN‘s exclusive report found. “Arms dealers have flourished, with traders offering to buy or sell anything, from a U.S.-manufactured rifle to a tank, to the highest bidder.Watch CNN‘s segment on its findings:The Department of Defense told CNN that “the Saudi-led coalition is breaking the terms of its arms sales with the U.S.” by handing weapons to al-Qaeda, and confirmed that there is an “ongoing investigation into the issue.” Stephen Miles, director of Win Without War, called CNN‘s report “example number 7,439” of “how backwards and counterproductive our bipartisan obsession with arming the world is.” In the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, an undercover CNN reporter discovered a market in which U.S.-made pistols, hand grenades, and assault rifles were on sale next to women’s clothing and sweets. “The American guns are expensive and sought after,” one weapons trader told CNN‘s undercover journalist. As CNN notes, “these shops don’t just take individual orders, they can supply militias—and it’s this not-so-hidden black market that in part is driving the demand for hi-tech American weapons and perpetuating the cycle of violence in Yemen.”And the Saudis are not just selling and transferring pistols and assault rifles.In October 2015, CNN reported, militia forces “boasted on Saudi- and UAE-backed media that the Saudis had airdropped American-made TOW anti-tank missiles on the same frontline where [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] had been known to operate at the time.” Additionally, CNN found that the Abu Abbas brigade, which is linked to al-Qaeda, “now possesses U.S.-made Oshkosh armored vehicles.”

Saudi female activists face jail conditions akin to torture, say UK MPs - Saudi Arabia is detaining female activists in cruel and inhumane conditions that meet the threshold of torture under both international and Saudi law, a cross-party panel of three British MPs has found. The conclusions indicate growing unease among western allies over alleged rights abuses under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto leader, who is already facing opprobrium over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. The ad hoc panel had sought access to eight jailed women to assess their welfare, but received no response from the Saudi ambassador Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz. The panel includes Crispin Blunt, the former Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee and one of the staunchest defenders of the Gulf monarchies. It was thought his background might lead to cooperation from the kingdom, which protects its justice system from scrutiny. The panel’s report concludes that the detainees – female activists arrested last spring – had been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, including sleep deprivation, assault, threats to life and solitary confinement. Theeir treatment is likely to amount to torture and if they are not provided with urgent access to medical assistance they are at risk of developing long-term health conditions, the report says. Culpability rests not only with direct perpetrators but also those who are responsible for or acquiesce to it, it says. “The Saudi authorities at the highest levels could, in principle, be responsible for the crime of torture.” The detained activists were strong supporters of women’s right to drive – a demand to which the Saudi government acceded last year, but seems determined to ascribe solely to the leadership of Prince Mohammed. On their arrest, the women were labelled as traitors in the official Saudi press, and there have been persistent reports of maltreatment. They have been accused of suspicious contact with foreign entities.

Iraq Fires Back at Trump for Saying US Troops Will Stay to “Watch Iran”Baghdad is firing back on Monday with calls to potentially boot U.S. troops out of Iraq in response to President Donald Trump’s comments that he wants to keep them there to “watch Iran.” Speaking to CBS‘s “Face the Nation” in an interview that aired Sunday, Trump said he wants the continued military presence because I want to be able to watch Iran. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up. And this is what a lot of people don’t understand. We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.But U.S. troops have no right to do that, said Iraqi President Barham Salih, adding that Trump’s comments were “surprising.”“Trump did not ask us to keep U.S. troops to watch Iran,” Salih said at a forum in Baghdad. The agreement between Washington and Baghdad is for the troops to combat terrorism, he said, and doing otherwise would be “unacceptable.”“The Iraqi constitution rejects the use of Iraq as a base for hitting or attacking a neighboring country,” he said.“The U.S. is a major power … but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here,” he stated, and added, “It is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran” and its other neighbors.According to NPR, Trump’s comments also sparked the ire of Iraq’s main militias, who said they could push for a vote in parliament to kick out U.S. troops. The outlet also noted a “growing sentiment” held by Iraqis that U.S. troops should go. In addition, Agence France-Pressse reports: Sabah al-Saadi, a member of parliament in the bloc led by influential anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, has proposed a bill demanding a U.S. pullout. Deputy speaker of parliament Hassan Karim al-Kaabi, also close to Sadr, said they were a “new provocation,” weeks after the U.S. president sparked outrage in Iraq by visiting U.S. troops at Ain al-Asad without meeting a single Iraqi official.

Baghdad: Calls to Expel US Troops from Iraq after Trump said They spy on IranTrump’s assertion that he intends to keep US troops in Iraq to spy on Iran has produced a firestorm of protest and controversy in Baghdad. Trump also committed the faux pas of saying the US had constructed an enormous military base in Iraq, which contradicts the Iraqi government’s line that the US merely uses *Iraqi* bases. Leaders of powerful Shiite militias that have become political parties with substantial representation in parliament demanded that US troops immediately withdraw. There were also Shiite militia threats against US military personnel. That is, Trump’s bumbling ineptitude has painted a big red X on the backs of American troops in Iraq. If US forces aren’t gathering intelligence on Iran, then Trump has smeared them and deeply endangered them with a falsehood. If they are, it was a covert operation and Trump has revealed classified information to the enemy and should be charged with treason.  President Barham Salih, a seasoned politician of Kurdish heritage who in the past has been favorable to the US, rejected Trump’s statement out of hand. According to al-Zaman (The “Times” of Baghdad), , Salih said, “The Iraqi constitution prohibits taking Iraq as a base to strike or engage in aggression on neighboring countries.” He added, “The existence of American forces is within legal frameworks and by an agreement between the two countries, and any operation outside this agreement is unacceptable.”  Member of parliament Sabah al-Saedi, from the Sa’irun Bloc of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said that “A law expelling the American forces from Iraq has become a national necessity after Trump’s statements.”

