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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

week ending Mar 16

 Crashing Consensus, MS Now Sees Fed Hiking 4 More Times On Coming Inflation Surge - Following the Fed's sudden, unexpected dovish reversal in January, few things are as consensus in the market as the narrative that the Fed's rate hikes have ended and Powell's next move will be to cut rates. According to the Fed Funds market, whereas odds of any futures hikes are now 0, the market sees a 25% probability of a rate cut at the Fed's January 2020 meeting.  Others are even more aggressive, and are confident that the Fed's may resume QE as soon as next year, as Bloomberg detailed in "Bond Investors Are Daring to Whisper About a Return to Fed QE. " And while a return to quantitative easing is distinct possibility, especially if foreign buyers accelerate their boycott of Treasury purchases, forcing the Fed to monetize the soaring US budget deficit, one bank has decided to crash the consensus party, and not only expect the Fed to hike at least once more in 2019 (in December), but follow with another 3 hikes in 2020.In a note released overnight, Morgan Stanley writes that in its 2019 year-ahead outlook it "envisioned a Fed that continues to hike gradually into 2019, but hits a wall by September when financial conditions ratchet tighter and growth sputters at 1.0% in 3Q." Well, as recent events showed, that outlook has unfolded much more quickly than Morgan Stanley had anticipated as financial conditions tightened severely over the turn of the year, GDP growth is tracking just 0.5% in 1Q, and the Fed has moved to the sidelines and set a high bar for resuming its hiking path. Discounting the recent strong Q4 GDP print, MS then notes that economic activity weakened sharply in the final month of the year, with personal consumption clocking its largest monthly decline (-0.5%) since 2009, and "the utter lack of momentum coming into the year has helped to level set 1Q19 at 0.5%." Additionally, the bank notes various other "transitory factors" which have weighed on growth such as a large inventory drawdown, the 35-day partial government shutdown, the Polar Vortex, and a rattled consumer combined to depress growth at the start of the year, but importantly set up the economy for a strong rebound in the second quarter. So in response to the severe tightening in financial conditions over the turn of the year and a laundry list of downside risk factors, the FOMC pivoted to a 'patient' policy stance and removed any bias on whether the next rate move will be up or down. In light of these factors, some policy-makers had "nudged down" their growth estimates since December, pointing to a likely downgrade to the median growth forecast in the March Summary of Economic Projections. As a result, Morgan Stanley's economists expect this forecast revision to pass through into the expectation for rate hikes this year, where the bank thinks the dots will fall to a median of one hike in 2019.

GDP Crash- Atlanta Fed Sees Q1 GDP Tumbling To Just 0.2% - While the market was delighted two weeks ago to see a delayed Q4 GDP print of 2.6%, which came in well above the expected 2.2% consensus number, we warned that "while Q4 was clearly a stronger than expected print, the real question is what happens in Q1, when most banks and nowcasts expect GDP to print below 1%, in some cases concerningly so." Moments ago we got another confirmation of this, when following the latest retail sales report which saw a dramatic cut to December retail sales even as January surprised modestly to the upside, the Atlanta Fed slashed its Q1 GDP nowcast, and after rebounding modestly from 0.3% to 0.5% a week ago, it has once again slumped, and is now at the lowest recorded level, and just 0.2% away from economic contraction. This is how the AtlantaFed justified its latest Q1 GDP cut, which as of March 11 was just 0.2 percent, down from 0.5 percent on March 8: "After this morning's retail sales report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcast of first-quarter real personal consumption expenditures growth declined from 1.5 percent to 1.0 percent."  It appears that the now-certain Q1 earnings recession won't be in isolation, with the broader US economy also on the verge of contracting, if only for just one quarter. The question then becomes whether China's ongoing reflation attempts will be successful (although the February total credit injection was a major disappointment), and lead to a rebound in US growth in the second quarter. If not, what was expected to become the longest US expansion in history in June 2019, will be prematurely terminated by a technical recession just as Donald Trump was set to make a new economic record.

Q1 GDP Forecasts: Slightly Positive - From Goldman Sachs: We lowered our Q1 GDP tracking estimate by two tenths to +0.4%. [March 15 estimate]     From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report: The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.4% for 2019:Q1 and 1.5% for 2019:Q2. [Mar 15 estimate].  And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow: The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2019 is 0.4 percent on March 13, up from 0.2 percent on March 11. [Mar 13 estimate]    CR Note: These early estimates suggest GDP will be slightly positive in Q1.

The $64 Trillion Question- With Foreigners Stepping Aside, Who Will Buy U.S Treasuries? - During its latest, quarterly meeting, the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (aka the TBAC, which many years ago we dubbed the Supercommittee That Really Runs America, an assessment which 8 years later Bloomberg now generally agrees with), released minutes of its Jan. 29 meeting in conjunction with the U.S. government’s quarterly refunding announcement.While there were many topics of discussion (discussed previously here), the TBAC highlighted two key areas of concern: i) the soaring US budget deficit, and specifically the possibility of significant financing gap over next 10 years amounting to over $12 trillion and the potential need for more domestic investor participation if foreign reserve growth slows; and tied to that ii) the worry that since "foreign investors already hold significant dollar debt", and have been paring back substantially on their Treasury purchases in recent years, the US will have to increasingly rely on domestic savings to fund its future budget deficits.Of particular note, the TBAC said, 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." Which brings up a key question: who is buying US Treasurys, and who will be buying US Treasurys for the foreseeable future.  To address just this question, on Friday Deutsche Bank's team of economists and credit strategists published a presentation titled "Who is buying Treasuries, Mortgages, Credit and Munis" which seeks to address just the concern framed by the TBAC, and which will soon emerge as the most critical one for the US Treasury market (the biggest in the world), especially if public support for MMT (i.e. helicopter money to finance unlimited political promises) gains social traction. Below we excerpt some of the key charts from the presentation starting with the most obvious: foreign appetite for IG, HY and loans is rolling over.  This is a growing problem just as the share of Treasuries as a share of total US debt outstanding is at an all time high... ... and the total stock of US fixed income is now an all time high of $41 trillion... ... of which the total stock of Treasuries is now the highest on record and rising, with corporate debt (both financial and non-financial) and MBS debt in 2nd and 3rd spot.

U.S. Treasury To Employ “Extraordinary Measures” To Fend Off Default - A year ago, Republicans in control of Congress suspended the cap on federal borrowing. The limit was automatically re-imposed on March 1st. Politicians now have a few months to hammer out legislation to raise the cap as the Treasury employs “extraordinary measures” to fend off default. The federal deficit is mushrooming once again. The 2017 tax cuts have taken a bite out of receipts at the IRS and economic growth has not met expectations. This year’s borrowing to fill the gap between government tax revenue and expenditures may reach a trillion dollars for the first time since 2012. If Washington politicians follow the usual script, we can expect Republicans to posture as fiscal conservatives and then relent either just before or just after a federal shutdown. Democrats will chastise the GOP for playing politics with America’s sacred responsibility to pay its bills. This drama has played out dozens of times over recent decades and is therefore likely to repeat once more this fall. Perhaps it won’t, though. The Associated Press notes that there just aren’t many people in the Capitol who even pretend to care anymore when it comes to deficits. The AP quoted former Senator Judd Gregg from New Hampshire on Sunday: “The president doesn’t care. The leadership of the Democratic Party doesn’t care.” He should also have included Republican leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have reliably supported metastasizing federal debt. Meanwhile, the socialist Left has touted so-called “Modern Monetary Theory” (MMT) as the mechanism to fund the economy-killing Green New Deal and any and all other government boondoggles. At its core, MMT advocates for perpetual money printing to fund government spending. There has already been one government shutdown this year. Congress and the President may decide another one, for the sake of a bit of theater around the borrowing limit, is not a good idea.

 Trump Budget Would Slash Domestic Spending, Boost Military Spending - — On Monday, President Trump will officially propose his new budget plan, which calls for major cuts in domestic spending across the board, but which also seeks a large further increase in military spending, above and beyond the increases already planned.Exact figures aren’t clear at this point, but what is clear is that the general direction of this budget is going to face major opposition within the House of Representatives, not just from the Democratic leadership, but from some Republicans as well.It’s not just the heavily military-centric priorities that will fuel the opposition, though clearly that is part of it. The budget proposal also ditches the Republicans’ goal of a 10-year time-frame for a balanced budget.Instead of a 10-year balancing, the new proposal envisions a 15-year time. Even that is based on projections of large economic growth that most economists say are not realistic, and potentially not even possible.That money will be going into the US military, already the costliest military on the planet by far. The US military budget is so vast as it is, that it is larger than the next several countries combined, and it has already grown substantially in the last two years, while the other comparatively large spenders are trying to make cuts to the military to get their budgets in line. Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) says that the plan is a “non-starter,” and that the House leadership has no plans to include the domestic spending cuts in their own plan, and effectively are going to disregard Trump’s proposal.

Trump 2020 Budget Raises Military Spending, Cuts Everything Else - President Trump's 2020 budget isn't just an outline of his government's priorities, Democrats have interpreted it as a declaration of war. Putting forth a budget that the Washington Post said would almost certainly result in another shutdown (and possibly a debt-ceiling crisis) later this year, Trump proposed deep cuts to federal agencies and social w elfare services, while once again boosting spending for the military, and appropriating $8.6 billion for his wall. The budget, which is expected to become a major issue in the 2020 race, calls for a $17 billion reduction in food stamps, and a $22 billion reduction in welfare programs. It would cut foreign aid by $13 billion, while raising total defense spending by 4% to $750 billion. Over a decade, the budget would cut $1.9 trillion from mandatory spending over a decade.In total, Trump's budget calls for $4.75 trillion in federal spending for 2020, up 5% from what's expected in 2019.Here are some of the highlights:

  • 5% domestic spending cut
  • 31% cut to the EPA
  • Budget would establish a new Energy Star fee to raise $46 million in fiscal 2020, plus offsetting fees for chemical and oil facilities that could raise $20 million and $10 million
  • 11% cut to the Energy Department
  • 22% cut to Department of Transportation
  • 12% cut to Department of Health and Human Services
  • Foreign aid reduced by $13 billion
  • Defense spending increased by 4% to $750 billion
  • Budget projects $200 billion increase in annual defense spending by 2029, including money for Space Force
  • While raising overall defense budget, Trump projects cuts to war spending beginning in 2022, when Oversea Contingency Fund would be cut to $20 billion
  • Budget for 2020 calls for $174 billion in war spending, including $9 billion in emergency funds
  • Budget claims path to balance in 15 years
  • $8.6 billion for the border wall (enough for 722 miles)
  • New tax on e-cigarettes and vapes
  • Proposes major overhaul of Medicaid by turning more power over to states and cut $241 billion over 10 years.
  • The budget projects $1.1 trillion deficit in 2019, 2020, and 2021, and a $1 trillion deficit in 2022.

Democratic leaders have already declared the budget plan "dead on arrival" in Congress, which has more control over the budget process. Some Republicans (the self-proclaimed "deficit hawks" and some moderates) would likely oppose the budget because of the increase in defense spending and its steep cuts to welfare programs One New York Times reporter pointed out that the budget calls for more spending on the military, and less on "everything else."

Reagan budget director: Most of what Trump says on economy is 'baloney' - Former President Reagan's budget director David Stockman told Hill.TV on Friday that the vast majority of what President Trump says about the economy is "baloney," taking aim specifically at his 2020 budget proposal. "People ought to recognize that almost everything that Trump is saying about the economy is totally baloney," Stockman, a frequent Trump critic, told hosts Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton on "Rising." "We're in deep trouble. We're at the end of a long business cycle that has been very weak, and that he's proposed a catastrophe of a fiscal plan," he continued. Stockman pinpointed Trump's proposed budget, calling the plan unrealistic. "When you look at it, it's an insult to fiscal intelligence, to say nothing of common sense," he said. "He's proposing to add $4 trillion to the deficit just in the next four years." "I think that is nuts at this late stage in the business cycle. In fact, if you look at it, it will cover month 123 to month 171 of this expansion, which began in June of 2009," he added. "The reason I dwell on that is there has never been in the history of the United States been a business cycle that lasted more than 119 months, and that was the tech boom of the 1990s." Trump's proposed budget request includes large cuts to domestic spending, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, while boosting defense spending and requesting $8.6 billion in new funding for a border wall. The budget is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled House, though it sets the stage for another shutdown battle later this year. . 

A US budget for worldwide war - The budget request made public Monday by the White House must be taken by the international working class as a serious warning. The US government is preparing for full-scale war abroad and savage attacks on the living standards and social benefits of working people at home. The most powerful imperialist state is seeking a record level of military spending, while demanding unprecedented cuts in spending on social necessities such as healthcare, education and the environment.The Trump administration proposes to give the Pentagon an increase nearly double that sought by the military establishment itself—a 4.7 percent rise over current spending, double the 2.4 percent increase for which Defense Department officials had been planning. The dollar amount of the increase is $34 billion, while the Pentagon asked for only $17 billion.Total US military spending of $750 billion would be larger than the 2018 military spending of the next 14 countries combined—China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, Britain, France, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Brazil, Australia, Italy, Israel and Iraq.Perhaps the most startling and ominous figure in the budget request is the proposed increase for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), the all-purpose war-fighting category that includes funding for the US interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, drone warfare across the wider Middle East and North Africa, and the US military buildup on the borders of Russia (European Deterrence Initiative). While the fiscal year 2019 budget provides $69 billion for OCO, the request for FY 2020 balloons to a staggering $164 billion. Initial press reports, citing White House sources, claim that this is an accounting gimmick, reclassifying a significant portion of the regular Pentagon budget as OCO in order to allow the military nominally to comply with spending caps set in 2011 under a bipartisan budget agreement between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans, but routinely evaded in congressional budget deal-making since then. Under that scenario, the Trump administration would declare that it was now observing the caps, imposing them on domestic spending through a savage across-the-board cut of at least five percent. Meanwhile, overall military spending would soar, since money for the OCO is not counted towards the spending caps. Whatever the truth of such assertions, funneling almost $100 billion more into Overseas Contingency Operations has implications far beyond Trump’s maneuvers with Congress, and would surely provoke alarm in Tehran, Moscow and Beijing. It would give the Pentagon more than enough money to fight a major war, such as an invasion of Iran or Venezuela, both targets of Trump fist-shaking in recent months, or North Korea, if the current talks between Washington and Pyongyang collapse completely. This vast sum could even be used to finance the initial stages of a war with China or Russia, if such a conflict did not immediately escalate into a world-destroying nuclear holocaust.

The Pentagon’s 2020 Budget Asks for Nearly 380 Aircraft, But One Buy Is Raising Eyebrows - The Trump Administration’s 2020 Budget is out, and the Pentagon is asking for 17 more aircraft than it received in 2019. A quick tally of the aircraft shows the number of fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles the services are asking for is down slightly, while the number of helicopters is up. Also, the Air Force is purchasing eight new F-15s in a deal that smells fishy, given the Acting Secretary of Defense’s work career.The tally, shared on Twitter by Aviation Week & Space Technology defense editor Stephen Trimble, shows a slight increase of 17 aircraft year over year, from 362 authorized in 2019 to 379 proposed for 2020. The aircraft are broken down into a number a categories as follows:Fighters: DoD wants 110 fighters in 2020, down from 117 in 2019. The Air Force is asking for 48 F-35As, down eight from 2019. The Marines want just 10 F-35Bs, less than half their 2019 purchase. Only the Navy is buying more F-35s, with the service requesting 20 of the carrier-capable F-35C model. The Navy is also buying 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.The real wild card here: the Air Force is asking for eight F-15EX fighters, part of a goal ofbuying 80 through 2024. At the same time, the Air Force is asking for eight less F-35s. The service has said in the past it would not spend money on F-15s at the expense of the F-35 program, but that appears to be exactly what happened. According to outgoing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, the service’s 2020 budget originally did not include the F-15s. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has filed a complaint with the Pentagon alleging that Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a 30-year Boeing employee, intervened to force the service to buy Boeing’s F-15s over the F-35.

With Trillions in Safety Net Cuts, Bernie Sanders Says Trump Budget 'Breathtaking in Its Degree of Cruelty' - If a budget is a statement of values and priorities, President Donald Trump's proposal for fiscal year 2020 clearly displays his commitment to enriching the wealthy at the expense of ordinary Americans."Make no mistake about it: Trump's budget is a massive transfer of wealth from working class families to the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in America." —Sen. Bernie Sanders That was how Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) characterized Trump's $4.7 trillion budget request on Monday after the White House released details of the plan, which includes a massive increase in military spending and trillions of dollars in total cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. "The Trump budget is breathtaking in its degree of cruelty and filled with broken promises," Sanders, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a statement. "Donald Trump promised the American people that he would be a different type of Republican, that he would be a champion of the working American and that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But his budget does the exact opposite of what he promised the American people." Over the next decade, Trump's budget—officially titled "A Budget for a Better America"—would slash Medicaid by $1.5 trillion, Medicare by $845 billion, and Social Security by $25 billion, according to Sanders' office. The president's blueprint also requests $8.6 billion in border wall funding. "This is a budget for the military industrial complex, for corporate CEOs, for Wall Street, and for the billionaire class," Sanders said. "It is dead on arrival." Giving the Pentagon "even more than it hoped for," Trump's budget calls for an $861 billion increase in base military spending over the next ten years.

Proposed cuts to Medicare trigger outcry – Democrats are accusing President Donald Trump of going back on his campaign promise to protect Medicare after he introduced a 2020 budget that calls for steep cuts in Medicare payments to hospitals. The budget embodies long-standing Republican ambitions “to make Medicare wither on the vine,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday. “After exploding the deficit with his GOP tax scam for the rich, President Trump is once again trying to ransack Medicare, Medicaid and the health care of seniors and families across America,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. “This budget says ‘promises kept,’ ” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Balderdash.” The administration argues that the budget doesn’t cut Medicare benefits to seniors but makes better use of taxpayers’ dollars and helps reduce Medicare spending by lowering prescription drug costs. “On Medicare, we are actually putting it on a sounder footing,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told House lawmakers Tuesday at a budget hearing. As outlined in White House documents, the budget calls for $845 billion in total, or gross, spending reductions to Medicare over 10 years, mainly by cutting future payments to hospitals and other service providers. However, that eye-popping figure appears to involve some budgetary legerdemain. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found actual savings of $515 billion or $575 billion, depending on how those savings are calculated.

Lobster, Golf Carts And Fidget Spinners: What’s In The Federal Budget? - For American taxpayers who cringe at the thought of footing the bill for things like Medicaid and Medicare, it provides little comfort to know that they’re footing the bill instead for the federal government to gorge itself on lobster and alcohol and ensure that everyone has a fidget spinner and a golf cart to get around. Trump has proposed a record $4.75 trillion budget, and it’s necessary when—according to Fox Business—the federal government it spent $4.6 million on lobster tail and crab in a single month in 2018. But shellfish was only part of the federal government’s year-end 2018 shopping spree, according to, which says $97 billion was spent in September 2018 alone—the final fiscal month--in a “use-it-or-lose-it” spending spree. It’s nothing new—it happens every September, but 2018 was significantly higher. found that “federal agencies took their taxpayer-funded shopping spree to a new level last year, spending $97 billion on contracts, in total”, marking a 16-percent increase from fiscal year 2017 and a 39-percent increase from fiscal year 2015. A whopping $53 billion was spent in the last seven days of the fiscal year, with last-minute panic purchases including contracts for everything from fidget spinners, alcohol, snacks, Cross Fit equipment and musical instruments to guns, ammo and bombs. Of the 66 government agencies that participated in the fiscal year-end spending spree, the Department of Defense racked up the biggest bill, at $61.2 billion (we’re not sure who got the fidget spinners), according to   During the course of the month of September, the federal government spent $3.2 billion a day on contracts, but as September came to a close, the 27th and 28th saw it spend more than $10 billion a day on contracts.  And while $4.6 million went to lobster tails, the report also notes that:

• $9.8 million was spent on workout equipment
• $7.7 million was spent on iPads
• $1.7 million went to musical equipment (oddly enough, $1.3 million of this was spent by the Department of Defense)
• $673,471 was spent on golf carts
• $308,994 was spent on alcohol
• $53,004 was spent on china tableware
• $9,241 was spent on a single leather chair

 Pence Brokering Deal With GOP To Defeat Democrats On Border Wall - Vice President Mike Pence is in discussions with a group of GOP senators on a deal that could lead to the defeat of a Democratic resolution to overturn President Trump's emergency declaration to build a wall on the southern US border, according to The Hill.   The deal? If the GOP defeats the Democratic legislation, Trump will formally agree to rein in his power to declare future national emergencies. Killing the resolution on the Republican-controlled Senate floor would spare the president a major embarrassment and avoid him having to issue the first veto of his presidency. But there is some skepticism among GOP senators whether Trump will actually go through with it. And the plan is hurt by the fact that a bill to curb the president’s power to declare national emergencies won’t come to the Senate floor until after the March recess. -The HillOn Thursday, Pence and a group of Republicans met to discuss the legislation to curb Trump's power. In attendance were Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) - who is sponsoring the proposed legislation, Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN). According to Lee's measure, national emergency declarations would require a Congressional vote to extend beyond 30 days. In order for it to work, Senate Republicans say Trump would have to make a scout's honor promise to sign Lee's bill - something the president has yet to agree to do. Meanwhile, at least two Republicans say they will continue to support the Democratic resolution to reject the National Emergency; constitutionalist Senator Rand Paul and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. "No, I think Congress should allocate the money and that’s a very strong belief. It’s also in the Constitution," said Paul. Among the half-dozen or so other Republicans who are thought to support the Democratic resolution are Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) - both of whom say they've made up their minds but have yet to announce their decisions.  "Other potential defectors include Portman, Toomey, Alexander and Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.)," according to The Hill.

Senate talks collapse on avoiding Trump showdown over emergency declaration - Senate Republicans say talks to find a way to stop a House-passed resolution disapproving of President Trump’s emergency declaration over the southern border are collapsing amid Republican divisions over what some see as a breach of separation of powers. Senate Republicans said Wednesday afternoon that Trump will not support a proposal sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to reform the National Emergencies Act of 1976 and require Congress to approve future emergency declarations after 30 days. “It’s my understanding the president won’t support it,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) leadership team, after meeting with colleagues at lunch to discuss the state of the talks. Lee announced Trump’s position after taking a call from the president during the lunch meeting, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters after Wednesday's meeting that it’s clear the disapproval resolution will pass. “It’s time to vote, everybody knows how they’re going to vote. I don’t think the president’s going to win this one.” There was a flash of hope Tuesday that a deal could be worked out with the White House whereby Trump would promise to support legislation curbing his power to declare future national emergencies in exchange for Republicans defeating the disapproval resolution. But Trump decided against curbing his own presidential power, GOP senators said.