EU powers set up firm to thwart Trump’s Iran sanctions The EU's effort to thwart U.S. President Donald Trump's Iran sanctions is open for business. France, Germany and the U.K. — the European guarantors of the Iran nuclear accord — announced Thursday that they have officially established a corporate "special purpose vehicle," registered in Paris, to help European companies that want to continue doing business with Iran despite Trump's renewed sanctions. The corporate vehicle will facilitate business deals with Iran without using the dollar or the U.S. financial system and will essentially structure sales as indirect transactions — steps that the Europeans believe will technically avoid violations of the U.S. sanctions. The special purpose vehicle is called INSTEX, for Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges. It had been in development for months, since shortly after Trump last May declared the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear accord, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The official announcement was made by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Bucharest, Romania where they were attending a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers. The establishment of the special purpose vehicle is the most visible and substantive rebuke of Trump's foreign policy by European allies that have disagreed with many of the American president's decisions, including his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and his relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

European Companies Won't Dare Use SWIFT Alternative To Send Money To Iran - The launch of INSTEX — "Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges" by France, Germany, and the UK this week to allow "legitimate trade" with Iran, or rather effectively sidestep US sanctions and bypass SWIFT after Washington was able to pressure the Belgium-based financial messaging service to cut off the access of Iranian banks last year, may be too little too late to salvage the Iran nuclear deal. Tehran will only immediately press that more than just the current "limited humanitarian" and medical goods can be purchased on the system, in accordance with fulfilling the EU's end of the 2015 JCPOA something which EU officials have promised while saying INSTEX will be "expansive" while European companies will likely continue to stay away for fear of retribution from Washington, which has stated it's "closely following" reports of the payment vehicle while reiterating attempts to sidestep sanctions will "risk severe consequences".  As a couple of prominent Iranian academics told Al Jazeera this week: "If [the mechanism] will permanently be restricted to solely humanitarian trade, it will be apparent that Europe will have failed to live up to its end of the bargain for Iran," said political analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani. And another, Foad Izadi, professor at the University of Tehran, echoed what is a common sentiment among Iran's leaders: "I don't think the EU is either willing or able to stand up to Trump's threat," and continued, "The EU is not taking the nuclear deal seriously and it's not taking any action to prove to Iran otherwise... People are running out of patience." But Iranian leadership welcomed the new mechanism as merely a small first step: “It is a first step taken by the European side... We hope it will cover all goods and items," Iranian Deputy FM Abbas Araqchi told state TV, referencing EU promises to stick to its end of the nuclear deal.

US State Department's Hook tells Japan not to expect new Iran sanctions waiver— Iran's oil customers should not expect new waivers to US sanctions in May, a top US State Department official said during a visit to Japan, which just restarted Iranian crude imports. Despite the latest comment by Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, many analysts still expect the US to grant fresh waivers when the current exemptions expire May 4. They predict oil prices will ultimately determine the extent of those waivers. Iran's top oil buyers including China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey received six-month "significant reduction exemptions" in November allowing them to continue oil deals with Tehran, in return for promising to cut their reliance on Iranian crude. Japan's largest refiner JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy is set to resume loading Iranian crude this week, three months after the US reimposed sanctions and granted the waivers. The cargo is expected to be loaded on the VLCC Eneos Breeze, which is heading to Iran's Kharg Island, according to S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow. A JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy spokesman confirmed Monday that it is resuming its Iranian crude oil loading in February but declined to comment on the schedule. Hook said during an interview with Japanese public broadcaster NHK on Monday that the November waivers were designed to prevent a spike in oil prices. He said there appears to be enough oil supply to satisfy demand this year. Hook reiterated the State Department's message that it aims to "get to zero imports to Iranian crude as quickly as possible." 

US Warplanes Attack Syrian Military Base Along Syria-Iraq Border  — US warplanes attacked a Syrian military position along the border with Iraq at Abu Kamal late Saturday. Syrian state media reported the attack as “US aggression,” which reportedly wounded two soldiers and destroyed a stationary artillery piece.Exactly what happened that led to this rare US attack on Syrian military targets is uncertain. The US-led coalition claimed that it involved their “inherent right to self defense,” and that some “partner forces were fired upon” by the artillery.That’s a very non-specific allegation, and also seems unlikely. The only “partner forces” for the US anywhere near Abu Kamal are the Iraqi military, which is allied with Syria’s government, and the Kurdish SDF, which is also in the process of making a deal with the Syrian government to resist a Turkish invasion. In the past, the US has referred to the “self defense” argument when forces were even perceived to be “too close,” though again, this doesn’t make a lot of sense if the US intends to withdraw from Syria, and the US partner forces are also effectively partner forces for the Syrian military.

Trump’s Palestinian aid cuts means thousands lose access to food and healthcare - Tens of thousands of Palestinians are no longer getting food aid or basic health services from America, U.S.-funded infrastructure projects have been halted, and an innovative peace-building program in Jerusalem is scaling back its activities.The Trump administration's decision last year to cut more than$200 million in development aid to the Palestinians is forcing NGOs to slash programs and lay off staff as the effects ripple through a community that has spent more than two decades promoting peace in the Middle East.The U.S. government's development agency, USAID, has provided more than $5.5 billion to the Palestinians since 1994 for infrastructure, health, education, governance and humanitarian aid programs, all intended to underpin the eventual creation of an independent state.Much of that aid is channeled through international NGOs, which were abruptly informed of the cuts last summer and have been scrambling to keep their programs alive.U.S. President Donald Trump says the USAID cuts are aimed atpressuring the Palestinians to return to peace talks, but Palestinian officials say the move has further poisoned relations after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital last year. The aid groups, many of which have little or no connection to thePalestinian Authority, say the cuts hurt the most vulnerablePalestinians and those most committed to peace with Israel. "If you want to maintain the idea of the peace process, you have to maintain the people who would be part of the peace process," said Lana Abu Hijleh, the local director for Global Communities, an international NGO active in the Palestinian territories since 1995.

It’s Time to Trust the Taliban - In the peace process now underway with the Afghan Taliban, one-and-a-half significant U.S. interests are at stake. The “half” is the only real hang-up to signing a deal and bringing home American troops right now. For Afghans, of course, the stakes in the present war are different and infinitely higher than for Americans, for whom the only vital interest is also the easiest to achieve: a Taliban agreement not to host international terrorists themselves and to do their utmost to prevent Afghanistan from once again being used as a base for terrorism against the West in general and the United States in particular. One can be confident that the Taliban would not only agree to this but also follow through on the agreement. It’s not just because Taliban supporters and interlocutors, in public statements and private conversations (including my own), have almost universally, if grimly, acknowledged that hosting al Qaeda in the run-up to 9/11 was a dreadful mistake that cost them their rule over Afghanistan. It’s also because the Taliban are now engaged in a bitter fight with the forces of the Islamic State (who most certainly are anti-Western international terrorists) for control of parts of Afghanistan. The Taliban’s role as an enemy of the Islamic State (as well as prudent preparation for the possible collapse of the U.S.-backed order in Kabul) has led Russia and China to launch talks with the Taliban. Finally, while the Pakistani military has backed the Afghan Taliban as a client movement against Indian influence in Afghanistan, it has absolutely no interest in encouraging a repeat of 9/11 and the disasters that followed for Pakistan. And if Pakistanis did have any such intention, their Chinese backers (with their own worries about Islamist extremism in Xinjiang) would deter them very strongly. The second real U.S. interest in the process is what is called in Washington “credibility” but which is better known by its older and more honest name, “prestige”—in this case, the avoidance of obvious and humiliating defeat, which would undermine respect for U.S. strength and embolden U.S. enemies elsewhere. As a U.S. general told me a decade ago, he and his colleagues could not say what victory would look like in Afghanistan, but they could all say what defeat would look like. 

British Army Permitted Shooting of Unarmed Civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan - — The British army operated rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan that at times allowed soldiers to shoot unarmed civilians who were suspected of keeping them under surveillance, a Middle East Eye investigation has established. The casualties included a number of children and teenage boys, according to several former soldiers interviewed by MEE. Two former infantrymen allege that they and their fellow soldiers serving in southern Iraq were at one point told that they had permission to shoot anyone seen holding a mobile telephone, carrying a shovel, or acting in any way suspiciously. The rules were relaxed, they say, in part because of concerns that unarmed individuals were acting as spotters for militants, or were involved in planting roadside bombs. Separately, a former Royal Marine says that one of his officers confessed to his men that he had been responsible for the fatal shooting of an Afghan boy, aged around eight, after the child’s father carried his body to the entrance of their forward operating base and demanded an explanation. Another ex-soldier who spoke to MEE alleges that a cover-up was mounted after the fatal shooting of two unarmed teenage boys, which he says he witnessed in Afghanistan. One ex-soldier says he witnessed the fatal shootings of significant numbers of civilians in Basra, and does not believe that all the victims were keeping British troops under surveillance. He claims that the relaxing of the rules of engagement resulted in “a killing spree”. He and his fellow soldiers were promised that they would be protected in the event of any investigation by military police, he says. “Our commanders, they would tell us: ‘We will protect you if any investigation comes. Just say you genuinely thought your life was at risk – those words will protect you.’”

Anger in Iraq at Revelation of British Shoot-to-Kill Policy Against Unarmed Civilians — For Iyad Salim, revelations that British forces had in some circumstances allowed soldiers to fire at unarmed civilians during their occupation of the southern Iraqi province of Basra hardly came as a surprise. “It’s all true,” he told Middle East Eye. “The British harmed us a lot.” On Monday, MEE revealed that the British army had implemented rules of engagement in Iraq – as well as Afghanistan – that at times had allowed soldiers to shoot unarmed civilians who were suspected of keeping them under surveillance.The report, based on the testimonies of former soldiers, has further cast a shadow on the legacy of the British forces’ conduct during the occupation of Basra, which lasted between 2003 and 2007 and saw numerous allegations of abuse against the province’s residents.Salim, who still lives in Basra, said he experienced the impact of British violence against civilians first hand soon after the arrival of the occupying force in the aftermath of the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. “I was one of the people who were targeted while I was walking in Al-Zubair Bridge area in Basra. They targeted passersby with bullets,” he said. “There were a lot of civilians in the area which is near [the station].“This was in April 2003. The British were killing anyone who was just walking around.”Former military personnel told MEE that the rules of engagement had at times been relaxed during operations in Basra and other British-occupied southern provinces, in part due to concerns that unarmed individuals had been acting as spotters for militants, or were involved in planting roadside bombs. Two former soldiers told MEE that in 2007, at a time when British forces were frequently coming under attack or being targeted by roadside bombs, they had been told that they could shoot anyone holding a phone, carrying a shovel, or acting in any way suspiciously.