Trump Threatens To Veto Senate Measure Overturning Border National Emergency Declaration -- President Trump fired off a fresh warning that he is ready to veto a measure in the Republican-led senate to rebuke him over his national emergency declaration at the southern US border.  "A big National Emergency vote today by The United States Senate on Border Security & the Wall (which is already under major construction)," Trump tweeted early Thursday. "I am prepared to veto, if necessary. The Southern Border is a National Security and Humanitarian Nightmare, but it can be easily fixed!"A big National Emergency vote today by The United States Senate on Border Security & the Wall (which is already under major construction). I am prepared to veto, if necessary. The Southern Border is a National Security and Humanitarian Nightmare, but it can be easily fixed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 14, 2019While Trump has framed the border crisis as a matter of national security, Democrats and some Republicans argue that his Feb. 15 national emergency to circumvent Congress over border wall funding is unconstitutional.  Meanwhile, Trump shot down a compromise by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) which would defeat the Democratic resolution to overturn the national emergency in exchange for an agreement that Trump will rein in his power to declare future national emergencies.  On Wednesday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who was leading an effort to craft a compromise aimed at curtailing presidential emergency powers in the future, became the latest Republican to announce plans to defect and vote for a resolution to nullify Trump’s declaration when it comes to the floor on Thursday.   Lee made the announcement shortly after hearing directly from Trump that his legislation was not acceptable.

Senate rejects border declaration in major rebuke of Trump -- The Senate voted on Thursday to nix President Trump’s national emergency declaration to construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall, setting up the first veto battle with his White House.Senators voted 59-41 to pass the resolution of disapproval blocking Trump’s declaration. Underscoring the broad base of concern over Trump’s actions within the Republican caucus, 12 GOP senators broke rank and voted with all the Democrats.The measure passed the House last month, 245-182. The resolution now heads to Trump’s desk, where he is expected to use the first veto of his presidency to defeat it. Neither chamber has the votes to override the president, who tweeted shortly after the vote was closed:  VETO!

Senate Votes to Terminate Trump’s Border National Emergency – Rights groups celebrated a “historic rebuke” of an unconstitutional power grab Thursday after the Senate voted to terminate President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration by an overwhelming bipartisan margin.“Today’s vote is a major blow to President Donald Trump’s autocratic ambitions,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “The American people don’t want a racist border wall, and by overwhelming numbers they oppose Trump’s emergency declaration. They rose up and made their voices clear.” The final vote count was 59-41, with 12 Republicans joining Democrats to pass the resolution of disapproval. BREAKING: The GOP-controlled Senate just voted to overturn Trump’s fake national emergency.This is a major rebuke of Trump’s authoritarianism and disregard for the— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) March 14, 2019Trump declared a national emergency last month following a record 35-day government shutdown over his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding from Congress.  The president’s declaration was immediately met with widespread outrage and a torrent of legal challenges.  In a joint statement, the Revoke Trump Emergency Coalition—an alliance of more than a dozen progressive advocacy groups—said Thursday’s vote in the Senate was the product of “grassroots outcry from every corner of this country.”  The measure, which passed the House last month, will now head to Trump’s desk. On Twitter, the president said he “look[s] forward to vetoing” the resolution.I look forward to VETOING the just passed Democrat inspired Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime, Drugs, and Trafficking in our Country. I thank all of the Strong Republicans who voted to support Border Security and our desperately needed WALL!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 14, 2019 In a statement, campaign director Emma Einhorn said Trump’s veto promise means the fight against his power-grab is far from over.

 Trump issues first veto of his presidency - Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency Friday afternoon, rejecting a congressional resolution that would have blocked him from funding his border wall without congressional approval. “Consistent with the law and the legislative process designed by our founders, today I am vetoing this resolution,“ Trump said. “Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it. And I'm very proud to veto it.”  The president's veto comes a day after 12 Republicans joined Senate Democrats to rebuke the president’s decision to declare a national emergency last month in order to redirect funds to build a wall on the southern border. The resolution was a stunning bipartisan rebuke to Trump, but lawmakers currently do not have the votes to overturn his veto. Trump on Friday was flanked by a crowd as he approved the veto in the Oval Office, including Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. A group relatives of people purportedly killed by undocumented immigrants, called “angel parents” by the president, and law enforcement representatives also attended the veto signing.

Dems prepare next steps after Trump’s veto - Democrats are planning a vote that aims to override President Trump's veto of legislation blocking his emergency declaration, an effort that’s all but certain to fail. The House will hold a veto override vote on March 26, shortly after lawmakers return from a weeklong recess, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Friday. The measure is unlikely to garner the necessary two-thirds majority, given that only 13 House Republicans joined with Democrats in support of a resolution last month to block Trump's emergency declaration to build a border wall. And even though 12 Senate Republicans joined the Democrats to send the measure to Trump’s desk, eight more would have to defect in that chamber to override the veto, the first of Trump's presidency. Even if they can’t force Trump to revoke the national emergency, Democrats are hoping to highlight the constitutional questions surrounding Trump's declaration and the infighting it has prompted within the GOP. “House Republicans will have to choose between their partisan hypocrisy and their sacred oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Pelosi said in a statement. Democrats are also eyeing other strategies for preventing Trump from expanding the wall with funds Congress previously allotted for other purposes, including military construction projects. "Any veto override is difficult, but we keep fighting. Both chambers of Congress — one Republican and one Democrat — are on record to terminate the President's emergency declaration," Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and author of the disapproval resolution, said Friday in an email. 

US Demolishing Entire Cold War-Era Arms Control Regime – Ex-Diplomat -  The entire arms control regime embodied in four treaties created during the Cold War will be destroyed within a few years and in all cases the initiative to smash it has come from the United States, former Canadian diplomat Patrick Armstrong told Sputnik. On Monday, the Kremlin press service said that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree suspending Russia's obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) until the United States resumed compliance. In early February, the United States formally suspended its commitments to the INF accord."The entire arms control regime inherited from the Cold War will be gone in a few years - in all cases the initiative has come from Washington although Moscow has, of course, has been blamed," Armstrong said on Tuesday.The Cold War created four important arms treaties, Armstrong recalled, including the 1987 INF treaty, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and in the 1990s the Conventional Forces inEurope treaty and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).However, Washington abrogated the ABM Treaty in 2002, NATO never ratified the modified CFE Treaty and invented so many new conditions that Russia, which had ratified it, pulled out in 2015and Washington has just pulled out of the INF Treaty, Armstrong pointed out. "All that remains is the New START Treaty of 2011, and given that Trump has called it a 'bad deal.' we cannot expect that one to last either," he warned.  One could interpret US President Donald Trump's decision as the latest step in a exceptionalist or unipolar tendency in which Washington, confident that it could secure "full spectrum dominance," throws out all agreements which limit it, Armstrong explained. On the other hand, the boast of outspending all other countries may be another example of Trump's negotiation style, Armstrong noted. "I don't see any particular incentive for Beijing to bother and Moscow, which had foreseen the future when the ABM Treaty was dropped, already has weapons that can counter any intermediate threatWashington can come up with," he said.

 Pentagon To Start Making Banned Cruise Missiles As Treaty Expires - The Pentagon will begin work on fabricating components for a new ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) formely banned under the now-suspended Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, reported Aviation Week & Space Technology (AW&ST). The Pentagon “will commence fabrication activities on components to support developmental testing of these systems - activities that until February 2 would have been inconsistent with our obligations under the treaty,” Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza said in a Pentagon statement. "This research and development is designed to be reversible, should Russia return to full and verifiable compliance before we withdraw from the Treaty in August 2019," Baldanza said.Pentagon work only covers conventional GLCM technology and excludes nuclear weapons, the spokesperson said. The INFY Treaty was signed by The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in 1987 to calm nuclear war fears across Europe. The treaty required both countries to dismantle their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 310 to 3,420 miles.

Are the U.S. and Russia Sleepwalking Toward Nuclear Disaster- The Sunday, February 24 edition of Russian state television’s flagship program News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselyov provided a detailed description of the "mirror like” response that Russia will take to any US installations of land based cruise missiles directed against Moscow following termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty. The Sunday, February 24 edition of Russian state television’s flagship program News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselyov provided a detailed description of the "mirror like” response that Russia will take to any US installations of land based cruise missiles directed against Moscow following termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty. The scenario focused on the new hypersonic Zircon missile system which can be launched from existing Russian submarines carrying the "normal” Tomahawk-like cruise missiles called Kalibr and which were used successfully in the recent operations against ISIL in Syria.We were told that the Russians are prepared to station such submarines holding 40 Zircons each just outside the territorial waters of the US economic zone, at perhaps 250 miles from the American East and West coasts.That would give them a 5 minute flight time to precision attack all five main American control and command centers of its strategic nuclear forces including the Pentagon headquarters. In traditional military jargon, what Kiselyov was describing is called a "decapitating strike” or "first strike capability” that leaves the enemy unable to coordinate and muster any riposte. How can we characterize this Russian broadcast? One might say that the intention was to warn the US to come to its senses and reconsider its withdrawal from the INF Treaty. Failing that, it is a warning not even to think about stationing cruise missiles in Europe, lest the Russians proceed with the Zircon deployment. 

Top US General Supports Pre-Emptive Nuclear First Strike — With the world’s largest, most destructive arsenal of nuclear weapons, the United States poses an enormous risk not just to peace, but to the survival of much of the human race. That’s only a problem, of course, if the US starts using that arsenal.Which is where formal US nuclear doctrine would come in. There have been debates for decades on whether the US should adopt a “no first use” policy, officially ruling out the idea that the US would launch a nuclear attack without first being attacked with a nuclear weapon.  Morally, this ought to be obvious, but every attempt to adopt such a policy has been opposed, with Joint Chiefs commander Gen. Joe Dunford the latest to come out against the idea, saying promising not to nuke other nations in a first strike would “simplify an adversary’s decision-making.”  Dunford went on to argue that there are “a few situations” where he believes the president should retain the option to launch nuclear first strikes, though he did not say what those situations were. Given the potentially disastrous consequences of such a strike, it is unsurprising that many in Congress are pushing to limit the risk of the president being able to do that unilaterally.

U.S. Gets Its Ass Handed To It In World War III Simulation- RAND - In simulated World War III scenarios, the U.S. continues to lose against Russia and China, two top war planners warned last week. “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, blue gets its ass handed to it" RAND analyst David Ochmanek said Thursday.  RAND's wargames show how US Armed Forces - colored blue on wargame maps - experience the most substantial losses in one scenario after another and still can't thwart Russia or China - which predictably is red - from accomplishing their objectives: annihilating Western forces."We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary," he warned.In the next military conflict, which some believe may come as soon as the mid-2020s, all five battlefield domains: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, will be heavily contested, suggesting the U.S. could have a difficult time in achieving superiority as it has in prior conflicts.The simulated war games showed, the "red" aggressor force often destroys U.S. F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters on the runway, sends several Naval fleets to the depths, destroys US military bases, and through electronic warfare, takes control of critical military communication systems. In short, a gruesome, if simulated, annihilation of some of the most modern of US forces. So, as Russia and China develop fifth-generation fighters and hypersonic missiles, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructures like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.”"That’s why the 2020 budget coming out next week retires the carrier USS Truman decades early and cuts two amphibious landing ships, as we’ve reported. It’s also why the Marine Corps is buying the jump-jet version of the F-35, which can take off and land from tiny, ad hoc airstrips, but how well they can maintain a high-tech aircraft in low-tech surroundings is an open question," said Breaking Defense. Meanwhile, speaking purely hypothetically of course, "if we went to war in Europe, there would be one Patriot battery moving, and it would go to Ramstein. And that’s it,” Work complained. The US has 58 Brigade Combat Teams across the continent but doesn't have anti-air and missile-defense capabilities required to handle a barrage of missiles from Russia.

US-North Korea tensions approach boiling point - The Trump administration — which canceled two large-scale spring war games between the United States and South Korea in an effort to move along nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea — is now grappling with reports that Pyongyang is preparing to launch a missile soon. The reports follow President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's failure to reach an agreement at their summit last month. North Korea's account for the failure differs from Trump's, a fact that has increased tensions between the countries. Experts warn that tensions could rise before negotiations move forward. "I worry a little bit that this could get worse before it gets better because both sides want to try to figure out how to get the other side back to the table,"  "And they may say pressure is the way to do that.” National security adviser John Bolton on Sunday said Trump would be "pretty disappointed" should North Korea carry out a nuclear test or a missile launch. Bolton had been asked about new commercial satellite images taken Friday that show activity at a North Korean missile site near the border with China. Beyond Parallel, a project started by the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS), said North Korea "has continued preparations on the launch pad" at the Sohae launch facility, a sign the country is readying for "the delivery of a rocket." The long-range rocket launch site was previously shut down as part of a promise made between Kim and Trump at their first summit in June in Singapore. Experts view the rebuilding as “deliberate efforts by North Korea in response to the inconclusive results of the Hanoi summit — to send a message, really, to President Trump and the world,”   Victor Cha, a former official in charge of Korea relations in the George W. Bush administration, warned Thursday that tensions could continue to rise between Washington and Pyongyang before things cool down. North Korea’s biggest ask in negotiations — the lifting of major sanctions imposed by U.N. Security Council resolutions — has shown “that they see that pressure as troublesome,” he said. "One of the lessons, I think, that both sides took away from the summit is that pressure works. ...The launch facility developments are troubling for the administration, which had nixed military exercises on the Korean Peninsula in favor of several smaller-scale drills meant to maintain readiness but still appease Kim’s government.

Here's Why The Media Is Lying About "Reconstruction" At North Korea's Sohae Launch Facility In the aftermath of the Hanoi Summit, President Trump has been barraged with attempts to undermine his confidence in the good faith of Kim Jong Un and his intentions to deal fairly with the United States in the negotiation process concerning denuclearization and de-escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. One of the primary causes of concern has been a series of reports from NBC News claiming that "commercial" satellite footage shows that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been engaging in fresh construction at their Sohae Launch Facility in preparation for an alleged missile launch or test.Not only is the use of the term "commercial" misleading in nature, but analysis of the photos indicates that the activity at the Sohae facility is related to deconstruction. The reports are driven by a number of entities with connections to the Central Intelligence Agency and a number of other special interests which call into credibility both the veracity of the reports and the journalistic integrity of NBC News.

  • I. Satellite Footage Of Sohae Launch Facility Is Misrepresented -- The NBC report, written by Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee and Andrea Mitchell, concerns satellite imagery released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) purported to have been taken on March 2, 2019. The imagery suffers from two defects - the fact that the images show two different facilities being attributed as one by the media, and that the purported construction activity indicates dismantling of the Sohae site rather than fresh additions or repairs. Side by side comparisons of the photos show that they are in fact taken from two different locations. This discrepancy might be apparent to an analyst with knowledge of North Korea's Sohae Launch Facility, but not to an average member of the public.
  • II. The Sources Of The Imagery Are Tied To Intelligence Services & Special Interests - An investigation into the sources of the imagery and accompanying analysis creates serious doubts about the incentives with which they are being presented to the public and the groups involved in the Korean peace negotiations. NBC News based their report on the Sohae activity on analysis from Beyond Parallel, a project run by CSIS. An examination of Beyond Parallel's About page shows ties to  the Heritage Foundation, the Atlantic Council-connected Korea Foundation and the Brzezinski Institute on Geostrategy. All of these groups have advocated for hawkish US policies towards North Korea that will not be conducive to productive negotiations.

 “CIA implicated in attack on North Korean embassy in Madrid”  - Investigators from the Spanish police and National Intelligence Center (CNI) have linked an attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid on February 22 to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Sources believe the goal of the attack embassy was to get information on the former North Korean ambassador to Spain At least two of the 10 assailants who broke into the embassy and interrogated diplomatic staff have been identified and have connections to the US intelligence agency. The CIA has denied any involvement but government sources say their response was “unconvincing.” If it is proven that the CIA was behind the attack, it could lead to a diplomatic spat between Madrid and Washington. Government sources say that it would be “unacceptable” for an ally to take such action. Not only would it mean that the US agency had operated on Spanish soil without asking for authorization or informing the authorities, it would also be a violation of the international conventions that protect diplomatic delegations. What’s more, unlike other intelligence activities – such as cyberattacks, which are characterized by their discretion, the attack on the North Korean embassy was especially violent. On February 22 at 3pm, 10 masked men carrying alleged imitation weapons broke into the embassy, located north of the capital in the residential area of Aravaca. They tied up the eight people inside and put bags on their heads. The victims were beaten and interrogated.

Kim Jong Un Rethinks U.S. Nuclear Talks, Pause in Missile Tests - Kim Jong Un will soon decide whether to halt nuclear disarmament talks with the U.S., a top North Korean diplomat said, in the latest sign of fallout from his failed summit with President Donald Trump last month. Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told reporters and diplomats Friday in Pyongyang that North Korea blamed the U.S.’s “gangster-like” demands for the breakdown in talks, according to the Associated Press. Choe said Kim would clarify his position on whether to continue his 15-month freeze on bomb and missile tests “in a short period of time,” the AP reported. “I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger,” Choe said, according to the AP. “We have neither the intention to compromise with the U.S. in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation.” Asked about Choe’s comments, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo struck a conciliatory tone, saying the U.S. hoped to keep talking with North Korea. “She left open the possibility that negotiations would continue,” Pompeo told reporters Friday. “It’s the administration’s desire that we continue to have conversations around this.” The future of nuclear talks between the two sides have been in limbo since Trump decided to walk away from a Feb. 28 meeting in Hanoi without an agreement to reduce Kim’s arsenal. Each side has blamed the other, with the U.S. saying North Korea demanded too much sanctions relief and Pyongyang faulting Washington for rejecting its promises to reduce its nuclear program.

US Blamed Venezuelan President for Burning Humanitarian Aid Trucks. Wrong. -  — On February 23, a caravan of large cargo trucks was crossing a bridge from Colombia into Venezuela delivering food and other aid when they dramatically went up in flames. US officials seized upon the event as evidence of a “sick tyrant” stopping food from getting to hungry people: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted:We denounce Maduro’s refusal to let humanitarian assistance reach #Venezuela. What kind of a sick tyrant stops food from getting to hungry people? The images of burning trucks filled with aid are sickening. Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted: Masked thugs, civilians killed by live rounds, and the burning of trucks carrying badly-needed food and medicine. This has been Maduro’s response to peaceful efforts to help Venezuelans. Countries that still recognize Maduro should take note of what they are  Senator Marco Rubio tweeted: Each of the trucks burned by Maduro carried 20 tons of food & medicine. This is a crime & if international law means anything he must pay a high price for this. #23FAyudaHumanitaria  The US State Department released a propaganda video: Now is the time to act in support of the Venezuelan people and to get vital, desperately needed humanitarian assistance to them. LET THE AID INTO #Venezuela. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted: The tyrant in Caracas danced as his henchmen murdered civilians & burned food & medicine heading to Venezuelans. Saturday was tragic for the families of those killed & suffering Venezuelans. But it was just 1 more day in Venezuela’s journey from tyranny to freedom. Maduro must go — Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) February 25, 2019 The New York Times is reporting Sunday that the fire was actually started by supporters of opposition leader Juan Guiado. “Unpublished footage obtained by The New York Times and previously released tapes — including footage released by the Colombian government, which has blamed Mr. Maduro for the fire — allowed for a reconstruction of the incident. It suggests that a Molotov cocktail thrown by an antigovernment protester was the most likely trigger for the blaze.  At one point, a homemade bomb made from a bottle is hurled toward the police, who were blocking a bridge connecting Colombia and Venezuela to prevent the aid trucks from getting through.  But the rag used to light the Molotov cocktail separates from the bottle, flying toward the aid truck instead.  Half a minute later, that truck is in flames.  The same protester can be seen 20 minutes earlier, in a different video, hitting another truck with a Molotov cocktail, without setting it on fire.”

NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda - Glenn Greenwald. Every major U.S. war of the last several decades has begun the same way: the U.S. government fabricates an inflammatory, emotionally provocative lie which large U.S. media outlets uncritically treat as truth while refusing at air questioning or dissent, thus inflaming primal anger against the country the U.S. wants to attack. That’s how we got the Vietnam War (North Vietnam attacks U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin); the Gulf War (Saddam ripped babies from incubators); and, of course, the war in Iraq (Saddam had WMDs and formed an alliance with Al Qaeda).   This was exactly the tactic used on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces.  As it always does – as it always has done from its inception when Wolf Blitzer embedded with U.S. troops – CNN led the way in not just spreading these government lies but independently purporting to vouch for their truth. On February 24, CNN told the world what we all now know is an absolute lie:  that “a CNN team saw incendiary devices from police on the Venezuelan side of the border ignite the trucks,” though it generously added that “the network’s journalists are unsure if the trucks were burned on purpose.” Other media outlets endorsed the lie while at least avoiding what CNN did by personally vouching for it.  That lie – supported by incredibly powerful video images – changed everything. Ever since, that Maduro burned trucks filled with humanitarian aid was repeated over and over as proven fact on U.S. news outlets. Immediately after it was claimed, politicians who had been silent on the issue of Venezuela or even reluctant to support regime change began issuing statements now supportive of it. U.S. news stars and think tank luminaries who lack even a single critical brain cell when it comes to war-provoking claims from U.S. officials took a leading role in beating the war drums without spending even a single second to ask whether what they were being told were true:

Rubio's 'Explosion at Germán Dam' Error Exposes Deeper Dishonesty of US Venezuela Policy - U.S. Senator's claim about Venezuela Sunday made him the subject of ridicule, but the underlying message of destabilizing the Latin American country remains official American policy—even as the role of sanctions is ignored.  On Sunday morning, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted that a power failure and subsequent blackout in Venezuela was due to an accident at a location known as "German Dam." "Today another transformer explosion at the German Dam in Bolivar State caused another massive blackout," Rubio wrote.  There was just one problem: Germán Dam is the name of a reporter covering the blackout story who tweeted about the transformer exploding, not the location of the accident. In fact, no such location exists in Venezuela.  Rubio's tweet led to endless rounds of mockery, not least from Dam himself. Senator @marcorubio, an important transformer exploded in Bolívar and that, in part, again collapsed the Venezuelan Electric System; however it was not in a dam, much less german. My name is Germán Dam, I am one of the journalists who published the information. — Germán Dam (@GEDV86) March 9, 2019As amusing as Rubio's mistake was, it hints at another, more important issue: the American foreign policy establishment is using the blackout to take aim at Venezuela, no matter how they have to spin or obfuscate the facts around the power outage. That was the message from foreign policy analyst Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, remarking on reporting about Venezuela from The New York Times over the weekend.  "This is amazing," tweeted Weisbrot, "buried deep in this NYT article is a sentence indicating the Trump economic sanctions are a major cause of the deadly blackout in Venezuela, contradicting the rest of the article."

 Venezuela- Trump administration to withdraw all US diplomats - The United States will withdraw all its diplomats from Venezuela — a move that could potentially exacerbate the political and international crisis in that country. In a tweet late Monday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement with very little warning to only a handful of diplomatic staff beforehand, multiple US officials told me.“This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in #Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy,”Pompeo tweeted.The move follows the Trump administration’s announcement on January 24 to bring home all dependents of US diplomats in Venezuela and leave behind only a small presence in the embassy.But Pompeo’s tweet will only add fuel to the fire in Venezuela.Since January, the Trump administration, joined by governments in the Americas and Europe, has called for Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolás Maduro to step down, partly because the country has suffered an immense economic and humanitarian collapse during his rule. The US and others now recognize Juan Guaidó, the leader of the country’s opposition-controlled legislative body, as Venezuela’s rightful interim president. Removing all diplomatic staff, partly as an act of defiance against Maduro, surely won’t calm any tensions.