Turkey condemns two top female Kurdish politicians to 14, 15 years in jail - - Turkish judicial authorities on Friday sentenced the country's two top female Kurdish politicians to a combined total of 29 years and three months of imprisonment. They are Gultan Kisanak, the elected Mayor of Diyarbakir Province, and the Co-chair of the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), Sebahat Tuncel. A Turkish court in the neighboring Kurdish city of Malatya ruled that both politicians were guilty of "membership in a terror organization" and "terrorist propaganda" for their speeches and political activities spanning several years. Kisanak received a sentence of 14 years and three months whereas Tuncel was handed 15 years of jail time. Lawyer Cihan Aydin, who defended Kisanak, said in a tweet that the Turkish court changed judges 16 times over 12 hearings in the trial against the duo. He added that Kisanak, who has been in detention for over two years, appeared before the court for the first time on the day of sentencing, noting also the "Tuncel, who is on a hunger strike, has not been given such a chance even once." The administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan removed Kisanak from her elected post along with the other Co-mayor of Diyarbakir, Firat Anli, in November 2016. They were arrested shortly thereafter. Diyarbakir, a Kurdish-majority city, is still run by an Erdogan-appointed bureaucrat as the country prepares to go to the ballot box to elect new mayors in upcoming local elections in March. Tuncel was arrested by police who dragged her through the streets of Diyarbakir days later after she protested the crackdown on Kurdish politicians which still continues. Kisanak, a former journalist, spent time in the infamous army prison of Diyarbakir where she faced severe torture alongside hundreds of other political prisoners after the Turkish military seized power in the country in 1980.

Egypt’s Parliament Paves Way for Sisi to Stay in Power Until 2034 — An Egyptian parliamentary committee has approved a string of amendments to the country’s constitution, one of which could allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stay in power until 2034.On Tuesday, two-thirds of parliament members voted in favour of the request, submitted by 155 lawmakers to parliamentary speaker Ali Abdelaal on Sunday, to amend a series of constitutional articles, Egyptian media outlet Mada Masr reported.The successful vote marks the first step to move forward with the proposed changes, which are expected to be finally endorsed by parliament and be voted on in a general referendum in the next few months.The most significant amendment would be to Article 140 of the constitution, which would extend the limits of Sisi’s presidential term from four to six years.The proposed changes also include a transitional clause that would reset the clock, potentially allowing Sisi to stay in power until 2034, according to a draft seen by Reuters.In essence, the change would allow Sisi to stay in power for two, six-year terms beyond 2022, when his second mandate as president is set to end. “This is a constitution made for a pharaoh,” said Mohamed Zaree of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, as reported by the news agency. “It gives a lot of authority with no accountability.”

 Netanyahu Launches His Own TV Channel to Bypass ‘Fake News’ – Benjamin Netanyahu has launched his own TV channel to bypass mainstream media and ensure positive coverage ahead of the upcoming General Election. “Likud TV” was launched yesterday on the Israeli Prime Minister’s official Facebook page and will air every evening at 19:00 local time (17:00 GMT) until the election on 9 April. Sporting the slogan “we’re throwing the ‘fake’ out of the news,” the channel has been interpreted as a bid by Netanyahu to bypass traditional media outlets which he claims have engaged in a coordinated attack against him.

 China To Build 4 Nuclear Aircraft Carriers In Bid To Rival US Superiority - A bombshell new report outlines an expected Chinese military game-changer that could catapult its navy to rival global US power on the high seas. In a push to compete with US naval power, China plans to build four nuclear-powered aircraft carriers expected to be operational by 2035. With China's current single carrier group commissioned in 2012 and another domestic-built carrier on the way (undergoing sea tests), this would bring Chinese naval strength up to six carrier battle groups.  By comparison the United States has 11 nuclear-powered carriers in operation (and 9 other amphibious warfare ships that could be considered small carriers). Such a rapid advance in Beijing's sea capabilities would far outpace other countries except for the US, as no other country has more than two. Currently the only other active nuclear powered carrier in the world today is France's Charles de Gaulle, though India also has plans to build one, and Russia is in an exploratory phase.

An option for China as it tries to help Huawei escape its mounting legal woes - Huawei’s problems went from very bad to worse as January wound to a close. The US Justice Department’s release of an indictment outlining the company’s alleged wrongdoing combined with the formal submission to Canada of an extradition request for its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, promise to keep Huawei’s fate high on the US-China agenda. The indictment outlines the allegations that make up the basis of the United States’ case against the Chinese telecommunications giant. American prosecutors have underlined everything from the company’s practice of conferring bonuses on employees who succeeded in siphoning away privileged information from competitors to lies told by its senior management to US law enforcement about business activities with Iran. The company is under siege, and the publicised details so far by the United States certainly outline allegations that point to a pattern of persistent rule-breaking. What is interesting is that the US still remains reluctant to introduce into the public record direct evidence of how Huawei equipment might directly aid and abet the PRC’s economic espionage or other efforts to harm American national security. For the Chinese Communist Party, what should – but won’t – happen as a result of Huawei’s legal troubles in the West is a serious moment of soul-searching about the costs associated with its attempts to marry domestic political authoritarianism with the promotion of indigenous innovation. Huawei’s global successes are without doubt part of why it has become so emblematic of the PRC’s national hi-tech pride, which is also why Meng’s arrest in Canada has been seen as nothing short of yet another instance of national humiliation. But the company now stands at the vanguard of a broader decoupling between the technology sectors of the West and the rest.

Foreign businesses fret as China fast-tracks investment law - China is fast-tracking a foreign investment law at an unprecedented pace to meet Washington's demands on trade, but businesses fear that the time to review and raise objections on a crucial piece of legislation has been cut short. The law will eliminate the requirement for foreign enterprises to transfer proprietary technology to Chinese joint-venture partners. It also includes other steps to level the business playing field that Western trading partners have long demanded. China's Parliament is expected to vote on the legislation in March - barely two months after debating a first draft. "It is indeed unprecedented that the Bill is being moved by the NPC (National People's Congress) at such a fast pace," Mr Wang Jiangyu, an expert on Chinese law at the National University of Singapore, told AFP. "Normally it would take one to three years for a Bill to be passed and signed into law." Foreign businesses worry the draft glosses over details and that vague language leaves room for broad interpretation. For example, it gives China the right to expropriate foreign investment "for the public interest", which foreign business groups fear could be abused.

A Profound Development in Japan-South Korea Relations  - Relations between Japan and South Korea have been dealt a significant blow following a ruling against the wartime forced labor of Koreans handed down by the Supreme Court of Korea on October 30 last year. In response to the lawsuit brought by those commonly known by the name “conscripted factory workers,” the Korean court ruling is premised on the understanding that “Japanese colonial rule was imposed by force and as such was illegal from the outset.” The court ruled that under illegal colonial rule, people who were mobilized to Japanese companies have the right to seek compensation.  Needless to say, Japan and South Korea have had disputes in the past over the various victims of colonial rule, including comfort women. In that sense, this latest ruling in respect of conscripted factory workers is one more in a series of disputes. However, it has significance that sets it apart from that of previous decisions made by the Korean government and courts. The reason lies in the logic of the judgment. For if, as this ruling states, Japanese colonial rule was illegal from the outset, and therefore those mobilized under that rule have a right to seek compensation, then all acts performed by the Japanese colonial authorities at that time were illegal, and every person under their rule without exception – to a greater or lesser degree – has the right to seek compensation. According to one South Korean researcher, this means that “all 20 million South Koreans who lived under colonial rule at that time have the right to seek compensation,” and through the inheritance of the right to seek compensation, that right will be passed down to 5 million citizens living in South Korea today. Leaving aside the question of the extent to which this will actually be exercised, it is clear that the impact of this latest ruling is enormous.

RBI Bows To Political Pressure With Unexpected Rate Cut - Fed Chairman Jerome Powell isn't the only leader of a major central bank to capitulate to political (and market) pressure so far this year. On Thursday, RBI Gov. Shaktikanta Das during his first meeting at the helm of the bank led a 4-2 vote to cut rates after raising them twice last year. Das was widely seen bowing to pressures from Prime Minister Nahrendra Modi, who is desperately trying to boost economic growth ahead of a re-election fight later this year. As one analyst at Mizuho Bank pointed out, the move risks reviving inflationary pressures in India after they had largely eased last year. Das was hastily appointed to lead the central bank in December after his predecessor quit following a very public battle over the RBI's autonomy.“If caught wrong-footed by higher oil, twin deficit worries and global risk aversion, the rupee may have to pay the price for monetary complacency, whether perceived or real,” says Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank Perceptions matter for India’s monetary policy, which is trying to target inflation expectations USD/INR may rise above 72.5 over the next 3-4 months; Mizuho’s view was for a prolonged hold in policy The RBI cut its repurchase rate 25 basis points to 6.25%, a move that only 11 of 43 economists polled by Bloomberg had anticipated. The rest had expected no change.

Fitch: Pakistan Construction Industry to Grow 8.9% Yearly Over Next 5 Years -- Fitch Solutions, a global company focused on credit, economic, and political research, says in its latest report that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will drive Pakistan's construction industry in the next decade, as the risks associated with CPEC projects recede. Fitch forecasts that the real annual growth rate of Pakistan's construction industry will average 8.9% over the next 5 years. "We will adjust our forecasts to account for possible positive ripple effects across the economy, including the construction industry, in the event an IMF bailout is secured", the report adds.  Fitch Solutions' report titled "Industry Trend Analysis - CPEC to Remain a Primary Driver of Pakistan's Construction Industry" says: "We expect debt concerns surrounding CPEC projects to ease after financial details are released. In addition, we believe political risks associated with CPEC projects have diminished since the 2018 Pakistani general election. These factors will reduce overall risk profile of CPEC projects." The Fitch report acknowledges the completion of eleven CPEC projects termed "early harvest". It says that despite major media and political scrutiny regarding CPEC, this progress on projects highlights Beijing’s improving track record in project execution and its commitment to infrastructure development in Pakistan. As a result of CPEC progress, a total of 3,240MW of capacity has been added to the country’s national grid, constituting over 11% of total installed capacity in Pakistan. Also highlighted in the report is the 392 kilometer Multan to Sukkur section of the Peshawar-Karachi motorway, a key CPEC project which is over 80% complete and is slated to finish by August this year.

Thanks to education, global fertility could fall faster than expected –  The average woman in Niger has seven children. The average South Korean has barely one. The future size of the world’s population depends largely on how quickly child-bearing habits in places like Niger become more like those in South Korea. If women in high-fertility countries keep having lots of babies, the number of people will keep swelling. The sooner they curb their fecundity, the sooner it will peak and start falling. The un projects that fertility will fall gradually and that lifespans will increase, so the world’s population will rise from 7.7bn today to 11.2bn by 2100. (This is its best estimate; the un says it is 95% confident that the true figure will lie between 9.6bn and 13.2bn.) Opinions are divided over the effects of such growth. For some, a more crowded planet will be an environmental disaster. For others, those billions of extra brains will help humanity devise ever more cunning solutions to its problems. But what if the projection is wrong? Some demographers argue that the un underestimates how fast fertility will decline. It has already tumbled dramatically. Data from before the Industrial Revolution are spotty but evidence from countries that kept good records, such as America, suggests that a typical woman had seven or more children. By 1960 the global fertility rate had fallen to five. Today it is 2.4. This is only just above the “replacement rate” of 2.1, at which the population remains stable, with each generation replacing itself but no more. (The rate is more than two because not every baby grows up to be able to have children.) Nearly all rich countries have sub-replacement fertility rates: the oecd average is 1.7. Middle-income countries are close, at 2.3. Only in poor countries is fertility still high enough to fuel rapid population growth. In sub-Saharan Africa it is 4.8; in “heavily indebted poor countries” (as the World Bank calls them) it is 4.9. Pre-industrial fertility rates persist only in the poorest parts of the poorest countries.