Watch US Delegation Storm Out Of UN Narcotics Meeting As Venezuela's FM Spoke - A large US delegation stormed out of a United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting on Thursday in Vienna just as Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza began an address to the chamber.   The US said its representatives walked out together in order to protest the legitimacy of officials representing the Maduro government. The official Twitter account of the the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna announced the walk-out and posted a video of the protest which occurred during what it called "the world's most important drug control forum." The US-UN Mission to Vienna said in its statement: "Today the United States walked out of the plenary chamber as Nicolas Maduro’s illegitimate representative Jorge Arreaza addressed member states at UN meetings in Vienna - Arreaza does not speak on behalf of the Venezuelan people."The wave of officials exiting the room in a steady stream lasting a minute or more appeared large given that it included international allies of the United States who recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as true "interim president" of Venezuela. According to the AFP: Dozens of officials from Latin America, as well as the US, Canada and some European countries, including France, left the room in protest as Arreaza took the podium for the meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna.Meanwhile journalist Anya Parampil noted that the stunt (though not the first) comes after what appears a US attempt to mount what was ultimately a failed coup in Caracas. Parampil wrote of the incident: "The US tried to undercut Venezuela's FM while he addresses UN member states in Vienna," and concluded, "It's comical that the US would grandstand at the UN in this manner while blatantly violating the international body's founding principles (sovereignty & self determination). What children."

 Trump’s Coup in Venezuela: What You’re Not Being Told -— The failure of the February 23 “humanitarian aid” provocation on the Venezuelan border was a serious blow for Trump’s ongoing coup attempt. There were mutual recriminations between self-appointed Guaidó, Colombian President Duque and US Vice-President Pence. The US could not get a consensus from its own Lima Cartel allies in favour of military intervention.The coup was losing momentum. Then, on March 7, just days after Guaidó’s anti-climactic return to Caracas, the country was plunged into a nationwide blackout from which it has not yet fully recovered. What caused it? How is it related to the “regime change” attempt? And, most importantly, what are imperialism’s plans and how can they be fought?February 23 was supposed to be the coup’s D-Day. The idea was never to actually deliver “humanitarian aid” into the country, but rather to create a “people’s power” moment, where large crowds of opposition supporters on both sides of the border defied the Venezuelan armed forces, which, when faced with a large crowd of peaceful demonstrators, would then switch sides and join Trump’s puppet, Juan Guaidó. On the day, however, things did not go according to Washington’s plan. The crowds of opposition supporters did not materialise in the expected numbers. “Aid” trucks did not cross the border and by the end of the day, Rubio, Abrams and Guaidó were left with egg all over their faces. They made a big story about “Maduro burning the aid trucks” at the Santander bridge on the Colombian border. US officials even insisted this justified military intervention under the Geneva Convention. Never mind the fact that the Convention only applies in cases of war, the fact is that the aid truck that was burned was set on fire by a “peaceful” opposition supporter throwing a molotov cocktail at the Venezuelan border guards. Several media outlets (teleSUR, RT, The Grayzone, MintPress News) explained that this was the case right from the beginning and even produced video footage to prove it. That did not stop US officials like Marco Rubio and John Bolton from blaming Maduro and the chorus of the world’s bourgeois mass media from parroting the lie:

Trump quietly rewrote the rules of drone warfare, which means the US can now kill civilians in secret -US President Donald Trump quietly signed an executive to change how the government reports deaths from its drones which means the US can now kill thousands of civilians in secret.Trump signed the executive order on Wednesday, revoking an Obama-era requirement for the Director of National Intelligence to release an annual report of the number of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in non-combat areas around the world.Such areas include parts of Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. The measure was introduced by President Barack Obama in 2016 as he faced pressure to be more transparent about the increased use of drones. The government will continue to report deaths in "areas of active hostilities" like Iraq and Syria. Previous reported counted as many as 117 civilian deaths outside of these areas between 2009 and 2016. Some years the figures are expressed as a range instead of a precise number. The Trump administration did not release a 2017 report.

  Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi-led war in Yemen - The Senate broke with President Trump on Wednesday over the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, paving the way for a veto showdown with the White House. Senators voted 54-46 to pass a resolution requiring the president to withdraw any troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda. GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Steve Daines (Mont.), Mike Lee (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Todd Young (Ind.) voted with Democrats on the resolution. The chamber first passed the resolution in December, but it did not pass the GOP-controlled House before the end of the 115th Congress and was reintroduced this year. The Senate vote comes hours after the White House formally threatened to veto the resolution, arguing it was “flawed” and has an “erroneous premise.” “The joint resolution would raise serious constitutional concerns to the extent that it seeks to override the President’s determination as Commander in Chief,” the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said. The resolution still needs to pass the House before it heads to Trump’s desk. Senate supporters believe it could get a vote in the lower chamber as soon as Thursday, paving the way for potentially the first veto of Trump’s presidency. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said he expected the House would take up the legislation in the next couple of weeks. “Our office is working with leadership and the [Congressional Progressive Caucus] to finalize a date of when we will pass the Senate [War Powers Resolution] and send it to the president's desk,” his office added. Wednesday’s vote comes a day before the Senate is likely to also pass a resolution of disapproval blocking Trump’s emergency declaration — setting up a one-two punch that will force the president to reject back-to-back legislation from Capitol Hill. “I’m sure Republicans want to ... peel two Band-Aids off at once; it hurts less,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a co-sponsor of the Yemen legislation. “This will be the first two vetoes coming in rapid succession. Maybe Republicans did notice the 2018 election.”

Senate Passes Resolution Calling for End to US Involvement in Yemen War — In a close vote of 54-46, the Senate passed the SJ Res 7 on Wednesday. The Joint Resolution calls for the end of US military involvement in the Yemen War, noting that no such involvement was ever authorized by Congress.Debate on the resolution, as in the past, centered on arguments that the US involvement isn’t technically a war in and of itself, and that ending the war would be bad for Israel. On the other side, the focus was heavily on Saudi war crimes that the US has been supporting.The resolution came with an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), which seeks to ensure that no language in the bill inadvertently authorizes any other wars. An alternative amendment by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), aiming to keep the US involved in the name of saving American civilians from conceivable missile fire, narrowly failed.  This is the second time in a month that Congress has voted in having of a War Powers Act challenge to the Yemen War, with the House having had such a vote in mid-February. The House will still have to reconcile itself to another vote, however, because Senate leadership prevented debate on the House version and forced war opponents to start with a fresh challenge. The House version had previously had an amendment praising Israel and opposing BDS slipped in at the last minute, and Senate leaders argued that made it no longer a War Powers Act resolution, but rather an Israel resolution, and one which lacked the guarantee to get a floor vote.

Is a War With Iran on the Horizon? - Here’s the foreign policy question of questions in 2019: Are President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, all severely weakened at home and with few allies abroad, reckless enough to set off a war with Iran? Could military actions designed to be limited — say, a heightening of the Israeli bombing of Iranian forces inside Syria, or possible U.S. cross-border attacks from Iraq, or a clash between American and Iranian naval ships in the Persian Gulf — trigger a wider war?Worryingly, the answers are: yes and yes. Even though Western Europe has lined up in opposition to any future conflict with Iran, even though Russia and China would rail against it, even though most Washington foreign policy experts would be horrified by the outbreak of such a war, it could happen.Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington’s next shooting war. Years of politically charged anti-Iranian vituperation might blow up in the faces of President Trump and his two most hawkish aides, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, setting off a conflict with potentially catastrophic implications.Such a war could quickly spread across much of the Middle East, not just to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the region’s two major anti-Iranian powers, but Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and the various Persian Gulf states. It might indeed be, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested last year (unconsciously echoing Iran’s former enemy, Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein) the “mother of all wars.” With Bolton and Pompeo, both well-known Iranophobes, in the driver’s seat, few restraints remain on President Trump when it comes to that country. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, President Trump’s former favorite generals who had urged caution, are no longer around. And though the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution last month calling for the United States to return to the nuclear agreement that President Obama signed, there are still a significant number of congressional Democrats who believe that Iran is a major threat to U.S. interests in the region.

 Pentagon Allocates $300 Million to Support Kurdish Fighters in Syria– The Pentagon announced yesterday that it has allocated $300 million to support US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting Daesh as well as $250 million to secure the borders of Syria’s neighbors.The funding is part of the 2020 budget.The administration of US President Donald Trump asked Congress to allocate a total budget of $718.3 billion to the Pentagon. According to budget documents, out of $718.3 billion; $544.5 billion has been allocated as a core budget while $173.8 billion is allocated for potential overseas operations known as the “war fund”.  Of the war fund, $9.2 billion has been allocated for urgent situations, including the wall that Trump is planning to build on the border with Mexico. The US administration has reduced the training programme budget in Iraq and Syria from  $1.4 billion in 2018 to $1.045 billion.

The Dogs of War Sniff Out Mission in Central Africa - As if the United States wasn’t already pursuing enough murky and dubious military missions in such places as Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, a push appears to be underway to expand Washington’s involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa.   U.S. troops are more deeply engaged in “anti-terror” in Niger, Somalia, and other countries than most Americans realize. When four American Special Forces personnel died in Niger in 2017, even members of Congress were surprised.  A lobbying effort now seems to be taking place for U.S. intervention to alleviate suffering in the Central African Republic (CAR), because of that country’s ongoing civil war. NBC News took the lead with a story on the March 6 Today show and followed it up with a more detailed segment on the Nightly News that same evening. Cynthia McFadden was the lead journalist for the report that included searing footage of suffering in one UN-run refugee camp.  The media treatment would be familiar to anyone who recalls the preludes to U.S. military interventions in such places as Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, and Syria. There is extensive video of starving, disease-afflicted children and their anguished parents. International aid workers emphasize that the suffering was certain to get worse unless the “international community” (led, of course, by the United States) took immediate action. A U.S. diplomat on the scene or in Washington proceeds to echo that argument. The armed conflict causing the suffering is mentioned, but the treatment is brief and superficial, or it becomes a simplistic melodrama in which a designated villain is causing all the trouble: Think Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar Qaddafi, and Bashar al-Assad.The NBC report followed that template to perfection—including the focus on child victims. In an on-camera interview, Caryl Stern, the CEO of UNICEF USA, stated flatly: “This is the most dangerous place in the world for children.” As with earlier media accounts that sought to generate public support for U.S. intervention in the Balkans, Libya, and other chaotic arenas, the report also highlighted the sense of urgency and the assertion that the United States has both a moral obligation and a strategic interest in taking action.

Beijing Accuses Bolton Of Attempting To Smear Country - At this point in his tenure as National Security Advisor, are there any geopolitical adversaries of the US whom John Bolton hasn't offended with his aggressive rhetoric?  On Sunday, Bolton said during an interview with Fox's Maria Bartiromo that China's efforts to influence public opinion in the US and Australia went far beyond anything Russia had managed to accomplish (just the latest installment in the Trump administration's push to tie China to Russia as a major geopolitical adversary of the US).  Bolton said China's influence campaign "is far greater in magnitude than any other foreign effort" and includes long-term efforts to influence public opinion in the US via think tanks and nonprofits like the Confucius Center.  "It really is far greater in magnitude than any other foreign effort we have seen in history to influence American opinion and it's not just confined to the United States," Mr Bolton told Fox News' Maria Bartiromo. "They are doing it in Australia and other countries - close friends of ours. "So this really goes to the core of how you maintain a free and open society in this country when other countries are trying to influence it the way that China has. "It goes well beyond just election hacking although we certainly have been concerned about China doing that as well." He also warned about China's military buildup in the South China Sea, a particularly sensitive bilateral issue, and the US's national security concerns about Huawei. Though a longtime China hawk, it was still surprising to hear Bolton spouting such controversial accusations at a time when the US and China are struggling to hammer out a trade agreement. And in a sign that his words did not go unnoticed in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang accused Bolton during a Tuesday press conference of trying to "smear" China."When Mr. Bolton took the interview he talked about a lot of issues, made wrong remarks about the South China Sea, the Confucius Institute and other topics related to China, smearing China’s image and serving U.S. political gains and calculations," Lu said. "We urge the U.S. to drop the arrest warrant and extradition request and we urge Canada to release immediately Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China."

Why Trump could be seduced by partial China deal - If it remains steadfast, the United States could force China to agree to the comprehensive trade deal that it has sought. But with its president, Donald Trump, suffering numerous serious setbacks, it may accept a partial agreement with the Asian giant. At the moment, it seems, everything – both at home and abroad – goes against America’s 45th president. Even by the standards of his troubled presidency, Trump has been having a very bad time. His second summit with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi last week was abruptly cut short without any deal after he had invested a great deal of time, energy, prestige and hope in it.Now that he has returned from Vietnam’s capital empty-handed, he has to deal with even bigger challenges at home. In devastating testimony before the Democrat-led House Oversight Committee, which took place at the same time Trump sat down with the North Korean dictator, his disgraced former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, painted him as “a racist”, “a conman” and “a cheat.”Special counsel Robert Mueller will soon submit the final report of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. On March 4, Democrats launched an “abuse of power” investigation. Any wrongdoing or crimes uncovered by these two investigations would be a nightmare for Trump because they could put his presidency in greater turmoil. Given such problems, the former businessman-turned-president is desperate for anything positive that could help him to deflect attention from them. And at the moment, perhaps, nothing would serve his political interests more than signing a trade deal with China.

Beijing Demands Its Own Enforcement Of Any Trade Deal - Now that President Trump's insistence that he and President Xi would need to meet to finalize a sweeping US-China trade deal has been exposed as empty talk - since Beijing absolutely refuses to send Xi all the way to Florida only to risk him returning empty handed - traders are finally being forced to accept the harsh reality: That a US-China trade deal is far from assured. As the Wall Street Journal said last night in a report that lays out, in broad strokes, the current state of the talks, Beijing - which has reportedly removed a tentative summit at Mar-a-Lago from Xi's calendar - wants a summit between the leaders of the world's two largest economies to be more of a signing ceremony than a final round of negotiations. Trump's decision to abruptly abandon talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month has opened old wounds dating back to the Clinton administration of political embarrassments suffered at the hands of US presidents dating all the way back to the Clinton administration, as WSJ reminds us.  Looming over the summit negotiations is the history of the late-1990s negotiations over Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization. In 1999, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji traveled to Washington for final negotiations for a WTO deal and came up empty-handed after President Bill Clinton judged it wasn’t the right time politically to conclude a deal, say former advisers of Mr. Clinton.  A humiliated Mr. Zhu faced a chorus of criticism at home that threatened to derail talks. On Saturday, Bloomberg offered some more details about one of the purported sticking points to a final deal: The issue of enforcement. According to BBG, China wants the US to lift sanctions on $200 billion of Chinese goods (constituting the bulk of the new levies imposed since the dawn of the trade war)... ...while also seeking some mechanism for holding the US accountable for holding up its end of the deal. But the real takeaway here is that Beijing wants Trump to simply trust that it will follow through with the changes promised by the deal.

 Cohn Says U.S. Is `Desperate' to Sign Trade Agreement With China - Gary Cohn, the former head of President Donald Trump’s National Economic Council, said the U.S. is “desperate right now” for a trade pact with China as negotiators from both countries seek to reach a deal. “The president needs a win,” Cohn said in an interview with the Freakonomics podcast, according to a transcript released Wednesday. Cohn’s comments stand in contrast to statements from Trump that he’s in no rush for an agreement and is prepared to walk away from negotiations. Trump said Wednesday that a deal has to be “right” and that it must include provisions stopping the theft of U.S. intellectual property. “I’m not in a rush whatsoever,” Trump told reporters at the White House. Investors have been heartened by signs that Trump is looking to sign a deal with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, possibly at a summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida as early as this month or next. Cohn said he maintains a “very amicable relationship” with Trump and that they’ve talked about the economy and personnel since he left the White House in March 2018. On trade with China, Cohn said the biggest questions are how to stop Chinese theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement.

A tirade against China at US Senate committee hearing - The deepening bipartisan hostility to China was on open display at a hearing of the US Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday called to discuss the future of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as the 25th anniversary of its founding approaches.The hearing centred on testimony delivered by US Trade  Representative Robert Lighthizer. He confined his opening remarks to express US dissatisfaction with the running of the international trade organisation, reflected in its refusal to back new appointments to its appellate body that threatens to bring dispute-settling procedures to a halt.The subsequent questioning of Lighthizer, however, centred almost exclusively on China and the progress and content of the current trade negotiations.The tone for the hearing was set in the opening remarks by the chairman Republican Chuck Grassley and the ranking Democrat Ron Wyden. Grassley, who is somewhat critical of the use of tariffs and is more inclined to free trade, began by noting that the US had overall been a beneficiary of the WTO’s dispute-settling procedures. However, the appellate body was in need of reform and this was a bipartisan position.  The WTO, Grassley said, had to address the treatment of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that were becoming more prevalent in the global economy. “China is notorious for using SOEs to buy private companies around the world and has used SOEs as a conduit for subsidizing its industries.” His criticisms, however, paled in comparison to the denunciations of China launched by Wyden in his opening remarks, reflecting the position of all sections of the Democratic Party. The Democrats are preparing to attack Trump for selling out US interests if a trade deal does not include measures that meet their demands. Wyden listed a series of alleged economic malpractices including: subsidised state-owned enterprises; intellectual property theft; forced technology transfers and “government-led shakedowns of foreign investors.”

Trump's trade battle with India kicked off after it refused to allow US companies to jack up prices on key medical equipment - The trade scrap between the US and India which saw the latter country kicked out of a longstanding agreement was sparked by India's refusal to allow the liberalization of pricing policies on certain key medical devices. On Tuesday, the US announced that it would remove India from the so-called Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) after several decades.  The GSP allowed India to send around $5.6 billion of goods to the US annually with no duties, but the Trump administration decided to end the agreement over a dispute, which saw the US accusing India of having a "wide array of trade barriers that create serious negative effects on United States commerce." "India has not assured the United States that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to the markets of India," President Trump said in a letter. According to The Times of India, the dispute centers around the provision of two types of medical devices — knee implants and stents, devices used to ensure a passageway such as a vein remains unblocked.In India, both pieces of equipment are classified as "essential medicine" — meaning their prices are capped. As part of a future trade agreement, the US reportedly insisted that such devices were declassified as essential, which would have allowed US medical equipment companies to come into the Indian market and sell such devices for a big profit. The Times of India reports that India declined to make this change, saying "it had commitments to make such medical devices affordable to Indian patients."

 White House on collision course with Democrats over labor issues in new NAFTA - The Trump administration is stepping up efforts to get House Democrats to support the new North American trade pact — but for now, the White House appears content to let the deal's fate on Capitol Hill depend on Mexico’s willingness to improve its labor laws. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with the House Democratic caucus on Wednesday, kicking off a process House Speaker Nancy Pelosi established for members of her conference to voice their criticism of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. One of Democrats' top concerns is to ensure Mexico implements labor law reforms required under the new trade pact — and to guarantee the deal's high labor and environment standards can be enforced. Democrats also have reservations about provisions they say could lock in high prescription drug prices. After the meeting, several Democrats praised Lighthizer for his accessibility, but the administration and House Democrats seem to be on a collision course over how to enforce Mexico's labor commitments. Lighthizer “knows we’re not there yet. Mexico has to make some moves beforehand, to show good faith,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). “We need that, first of all. If they don’t act, there’s no chance of getting the votes.” Some House Democrats, including Pelosi, have said they will wait for Mexico to pass a law to make necessary labor changes — a commitment it made as part of the deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. That law would overhaul Mexico’s labor structure, ensuring that workers have a right to collective bargaining and that secret votes are held when a labor pool considers whether to unionize.

Truck accident in Mexico kills 25 Central American migrants - At least 25 Central American migrants and refugees died and dozens more were injured on Thursday after the truck they were travelling in overturned in southern Mexico, according to authorities. The Chiapas state prosecutor's office said in a statement late on Thursday that 29 others were injured in the accident. It appears the driver lost control of the truck near the town of Francisco Sarabia in the municipality of Soyalo. The injured were transported to hospitals. Authorities did not provide the nationalities of the victims, and say the investigation continues. The truck involved in this accident was carrying an estimated 80 people, said Isidro Hernandez of the local Red Cross. Some who were not injured may have fled. The fatalities include at least one minor, Hernandez added. Chiapas is the main entry point for Central American migrants arriving in Mexico from Guatemala. 

Trump Is Sending Guns South as Migrants Flee North -- When Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was re-elected in November 2017, in a vote that outside monitors described as tainted by fraud, protestors around the country took to the streets. Hernández’s first term had been marked by violent crime and corruption; many voters wanted change. In the ensuing days, military police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing more than 30 people and wounding hundreds. Photos published in the Miami Herald showed officers shooting some protesters in the back. They also revealed something else: The troops were using U.S.-made M4 rifles, the military version of the AR-15.  Though the transactions look small compared to the multibillion-dollar arms deals the United States conducts with, say, Saudi Arabia—the United States approved $2 million to $4 million in gun sales per year to Honduras between 2015 and 2017—the impact of such sales can be substantial in a poor country with a small population and a weak or corrupt government. Some of those guns went to authorities who turned them on innocent civilians, as the 2017 protests show. Other weapons ended up in the hands of criminals, through illicit deals involving corrupt army officers, according to a 2017 report by two nongovernmental groups that investigate law enforcement and corruption in Latin America.The violence, corruption, and abuse in Central American countries tend to be the biggest factors driving migration to the United States—a phenomenon the Trump administration has dedicated itself to curbing. Since the gun sales fuel the violence and corruption, the United States has effectively undermined its own objectives by allowing the weapons deals, according to experts.

 ICE Officers Growing Frustrated With Trump Over Border -   ICE officers who supported President Trump during the 2016 election are growing frustrated with the lack of follow through on border-related promises, reports the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan.  In particular, Trump's promise to end the practice of arresting migrants, giving them court dates and then letting them go free (known as "catch-and-release") has not only failed to pan out - it's gone into "overdrive" according to the Times.  Instead of rounding up criminals who are in the United States illegally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers say they are being underutilized for mundane tasks - such as "opening the doors on vans to release immigrants already caught by Border Patrol agents." Agents with the Border Patrol - a separate law enforcement agency from ICE - reportedly don't fill out their own paperwork to open the doors because "the agency's leaders don't want to be part of catch-and-release." "Hundreds of man hours are wasted each day at a time of crisis on the border," reads a Monday letter to President Trump from the National ICE Council - the union which represents ICE officers.The letter was sent just hours before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to approve Mr. Trump’s pick, Ronald D. Vitiello, to be the new director of ICE. Committee Chairman Ron Johnson waved a copy of the ICE Council’s letter during the vote and called the accusations “troubling.” “We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” he told reporters afterward.

H1b visa: H-1B extension rejections rob Indian IT firms of visa power - Tata Consultancy Services, Cognizant and Infosys have seen the maximum rejections of requests for extension of H-1B visas during 2018 as the Trump administration tightened procedures, a move that is seen to have favoured American technology firms.  India’s top IT services companies Infosys and TCS were among the most affected. Bengaluru-based Infosys saw 2,042 rejections, followed by TCS at 1,744. The numbers were put out by the Centre for Immigration Studies, a US think tank, after an analysis of the H-1B data.  Cognizant, which is headquartered in the US but has the majority of its workforce in India, saw 3,548 rejections during the year — the highest for any company.  Six Indian companies — TCS, Infosys, WiproNSE, Cognizant, and the US arms of Tech Mahindra and HCL Technologies — accounted for nearly two-thirds of the rejections among the top 30 companies, the think tank said after analysing data put out by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The six firms got just 16%, or 2,145, H-1B work permits, less than the 2,399 visas that Amazon bagged in 2018.  H-1B visas, which are used by the majority of technology professionals, are initially given for three years with the option of an extension for a similar term. The major US-based firms, such as Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, increased their H-1B workforce during the year, while net reductions were imposed on the big Indian firms, such as Cognizant, Tata and Infosys, the Centre for Immigration Studies said in its study that was put out on March 6.