Self-declared leader of Venezuela Juan Guaido extends olive branch to China, wants ‘productive and mutually beneficial relationship’ - Venezuela’s self-declared interim president Juan Guaido says he wants a “productive and mutually beneficial” relationship with China and is ready to engage Chinese officials in dialogues “as soon as possible”. In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post on Friday, Guaido sought to extend an olive branch to China, which has refused to join the US, European Union and most Latin American nations in recognising his self-proclaimed interim presidency to succeed Nicolas Maduro. Guaido said China would continue to play a role in Venezuela’s economic development, adding that Beijing’s deals with Maduro’s government would remain in force so long as they were entered into in adherence to “due process”. “China is a crucial global player, and we want to establish a productive and mutually beneficial relationship,” he said in an email interview. “China’s support will be very important in boosting our country’s economy and future development,” added Guaido, 35, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly. China, along with Russia, has remained firm in supporting Maduro, even as international recognition of him as the legitimate Venezuelan ruler has fallen apart over the past week. Following a move by US President Donald Trump, the European Parliament on Thursday recognised Guaido as de facto head of state, heightening international pressure on the OPEC member’s socialist president, Maduro. EU governments, divided over whether to recognise Guaido, also agreed to lead an international crisis group with South American nations to seek new elections, setting a 90-day time limit, and threatening further economic sanctions. “Maduro is increasingly isolated and is largely acting alone,” Guaido said. “China has witnessed at first hand the plundering of our state resources by Maduro’s government. Its development projects in Venezuela have been equally affected and falling due to governmental corruption and debt default.”

Venezuelan air force general declares allegiance to Guaido – video – A Venezuelan air force general rejected the authority of President Nicolas Maduro Saturday, February 2, becoming the highest-ranking military officer to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's acting president. The crack in the military's united front behind Maduro came as Guaido was mobilizing a mass protest in Caracas to back his call for Maduro's resignation and early elections. Dressed in full uniform, Major General Francisco Yanez appeared on a video posted on social media to declare his support for Guaido, the National Assembly head who has led the most serious challenge yet to Maduro's rule. "I address you to inform you that I disavow the vitiated and dictatorial authority of Nicolas Maduro and recognize Deputy Juan Guaido as the president in charge of Venezuela," he said. Yanez, who is strategic planning director of the air force high command, asserted that "90 percent of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces is not with the dictator, it's with the Venezuelan people." "With the events of the past hours, the transition to democracy is imminent; to continue ordering the armed forces to continue repressing our people is to continue with the deaths from hunger, from disease and, God forbid, combat between ourselves,"

Venezuela Intercepts Covert US Weapons Shipment From Miami Venezuelan officials have announced the seizure of a large shipment of American weapons which they say were bound for anti-Maduro “terrorist groups.” This comes following US national security advisor John Bolton’s pledge to deliver “humanitarian aid” into the country, covertly if need be, despite embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s vow to prevent such unauthorized shipments from entering.A state official, Endes Palencia, the deputy minister of prevention and public safety, published photographs of the intercepted weapons shipment to social media, purportedly seized at a Venezuelan airport. According to his statement at least 19 rifles, 118 rifle chargers, 90 radio antennas, high-caliber ammunition, and six cellphones were shipped from the US to Arturo Michelena International Airport in Valencia.Palencia stated authorities believe the illegal arms entered Venezuela on Sunday aboard an Airbus N881YV that departed Miami, Florida after which it was found in a storage yard within the airport grounds.

Ousting Maduro from Venezuela without violence appears unlikely, experts say - The pressure is building on Nicolás Maduro. A host of European countries recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president on Monday, after Maduro predictably failed to meet their eight-day deadline to schedule free and fair elections. President Donald Trump and congressional leaders say all options are on the table. And recently announced U.S. oil sanctions will begin to take effect in the coming weeks as the international community attempts to send humanitarian aid to Venezuelans without Maduro’s assistance.But Maduro’s past attempts to consolidate power, combined with an unprecedented international response to recognize a leader who does not control the country’s military, institutions or a portion of territory, does not have a direct correlation with other U.S.-backed efforts in Latin America and elsewhere. Experts who are both skeptical and supportive of the decision to recognize Guaidó’s government and a warp-speed time frame to hold elections in a matter of weeks say violence beyond the sporadic street clashes over the past few weeks is likely, whether or not foreign troops enter the country.“I don’t see Maduro leaving peacefully,” said Eric Farnsworth, a former State Department official who is now a vice president of the Council of the Americas and a supporter of the decision to recognize Guaidó. “He’s not going to wake up with an epiphany, he’s going to have to be forced out. If it happens, it’s going to be by Venezuelans... members of the security forces or members of his own coalition, if they see him as ineffective.”