 EU will soon require US visitors to apply for visa-like travel pass -- Americans traveling to Europe will soon have to add a new item to their packing lists. Starting in 2021, the European Union will require US visitors to get a pre-approved, visa-like travel pass issued by the European Travel Information and Authorization System. The permit will cost about $7.90 and will have to be requested at least four days before the journey—making romantic last-minute jaunts to Paris impossible. But permission will be good for three years and for multiple trips in and out of the Schengen Zone, which covers 26 countries. Under current rules, Americans can travel in Europe without a visa for up to 90 days. The new requirement will serve as a security check, EU officials said Friday.

 Trump’s border agency admits he has built ZERO new walls The Trump administration has not built any walls to protect previously unbarricaded sections of America's southern border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed exclusively to on Thursday. President Donald Trump has boasted in the past that '[w]e have already built large new sections' during his time in the White House. Border barriers erected between the U.S. and Mexico since Inauguration Day 2017 have consisted of supplements to existing walls and replacements for outmoded or decreipt barriers. But '[t]he first new wall project, where no barrier currently exists, is anticipated to start in April,' CBP spokesman Roger Maier said in an email. He identified Hidalgo County as the construction project's location, a border zone along a meandering 50-mile stretch of the Rio Grande.

Trump to Divert Up to $385 Million From Crucial Health Programs To Pay for 'Government-Sanctioned Child Abuse' - Alzheimer's patients, lower-income preschool children, and HIV and cancer patients are among the Americans whose needs may go unmet so that the Trump administration can afford to detain thousands of migrant children.  Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told Congress this week that he plans to divert $385 million from numerous healthcare programs to pay for detention centers across the country where more than 15,000 young undocumented immigrants are currently being held. "We cannot continue to spend taxpayer dollars on the President's manufactured crisis at the border, which is government-sanctioned child abuse." —Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) About $286 million will be taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and HHS's programs for children and families, according to The Hill. Programs including HIV prevention and Head Start are expected to be affected. "The Trump administration is once again robbing vital health and human services initiatives in order to pay for their failed policies," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) Friday. DeLauro chairs an appropriations subcommittee in the House which deals with healthcare funding. "This $385 million reallocation takes money away from groundbreaking medical research into HIV/AIDS, cancer, mental health, as well as from Head Start, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and much more," the congresswoman added. "We cannot continue to spend taxpayer dollars on the President's manufactured crisis at the border, which is government-sanctioned child abuse." Azar's notification came six months after he reallocated $446 million from healthcare programs—including those addressing teen pregnancy prevention, flu vaccine research, and women's cancer research—for the same reason.

Nearly 1.4 Million Puerto Ricans Facing 'Dangerous' Food Stamp Cuts as Trump and Congress Fail to Act - With hurricane relief funding stalled in Congress due to opposition from the Trump administration, Puerto Rico has reportedly started slashing food stamps in an attempt to preserve the life-saving program. The move could harm as many as 1.4 million Puerto Ricans—including hundreds of thousands of children and elderly people. "This is not about politics—this is literally about people's lives and their ability to feed their children and their elders in Puerto Rico," Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, told the Washington Post. "The need is still there." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued an urgent call for congressional action in response to news of the cuts. "Puerto Rico needs food assistance funding due to the hurricanes which devastated the island. Some 1.4 million U.S. citizens will face large cuts to their food assistance benefits, 230,000 will lose the benefits entirely," Sanders tweeted. "We must act now to end this crisis." Food stamp use soared in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island and—according to one study—may have killed as many as 6,000 people. Due to lack of assistance from the federal government, Puerto Rican officials are reportedly cutting food stamps to pre-hurricane levels. "For a senior citizen who lives alone, their benefits have dipped from $194 per month to $112 per month," Buzzfeed reported, citing Puerto Rican authorities. "A family of four with a monthly income of around $2,000 has seen their benefits drop from $649 per month to $410 per month." The reductions in food stamp assistance come just over a month after the Trump administration dismissed as "excessive and unnecessary" House Democrats' plan to provide $600 million in funding for Puerto Rico's Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP).

 Would Expanded Criminal Background Checks Hurt Federal Job Applicants? -The Trump administration wants applicants for federal jobs and contractor positions to divulge whether they have gone through diversion programs such as drug courts that are meant to help people avoid prison.But critics say the move undermines the whole idea of sentencing alternatives that are designed to keep permanent blemishes off participants’ records, avoiding negative background checks that can limit jobs, housing and education.The U.S. Office of Personnel Management proposed late last month to expand criminal background disclosure requirements. Officials in the federal personnel office and the White House did not comment on why the government wants the change. But in the request filed in the Federal Register, OPM states the decision “closes a gap” that allowed diversion participants to withhold the details of crimes they’ve committed from employers. It’s unclear if the move is related to sweeping changes OPM and national security agencies are making to speed up the security clearance process. The public has until April 23 to comment on OPM’s proposal OPM must consider public input before making the change,according to the Federal Register.Diversion programs vary across the United States and offer mediation or rehabilitation in place of prison in crimes such as drunken driving, check fraud, drug crimes and cases involving veterans who may suffer from post-traumatic stress. The proposed policy shift seems to conflict with President Trump’s recent interest in giving people a greater second chance and contradicts the growing bipartisan movements in states and Congress to “ban the box.”More than 150 cities and counties in 33 states have passed laws limiting when employers can ask or see job applicants’ criminal backgrounds, according to the National Employment Law Project, a job advocacy group. The goal is to give applicants a fair shot at being considered for jobs without past convictions sinking them from the outset.The American Civil Liberties Union said new disclosure requirements would interfere with state and federal judges and prosecutors who grant options such as diversion for some defendants. “This is definitely surprising considering the president’s—and really the entire federal government’s—support for the First Step Act, whose premise was basically second chances,” said Somil Trivedi, staff attorney in the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “This defeats the purpose of diversion.”

'Turning Its Back on Millions of Workers,' Trump Admin Moves Backward With New Overtime Pay Rule -- President Donald Trump and his cabinet "are again siding with corporate interests over those of working people," critics charged, after the administration proposed a new federal rule for overtime pay on Thursday.  Workers who are typically exempt from overtime pay would qualify for it if they work more than 40 hours per week and make less than $35,308 a year, under the Trump proposal (pdf). While the rule features an increase from the current salary threshold of $23,660, it comes as a replacement for delayed Obama era guidelines that would have raised it to $47,476. The implementation of those guidelines has been held up in court. Economist Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the progressive Economic Policy Institute (EPI), said in a statement that Trump Department of Labor should defend the Obama administration's rule rather than replace it with a weaker one."A preliminary calculation suggests that well over half of the workers who would have gotten new or strengthened overtime protections under the 2016 rule would be left behind by this rule," Shierholz explained. "That means this administration is effectively turning its back on millions of workers." The Labor Department estimates that about 4.2 million people would have been affected by the Obama rule, compared with 1.1 million who will be covered by the Trump proposal.

Dems seek relief for worried taxpayers in tough filing season - Democratic lawmakers and taxpayer rights advocates are stepping up their calls for the IRS and Congress to provide more help for taxpayers during a filing season challenged by President Trump's tax law and the recent government shutdown. Some want Congress and the IRS to extend the filing deadline. And lawmakers and advocates are pushing for additional penalty relief for people who did not pay enough in taxes during the year because of withholding changes. “Filing season is now in full swing, and I urge the House to act as soon as possible to ensure that these complying taxpayers are not penalized any further,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said at a hearing Thursday. This year is the first time taxpayers are filing taxes that reflect much of the tax law Trump signed in December 2017. Many taxpayers have questions about the new law, and the IRS has had to update its forms and prepare accordingly. Additionally, the 35-day partial government shutdown, during which most IRS employees were furloughed or working without pay, ended just before the filing season began. The shutdown resulted in the IRS having lower levels of service on its telephone lines and a backlog of correspondences. Lawmakers and advocates have been paying close attention to issues taxpayers are encountering this year, and they are pushing for action to help address taxpayers’ problems. A top priority for many Democrats is providing additional penalty relief for taxpayers who underpaid their taxes throughout the year. The IRS issued guidance early last year to update taxpayers’ withholding to reflect key parts of the 2017 tax law. The Treasury Department estimated last year that 21 percent of wage earners would owe the IRS money under the new guidance, compared to 18 percent if the tax law hadn’t been enacted. Most people are getting a tax cut, and people may have gotten a tax cut even if they have to pay the IRS money instead of receiving a refund. But taxpayers often count on refunds, and Democrats have expressed concerns about taxpayers who now have a balance due and are facing penalties as a result. The IRS announced in January that it would waive penalties for some taxpayers, but Democrats want the agency to do even more.

Senators Urge IRS to Focus on Big-Time Tax Cheats, Citing ProPublica Stories  - In a letter on Friday , a group of prominent senators — including Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., 2020 presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as well as Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. — urged IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to increase the agency’s focus on large tax and financial crimes. As ProPublica has documented with a series of articles, the IRS is a shadow of its former self, the result of a near-decadelong campaign by Republicans in Congress to starve the agency of funds. The agency’s enforcement staff has dropped by more than a third. That has been a boon to the rich and to tax cheats in particular, who have benefited from a collapse in audits, collections and criminal tax prosecutions. As we reported, and as the senators noted in their letter, the story has been different for the poor, as the IRS has devoted a disproportionate number of its audits to taxpayers who receive the earned income tax credit, one of the government’s largest antipoverty programs.  . The senators acknowledged that the budget cuts have badly weakened the agency, but they argued that ProPublica’s stories, together with government watchdog reports, show the IRS could use its limited resources more effectively. The widening circle of investigations surrounding President Donald Trump has highlighted the weakness of tax enforcement, as we explained last October. Paul Manafort hid income overseas for years, and Michael Cohen dodged taxes through the simplest means imaginable (by lying to his accountant and the IRS) without consequence.   The senators say that such examples of “exposure of criminal activity only resulting from investigations pursued for other matters” prove that the IRS can do more.  The IRS will not get a budget increase anytime soon. After a 34-day government shutdown, Congress and Trump struck a deal to fund the government for the next seven months. For the IRS, the deal included a cut from last year’s budget. In real terms, the enforcement portion of the agency’s budget is down by 23 percent since 2010.

Tax collectors chase rich New Yorkers moving to low-tax states. Auditors inspect cell records, even your dog’s vet bills The cat-and-mouse game between state tax collectors and wealthy New Yorkers who are moving to Florida has reached new levels — and gone high tech. New federal tax laws limiting the deduction of state and local income taxes have created incentives for wealthy New Yorkers to move to Florida or other lower-tax states. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month blamed wealth flight for the state's $2.3 billion revenue shortfall in December and January. "Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich," he said. "We did. Now, God forbid, the rich leave." But the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance is making sure that high earners who try to leave don't escape without an audit and a bill. New York conducted about 3,000 "nonresidency" audits a year between 2010 and 2017, collecting around $1 billion, according to Monaeo, a company that sells an app for tracking and proving tax residency. More than half of those who were audited lost their cases, and the average collected by New York State between 2015 and 2017 was $144,270 per audit, Monaeo said. In addition to the traditional audit methods the state uses to make sure a taxpayer isn't gaming the system — like checking taxpayer's credit card bills and travel schedules — New York officials are using a whole new set of high-tech tools, including tracking cellphone records, social media feeds, and veterinary and dentist records. Auditors are even conducting in-home inspections to look inside taxpayers' refrigerators.

A modest proposal to use FICA-style tax withholding as a transition to “Medicare for All” --Probably the foremost reform advanced by the Democratic Party at present is “Medicare for All.” Personally I don’t particularly care whether it is ultimately necessary to have single payer (like Canada) or universal coverage (like France or Germany) or a hybrid of each (like Australia). I am fond of the Japanese saying that translates as “There are many paths to the top of Mount Fuji,” but let’s set that aside for now. What is generally acknowledged is the problem of how to create a “bridge” between the hodge-lodge of government and employer-based coverages we have now to whatever is ultimately passed as “Medicare for All.” That’s because there will understandably be a lot of blowback if people “lose” an employer healthcare plan, or else get hit with a new tax. I propose that a system of payroll tax withholding that includes Obamacare and “Medicare for All” plans in addition to employer-provided medical benefits will work. Specifically, I propose three tweaks to Obamacare as it existed in 2016:
       1. Two new spaces for mandatory FICA-style tax withholding spaces are added to each paycheck. One is for “Medicare for All” employment coverage, and the second is for “Medicare for All” unemployment coverage.   
     2.  The individual mandate penalty that the GOP killed in 2018 remains dead. But it is replaced, in all cases where an individual is not covered by employer-provided coverage, with an automatic payroll deduction for individual enrollment that defaults to the least expensive monthly bronze plan for individuals under 40, and the least expensive monthly silver plan for individuals age 40 through 64. This would kick in only for new employees in the first two years, after which it would apply to all employees.
     3. Employers could voluntarily purchase, on behalf of their employees, coverages that are at least at the mandated levels set forth in #2 above.
Here’s how it would work.

Ocasio-Cortez Blasts Capitalism as an ‘Irredeemable’ System -- Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose sudden rise to prominence has made her a target of Republicans and a sometime irritant to her party’s leaders, called capitalism an “irredeemable” system that is to blame for income inequality. The 29-year-old, first-term U.S. House member from New York and self-described democratic socialist addressed an enthusiastic crowd Saturday at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, about issues that resonate with her fellow millennials, from universal healthcare to combating climate change. She directed some of her sharpest comments at an economic system that she said values profit over people. “Capitalism is an ideology of capital –- the most important thing is the concentration of capital and to seek and maximize profit,” Ocasio-Cortez said. And that comes at any cost to people and to the environment, she said, “so to me capitalism is irredeemable.” Though she said she doesn’t think all parts of capitalism should be abandoned, “we’re reckoning with the consequences of putting profit above everything else in society. And what that means is people can’t afford to live. For me, it’s a question of priorities and right now I don’t think our model is sustainable.” Instead of conservative politicians scaring people that socialism means the government is going to take over their business, “we should be scared right now because corporations have taken over our government,” she said.

Anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews express solidarity with Rep. Ilhan Omar - A delegation of Orthodox Jewish rabbis expressed solidarity Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar after she was criticized for making "anti-Semitic" comments. Members of the anti-Zionist Jewish group Neturei Karta International came to Omar's office in Washington saying they wanted to show their support for the freshman congresswoman. "What she's saying is the voice of Judaism," Rabbi Dovid Feldman told reporters. Feldman said that to confuse Judaism with Zionism and to accuse someone of being anti-Semitic because they oppose the occupation of Palestine or the oppression of the people "is revolting, unacceptable." He also issued a statement expressing support for Omar and her stance on Israel. "No one should be attacked for criticizing AIPAC, certainly not the esteemed Congresswoman Omar. She should be lauded for differentiating between Jews and Zionists," it said. "Judaism is a religion which teaches service of the Almighty, while Zionism attempts to transform Judaism into nationalism." Omar underscored that what she is questioning is the influence game being played in Washington and she worries that anything she says about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians will be construed as anti-Semitic. "Being opposed to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic," she tweeted on Sunday. "I am grateful to the many Jewish allies who have spoken out and said the same."

Fox News host Tucker Carlson uses racist, homophobic language in second set of recordings - A day after releasing audio of Tucker Carlson making numerous misogynist remarks, Media Matters for America published a new video with clips of the Fox News host using racist and homophobic language to describe Iraqi people, African Americans, gay people and immigrants while speaking on a radio program between 2006 and 2011, according to a report published Tuesday by the nonprofit.The self-described watchdog of “conservative misinformation in the U.S. media” published the audio from Carlson’s appearances on a Tampa-based radio program, the “Bubba the Love Sponge Show,” just 25 hours after releasing similar recordings in which he’s heard flippantly using sexist language to express his views on child rape, rape shield laws, underage marriage and other sensitive topics.The new audio highlights about a dozen instances of Carlson using racist language on the “shock jock” show, which he apparently called into for about an hour per week. In 2008, Carlson lamented that “everyone’s embarrassed to be a white man,” before stating that white men deserve credit for “creating civilization and stuff.” In another instance, Carlson is heard saying that Iraq is a “crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys,” adding, “That’s why it wasn’t worth invading.” That follows a 2006 segment on the show in which Carlson said he had “zero sympathy” for Iraqi people and their culture because they “don’t use toilet paper or forks.”“They’re just so awful. Just awful,” Carlson said. A co-host on the show replies: “They’re animals, dude. They are."

Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro- Advertisers begin to ditch Fox shows - A number of advertisers are distancing themselves from the Fox News Channel shows featuring Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro after the two high-profile hosts were accused of making bigoted statements. Carlson is under fire for misogynistic, homophobic and racist comments unearthed from past radio appearances. Pirro came under scrutiny for comments she made about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is Muslim. Both have pushed back against the criticism, but multiple companies have reportedly pulled their support this week. Targeting advertisers with boycott campaigns is a frequent tactic of the networks’ critics.  Beginning Sunday, Media Matters for America, a watchdog group that monitors conservative media outlets, released several audio clips of Carlson’s appearances on the “Bubba the Love Sponge Show,” a Tampa-based radio show, from 2006 to 2011.In one set of recordings, Carlson made controversial statements about child rape and comments that some have called misogynistic. “If you’re talking to a feminist and she’s giving you, ‘Well, you know men really need to be more sensitive,’ no actually, men don’t need to be more sensitive. You just need to be quiet and do what you’re told,” he is heard saying in one recording.In another segment, Carlson is heard calling Iraq a “crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys” and jokingly using a homophobic slur. After the recordings were published, some companies decided to pull their advertisements from Carlson’s show. Pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca tweeted Monday that it had ceased advertising on Carlson’s show and would not resume in the future.

Millennials Vs Boomers - Millennials will overtake Boomers in 2019. We’ll have 73mm Millennials (growing through immigration) and 72mm Boomers (as America’s Most Selfish Generation races to meet its maker). By 2036 we’ll have 76mm Millennials and 50mm Boomers. 59% of Millennials are Democrats or lean that way (only 32% are Republican or lean that way). 49% of Millennial men are Dems or lean that way (41% are Reps or lean that way). 70% of Millennial women are Dems or lean that way (23% are Reps or lean that way). And these stunning gaps just keep widening. 58% of Millennials express a clear preference for big government. 79% believe immigrants strengthen the US, compared to just 56% of Baby Boomers. On foreign policy, 77% are far more likely than Boomers (52%) to believe peace is best ensured by good diplomacy rather than military strength. 67% want the state to provide universal healthcare, and 57% want higher public spending and the provision of more public services, compared with 43% of Boomers. 66% of Millennials believe that the system unfairly favors powerful interests.“You endanger your majority by not doing what got you into the majority,” said Ilhan Omar, Millennial Congresswoman. “Republicans often are in tune with that, Democrats are not. We seem to be afraid of our own shadow. We’ve become too afraid to actually listen to the people, and to recognize who our base is,” she said. “I’m fascinated by Republicans. They seem to have, for good or bad, a full understanding of their base and complete loyalty to them. We have a bigger base, but we seem to not understand them or have loyalty to them. When you are constantly trying to figure out how to appease everyone, you end up not appeasing anyone.”

 Colbert Smears Tulsi Gabbard to Her Face While Telling Zero Jokes -  Caitlin Johnstone - Hawaii Congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbardrecently appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where instead of the light, jokey banter about politics and who she is as a person that Democratic presidential candidates normally encounter on late night comedy programs, the show’s host solemnly ran down a list of textbook beltway smears against Gabbard and made her defend them in front of his audience.Normally when a Democratic Party-aligned politician appears on such a show, you can expect jokes about how stupid Trump is and how badly they’re going to beat the Republicans, how they’re going to help ordinary Americans, and maybe some friendly back-and-forth about where they grew up or something. Colbert had no time to waste on such things, however, because this was not an interview with a normal Democratic Party-aligned politician: this was a politician who has been loudly and consistently criticizing US foreign policy. After briefly asking his guest who she is and why she’s running for president, Colbert jumped right into it by immediately bringing up Syria and Assad, the primary line of attack employed against Gabbard by establishment propagandists in American mainstream media.Trying to make it look to the audience as though Gabbard is in some way loyal to Assad has been a high-priority agenda of the mainstream media ever since she announced her presidential candidacy. We saw it in her recent appearanceon The View, where John McCain’s sociopathic daughter called her an “Assad apologist” and demanded that Gabbard call Assad an enemy of the United States. We saw it in her recent CNN town hall, where a consultant who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign was presented as an ordinary audience member to help CNN’s Dana Bash paint Gabbard’s skepticism of intelligence reports about an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government as something that is weird and suspicious, instead of the only sane position in a post-Iraq invasion world. We saw it in her appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last month, where the entire panel piled on her in outrage that she wouldn’t call Assad an enemy of the United States. It’s such a common propaganda talking point that the New York Times’ Bari Weiss famously made a laughingstock of herself by repeating it as self-evident truth on The Joe Rogan Experiencewithout having the faintest clue what specific facts it was meant to refer to, just because she’d heard establishment pundits saying it so much.

‘I don’t know I want to be that definitive:’ Pelosi impeachment opposition catches Dem leaders off guard - House Democratic leaders on Monday were initially caught off guard by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments to The Washington Post declaring her opposition to impeaching President Donald Trump. But as the evening wore on, most Democrats wrote off her remarks as nothing new.“I didn’t see it. I don’t know what she said, but I’ve got a feeling it’s the same thing I’ve been saying,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said, referring to his past statements that he did not think Democrats should make a judgement on impeachment before seeing special counsel Robert Mueller III’s report.When Roll Call told Hoyer that Pelosi was more definitive in her interview with the Post, noting she was making news in saying she’s not for impeachment because it’s too divisive, Hoyer was surprised. “Well, I don’t know I want to be that definitive,” the Maryland Democrat said. “I’ve said all along it depends what information comes out, but neither of us have been for impeachment at this point in time.”Most Democratic leaders, speaking with reporters as they headed to their weekly leadership team meeting in Pelosi’s office Monday, said either that they had not seen the speaker’s comments to the Post or that they wanted to wait to comment until after speaking with her at the meeting. That included House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, Vice Chairwoman Katherine M. Clark and Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, one of two freshman class representatives to leadership. None of the leaders seemed to have received a heads-up that Pelosi was going to come out in opposition to impeachment. Some were skeptical that her comments were intended to be a definitive decision on the matter.

 Nancy Pelosi Tacitly Admits That Russiagate Is Bullshit  — Caitlin Johnstone - In an interview with the Washington Post yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she opposed the impeachment of President Trump. This comes shortly before Mueller’s investigation into Trump-Russia collusion is expected to wrap up. “I’m not for impeachment,” Pelosi told the Post. “This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”  The response to Pelosi’s remarks has been swift and strong. “Wrong!” exclaimed MSNBC’s Russiagate con man Malcolm Nance via Twitter. “What the hell is wrong with the @SpeakerPelosi Congress that they absolve themselves of their duty! Nothing is criminal anymore?! Trump can do and say like a dictator as he pleases? All of his crimes are OK even if you see them? This requires a public outcry. #Disgraceful”  “Sorry, Madam Speaker,” tweeted Esquire’s Charles P Pierce. “If you really believe the president* is an unprecedented threat to the Constitution, your oath demands that you begin the process to remove him. It’s your job.” The House’s most virulent Russiagater, however, sang a different tune.“If the evidence isn’t sufficient to win bipartisan support for this, putting the country through a failed impeachment isn’t a good idea,” said Congressman Adam Schiff told CNN yesterday. As you might expect, those voices in alternative media who’ve been voicing skepticism of the Russiagate narrative since the beginning have been having a ball with this one. “BREAKING: The Democrats’ Congressional leadership is realizing that their two-year Russia conspiracy theory is not going to pan out,” tweeted journalist Aaron Maté, who has been in my opinion the single most lucid Russiagate critic for a long time now.

Russian Billionaire Deripaska Sues US Treasury, Steven Mnuchin - Russian billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska - an ally of president Vladimir Putin - sued the Treasury Department and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, seeking a U.S. court order lifting sanctions against him.In his lawsuit filed on Friday, Deripaska claimed he was “the latest victim” of “political infighting and ongoing reaction to Russia’s purported interference” with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He also accused the Treasury of unfairly and illegally targeted him, which resulted in his net worth dropping by $7.5 billion due to the sanctions.The sanctions have resulted in “the utter devastation of Deripaska’s wealth, reputation and economic livelihood,’’ according to the complaint, filed in a Washington federal court. “Deripaska has been effectively shut out from the international business community and the global financial system.’’As Bloomberg first reported, the Treasury Department’s actions were arbitrary and capricious, Deripaska claims, and violated the Administrative Procedures Act. He asked the court to intervene, seeking an order to bar the agency from referring to him as an oligarch. He also asked the court to order his removal from executive orders imposing the sanctions and the so-called Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List administered by OFAC. “His investments have become toxic, and defendants have caused his former companies to separate from him through the irrevocable divestiture of his interests and severance of his control,’’ according to the complaint.

US Re-Imprisons Manning To Coerce Her To Testify Against WikiLeaks - Caitlin Johnstone - After being imprisoned for seven years under draconian conditions which twice drove her to suicide, whistleblower Chelsea Manning has again been thrown behind bars for defending government transparency. Manning has been jailed in contempt of court after refusing to testify before a grand jury related to Assange and WikiLeaks, saying she “will accept whatever you bring upon me.”“The judge said she will remain jailed until she testifies or until the grand jury concludes its work,” AP reports.“Chelsea can be incarcerated for the remainder of the grand jury [up to 18 months], and the term of the grand jury can be extended by six months,” Manning’s attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen told Business Insider.   “Note that Manning is not jailed as a ‘punishment’,” WikiLeaks tweeted. “She has formally been jailed to ‘coerce’ her into testifying against our journalists (including Assange) for publishing the truth about the US government. She will remain in jail until she breaks and complies or wins on appeal.”  Manning responded to all of the grand jury questions by saying, “I object to the question and refuse to answer on the grounds that the question is in violation of my First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendment, and other statutory rights.” Manning explained her decision in the following statement: “I will not comply with this, or any other grand jury. Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly-stated ethical objections to the grand jury system. The grand jury’s questions pertained to disclosures from nine years ago, and took place six years after an in-depth computer forensics case, in which I testified for almost a full day about these events. I stand by my previous public testimony. I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been historically used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech.”

Dem Congresswoman Admits Cohen Will Probably Face Perjury Probe - It's looking increasingly likely that disgraced former attorney Michael Cohen will face a perjury investigation over statements made during last month's appearance before the House Oversight Committee. At least that's what California Democrat Katie Hill told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. "I don’t know if he lied or not," Hill said. "I think that this is, Chairman Cummings is incredibly deliberate. I know that he's reviewing the entire testimony, all the transcripts with Jim Jordan who also is going to make sure that we get to the bottom of this."  "He's not going to let this go." She added that she would guess that Cummings would end up referring Cohen's statements to the DOJ for a full-fledged perjury investigation. "I would imagine that in the panic that was going on when you’re about to go down, right, that you’re going to say like 'yeah, figure out whatever you can do,'" Hill said. "And I imagine that Chairman Cummings will end up referring him. That’s just my guess." "When Chairman Cummings says something like I’m going to nail you to the cross, he means it," Hill said.  For context, Cummings warned Cohen that the chairman would "nail him to the cross" if he lied to Congress again. Cohen attorney Lanny Davis told the Wall Street Journal last week that a previous attorney for Cohen had asked members of Trump's legal team about the prospect of a presidential pardon following raids on Cohen's home, office and hotel room by the FBI. It was later revealed that Cohen had explicitly asked his attorney, Stephen Ryan, to inquire about the possibility of a pardon. However, Davis insisted that Cohen's comment to the committee that he had never asked for - nor would he have accepted - a presidential pardon was consistent with the facts. The pardon request purportedly came when Cohen was still participating in a joint defense agreement with Trump's legal team, which he eventually left.

House votes 420-0 for Mueller report to be made public - The House has unanimously voted for a resolution calling for any final report in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to be made public. The symbolic action was designed to pressure the attorney general, William Barr, to release as much information as possible when the inquiry ends. The Democratic-backed resolution, which passed 420-0, comes as Mueller appears to be nearing an end to his investigation. Lawmakers in both parties have maintained there will have to be some sort of public discussion when the report is done – and privately hope that a report shows conclusions that are favorable to their own side. The resolution is unlikely to be passed in the Senate, where the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, tried to bring it up hours after House passage. He was rebuffed when the Senate judiciary committee chairman, Lindsey Graham, objected. But the House vote shows that lawmakers from both parties are eager to view Mueller’s findings after almost two years of speculation about what they might reveal. Though Mueller’s office has said nothing publicly about the timing of a report, several prosecutors detailed to Mueller’s team have left in recent months, suggesting that the investigation is winding down. The nonbinding House resolution calls for the public release of any report Mueller provides to Barr, with an exception for classified material. The resolution also calls for the full report to be released to Congress. “This resolution is critical because of the many questions and criticisms of the investigation raised by the president and his administration,” said the House judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler. Donald Trump has repeatedly called the inquiry a “hoax” and a “witch-hunt”. It’s unclear exactly what documentation will be produced at the end of the investigation into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia, and how much of that the justice department will allow people to see. Mueller is required to submit a report to Barr, and then Barr can decide how much of that is released publicly.

Trump says 'there should be no Mueller report' a day after House unanimously votes to make it public -- President Donald Trump said Friday that "there should be no" report from special counsel Robert Mueller on his Russia investigation. His comments come a day after the House unanimously passed a symbolic resolution calling for public release of the report Mueller gives to the Justice Department about his probe. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tried to bring the measure up in his chamber on Thursday, but Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., blocked it. The former FBI director is looking into the Kremlin's efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Mueller is reportedly winding down the probe, which has dogged Trump at every turn since the special counsel's appointment in May 2017.   Mueller has to send his confidential conclusions to the Justice Department. Then, Attorney General William Barr will send his own report to Congress. He can decide what information to give to lawmakers or the public. In a series of tweets, Trump said the special counsel "should never have been appointed and there should be no Mueller Report." He also claimed Mueller's investigation was "an illegal & conflicted investigation in search of a crime."

Senate blocks measure demanding Robert Mueller's report be made public – The Senate blocked a measure that demanded special counsel Robert Mueller's final report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election be made public — hours after the House unanimously voted in support of the measure. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a vote on the measure but was blocked by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who asked that the resolution also include calling for the appointment of a new special counsel to investigate how the Justice Department conducted its investigation. Earlier, the House passed a nonbinding resolution, with a vote of 420-0, urging for the public release of "any report" Mueller provides to Attorney General William Barr, except the portions "expressly prohibited by law." And they insisted that Congress should receive the whole thing. Graham pointed to controversies surrounding a surveillance warrant on Trump aide Carter Page and text messages by two FBI employees that were critical of President Donald Trump. "We let Mueller look at all things Trump, related to collusion and otherwise," Graham argued on the Senate floor. "Somebody needs to look at what happened on the other side and find out if the FBI and the DOJ had two systems."

Mueller focus shifts to Rick Gates - The focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is about to shift to Richard Gates. Gates, Paul Manafort’s ex-business partner and President Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, has been quietly cooperating with federal prosecutors for over a year on Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He’s also a cooperating witness to other undisclosed federal probes. A certain air of mystery has long surrounded exactly what Gates is telling his interlocutors, with periodic court filings offering up only nebulous details about his interactions with federal prosecutors. But a Friday filing deadline in his case could offer new details about the extent of his cooperation. It could also provide new clues about the status of Mueller’s sprawling inquiry — which many believe is close to wrapping up. If prosecutors and attorneys for Gates say he is ready to be sentenced, it will likely be taken as another sign of closure for the special counsel’s two-year probe. Gates, one of the first Trump associates ensnared in Mueller’s investigation, was indicted alongside Manafort in October 2017 on charges stemming from their lobbying for Russia-backed politicians in Ukraine. Gates eventually struck a deal to cooperate with prosecutors in February of last year, pleading guilty to one conspiracy count and to making a false statement to the FBI and the special counsel’s office. Gates was Mueller’s star witness last summer in the criminal trial of Manafort in Virginia, which led to the former campaign boss’s conviction on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and hiding a foreign bank account. Mueller’s prosecutors have repeatedly sought to delay Gates’s sentencing, a signal prosecutors are still gleaning information from him and want to keep him on the hook until he’s finished cooperating, which could include potentially testifying at upcoming trials. Typically, prosecutors and attorneys for a defendant want to delay his or her sentencing until the cooperation is completed, so the individual is incentivized to provide as much information as possible and gets the maximum benefit for helping officials.

The Mueller Report Conspiracy Theories, From QAnon to Mensch  Any day now, Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the investigation into possible Russian interference in the U.S. election, will submit the report of his team’s findings to Congress. Many people online will tell you that, thanks to months of investigative journalism and copious leaks from Congress, we already know many of the findings that will be divulged therein, and can predict what will happen when the report is released. I mean, come on, can’t everyone? When the Mueller report is finally released, as everyone knows, the special counsel will reveal himself to have been in league with President Trump the entire time, and that his mission was to investigate and take down a global ring of child predators prominently featuring Hillary Clinton.You may feel smug about your foreknowledge of the contents of Mueller report, but surely not more so than the deep believers in QAnon — the elaborate, amorphous, 4chan-based conspiracy theory that holds that Mueller and Trump have been secretly plotting to take down a ring of wealthy, powerful pedophiles. Any day now! There are many lessons to be learned from Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016, but my favorite is the questionably comforting knowledge that all human beings, regardless of their political persuasion, can attain a baseline level of self-deceiving stupidity. For most of the last few decades, widespread conspiracy theories have emerged almost exclusively from the right wing of American politics — but in the wake of Trump’s election, just as QAnon metastasized on the right, a portion of the same Democrats who would scoff at the right-wing fever swamp was quickly overtaken by increasingly wild wishful thinking. How could Donald Trump win an election? An unfortunate number of members of the party of moderation and logic and science settled on elaborate, yarn-and-corkboard theories of shadowy Russian meddling. Many formed a picture of Trump directly conspiring with Putin to hack voting machines, or commanding an army of bots to distribute fake news.

Paul Manafort: Ex-Trump chief gets 43 more months in jail - US President Donald Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort has been jailed for 43 more months on charges stemming from the Russia investigation. It comes a week after the 69-year-old was given a 47-month prison sentence for fraud in a separate case. The latest sentencing arises from two conspiracy charges Manafort pleaded guilty to last year. Speaking from a wheelchair, he told the federal court in Washington DC that he wanted to apologise for his actions. In a separate development, Wednesday also saw Manafort charged in New York with residential mortgage fraud and other crimes. President Trump has the power to pardon his former aide for the federal crimes - but not for the charges brought in New York. "I do feel badly for Paul Manafort, that I can tell you," Mr Trump told reporters after the sentencing on Wednesday. Asked if he was planning to pardon Manafort, the president answered: "I have not even given it a thought, as of this moment. It's not something that's right now on my mind." Both cases for which Manafort has been convicted stem from an inquiry into alleged Russian election meddling in the 2016 US elections. None of Manafort's charges, however, relates to allegations of collusion with Russia. Mr Trump has always denied the charge, describing the inquiry as a "witch hunt".

Manafort Indicted On 16 New Charges In New York State -- Less than an hour after former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was sentenced to an additonal 43 months in prison in the second of two trials - bringing his total sentence to 90 months, or 7.5 years for tax fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. slapped Manafort with a new indictment, as reported by the New York Times - which somehow had an entire article written about the new charges moments after they dropped. Of note, Vance is the same DA who came under fire for accepting $10,000 from Harvey Weinstein's lawyer after declining to file sexual assault charges. He also refused to file charges against former NY AG Eric Schneiderman - who was accused in vivid detail of sexually assaulting several women. Schneiderman now teaches meditation after avoiding the criminal justice system. Manafort will face 16 charges, including an accusation that he committed residential mortgage fraud by falsifying loan documents "in the first degree" to illegally obtain millions of dollars in loans.  Of note, President Trump would not have pardon power over a state conviction. While Mr. Trump has not said he intends to pardon his former campaign chairman, he has often spoken of his power to pardon and has defended Mr. Manafort on a number of occasions, calling him a “brave man.” The new state charges against Mr. Manafort are contained in a 16-count indictment that alleges a yearlong scheme in which he falsified business records to obtain millions of dollars in loans, Mr. Vance said in a news release after the federal sentencing. -NYT

Manafort indicted by Manhattan DA on mortgage fraud charges - The Manhattan District Attorney on Wednesday indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in connection to a mortgage fraud scheme, announcing the charges within minutes of his sentencing in federal court in Washington, D.C. District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced 16 charges against Manafort, including residential mortgage fraud, attempted mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy. Prosecutors said Manafort engaged in the scheme over the course of roughly a year, from December 2015 until January 2017. The 11-page indictment, filed in New York Supreme Court in New York City, alleges that Manafort falsified business records to obtain millions of dollars in mortgage loans. “No one is beyond the law in New York,” Vance said in a statement. The charges stem from an investigation that began in March 2017, Vance said, roughly seven months before Manafort was indicted on a host of financial crimes by federal prosecutors as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The indictment was announced within minutes of Manafort's sentencing at a Washington, D.C., courthouse on conspiracy charges that he pleaded guilty to as part of a deal with federal prosecutors. The timing of Vance's announcement is likely to stoke allegations from President Trump and his defenders that politics played a role in hammering Manafort at the state level just as soon as his federal proceedings had wrapped up.

Court files reveal role of McCain, associate in spreading anti-Trump dossier - Newly unsealed court filings show how the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and an associate shared with the FBI and a host of media outlets the unverified dossier that alleged the Russians had compromising information on now-President Trump. McCain had denied being the source for BuzzFeed after it published the dossier, which was funded by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, but had acknowledged giving it to the FBI. In a newly unsealed declaration from September, former senior counterintelligence FBI agent Bill Priestap confirmed that the FBI received a copy of the first 33 pages of the dossier in December 2016 from McCain. In another filing, David Kramer -- a former State Department official and McCain associate -- said in a Dec. 13, 2017, deposition that the dossier was given to him by author and former British spy Christopher Steele, which he then provided to multiple journalists at outlets including CNN, BuzzFeed and The Washington Post. The details were first reported by The Daily Caller.

Christopher Steele admitted using posts by ‘random individuals’ on CNN website to back up Trump dossier - Former British spy Christopher Steele admitted that he relied on an unverified report on a CNN website for part of the "Trump dossier," which was used as a basis for the FBI's investigation into Trump. According to deposition transcripts released this week, Steele said last year he used a 2009 report he found on CNN's iReport website and said he wasn't aware that submissions to that site are posted by members of the public and are not checked for accuracy. A web archive from July 29, 2009 shows that CNN described the site in this manner: “ is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked, or screened before they post.” In the dossier, Steele, a Cambridge-educated former MI6 officer, wrote about extensive allegations against Donald Trump, associates of his campaign, various Russians and other foreign nationals, and a variety of companies — including one called Webzilla. Those allegations would become part of an FBI investigation and would be used to apply for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.During his deposition, Steele was pressed on the methods he used to verify allegations made about Webzilla, which was thought to be used by Russia to hack into Democratic emails.When asked if he discovered “anything of relevance concerning Webzilla” during the verification process, Steele replied: “We did. It was an article I have got here which was posted on July 28, 2009, on something called CNN iReport.”

Real Collusion- Leaked Documents Reveal DoJ Protected Steele After FBI Shunning -  Information watchdog Judicial Watch has released 339-pages of US Department of Justice records, revealing former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact with ex-MI6 operative Christopher Steele after Steele's status as a paid confidential informant was terminated by the FBI in November 2016."These smoking gun documents show Christopher Steele, a Hillary Clinton operative and anti-Trump foreign national, secretly worked hand-in-glove with the Justice Department on its illicit targeting of President Trump. These documents leave no doubt that for more than a year after the FBI fired Christopher Steele for leaking, and for some 10 months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Bruce Ohr continued to act as a go-between for Steele with the FBI and Justice Department. The anti-Trump Russia investigation, now run by Robert Mueller, has been thoroughly compromised by this insider corruption," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.NEW: JW announced it received 339 pages of heavily redacted records from the DOJ which reveal that former Associate Deputy AG Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact Christopher Steele after Steele was terminated by the FBI in November 2016 (1/3)— Judicial Watch (@JudicialWatch) March 7, 2019 Whether an accurate appraisal or not, it's clear from the assorted communications Ohr was determined to ensure Steele retained access to the Bureau, and this contact remained hidden from public view - for instance, when acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Trump January 2017, Steele feared Ohr would be fired too, and texted him to express his "sympathy and support"."If you end up out, I really need another contact point/number who is briefed. We can't allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position right now looks stable. A million thanks," Steele wrote. In response, Ohr assured the Orbis chief he could "certainly" give him an FBI contact "if it becomes necessary".

Explosive Lisa Page Testimony- Dossier Timeline Contradictions And DOJ Interference - Testimony provided to Congress from former FBI lawyer Lisa Page reveals contradictions as to when she learned about former British spy Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier, sheds light on the “insurance policy” and exposes the Obama Justice Department’s decision not to charge Hillary Clinton with allegedly violating the Espionage Act. Page’s testimony, which was delivered behind closed doors last July before a joint task force of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees, reveals the internal machinations between senior bureau leadership and the DOJ. Basically, her testimony adds more depth to what happened during the critical months during the FBI’s investigation into President Trump’s election campaign and the bureau’s “Midyear Exam” investigation into Clinton.As for the Clinton investigation, Page said the bureau “did not blow over gross negligence.” She told Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, there were ongoing discussions with former FBI Director James Comey and other senior officials about the issue. She said “on its face, it did seem like, well, maybe there’s a potential here for this to be the charge. And we had multiple conversations, multiple conversations with the Justice Department about charging gross negligence,” she said.She added “the Justice Department’s assessment was that it was both constitutionally vague, so that they did not actually feel that they could permissibly bring that charge.” Page’s testimony does coincide with what former FBI General Counsel James Baker’s told the committee on “gross negligence.” In testimony he stated that he originally believed Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of highly classified information was “alarming” and “appalling,”  as first reported at He also believed her use of a private server to send the classified emails was sufficient enough to secure an indictment to possibly charge her for violations under the Espionage Act, for mishandling sensitive government documents.  However, her testimony focuses on the DOJ’s push not to charge Clinton, whereas Baker puts the onus on Comey. He said Comey did not believe the charges would stick and that he argued with Comey until just before the public announcement not to charge Clinton. Baker suggested he changed his mind shortly before Comey announced publicly on July 5, 2016 not to charge the then presidential candidate.

Lynch Testimony Reveals Bias And Intent For Failing To Give Trump Defensive Briefing - President Donald Trump’s campaign was never given a defensive briefing by the FBI, despite mounting concerns that Russians were allegedly trying to penetrate the campaign during the 2016 presidential election. In testimony provided by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, along with others, it is the key finding that won’t bode well for the FBI and DOJ. It also raises significant questions regarding the treatment of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and whether she ever received ‘defensive briefings’ in detail from the bureau. Lynch’s testimony is still not public but has been reviewed by defensive briefing, after all, is a procedure that is often given to presidential candidates, elected officials and even U.S. businesses that have either been unwittingly approached by foreign actors attempting to gain trust and befriend those in position of influence. The briefing allows the government to protect the candidates, specifically if there is substantial information or knowledge to suggest that someone has targeted an unwitting American for information. If the FBI or intelligence agencies suspect foreign adversaries may be trying to penetrate a presidential campaign, as those FBI and DOJ sources suggested in testimony to lawmakers, it would then be required to warn those affected, a senior former intelligence official told Why? Because foreign adversaries like China and Russia for example, and even allies, will attempt to glean information – or favor – from unwitting persons with access to senior level officials. The access can assist those nation’s own national interest or provide access for intelligence collection. In the case of Trump, the FBI gave only a general counterintelligence briefing but did not provide information to the campaign that the FBI believed there were specific counterintelligence threats. For example, the FBI’s concern over campaign advisors George Papadopolous, Carter Page and then concerns over former national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

New York Attorney General Opens Investigation of Trump Projects - The New York attorney general’s office late on Monday issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to the financing of four major Trump Organization projects and a failed effort to buy the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League in 2014, according to a person briefed on the subpoenas. The inquiry opens a new front in the scrutiny of Deutsche Bank, one of the few lenders willing to do business with Donald J. Trump in recent years. The bank is already the subject of two congressional investigations and was examined last year by New York banking regulators, who took no action. The new inquiry, by the office of the attorney general, Letitia James, was prompted by the congressional testimony last month of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, the person briefed on the subpoenas said. Mr. Cohen testified under oath that Mr. Trump had inflated his assets in financial statements, and Mr. Cohen provided copies of statements he said had been submitted to Deutsche Bank. The inquiry by Ms. James’s office is a civil investigation, not a criminal one, although its focus and scope were unclear. The attorney general has broad authority under state law to investigate fraud and can fine — or in extreme cases, go to court to try to dissolve — a business that is found to have engaged in repeated illegality. The request to Deutsche Bank sought loan applications, mortgages, lines of credit and other financing transactions in connection with the Trump International Hotel in Washington; the Trump National Doral outside Miami; and the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, the person said. Investigators also requested records connected to an unsuccessful effort to buy the Bills, the person said. Mr. Trump gave Deutsche Bank bare-bones personal financial statements in 2014 when he planned to make a bid for the team, The New York Times has reported. The deal fell through when the team was sold to a rival bidder for $1.4 billion.