Exclusive: U.S. in direct contact with Venezuelan military, urging defections – source (Reuters) - The United States is holding direct communications with members of Venezuela’s military urging them to abandon President Nicolas Maduro and is also preparing new sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on him, a senior White House official said. The Trump administration expects further military defections from Maduro’s side, the official told Reuters in an interview, despite only a few senior officers having done so since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, earning the recognition of the United States and dozens of other countries. “We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill,” the official said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited.” The official declined to provide details on the discussions or the level at which they are being held, and it was unclear whether such contacts could create cracks in the Venezuelan socialist leader’s support from the military, which is pivotal to his grip on power. With the Venezuelan military still apparently loyal to Maduro, a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking.

U.S. Offers Sanctions Relief For Army Officers Who Flip On Maduro- Will It Work- -  A new report in Bloomberg has documented a slow and steady erosion of Venezuela's armed forces since 2014, but which is a question that gained new impetus since calls at the end of last week by national security advisor John Bolton for military members to defect en masse amidst increasing unrest surrounding large anti-Maduro protests. Bolton addressed a message last Saturday "to the Venezuelan military high command" which urged, "now is the time to stand on the side of the Venezuelan people. It is your right and responsibility to defend the constitution and democracy for Venezuela!" And on Wednesday afternoon he tweeted a similar appeal, but this time promising sanctions immunity/relief for any senior military officer who defects from Maduro, followed by a threat for those who don't: The U.S. will consider sanctions off-ramps for any Venezuelan senior military officer that stands for democracy and recognizes the constitutional government of President Juan Guaido. If not, the international financial circle will be closed off completely. Make the right choice! While mass defections amidst the current crisis have failed to materialize, though notably a high ranking Air Force general declared his loyalty to US-backed opposition "Interim President" Juan Guaido days ago, Bloomberg has charted a staggering rise in desertions in recent years based on official state documents it obtained, which suggests that even before Guaido called on the military to switch loyalties, "the government was trying to stop a surge of desertions and ordered border guards to stop soldiers trying to leave the country without permission," according to the report.  One particular document - Bloomberg has confirmed as authentic - lists a staggering some 4,300 military officers who've deserted the national guard over the past five years:

Jair Bolsonaro’s son a growing risk to Brazil’s government -- Already dogged by corruption allegations, Flavio Bolsonaro, the son of President Jair Bolsonaro, is now accused of having ties to death squads. Could the scandal derail the plans of Brazil's far-right political family?   "If the evidence shows he made a mistake, I regret it as a father, but he will have to pay the price because we cannot tolerate these acts," said President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday.  He is in hopes of presenting a new Brazil to the world — one that is transparent and free of corruption. News of his son Flavio's alleged connections to death squads in Brazil is not helping make that case. It was either that latest development or, as Bolsonaro's aides claimed, the September knife attack the far-right leader is still recovering from that caused him to cancel a press event. Scandal has surrounded Flavio since December, when Brazil's Council for Financial Activities Control (COAF) uncovered unusual transactions totaling €270,000 ($305,000) sent to his former chauffeur and bodyguard, Fabricio Jose de Queiroz. The theory is that Queiroz, a long-time friend of the Bolsonaro family, collected money from people who were officially employed at Flavio's office while he served in Rio de Janeiro's state legislature. It is a popular form of corruption among politicians in Brazil, explained Marco Aurelio Nogueira, a political scientist at the University of Sao Paulo. "Nearly all parties do it," he said. Friends and acquaintances would be employed, often only on paper, and in exchange direct part of their salary to the politician employing them.

Mexican president unleashes labor unrest at border plants — A mass strike at 48 “maquiladora,” or manufacturer, plants in Mexico’s border city of Matamoros is heading for victory, bringing pay raises for laborers who make less than $1 an hour, or about 100 pesos a day, assembling auto components and TV sets for export to the United States — and causing jitters for the business community. The labor battle broke out in mid-January after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador decreed a doubling of the minimum wage in Mexico’s border zones, apparently unaware that some union contracts at the maquiladora plants are indexed to minimum wage increases. The decree sparked a wave of walkouts involving about 25,000 workers. The maquiladoras claim the strikes threaten the very existence of their industry, which has attracted over 5,000 mostly foreign-owned plants and 2 million jobs by paying very low wages. Union leaders say those worries are overblown, noting that workers at the border plants still earn far less than their counterparts in the United States. Less than a week after the strike broke out, a majority of the export plants in Matamoros — 29 companies with a total of about 34 factories — have agreed to the union demands, a rare victory that owes a lot to something the president probably didn’t intend to happen. After taking office Dec. 1, Lopez Obrador doubled the minimum wage in communities along the U.S. border to 176.20 pesos a day, the equivalent of $9.28 at current exchange rates. With maquiladora pay averaging about 146 pesos ($7.70) a day, the Matamoras workers went on strike to demand the 20 percent raise be applied to everybody — even those making above the minimum — and a one-time bonus of about $1,685. “Perhaps he didn’t take into account what was in the labor contracts,” said Javier Zuniga, an activist with the Miners’ Union who has helped coordinate the strike. “The president acted in good faith, but he didn’t measure the impact that was going to have on union contracts, and the workers came out winners for once.”