Federal court moves to unseal documents in Jeffrey Epstein scandal - A federal court of appeals in New York on Monday took the first step in unsealing documents that could reveal evidence of an international sex trafficking operation allegedly run by multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein and his former partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. The three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit gave the parties until March 19 to establish good cause as to why they should remain sealed and, failing to do so, the summary judgment and supporting documents will be made public. The court reserved a ruling on the balance of the documents in the civil case, including discovery materials.  “We’re grateful that the court ruled the summary judgment papers are open and they are moving to expedite having them unsealed,’’ said Sanford Bohrer, the attorney representing the Miami Herald, which filed the motion last year to have the entire case file opened. The Herald’s appeal is supported by 32 other media companies, including the New York Times and Washington Post. Most of the documents, including court orders and motions, were filed under seal or heavily redacted, similar to other cases in New York and Florida involving Epstein, a wealthy, politically connected money manager. Epstein, 66, was not a party to the lawsuit, which was filed against Maxwell in 2015 by Virginia Roberts Giuffre. Giuffre claimed in the lawsuit that she was recruited by Maxwell at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, when she was 16 years old. Giuffre had been working at the resort’s spa when Maxwell approached her and asked her whether she wanted to become a masseuse for Epstein. Giuffre claimed that the massages were a ruse for Epstein and Maxwell to sexually abuse her and other underage girls, some of whom were trafficked to other influential people, from 1999 to 2002. Maxwell settled the case before trial, resulting in several millions paid to Giuffre, sources have told the Herald.  Epstein was accused by more than three dozen girls, most of them 13 to 16, of luring them to his mansion to give him massages that turned into sex acts. He then used those same girls to recruit more girls over a period of several years, court and police records show.

Trump Orders FAA to Ground All Boeing 737 Max Planes - President Donald Trump said the U.S. is grounding flights by Boeing Co.’s 737 Max aircraft “effective immediately” following the model’s second crash in five months on Sunday.“Planes that are in the air will be grounded…upon landing at the destination…All airlines are agreeing with this.”“The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern,” Trump said Wednesday at the White House.“Hopefully they will very quickly come up with the answer but until they do the planes are grounded.” BREAKING: President Trump says Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 planes will be grounded, after two deadly crashes within six months— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 13, 2019 Here are all the Boeing 737 Max planes in the air as of 230pm ET (6 Max 9, and 75 Max 8 planes)…

 Boeing CEO Asked Trump Not To Ground 737 Max 8 After Second Deadly Crash- Report - Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Chicago-based Boeing, reportedly asked President Trump on Tuesday morning not to ground Boeing 737 Max 8s operating throughout the country, following Sunday's Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people, according to the New York TimesEarly Tuesday, Dennis A. Muilenburg, the chief executive of Boeing, spoke to President Trump on the phone and made the case that the 737 Max planes should not be grounded in the United States, according to two people briefed on the conversation. -New York TimesThe call between Muilenburg and Trump was confirmed by a Boeing spokesperson with Business Insider, but did not offer details on who requested the call or any other information. According to a quote by BI from the Times (which has subsequently been changed), Muilenburg only "reiterated our position that the Max is a safe aircraft."  Approximately 2/3 of the world's 737 Max 8 fleet have been grounded according to the Times - with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) the latest entity moving to ban the plane.  Several US senators have urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to follow suit in grounding the 737 Max 8, which is currently still considered safe to fly in the United States and Canada.  "I write to ask that all Boeing 737 Max 8 series aircraft be grounded until their safe use has been confirmed," wrote Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in a Monday letter to the FAA, adding "Continuing to fly an airplane that has been involved in two fatal crashes within just six months presents an unnecessary, potentially life-threatening risk to the traveling public."  Mitt Romney, who blows out his birthday candles one at a time, also chimed in on Tuesday, tweeting: "the @FAANews should ground the 737 MAX 8 until we investigate the causes of recent crashes and ensure the plane’s airworthiness."

 Boeing's fix for 737 Max may take three to six months, Bank of America predicts - The software fix that Boeing said it is working on could take as long as six months, according to Bank of America.Boeing earlier this week said a software change is in the works as well as updates to pilot manuals and training and the Federal Aviation Administration said it would mandate those changes by April."Once Boeing identifies the issue on the 737 MAX, the most likely scenario, in our view, is that the company will take about 3-6 months to come up with a fix and certify the fix," the bank's analyst Ronald Epstein said in a note on Thursday.The FAA on Wednesday grounded all Boeing 737 Max jets in the U.S., citing links between two fatal crashes. The turnaround came after dozens of countries around the world grounded the planes, tanking the stock nearly 11 percent this week, on pace to post its biggest weekly decline since 2008.Bank of America kept its buy rating and $480 price-target on Boeing as the bank believes the investigation would have a "definitive timeline" as the recovery of the black boxes is already underway. This would significantly reduce the uncertainty around Boeing and the 737 Max model, the bank said. The two black boxes from the Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed on March 10 in Ethiopiawere being taken to Paris for investigation."We would expect Boeing to continue to produce the 737 at the current rate of 52 per month in order to minimize disruption in the supply chain. Boeing may have to carry inventory in its balance sheet of about $5.5bn per quarter. We would expect working capital to improve as the aircraft begins delivery again," Epstein said. The bank predicts that the rentals Boeing would have to pay for alternative airlines would cost the company $500 million or $0.88 per share in the first quarter.

Cancellation Chaos- $600 Billion In Boeing 737 Max Orders At Risk -New evidence shows that the Boeing Co. 737 MAX which crashed in Ethiopia on Sunday may have experienced similar technical difficulties as the 737 MAX that crashed off Indonesia last year. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) cited similarities with in-flight data of both planes when it spoke to global regulators about grounding the jet. With the company facing a pr disaster and loss of confidence with global airline carriers, there could be more than $600 billion in orders at risk of cancellation, reported Bloomberg.VietJet Aviation JSC doubled its 737 MAX order last month to $25 billion, now the Vietnamese low-cost airliner is having second thoughts. Kenya Airways Plc is reviewing its contracts to purchase billions of dollars of the MAX and could even switch to Airbus SE's rival A320. Russia’s Utair Aviation PJSC is expected to take delivery of 30 MAXs but wants to seek guarantees the planes are not defective. Indonesia’s Lion Air has informed Boeing that they plan to cut a $22 billion order and will instead buy Airbus jets. Garuda Indonesia, the national airline of Indonesia, will reduce most MAX orders. Flyadeal, a unit of Saudi Arabian Airlines, said in December, it would purchase 50 MAX jets, but the company is now waiting on results of the investigation before taking the order. “We’re closely monitoring the situation and are in constant contact with Boeing,” the company said in an email. “There are no conclusions to be drawn at this time.” Bloomberg said the MAX version of the 737 MAX has more than 5,000 orders outstanding, worth more than $600 billion. To put that number in perspective, it is more than the GDP of Switzerland.

If We’re Going to Break Up Big Tech, We Shouldn’t Forget Big Telecom - On Friday, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed breaking up Google, Amazon, and Facebook in a bid to crack down on anti-competitive tech giants. The proposal, which suggests ramping up antitrust enforcement and unwinding the sector’s most problematic mergers, is poised to be a cornerstone of Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign.  The attention Warren’s proposal gives to breaking up big tech is welcome, and warranted, but it omits another major sector that is equally deserving of—and long overdue for—the same treatment: big telecom. In recent years, telecom giants like Verizon have been repeatedly caught covertlyspying on customers and selling your private location data to a long chain of dubious middlemen, often with little oversight. Giant ISPs often help scammers rip off their own customers, earning them the worst customer satisfaction ratings of any business sector in America. Telecom presents a unique problem in tech. ISPs like Comcast and AT&T not only enjoy vast media and broadcast empires, but a clear monopoly over access to the internet itself thanks to limited broadband competition. This domination of both the conduit and the content creates unique anti-competitive opportunities ISPs are starting to exploit in a variety of sneaky ways. For example, telecom giants convinced the FCC in 2017 to neuter itself at lobbyists’ behest, demolishing numerous widely popular consumer protections like net neutrality along the way. These massive providers are also fused to the United States intelligence apparatus, making them the personification of “too big to fail.” Verizon and AT&T are so politically powerful, when they were caught wholesale spying on American citizens without warrants on behalf of the NSA, they were able to have the laws changed to provide them retroactive immunity from liability. These same ISPs now hope to expand into the online ad space in the wake of numerous acquisitions, ranging from Comcast’s 2011 merger with NBC, to AT&T’s recent acquisition of Time Warner. As such, it only makes sense to see them as integral components of any meaningful conversation about monopoly power in the US.

The Comment Moderator Is The Most Important Job In The World Right Now - Moderating content and comments is one of the most vital responsibilities on the internet. It’s where free speech, community interests, censorship, harassment, spam, and overt criminality all butt up against each other. It has to account for a wide variety of always-evolving cultural norms and acceptable behaviors. As someone who has done the job, I can tell you that it can be a grim and disturbing task. And yet the big tech platforms seem to place little value on it: The pay is poor, workers are often contractors, and it’s frequently described as something that’s best left to the machines. For instance, last week, the Verge published an explosive look inside the facilities of Cognizant, a Facebook contractor that currently oversees some of the platform’s content moderation efforts. In the story, employees who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs described the emotional and psychological trauma of their work. Some smoked weed during breaks to calm their nerves. Others described being radicalized by the very content they were charged with policing. Most made just $28,000 a year.  Facebook moderators in developing countries like India are even worse off, according to a recent Reuters report. Contractors at Genpact, an outsourcing firm with offices in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, each view about 2,000 posts over the course of an eight-hour shift. They make about $1,400 a year; that’s roughly 75 cents an hour. It’s clear that human moderators are something that platforms like Facebook or YouTube believe they can eventually optimize away. Last spring, Mark Zuckerberg, while being questioned in front of Congress, referenced artificially intelligent moderation more than 30 times. In the meantime, though, the human moderators at Facebook or YouTube spend their days getting high to numb themselves so they can keep scrubbing suicides from our News Feeds. These companies keep telling us to ignore the trash in the streets, saying it’ll all get better once they can figure out how to get the garbage trucks to drive themselves.

 Market Concentration Is Threatening the US Economy - Joe Stiglitz - After promising annual growth of “4, 5, and even 6%,” US President Donald Trump and his congressional Republican enablers have delivered only unprecedented deficits. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections, the federal budget deficit will reach $900 billion this year, and will surpass the $1 trillion mark every year after 2021. And yet, the sugar high induced by the latest deficit increase is already fading, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting US growth of 2.5% in 2019 and 1.8% in 2020, down from 2.9% in 2018. Many factors are contributing to the US economy’s low-growth/high-inequality problem. Trump and the Republicans’ poorly designed tax “reform” has exacerbated existing deficiencies in the tax code, funneling even more income to the highest earners. At the same time, globalization continues to be poorly managed, and financial markets continue to be geared toward extracting profits (rent-seeking, in economists’ parlance), rather than providing useful services. But an even deeper and more fundamental problem is the growing concentration of market power, which allows dominant firms to exploit their customers and squeeze their employees, whose own bargaining power and legal protections are being weakened. CEOs and senior executives are increasingly extracting higher pay for themselves at the expense of workers and investment. For example, US corporate executives made sure that the vast majority of the benefits from the tax cut went into dividends and stock buybacks, which exceeded a record-breaking $1.1 trillion in 2018. Buybacks raised share prices and boosted the earnings-per-share ratio, on which many executives’ compensation is based. Meanwhile, at 13.7% of GDP, annual investment remained weak, while many corporate pensions went underfunded. Evidence of rising market power can be found almost anywhere one looks. Large markups are contributing to high corporate profits. In sector after sector, from little things like cat food to big things like telecoms, cable providers, airlines, and technology platforms, a few firms now dominate 75-90% of the market, if not more; and the problem is even more pronounced at the level of local markets. As corporate behemoths’ market power has increased, so, too, has their ability to influence America’s money-driven politics. And as the system has become more rigged in business’s favor, it has become much harder for ordinary citizens to seek redress for mistreatment or abuse. A perfect example of this is the spread of arbitration clauses in labor contracts and user agreements, which allow corporations to settle disputes with employees and customers through a sympathetic mediator, rather than in court.

The Real Reason Stock Buybacks Are a Problem - Steve Roth -- Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer’s New York Times op-ed, “Limit Corporate Stock Buybacks,” has thrown internet gasoline on the buyback debate. The left is waving the flag, and the right is trying to tear it down. The core Sanders/Schumer argument: buybacks extract money from firms, money that could be used to pay workers more, and fund productive investment (including worker training and upskilling). The counterargument: how are buybacks any different from dividend distributions that way? Both transfer cash from firms to households. We don’t hear people complaining about dividend distributions stealing money from workers and investment. That counterargument is absolutely right, even while it’s completely wrong. Because both sides miss the overwhelming effect of stock buybacks (vs dividends). Buybacks are a massive tax dodge for shareholders. Imagine Megacorp wants to transfer a billion dollars to its shareholders (notably including the huge shareholders in its C suite and on its corporate board). Whether they distribute dividends or buy back shares, either way Megacorp has a billion dollars less on its balance sheet. Its book value drops by $1B. But what happens on the household, shareholder side? With a dividend distribution it’s simple; households get $1B in taxable dividend income. With a buyback, households that sell shares also receive $1B in cash, but they give up their shares, which obviously have value. That’s where the (perfectly legal) tax avoidance lies — perhaps best explained by example: Suppose the average shareholder’s shares were purchased for $20 each. That’s the shareholders’ tax basis. If Megacorp pays $25 a share (for 40M shares), the shareholders who sell have cap gains of $5 a share — $200M in taxable income — versus $1B if the same cash is paid out via dividends. Dividends and long-term cap gains in the U.S. are currently taxed using the same rates and brackets: 15% if your income is above $38K, 20% if it’s above $425K. If Megacorp chooses a $1B stock buyback, our imagined shareholders pay $40M in taxes (at the 20% rate), versus $200M in taxes on a dividend distribution. Neither of these has any effect on corporate taxes, by the way. C-corporation profits (as opposed to S corporations and other “pass-throughs”) are taxed at the corporate level, whether they get distributed or not, and no matter which distribution method is used.

All options on table for improving Volcker Rule proposal: Regulators — Federal regulators are weighing all options for retooling their plan to revamp the Volcker Rule, including finalizing only the least controversial portions of their 2018 proposal, two agency heads said Monday. In separate speeches, Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Jelena McWilliams acknowledged industry concerns with the proposal, which was meant to improve the process of complying with the proprietary trading ban but which bankers say would have unintended consequences. Otting said regulators were meeting with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and other Republican members later on Monday where the Volcker Rule changes were expected to be a subject of discussion. "I can tell you that’s high on [lawmakers'] list to bring resolution to,” Otting said during the Institute of International Bankers' annual conference. The two regulators were responding to questions about a recent Bloomberg report that the agencies planned to scrap the so-called Volcker 2.0 proposal. The plan is intended to simplify compliance with the crisis-era rule — first proposed by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker and inserted in the Dodd-Frank Act — but banks say the introduction of a new accounting standard to designate certain trades as proprietary would be even more burdensome. When regulators proposed Volcker 2.0 last year, “we rightfully so thought that we had proposed something that would be easy from an accounting perspective, but the market told us that we were encapsulating other trades that really weren’t proprietary in nature,” Otting said. “So I think we’re having dialogue about what to do.” In a speech after Otting's, McWilliams said it is possible the regulators could implement less controversial reforms to Volcker. One relatively easy step, she said, is to extend certain exemptions from the trading ban for banks with foreign funds that were not considered a covered fund. Those exemptions are now set to expire in July. The regulators could then get to work on a broader reproposal of the more substantive changes, which would come later.

Senate bill would add another step to FSOC designation process — A bipartisan group of senators is pushing a bill that would require the Financial Stability Oversight Council to consider alternative approaches before designating nonbanks as systemically important financial institutions. The Financial Stability Oversight Improvement Act is authored by Sens. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. Currently, the FSOC can subject specific nonbanks with the SIFI label to banklike supervision under the Federal Reserve. But the legislation calls on the council to explore other avenues before a designation is final. “The bipartisan legislation that I propose simply suggests that FSOC consider non-designation alternatives" and "does nothing to detract from FSOC’s emergency designation authority,” Rounds said at a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday.  The Dodd-Frank Act gave the council the authority to designate nonbank firms as SIFIs but allowed for the firms to take steps to lower their risk and be reviewed for "de-designation." But the council's authority has long met with skepticism. “At the outset, the process for nonbank designation was immeasurable and unclear, which was not only contrary to the long-established principles of our regulatory framework, but also led to legal uncertainty that undermined the very objective of FSOC,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said at the hearing.

The Fed’s Fancy Footwork on Stress Tests Was About Silencing Bank Examiners --Pam Martens -  Last Wednesday, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors rushed through a rule change to its stress test for the too-big-to-fail banks on Wall Street, putting it into immediate effect without the customary 30-day delay. It is further noteworthy that the Board did not get the customary unanimous vote to move forward with the rule change: Fed Board Governor Lael Brainard, arguably the smartest member of the Board, voted against the rule change while the four other Governors, including Chairman Jerome Powell, voted in favor. There is a strong case that can be made that the rushed rule change was to protect the biggest banks on Wall Street – the ones serially charged with crimes around the globe – while putting the public at risk of another epic financial collapse. What the rule change effectively did was to tell the recidivist banks that their on-site Federal regulator, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was not going to flunk them in their stress test for serious lapses in risk management like failing to report and/or control money laundering, insider trading, bribery, or market rigging, to name only a few typical breaches of law. To fully comprehend the hubris of this rule change, you need to know three important things upfront. First, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, a so-called independent agency of the U.S. government, is nothing more than a titular head of the Federal Reserve when it comes to supervision of the big banks. Its Governors are indeed appointed by the President of the United States but it has outsourced supervision of the big Wall Street banks to the cozy and compromised Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The New York Fed is literally owned by the largest banks on Wall Street. They are its shareholders; they appoint two-thirds of its Board of Directors and three of those seats are currently filled by bank CEOs. The second thing you need to know is that Carmen Segarra, a former bank examiner at the New York Fed, has effectively provided a tutorial for the remaining bank examiners there on how to scoot over to the local Spy Store and buy a tiny tape recorder to catch bosses at the New York Fed telling you to alter the findings of your bank examination.  Segarra says, quite convincingly, with her released tape recordings as backup, that she was fired for ethically doing her job at the New York Fed and refusing to change her examination findings on Goldman Sachs. Segarra’s intrepid and highly detailed book on the matter, which named names and quoted from those tape recordings, was released in October of last year. It has by now alerted every bank examiner on Wall Street what they need to do to protect themselves from charges of evidence tampering.  The third thing you need to know is that the Wall Street mega banks are reporting some eye-popping criminal investigations of their activities, both here and abroad, in their 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission….

Fed Bans Ex-Goldman Bankers Leissner, Ng From Ever Working In The Industry -- While Goldman has mostly recovered from the 1MBD corruption scandal which sent its stock price crashing late last year, its former bankers have yet to face the music, and earlier today former Goldman bankers in charge of the bank's Malaysia relationship, Tim Leissner and Roger Ng, were banned from the banking industry by the Federal Reserve for their role in helping divert billions of dollars from Malaysia’s den of thieves, also known as the country's sovereign wealth fund, 1 MDB. Leissner and Ng arranged bond offerings that allowed funds to be diverted from 1MDB, the Fed said in a Tuesday statement, with some of the money used to bribe government officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, while criminals also used proceeds to pay for lavish lifestyles, the regulator claimed.Leissner, who agreed to the Fed’s permanent ban, was fined $1.42 million, according to the statement. Playing the scapegoat role to a T, Leissner had already pleaded guilty to charges brought by the U.S. Justice Department, including conspiring to launder money. In October, Leissner’s deputy at Goldman Sachs, Roger Ng was indicted on similar charges. As we reported last month, Malaysia said it will extradite Ng to the U.S. after he has completed legal proceedings in local courts. As Bloomberg previously reported, the Fed had ramped up its investigation into how Goldman Sachs bankers dodged the firm’s internal controls to raise billions for 1MDB that later went missing, while apparently avoiding a scandal that shook the banking industry several years ago when the NY Fed was secretly leaking regulatory information to, who else, Goldman Sachs. The Fed accused Leissner of participating in a scheme with Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho and others to divert money from “several” 1MDB transactions, including three bond offerings underwritten by Goldman Sachs in 2012 and 2013, according to an order dated March 11. Low, a controversial financier, has been accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from the Malaysian fund and using some of it to buy gifts for famous models and film actors.

Senate Democrats Enabled the Biggest Bank Merger Since the 2008 Crash - When Senate Democrats teamed up with Republicans last year to pass banking deregulation, they went all in, parroting conservative talking points about running to the rescue of Main Street. More than half of the Democrats who backed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S.2155) invoked “credit unions and small banks” when explaining their vote.  Less than nine months after it was signed into law, however, the legislation has already paved the way for the largest bank merger since the 2008 financial crisis — the proposed purchase of SunTrust by BB&T. Their integration would create the sixth-largest bank in the country. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of campaign donations last election cycle from those two banks to Senate Democrats went to supporters of “regulatory relief,” according to campaign finance disclosures aggregated by the Center for Responsive Politics. Individuals and entities related to BB&T gave $10,331 to Senate Democrats; 93 percent of that went to supporters of S.2155. SunTrust affiliates gave $39,762 to Senate Democrats, 97.3 percent of which went to backers of the bill. The majority of the money came from the firms’ political action committees, not from employees. Members of the Senate Democratic caucus who mentioned “small banks and credit unions” to boost S.2155 included Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Tom Carper (D-Delaware), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Gary Peters (D-Michigan), Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), Doug Jones (D-Alabama) and Angus King (I-Maine); and ex-Senators Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota). Together, they and other Democrats joined with Republicans to give the legislation filibuster-proof support in the Senate. Initial co-sponsors also included Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and ex-Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri).

C&I Loans Enter The Danger Zone - Commercial and industrial (C&I) loan activity is watched closely by economists to gauge the strength of the economy and estimate where we are in the business cycle. C&I loans are used to finance capital expenditures or increase the borrower’s working capital. The C&I loan cycle often takes up to a couple of years to turn positive after a recession, but provides even more confirmation that an economic expansion is underway. For example, the U.S. Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, but the C&I loan cycle didn’t turn positive until late-2010. C&I loans also help to warn when the economic cycle is approaching its end (as they are now). Total outstanding U.S. commercial and industrial loans have increased by 92% in the current cycle, which surpasses the 80% increase during the mid-2000s cycle and the 88% increase during the late-1990s cycle: One way of determining when the C&I loan cycle (and, therefore, the overall economic cycle) is nearing its end is by charting total outstanding commercial and industrial loans as a percentage of GDP. When C&I loans are at 10% of GDP or higher (the “Danger Zone”), that is typically a sign that the cycle is long in the tooth and about to tip over into a recession. According to the chart below, recessions occurred shortly after C&I loans peaked within the “Danger Zone.” C&I loans are currently in that zone, which I see as further confirmation that we are in a Fed-driven economic bubble that will end badly.The current C&I loan cycle has been more powerful and longer-lasting than the prior two cycles because the Fed has held interest rates at record low levels for a record length of time. As the chart below shows, credit booms and bubbles form during low interest rate periods (low interest rates encourage borrowing): The U.S. corporate debt market (which is mostly in the form of bonds instead loans) is telling a similar message as commercial and industrial loans, as I recently discussed. To summarize, ultra-low bond yields over the past decade have encouraged a corporate borrowing bubble that has also been funding the stock buyback boom. As a result, total outstanding U.S. corporate debt has increased by $3 trillion or 45% since the last peak in 2008. U.S. corporate debt is now at an all-time high of over 46% of GDP, which is even worse than the levels reached during the dot-com bubble and mid-2000s housing bubble.

Ocasio-Cortez: Wells Fargo 'Involved' In Caging Children; Thinks Banks Should Assume Borrowers' Liabilities - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggested that Wells Fargo was "involved" in the caging of migrant children because the bank used to finance private prison companies CoreCivic and Geo Group.  "Mr. Sloan, why was the bank involved in the caging of children and financing the caging of children to begin with?" the freshman House Democrat and economics major asked Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan.  "Uh, I don’t know how to answer that question because we weren’t," Sloan replied.   "Uh, so in finance — you, you were financing and involved in financing of debt of CoreCivic and Geo Group, correct?" she shot back.  To which Sloan replied: "For a period of time, we were involved in financing one of the firms — we’re not anymore and the other. I’m not familiar with the specific assertion that you’re making, but we weren’t directly involved in that." "OK, so these companies run private detention facilities run by ICE, which is involved in caging children, but I’ll move on," AOC retorted.  Of note, Wells Fargo was prominently featured in a November 2016 report along with nine other banks for lending CoreCivic and GEO Group $444 million and $450 million respectively during the Obama administration - the same period of time during which a a photo of caged children misattributed to the Trump administration was taken.  AOC then shifted gears, asking Sloan if Wells Fargo should be involved in paying for environmental cleanup if a bank-financed oil project such as the Dakota Pipeline were to leak. "So hypothetically, if there was a leak from the Dakota Access Pipeline, why shouldn’t Wells Fargo pay for the cleanup of it, since it paid for the construction of the pipeline itself?" asked AOC - suggesting that the pipeline is "widely seen to be environmentally unstable."  Sloan looked a bit puzzled, replying: "Again the reason we were one of the 17 or 19 banks that financed that is because our team reviewed the environmental impact and we concluded that it was a risk that we were willing to take."  Sloan: "Because we don't operate the pipeline, we provide financing"  The responses to AOC's line of questioning have been entertaining to say the least. 

 WATCH: Ocasio-Cortez Grills Wells Fargo CEO Over Profiting From ‘Caging of Children’ and Pipeline Disasters -- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Ocasio (D-NY) proved once again her verbal interrogation skills on Tuesday as she grilled Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan over the financial giant's dubious investments and won applause for holding his feet to the fire. The freshman congresswoman questioned bank CEO Timothy Sloan about two issues for which corporations are rarely directly held accountable—the bank's financing of human rights abuses as well as environmental disasters. On the issue of Wells Fargo's relationship with the private prison industry and the Trump administration's child detention policy, Ocasio-Cortez asked sharply: "Mr. Sloan, why was the bank involved in the caging of children?"  In his response, Sloan announced that the bank is in the process of cutting ties with one group and has already stopped financing another—information that wasn't publicly known before the hearing.  So @AOC gets some news out of Wells Fargo CEO Sloan: asking about its investments in private prisons, Sloan says Wells has fully exited debt financing for one company (he doesn't remember which) and will exit the other when the debt matures. — David Dayen (@ddayen) March 12, 2019  The congresswoman refused to accept Sloan's claim that despite Wells Fargo's financing and debt-financing of GEO Group and CoreCivic, "we weren't directly involved in that," before moving on to the bank's investments in fossil fuel-extracting companies which have worsened the climate crisis, trampled human rights, and endangered the country's drinking water supply. Questioning Sloan about its financing of companies that build pipelines including the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in South Dakota and the Keystone XL Pipeline, Ocasio-Cortez asked whether his bank should be held responsible for the environmental havoc wreaked by its investments. Despite warnings from the Lakota Sioux about the danger of building DAPL, Ocasio-Cortez said, "it was built anyway, and has leaked at least five times." "The Keystone XL in particular had one leak that sent 210,000 gallons across South Dakota," she added. "Why shouldn't the bank be held responsible for the clean-up of disasters of these projects?" And then @RepAOC shifts to asking about #WellsFargo's role in the Dakota Access Pipeline#NoDAPL — Alexis Goldstein (@alexisgoldstein) March 12, 2019 When Sloan attempted to deny that the leaks have happened—despite easily accessible information to the contrary—Ocasio-Cortez humored him. "So hypothetically, if there was a leak from the Dakota Access Pipeline, why shouldn't Wells Fargo pay for the clean-up of it if it paid for the construction of the pipeline itself?" she asked.

Takeaways from Trump budget: CFPB reform, FHA fees and student loans - — The Trump administration is seeking to add three regulatory bodies created in the aftermath of the crisis to the congressional appropriations process.As part of the president's proposed 2020 budget released, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Financial Stability Oversight Council and Office of Financial Research — which now set their funding levels independently — would have to go to Congress every year with a budget request.  The budget, which is more of a policy document than an accurate picture of funding levels, would also charge a fee to lenders issuing Federal Housing Administration-backed loans to help offset the cost of technology upgrades at the FHA, and force colleges and universities to share the government's risk in backing student loans. Here are takeaways from the budget for financial services providers:  The president’s budget proposes subjecting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the appropriations process.The Dodd-Frank Act created the CFPB as an independent bureau of the Federal Reserve and established that it would be funded primarily through transfers from the Fed. Republican lawmakers have sought to reform the CFPB’s funding every year since the bureau was created, in 2011, by proposing to add the agency to congressional appropriations. The president’s budget proposes much of the same. Yet it is unlikely that Congress — particularly the Democratic-controlled House — would enact such a measure.“The Budget proposes legislation to restructure the CFPB. Restructuring is required to ensure appropriate congressional oversight and to refocus CFPB's efforts on enforcing the law,” the budget stated. “The Budget proposes to limit CFPB's mandatory funding in 2019 to allow for an efficient transition period and bring a newly streamlined agency into the regular discretionary appropriations process beginning in 2020.” Still, it appears that the president’s budget for the CFPB is far more generous than the budget released in February by CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger. Trump’s budget calls $636 million in funding this year, compared with $533 million estimated by Kraninger. Kraninger, a Trump appointee who has been in the job for two months, plans to slash the CFPB’s budget by roughly 4% this year and 9% in 2020. The White House is also calling on Congress to establish funding levels for the Treasury Department’s Financial Stability Oversight Council and Office of Financial Research, which currently set their own budget levels. Both entities have been funded through assessments on certain bank holding companies with total consolidated assets of $50 billion or more and nonbank financial companies supervised by the Federal Reserve. “OFR and FSOC, established by the Dodd-Frank Act, are currently able to set their own budgets, which circumvents congressional approval and oversight,” the budget says. “Bringing OFR and FSOC into the congressional appropriations process is consistent with recommendations made in Treasury’s June 2017 report to the President on banks and credit unions.”

CFPB’s Kraninger grilled over payday, military lending - Lawmakers grilled Kathy Kraninger, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Tuesday over the agency's decisions to overhaul the payday lending rule and to stop examining financial firms for compliance with the Military Lending Act. In her first appearance before the Senate Banking Committee since being sworn in three months ago, the bureau head was also pressed about her failure to take action on student loan debt. Although Kraninger has made fewer waves in her short tenure than her predecessor, former acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, she has continued to face close scrutiny from consumer groups and Democrats concerned about the agency's future under Republican control. At the hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., criticized the steep drop-off in enforcement actions since the GOP took control of the agency. Asked how many lawsuits the CFPB has filed against student lenders, Kraninger demurred, saying she didn't have "the specific answer to that question." “The public record seems to show zero,” Warren replied. “Not one single action.” That compares with 50 cases filed against student loan companies, which led to the recovery of $712 million for consumers under former CFPB Director Richard Cordray, an Obama appointee, Warren noted. Warren raised similar concerns about a lack of discrimination lawsuits at the agency under Mulvaney and Kraninger, along with a drastically reduced caseload on credit reporting and debt collection issues. She also raised broader concerns with Kraninger's leadership at the bureau, saying she's failed to live up to its mission. "You are supposed to be the cop on the beat, but you are only watching out for the crooks who are cheating American consumers," Warren said. "If you had any decency you'd either do your job or resign."

Warren drops CRA mandate for credit unions as part of housing bill — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., dropped a requirement that credit unions face Community Reinvestment Act obligations from a revamped affordable housing bill introduced on Wednesday. The 2020 presidential hopeful reintroduced her legislation called the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, originally introduced in September 2018, but removed the contentious provision that had won praise from bankers but sparked fierce opposition from credit unions. Credit unions were quick to claim victory on the latest bill, offering their support for the revised version. “The legislation rejects a one-size-fits-all approach by explicitly excluding credit unions from the Community Reinvestment Act and instead codifying the already existing community outreach, input, and oversight policies that credit unions have been abiding by for more than 20 years under National Credit Union Administration regulations,” Jim Nussle, president and chief executive of the Credit Union National Association, said in a letter to Warren. The revised bill would still extend CRA to cover "more non-bank mortgage companies," according to a summary released Wednesday. It would also invest billions of dollars into affordable housing trust funds. Those include $445 billion into the Housing Trust Fund and $25 billion in the Capital Magnet Fund. Additionally, the bill would prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status and source of income, among other things. Warren’s legislation faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. It is co-sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and 15 House Democrats, but no congressional Republicans have signed on.

 Fed’s Brainard offers glimpse of what revamped CRA could look like Federal Reserve OCC FDIC Print Reprint WASHINGTON — A Federal Reserve Board governor detailed possible steps forward on reforming the Community Reinvestment Act, including an updated approach to CRA assessment boundaries, revising how banks are tested for community development activities and tailoring certain CRA requirements based on bank size. Gov. Lael Brainard said one idea under discussion is allowing banks "of a certain scale" to have separate assessment areas for their retail activities and community development activities. The aim is to recognize activities beyond a bank's branch network — the traditional CRA assessment boundary — while still prioritizing activities within that network. “By creating separate assessment areas for retail and community development activities, we believe that banks would continue to place their community at the center of their retail lending and service activities while participating in meaningful community development opportunities that may have greater impact due to their broader reach,” she said in a speech Tuesday to a conference of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. The Fed, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. have struggled to develop a joint CRA reform plan, but Brainard's comments appeared to give a glimpse into their discussions. She said some of the ideas on the table have been triggered by public comments responding to the OCC's advance notice of proposed rulemaking on reforming CRA policy. In addition to separate assessment lines for retail and community developments activities, Brainard also raised the idea of a "comprehensive" test for community development. In large-bank CRA assessments, community development loans currently fall under the lending test but community development investments are judged in a separate category. Spreading those activities across separate tests can lead to "distortions," Brainard said. Currently, the large-bank performance tests might actually be preventing community development, Brainard noted. .. Brainard said separate assessment areas and performance tests for retail versus community development could make it easier for regulators to streamline CRA exams banks of different sizes and business approaches... She also raised the prospect of a more flexible definition of lower-income communities for the purposes of CRA-related activities.

 FHFA chief-to-be's top priority- More capital for Fannie, Freddie — Despite recent speculation that the White House and Federal Housing Finance Agency were planning a dramatic shake-up of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, observers say the nominee poised to run the FHFA will have a more targeted agenda on the job. Some experts expect Mark Calabria, an administration official who could be confirmed as early as this month, to prioritize a plan for letting the government-sponsored enterprises retain more capital once he takes the helm of the agency. Greater capital retention would most likely be achieved by the Treasury Department and FHFA renegotiating the agreement requiring Fannie and Freddie to hand over profits to pay for their bailouts — to allow the GSEs to retain more of their earnings. Mark Calabria, chief economist for Vice President Mike Pence "I support the concept of having significantly more capital at the GSEs," Mark Calabria said at his FHFA nomination hearing last month. Blooomberg News “Our expectation would be that there would be capital retention, but that that’s not a day one action and there is probably something collective that will be proposed by the administration, of which capital retention is going to be part of that,” said Bose George, a managing director at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Calabria, currently a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence, is also expected to continue policy initiatives already in process. This includes completing the rollout of an integrated mortgage security for Fannie and Freddie as well as a common securitization platform, and finalizing a rulemaking imposing risk-based capital requirements on the two mortgage companies for whenever they re-enter the private sector.  But most notably, all signs indicate Calabria wants to end or at least alter the government's "net worth sweep" requirements for Fannie and Freddie that were implemented in 2012. That agreement requires Fannie and Freddie to deliver nearly all of their profits to the Treasury Department and has left the mortgage giants with a thin capital cushion of $3 billion each.

 Housing finance reform bill coming by 2020- Crapo — The Senate Banking Committee is planning to tackle legislative reform of the government-sponsored enterprises in the current congressional term, said Chairman Mike Crapo. "We're going to be moving on to housing finance reform in this Congress and we're going to need your help,” Crapo said at a government affairs conference hosted by the Credit Union National Association. It still remains to be seen whether lawmakers can strike a deal on GSE reform after the failure of previous legislative attempts. Crapo, an Idaho Republican, released a plan in February that recommended turning Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into private guarantors, allowing other private guarantors to compete with the GSEs and positioning Ginnie Mae as a new government backstop. The current congressional term will last until the end of 2020. “A major priority is addressing our broken housing finance, which is the last significant piece to be addressed since the financial crisis,” Crapo said during a speech Tuesday. Crapo also pledged to preserve the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in any legislative solution. Some have expressed concerns that privatizing housing finance may eliminate or limit long-term mortgage options for consumers. He noted that fixing the system has been “one of his priorities since 2013,” and that it was “unfortunate” that the issue “remains unsolved so many years later.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration has signaled its intent to move sooner on changes to Fannie and Freddie that could be carried out under existing authority granted to the Treasury Department and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. “I would say that the administration is equally committed to dealing with housing finance reform this year,"

Strong home buying season boosts mortgage defect risk- First American - A strong spring home purchase season is likely to further increase mortgage loan application defect risk, which already spiked in the past two months, according to First American. In January, the First American Loan Application Defect Index rose four points from December to 91, the highest it has been since July 2014. The index was 83 for January 2018. "The overall rise in purchase and refinance applications, coupled with strong first-time homebuyer demand and tight inventory, bodes well for an early spring home buying season, but may contribute to further increases in defect risk. Historically, purchase transactions tend to be more at risk of defects, fraud and misrepresentation, and the pressures resulting from rising demand and a strong sellers' market compounds that risk," Mark Fleming, First American's chief economist, said in a press release. "When home values are rising and the housing market is competitive, more buyers want to enter in the market. As a result, misrepresentation and fraud are more likely on a loan application." The overall fraud index has been on the rise since July 2018, but that was partially due to natural disasters and can only explain the rise through November, he said. The 10-point increase over the past two months is likely a result of the decline in interest rates in December and January. "Prospective homebuyers and existing homeowners reacted to the lower rates, resulting in a mini-boom in mortgage applications, both purchase and refinance," said Fleming. Refinance applications have a lower fraud risk than purchases. "As mortgage rates rise, fewer people refinance, so the share of less risky refinance loan transactions decreases and the share of more risky purchase transactions increases," he said.  The purchase defect index rose five points from December to 95 and is now at its highest since October 2014. There was a four-point increase in the refinance increase index to 83. 

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Latest Weekly Survey -- From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications increased 2.3 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending March 8, 2019. ... The Refinance Index decreased 0.2 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 4 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 6 percent compared with the previous week and was 2 percent higher than the same week one year ago. “Led by a 5.5 percent increase in FHA loan applications, purchase activity picked up last week and was almost 2 percent higher than a year ago,” said Joel Kan, Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase applications have now increased year-over-year for four weeks, which signals healthy demand entering the busy spring buying season. However, the pick-up in the average loan size continues, with the average balance reaching another record high. With more inventory in their price range compared to first-time buyers, move-up and higher-end buyers continue to have strong success finding a home.”The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 4.64 percent from 4.67 percent, with points increasing to 0.47 from 0.44 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990. Rates would have to fall further for a significant increase in refinance activity.  The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 2% year-over-year.

Mortgage Rates and Ten Year Yield - With the ten year yield falling to 2.6%, and based on an historical relationship, 30-year rates should currently be around 4.4%.  As of yesterday, Mortgage News Daily reported: Mortgage Rates Drop to New 14-Month Lows Mortgage rates dropped convincingly today, bringing them to new long-term lows. The average lender hasn't offered anything lower for more than a year (January 2018). The improvement came on a combination of news headlines, economic data, and the scheduled sale of US 10yr Treasury debt. [30YR FIXED - 4.375% - 4.5%]The graph shows the relationship between the monthly 10 year Treasury Yield and 30 year mortgage rates from the Freddie Mac survey. Currently the 10 year Treasury yield is at 2.62%, and 30 year mortgage rates were at 4.41% according to the Freddie Mac survey last week.To fall to 4% on the Freddie Mac survey, and based on the historical relationship, the Ten Year yield would have to fall to around 2.1% To increase to 5% (on the Freddie Mac survey), based on the historical relationship, the Ten Year yield would have to increase to about 3.3%.

New Home Sales Down in January, Worse Than Forecast -  This morning's release of the January New Home Sales from the Census Bureau came in at 607K, down 6.9% month-over-month from a revised 652K in December. Here is the opening from the report:Data collection and processing were delayed for this indicator release due to the lapse in federal funding from December 22, 2018 through January 25, 2019. Processing and data quality were monitored and no systematic issues were identified.Sales of new single‐family houses in January 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 607,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 6.9 percent (±16.3 percent)* below the revised December rate of 652,000 and is 4.1 percent (±14.0 percent)* below the January 2018 estimate of 633,000.The median sales price of new houses sold in January 2019 was $317,200. The average sales price was $373,100. [Full Report]For a longer-term perspective, here is a snapshot of the data series, which is produced in conjunction with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The data since January 1963 is available in the St. Louis Fed's FRED repository here. We've included a six-month moving average to highlight the trend in this highly volatile series.

New Home Sales decreased to 607,000 Annual Rate in January - Note: This release is for January (this was delayed due to the government shutdown). The February report is scheduled for March 29th. The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 607 thousand. The previous three months were revised down significantly. "Sales of new single‐family houses in January 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 607,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 6.9 percent below the revised December rate of 652,000 and is 4.1 percent below the January 2018 estimate of 633,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. New Home Sales, Months of SupplyThe months of supply increased in January to 6.6 months from 6.3 months in December. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is above the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). "The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of January was 336,000. This represents a supply of 6.6 months at the current sales rate." Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is a little low. New Home Sales, NSAThe last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In January 2018 (red column), 45 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 48 thousand homes were sold in January. The all time high for January was 92 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for January was 21 thousand in 2011.

A few Comments on January New Home Sales -  First, this report was for January; the February report will be released on March 29th.   New home sales for January were reported at 607,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). This was below the consensus forecast, however the three previous months were revised up. With these revisions, sales increased 2.3% in 2018 compared to 2017.   I expect sales to be around the same level in 2019 as in 2018 (not fall off a cliff), and my guess is we haven't seen the peak of this cycle yet. Months of inventory is now above the top of the normal range, however the number of units completed and under construction is still somewhat low.   Inventory will be something to watch very closely. This graph shows new home sales for 2018 and 2019 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). Sales in January were down 2.4% year-over-year compared to January 2018. The comparison will be most difficult in Q1. And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales. Now I'm looking for the gap to close over the next several years. The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through January 2019. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales. The gap has persisted even though distressed sales are down significantly, since new home builders have focused on more expensive homes. I still expect this gap to slowly close. However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. If not, then the gap will persist. However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. If not, then the gap will persist.

63% Of Millennial Homeowners Have Regrets About Their Purchase, Survey Finds - Millennial homeownership has collapsed. About 1 in 3 millennials owned a home as of 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's a nine percentage point drop than baby boomer homeownership rates at ages 25 to 34, signaling the American dream is becoming less affordable. Even millennials who own homes are having second thoughts. A little more than two-thirds, or 63%, of millennials regret buying their home, according to a new Bankrate survey. Overall, 44% of homeowners said they had regrets about buying a home while 56% had no buyer’s remorse. Homeowners (18%) cited unexpected maintenance bills that strained their finances, with more than 25% of millennials echoing similar thoughts, the survey found. Allocating funds to cover expenses can be challenging for millennials after making a sizable down payment and covering closing costs, says Luis Rosa, a financial planner in Nevada. “When you buy a house, you can’t call the maintenance company or a landlord to fix major issues; it’s all on you,” Rosa told Bankrate, adding that these expenses, such as a new air conditioner, refrigerator, water heater, and or roof, often take first-time millennial buyers by shock. “I always advise homebuyers to create savings buckets and open a savings account that can collect interest that’s set aside specifically for housing repairs.” About 79% of Americans believe that homeownership is a large segment of the American dream, ahead of retirement (68%), having a strong career (63%) and owning an automobile (58%), the Bankrate survey found.Although Americans view homeownership as a desirable goal, most cannot afford to own due to an affordability crisis, stagnant wage growth, and too much debt.

Mortgage Equity Withdrawal slightly positive in Q4 --Note: This is not Mortgage Equity Withdrawal (MEW) data from the Fed. The last MEW data from Fed economist Dr. Kennedy was for Q4 2008.  The following data is calculated from the Fed's Flow of Funds data (released last week) and the BEA supplement data on single family structure investment. This is an aggregate number, and is a combination of homeowners extracting equity - hence the name "MEW" - and normal principal payments and debt cancellation (modifications, short sales, and foreclosures).For Q4 2018, the Net Equity Extraction was a positive $1 billion, or a 0.0% of Disposable Personal Income (DPI) . This graph shows the net equity extraction, or mortgage equity withdrawal (MEW), results, using the Flow of Funds (and BEA data) compared to the Kennedy-Greenspan method.Note: This data is impacted by debt cancellation and foreclosures, but much less than a few years ago.MEW has been positive for 9 of the last 11 quarters. With a slower rate of debt cancellation, MEW will likely be mostly positive going forward - but nothing like during the housing bubble.The Fed's Flow of Funds report showed that the amount of mortgage debt outstanding increased by $56 billion in Q4.The Flow of Funds report also showed that Mortgage debt has declined by $0.36 trillion since the peak.

US construction spending up 1.3% in January -- Spending on U.S. construction projects in January posted the biggest gain in nine months, as strength in nonresidential construction and government projects offset continued weakness in home construction. The Commerce Department says that construction spending rose 1.3 percent in January following two months of declines. It was the biggest gain since spending was up 1.7 percent in April. Spending on residential projects fell 0.3 percent in January, the sixth consecutive monthly decline for a sector that was hurt last year by rising mortgage rates and higher home building costs. Spending on nonresidential construction increased 0.8 percent in January with spending on office buildings, hotels and the category that covers shopping centers all showing gains. Spending on government projects jumped 4.9 percent, the biggest increase since March 2004. The January strength reflected a 4.9 percent rise in spending on state and local building projects and a 4.2 percent rise in federal construction spending. It pushed total public construction spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $313.6 billion, the highest level since September 2010. The 1.3 percent overall gain pushed total spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.28 trillion. The weakness in home construction in January reflected a 0.7 percent fall in spending on single-family homes which was partially offset by a 1.4 percent rise in the smaller apartment sector. Home construction has been weak over the past year, falling at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter. That helped lower overall growth in the fourth quarter to a rate of 2.6 percent. Economists believe growth has slowed further to around 1.5 percent in the current quarter as the U.S. economy feels the effects of a global slowdown. 