 Canada mobilizes support for US coup in Venezuela - Canada’s Liberal government is front and center in Washington’s drive to overthrow Venezuela’s elected president, Nicolas Maduro, and install a virulent right-wing regime that will throw open the country—site of the world’s largest oil reserves—to unbridled imperialist exploitation. Earlier this week, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland hosted a meeting in Ottawa of members of the so-called “Lima Group” of states. It called on Venezuela’s military to complete the US-orchestrated coup that was initiated Jan. 23, when the speaker of the Venezuelan legislature, Juan Guaidó, proclaimed himself the country’s “interim president” and US President Donald Trump tweeted that Washington recognized him as Venezuela’s “legitimate” ruler. The statement issued by the Ottawa meeting, from which only Mexico dissented, makes clear that the Lima Group and its member states are now acting as full-fledged coup partners, closely coordinating theirs actions and funneling resources behind the regime-change operation fronted by Guaidó. The statement announced that Guaidó’s request that his “government” be incorporated in the Lima Group had been accepted “with great pleasure.” The Group’s members, it added, will “recognize and work with the representatives designated by the interim government of Juan Guaidó in their respective countries.” The Lima Group was established in 2017 with the ostensible purpose of brokering a peaceful resolution to the growing social-political crisis in Venezuela. Comprised of Washington’s principal allies in the Americas, it has functioned as a chorus for the Trump administration in its increasingly bellicose campaign for regime change in Caracas.   In this, Canada has very much played the role of choir-master. Freeland and her boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have urged on governments with ties to and roots in coups, death-squads, and the extreme right—including those of Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala—to proclaim Maduro’s reelection in 2018 fraudulent and Venezuela a unique threat to “democracy” and the “rule of law.” Given Washington’s long and bloody record of invading and occupying Latin American countries and its support for the abortive 2002 military coup in Venezuela against Maduro’s predecessor and mentor Hugo Chávez, US participation in the Lima Group would have shattered any pretense of it being a neutral interlocutor.

Hundreds Of Libyan Ex-Slaves Begin Arriving In Canada - Canada has begun resettling hundreds of refugees living in slavery in Libya, one year after the United Nations asked countries to begin accepting them, the UN and the federal government said Wednesday. According to the Canadian Press, Canada was one of the few countries to respond to a request from the United Nations refugee agency in December 2017 to take the refugees who were living in detention centers in Libya, said Michael Casasola, the head of resettlement for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Ottawa. "It can take some time for the countries to do their selection because it was a voluntary act. So they want to screen. They go through their usual selection processes," said Casasola. "That can take time." Libya has been a major transit point for asylum-seekers from Africa who intend to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. A video of what appeared to be smugglers selling imprisoned migrants near Tripoli became public in 2017, prompting world leaders to start talking about freeing migrants detained in Libyan camps.More than 150 people have been resettled and another 600 more are expected over the next two years through the regular refugee settlement program, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Wednesday quoted by Bay Today. Canada is also planning to take in 100 refugees from Niger who were rescued from Libyan migrant detention centres, including victims of human smuggling, he added.That was also helpful because Niger has been pressuring the UN to find new homes for the refugees it has taken in, said Casasola. "What Canada has done in addition to being part of the pool of cases in Libya, they're actually taking refugees out of Niger directly, which is something that helps us get some space with the local government too," he said.

Erdogan Moves To Seize Turkey's Largest Bank -With the Turkish Lira surging in recent months, largely on the back of recent dollar weakness coupled with lack of Turkish economic horror stories, it had been a while since we got a reminder that Turkey is now a truly authoritarian state in which president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the country's de facto dictator, having been granted virtually unlimited executive powers last year.On Tuesday, we got just such a reminder, when Erodgan escalated his campaign to seize the nation’s largest listed lender, Turkiye Is Bankasi, when he urged Turkey's puppet parliament to vote for the takeover according to Bloomberg.Shares of the bank, which is partially owned by Turkey's main opposition party, tumbled after Erdogan told his ruling AK party’s lawmakers in Ankara on Tuesday that "Isbank will become the property of the Treasury, with the permission of God."While the opposition CHP party, which has been repeatedly targeted by Erdogan in the past, doesn’t get any dividends from its 28% stake in Isbank, Erdogan accuses it of "exploiting" the memory Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, who bequeathed Isbank shares to the party he created in his will. Erdogan, always eager to nationalize any valuable asset so it can then become part of the Erdogan family empire, has contended that what once belonged to the nation’s founder shouldn’t be owned by a political faction, especially not one which opposes him. Naturally, any ad hoc nationalization by Erdogan of a major financial institution would lead to market chaos and flight of foreigners from the emerging market; predictably Isbank has said in the past that any effort to nationalize it would amount to a financial crime. Meanwhile, CHP has so far resisted Erdogan’s demands to give up its equity stake and its four seats on the bank's board although it may have no choice but to comply with the "parliament's" wishes.

A High-Stakes Fight Is Brewing in Norway Over EU Relations - Kicking off the year in a T-shirt proclaiming that she “loves, loves the EEA,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide hinted at the high-stakes fight that’s brewing in Norway over its relationship with the European Union.Soreide’s show of passion comes 25 years after Norway linked itself to the EU in a free-trade deal as part of the European Economic Area, a compromise solution after voters in a referendum rejected joining the bloc.But the deal that gives Norway unfettered access to Europe’s massive free-trade bloc is increasingly being derided and has come under legal attack from EU skeptics and labor unions who are questioning its impact on wages, labor laws and sovereignty. As of yet, it’s a faint echo of the Brexit process that’s currently tearing at the fabric of the U.K.“It’s very important that we -- supporters of the EEA agreement -- are out there defending it, and tell how enormously important it’s to safeguard Norwegian interests,” Soreide said in an interview in Oslo.While securing access to the EU’s inner market and free movement for Norwegians, the deal also forces the country to accept a free flow of workers and to adopt many EU laws it has little influence over. Norway has kept agriculture and fisheries outside of the deal, and isn’t a member of the customs union. A series of labor disputes, and a contentious decision in parliament last year to join the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, has stoked opposition. A Supreme Court ruling enforcing local laws on travel and lodging expenses for foreign workers was also appealed to the EFTA Surveillance Authority, the EEA’s enforcement arm, sparking further anger