Construction Spending increased in January - From the Census Bureau reported that overall construction spending decreased in December: Construction spending during January 2019 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,279.6 billion, 1.3 percent above the revised December estimate of $1,263.1 billion. The January figure is 0.3 percent above the January 2018 estimate of $1,276.3 billion. Both private and public spending increased: Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $966.0 billion, 0.2 percent above the revised December estimate of $964.2 billion. ... In January, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $313.6 billion, 4.9 percent above the revised December estimate of $299.0 billion.This graph shows private residential and nonresidential construction spending, and public spending, since 1993. Note: nominal dollars, not inflation adjusted. Private residential spending had been increasing - although has declined recently - and is still 25% below the bubble peak. Non-residential spending is 10% above the previous peak in January 2008 (nominal dollars). Public construction spending is now 4% below the peak in March 2009, and 20% above the austerity low in February 2014. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in construction spending. On a year-over-year basis, private residential construction spending is down 6%. Non-residential spending is up 2% year-over-year. Public spending is up 8% year-over-year. This was above consensus expectations, however spending for November and December were revised down.

Residential Spending Slumps For 6th Straight Month As Infrastructure Spending Soars Most Since 2003 - The headline construction spending print was celebrated, rising a better-than-expected 1.3% MoM (the most since April 2018) in January, but below the surface the story is notably mixed. Private Residential building spending dropped 0.3% MoM - the sixth straight monthly decline (and private residential home improvement spending fell 0.3% in Jan. to $181.3b). But the headline was saved by a surge in non-residential building spending of 2.4% MoM - the biggest jump since Jan 2016. @Takis2910 also noted that this month's headline construction data is upwardly biased thanks to heavy downward revisions going back several months and in fact adjusted for inflation, real total construction spending is down 4.7% YoY - "ominous" as he notes... And it was government spending that rescued the headline as public construction rose 4.9% in Jan - the largest increase since March 2004. Government construction spending was 24.5% of total in Jan thanks to a massive surge in infrastructure spending on Highway and Street improvements... So, the summary of today's construction spending data is that non-governmental spending is extremely weak (the biggest YoY drop since Dec 2010), signaling a lack of confidence... ...and only government-spending is saving the economy.

State Of The World's Biggest Debt Slaves- Americans Wimp Out In Just 11th Place - Americans are infamous for their eagerness to spend money they don’t have. A whole industry has grown up around making that happen, from payday lenders to the government that guarantees or insures a large portion of the mortgages so that lenders and investors don’t have to carry the risk. Consumer debt is turned into asset-backed securities, from government-guaranteed mortgage-backed securities to subprime-auto-loan-backed securities whose top tranches carry an AA-rating or even a AAA-rating. It all worked out. But then came the moment when Americans deleveraged, mostly by defaulting on their debts, particularly their mortgage debts, which triggered the US Financial Crisis and then the Global Financial Crisis. The world should have learned a lesson, but no. Who has learned a lesson? American consumers whose household debt in relationship to US GDP has continued to decline. US household debt inched down to 76.4% of GDP in the third quarter 2018, according to the newest batch of global data from the Bank for International Settlements. This was the lowest level since 2002. It put Americans in the inexplicably wimpy, and for the finance sector, insufferable 11th place: Even at the peak just before the Financial Crisis, American household debt never quite reached 100% of GDP. This is important as we move on to the winners on this list. UK households also deleveraged after the Financial Crisis, with the UK banking system kept upright only by massive bailouts and the nationalization of some banks. But recently, household debt as percent of GDP has been ticking up, reaching 86.5%, which put the UK into 10th place: This ratio is a function of two factors: Household debt measured in local currency and the size of the economy measured by nominal local-currency GDP. This ratio cancels out inflation. When household debt grows more slowly than nominal GDP, the ratio declines. When household debt grows faster than GDP, the ratio increases, and consumers are becoming an ever-riskier part of the financial system. Then there is Sweden. Swedish households used to be notoriously debt-averse, like German households, and their household-debt-to-GDP ratio remained below 50% until 2001. But then someone figured out how to fix that, and suddenly, Swedes went on a phenomenal borrowing binge, and the household-debt-to-GDP ratio nearly doubled over those years to 88.5%, earning them the 9th place in the debt-slave competition:

Retail Sales increased 0.2% in January - On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 0.2 percent from December to January (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 2.3 percent from January 2018.From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for January 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $504.4 billion, an increase of 0.2 percent from the previous month, and 2.3 percent  above January 2018.  … The November 2018 to December 2018 percent change was revised from down 1.2 percent to down 1.6 percent.This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline).Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 0.4% in January.The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993.  Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 3.1% on a YoY basis. The increase in January was slightly above expectations, however sales in November and December were revised down significantly.

January Retail Sales: Up 0.2% MoM - The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for January was released Monday morning. Headline sales came in at 0.2% month-over-month to one decimal and was better than the forecast of 0.0%.Core sales (ex Autos) came in at 0.90% MoM (to two decimals).Here is the introduction from today's report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for January 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $504.4 billion, an increase of 0.2 percent (±0.5 percent)* from the previous month, and 2.3 percent (±0.7 percent) above January 2018. Total sales for the November 2018 through January 2019 period were up 2.6 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The November 2018 to December 2018 percent change was revised from down 1.2 percent (±0.5 percent) to down 1.6 percent (±0.3 percent).Retail trade sales were up 0.2 percent (±0.5 percent)* from December 2018, and 1.9 percent (±0.5 percent) above last year. Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers were up 8.7 percent (±2.3 percent) from January 2018, while nonstore retailers were up 7.3 percent (±2.1 percent) from last year. [view full report] The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

Negative Nov. and Dec. revisions overwhelm positive January retail sales -- The initial spin on this morning’s delayed retail sales report for January has been positive, with for example the Wall Street Journal calling it a “rebound” and “a sign of solid economic momentum in the first quarter.” Ummmmm, No. Both nominally and in real terms, retails sales did improve by +0.2% in January over December. The problem is, both November and December were revised downward. In particular, December’s initially reported poor -1.2% showing got even worse, to -1.6% nominally. In other words, for the two months combined, retail sales even measured nominally declined by -0.2%.Here’s what they look like in real terms through January:   Because real retail sales tend to lead employment (red in the graph below) with a variable lag on the order of 6-9 months, this downturn in retail sales is more evidence that February’s poor employment report should not simply be dismissed as an outlier On a YoY basis, real retail sales peaked over a year ago. They have sharply decelerated since then all the way to roughly zero. We should expect employment gains to also decelerate, and February’s poor report is consistent with such a deceleration having started.

Consumer Price Index: February Headline at 1.52% - The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the February Consumer Price Index data this morning. The year-over-year non-seasonally adjusted Headline CPI came in at 1.52%, down from 1.55% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 2.08%, down from the previous month's 2.15% and above the Fed's 2% PCE target.  Here is the introduction from the BLS summary, which leads with the seasonally adjusted monthly data: The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis after being unchanged in January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.  The indexes for shelter and food increased, and the gasoline index rose after recent declines to result in the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The food index rose 0.4 percent, its largest monthly increase since May 2014, as both the food at home and food away from home indexes increased. The gasoline index rose 1.5 percent in February, following three consecutive monthly declines, resulting in the energy index rising 0.4 percent despite declines in the electricity and natural gas indexes.  The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.1 percent in February after rising 0.2 percent in January. Along with the shelter index, the indexes for personal care, apparel, and education all increased. The indexes for recreation, medical care, used cars and trucks, and new vehicles all declined in February.  The all items index increased 1.5 percent for the 12 months ending February, a smaller increase than the 1.6-percent rise for the 12-months ending January. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.1 percent over the last 12 months, a slightly smaller figure than the 2.2-percent increase for the period ending January. The food index rose 2.0 percent over the past year, its largest 12-month increase since the period ending April 2015. In contrast, the energy index declined 5.0 percent over the last 12 months. The all items index increased 1.5 percent for the 12 months ending February, a smaller increase than the 1.6-percent rise for the 12-months ending January. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.1 percent over the last 12 months, a slightly smaller figure than the 2.2-percent increase for the period ending January. The food index rose 2.0 percent over the past year, its largest 12-month increase since the period ending April 2015. In contrast, the energy index declined 5.0 percent over the last 12 months. More…] was looking for a 0.2% MoM change in seasonally adjusted Headline CPI and 0.2% in Core CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 2.2% for Headline and 1.6% for Core. The first chart is an overlay of Headline CPI and Core CPI (the latter excludes Food and Energy) since the turn of the century. The highlighted two percent level is the Federal Reserve's Core inflation target for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index.

US Consumer Price Growth Slowest Since Sept 2016 As Auto, Drug Prices Slump - Headline consumer price inflation has now slowed for 6 of the last 7 months and dropped to just +1.5% YoY - the weakest since September 2016, amid falling prices for autos and prescription drugs. Core CPI also slipped once again to its weakest since Feb 2018. Both headline and core CPI printed below expectations.  The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.1 percent in February, its smallest monthly increase since August 2018.  Both Goods and Services saw inflation slowing... Under the hood, it was a mixed picture: The index for personal care increased 0.6 percent in February, its largest monthly increase since April 2018. The apparel index, which rose 1.1 percent in January, increased 0.3 percent in February. The education index increased 0.3 percent, and the indexes for household furnishings and operations, airline fares, tobacco, motor vehicle insurance, and alcoholic beverages also rose in February. The medical care index declined in February, falling 0.2 percent after rising in each of the five previous months. Prescription-drug prices fell 1 percent on a monthly basis, the most on record, bringing the annual decline to 1.2 percent -- the largest drop since 1972. The recreation index declined in February, falling 0.4 percent after rising 0.3 percent in January. The index for used cars and trucks fell 0.7 percent, and the index for new vehicles declined 0.2 percent; both indexes increased the prior month.Finally, the shelter index increased 0.3 percent in February for the fourth consecutive month. The indexes for rent and owners' equivalent rent both rose 0.3 percent, and the index for lodging away from home increased 1.3 percent.The shelter index rose 3.4 percent over the last 12 months, a larger increase than the 3.2-percent increase for the 12 months ending January.   Of course, this is exactly what The Fed wants to see - slowing inflation enabling their "patient" outlook. “With nothing in the outlook demanding an immediate policy response and particularly given muted inflation pressures, the committee has adopted a patient, wait-and-see approach,’’ Fed Chair Powell said in a speech in California.

Key Measures Show Inflation about the same in February as in January on a YoY basis -- The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI and the trimmed-mean CPI this morning:  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% (3.2% annualized rate) in February. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (1.9% annualized rate) during the month. The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) monthly CPI report.  Earlier today, the BLS reported that the seasonally adjusted CPI for all urban consumers rose 0.2% (2.1% annualized rate) in February. The CPI less food and energy rose 0.1% (1.3% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis. Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for February here.

 February Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Up 0.1% MoM - Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand edged up 0.1 percent in February, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Final demand prices fell 0.1 percent in both January and December. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index moved up 1.9 percent for the 12 months ended in February.In February, the increase in the final demand index can be traced to a 0.4-percent rise in prices for final demand goods. The index for final demand services was unchanged. The index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services inched up 0.1 percent in February following a 0.2-percent advance in January. For the 12 months ended in February, prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services climbed 2.3 percent. More… The BLS shifted its focus to its new "Final Demand" series in 2014, a shift we support. However, the data for these series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.As the next chart shows, the Core Producer Price Index is far more volatile than the Core Consumer Price Index. For example, during the last recession producers were unable to pass cost increases to the consumer.

U.S. wholesale prices ticked up 0.1% in February — U.S. wholesale prices barely increased last month after falling for three straight months, a sign there is little inflation pressure in the economy. The producer price index — which measures price changes before they reach the consumer — rose 0.1 percent in February, the Labor Department said Wednesday. It slipped 0.1 percent in January. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, core producer prices also rose 0.1 percent. Wholesale prices increased 1.9 percent from a year earlier, and core prices rose 2.5 percent.Despite an unemployment rate near a five-decade low and faster wage growth, inflation is tame. The consumer price index, released Tuesday, increased just 1.5 percent in February from a year ago. Mild inflation is a major reason the Federal Reserve has paused its interest rate hikes.The Fed lifted rates four times last year, but Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has since emphasized that the central bank sees little need to lift rates now and will monitor incoming data for any signs of rising inflation.Last month’s increase was driven by more expensive gas, pricier plane tickets and a jump in hotel costs, which rose by the most in nearly a decade of record-keeping.Food costs fell, led by a 12.8 percent drop in prices of fresh and dry vegetables, and cheaper frozen foods and chickens.Wholesale price increases have slowed in the past year. Twelve months ago, the producer price index rose 2.8 percent from a year earlier, nearly a full percentage point higher than last month’s pace.

US Producer Price Growth Slows To 20-Month Lows - Following disappointing (for inflationists) CPI data earlier in the week, US producer prices also rose at a slower than expected rate in February. While Final Demand PPI printed as expected at +1.9% YoY, that is the weakest growth in prices since June 2017 (and back below the key Fed-mandated 2.00%)... Core PPI (ex Food and Energy) slowed more than expected (+2.5% YoY vs +2.6% YoY exp).

  • The index for final demand services was unchanged in February .
  • The index for final demand goods increased 0.4 percent in February following three consecutive declines.

Over 80 percent of the advance can be traced to prices for final demand energy, which rose 1.8 percent. The index for final demand goods less foods and energy edged up 0.1 percent. Conversely, prices for final demand foods fell 0.3 percent. Forty percent of the increase in the index for final demand goods is attributable to a 3.3- percent rise in gasoline prices. The indexes for diesel fuel, jet fuel, integrated microcircuits, residual fuels, and beef and veal also moved higher. In contrast, prices for fresh and dry vegetables declined 12.8 percent. The indexes for iron and steel scrap and for residential natural gas also decreased.In February, prices for traveler accommodation services rose 5.3 percent. The indexes for machinery, equipment, parts, and supplies wholesaling; food retailing; portfolio management; and legal services also moved higher. Conversely, margins for fuels and lubricants retailing fell 10.5 percent. The indexes for apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing; airline passenger services; health, beauty, and optical goods retailing; and nonresidential real estate services also declined.More comforting data for The Fed to remain "patient" - the question is, is 'bad' news still good news for the stock market?

February 2019 Import Price Year-over-Year Inflation Now -1.3%: Written by Steven Hansen Year-over-year import prices and export prices grew insignificantly with import prices still contracting year-over-year. The month-over-month price index for fuel imports increased (and non-fuel imports was unchanged) - and the price index for agricultural exports increased. Import Oil prices were up 4.9 % month-over-month, and export agricultural prices were up 0.3%.

  • with import prices down 1.3 % year-over-year;
  • and export prices up 0.6 % year-over-year..
  • the markets were expecting (from Econoday):

There is only a marginal correlation between economic activity, recessions, and export/import prices. Prices can be rising or falling going into a recession or entering a period of expansion. Econintersect follows this data series to adjust economic activity for the effects of inflation where there are clear relationships. Econintersect follows this series to adjust data for inflation.

LA area Port Traffic Down Year-over-year in February -- Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.

Imports drop to annual lows with tariff hike on hold  - Brief:

  • U.S. ports this month are expected to see their lowest import numbers since about a year ago, as trade hits its annual slowdown between peak seasons and the tariff hike is on hold, according to the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
  • 1.89 million TEUs came through U.S. ports in January, the latest month numbers are available. This was down 3.7% from the previous month, but up 7.4% year-over-year.
  • NRF and Hackett are forecasting 1.59 million TEUs will flow through ports in March. This is up 3.2% year-over-year, but marks the lowest level of imports since last April.

The data from the National Retail Federation provide key insights into the retail supply chain that will help inform critical business decisions, especially as we move into a global economic slowdown and potential recession. The overlying cyclicality and seasonality of retail merchandise, coupled with quickly changing consumer tastes, is forcing supply chain managers to work with suppliers and logistics providers to shorten product development and manufacturing times and tighten logistical operations. Changes in customer demand, driving change in sales and operations planning, will continue to flatten out those seasonal amplifications as supply and demand continue to align. The politics of U.S. tariffs on imports from China, and China’s retaliatory approach, have created economic uncertainty with increased costs, changes in suppliers, additional risk and indecision in the planning and execution in all levels of the supply chain. It looks now the trade war with China will end with a whimper in the next month or so, causing parties on all sides to lick their wounds and move on. The next politically motivated trade war may be met with less seriousness and a delayed reaction.

Industrial Production Increased 0.1% in February -- From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization Industrial production edged up 0.1 percent in February after decreasing 0.4 percent in January. Manufacturing production fell 0.4 percent in February for its second consecutive monthly decline. The index for utilities rose 3.7 percent, while the index for mining moved up 0.3 percent. At 109.7 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 3.5 percent higher in February than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector edged down 0.1 percentage point in February to 78.2 percent, a rate that is 1.6 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2018) average.This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up 11.5 percentage points from the record low set in June 2009 (the series starts in 1967). Capacity utilization at 78.2% is 1.6% below the average from 1972 to 2017 and below the pre-recession level of 80.8% in December 2007. Note: y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change. Industrial ProductionThe second graph shows industrial production since 1967. Industrial production increased in February to 109.7. This is 26% above the recession low, and 4.1% above the pre-recession peak. The increase in industrial production and decrease in capacity utilization were below consensus.

Headline Durable Goods Orders Up 0.4% in January -- The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders:New orders for manufactured durable goods in January increased $0.9 billion or 0.4 percent to $255.3 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up three consecutive months, followed a 1.3 percent December increase. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 0.1 percent. Excluding defense, new orders increased 0.7 percent. Transportation equipment, up five of the last six months, drove the increase, $1.0 billion or 1.2 percent to $90.9 billion. Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at 0.4% month-over-month (MoM) was better than the consensus of -0.5%. The series is up 8.4% year-over-year (YoY). If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods came in at -0.1% MoM, which was worse than the Investing.comconsensus of 0.1%. The core measure is up 4.5% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is up 0.4% MoM and up 2.3% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 0.8% MoM and up 4.1% YoY.For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

Core Durable Goods Orders Slipped In January But Core Capex Jumped - Headline durable goods orders beat expectations notably in preliminary (delayed) January data (rising 0.4% MoM vs expectations of a 0.4% decline), however, excluding transportation-equipment demand, which is volatile and can move wildly on large orders in any given period, orders fell 0.1% - confirming the last six months of very modest growth (if any). On the bright side, non-military capital goods orders excluding aircraft - a proxy for business investment - notably outperformed expectations - rising 0.8% MoM vs +0.2% expectations - the biggest jump since July. As Bloomberg notes, the improvement in demand, underscored by orders for machinery and communications equipment, suggests a solid start to the year for manufacturers that should support economic growth in the first quarter. At the same time, other data for February give a more muted picture, with the Institute for Supply Management’s factory index falling to a two-year low in February and manufacturers adding the fewest workers since 2017. Finally, we note that amid the ongoing Boeing debacle, total durable-goods orders, which gained 0.4 percent from December, got a boost from the volatile transportation category, reflecting a 15.9 percent rise in bookings for civilian aircraft and parts. Separate data showed Boeing’s aircraft orders fell in January to less than a quarter of the prior month’s total. 

Boeing Crapification: Second 737 Max Plane Within Five Months Crashes Just After Takeoff - Yesterday, an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 passengers on board.The crash occurred  less than five months after a Lion Air jet crashed near Jakarta, Indonesia, also shortly after takeoff, and killed all 189 passengers.Both jets were Boeing’s latest 737 Max 8 model.The Wall Street Journal reports in Ethiopian Crash Carries High Stakes for Boeing, Growing African Airline:The state-owned airline is among the early operators of Boeing’s new 737 MAX single-aisle workhorse aircraft, which has been delivered to carriers around the world since 2017. The 737 MAX represents about two-thirds of Boeing’s future deliveries and an estimated 40% of its profits, according to analysts.Having delivered 350 of the 737 MAX planes as of January, Boeing has booked orders for about 5,000 more, many to airlines in fast-growing emerging markets around the world.The voice and data recorders for the doomed flight have already been recovered, the New York Times reported in Ethiopian Airline Crash Updates: Data and Voice Recorders Recovered. Investigators will soon be able to determine whether the same factors that caused the Lion Air crash also caused the latest Ethiopian Airlines tragedy. Yves wrote a post in November, Boeing, Crapification, and the Lion Air Crash, analyzing a devastating Wall Street Journal report on that earlier crash. I will not repeat the details of  her post here, but instead encourage interested readers to read it iin full. The key point I want to pick up on from that earlier post is this: the Boeing 737 Max includes a new “safety” feature  about which the company failed to inform the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As Yves wrote: The short version of the story is that Boeing had implemented a new “safety” feature that operated even when its plane was being flown manually, that if it went into a stall, it would lower the nose suddenly to pick airspeed and fly normally again. However, Boeing didn’t tell its buyers or even the FAA about this new goodie. It wasn’t in pilot training or even the manuals. But even worse, this new control could force the nose down so far that it would be impossible not to crash the plane

Trump- Making Daylight Saving Time Permanent Is O.K. With Me! -- President Trump has come out in support of a radical policy change that would likely find favor among millions of exhausted Americans: Making Daylight Saving Time permanent. Support for ditching Daylight Saving Time (Saving not Savings) has been gaining popularity in recent years, as studies have shown that it's not helpful for farmers and doesn't conserve energy (which is why many Americans believe we use it), prompting many to wonder why we use it in the first place (the US adopted across the country after World War II). Studies have also shown that the shift leads to an increase in car accidents, heart attacks and strokes also climb, according to the Chicago Tribune. But staying on DST would have the same result: avoiding the annoying time shifts. Wall Street traders would no doubt appreciate the extra hour of overlap with London markets that would accompany making DST permanent. Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 11, 2019   Trump's tweet follows a story in the New York Times, published last week, that proposes making this time change our last. Lawmakers in California have proposed making Daylight Saving permanent.  Compelled by the augustly named federal Uniform Time Act of 1966, most Americans will leap ahead - or stumble blearily - from one configuration of the clock to another this weekend, as daylight saving time clicks in at 2 a.m. Sunday.  But many people are saying it’s time for time to be left alone. State legislatures from New England to the West Coast are considering proposals to end the leaping, clock-shifting confusion of hours lost or gained, and the conundrums it can create. According to the NYT, due to a quirk in a 1966 law, states can vote to remain on standard time all year, but they would need approval from Congress to, as Trump advocated, make Daylight Saving Time permanent. This is why the states of Hawaii and Arizona were able to opt out of Daylight Saving.

Small Business Optimism Index increased slightly in February - CR Note: Most of this survey is noise, but there is some information, especially on the labor market and the "Single Most Important Problem". From the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): February 2019 Report: Small Business Optimism Index The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index improved modestly in February, increasing 0.5 points to 101.7. Views about future business conditions and the current period as a good time to expand improved as did plans to make capital outlays. Earnings trends weakened, as a million laid off workers and others affected by the shutdown cut back on spending...Job creation broke the 45-year record in February with a net addition of 0.52 workers per firm (including those making no change in employment), up from 0.25 in December, and 0.33 in January. The previous record was 0.51 reached in May 1998.Twenty-two percent of owners cited the difficulty of finding qualified workers as their Single Most Important Business Problem, only 3 points below the record high. Thirtyseven percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, up 2 points from January and 2 points below the record high.

NY Fed: Manufacturing "Business activity grew only slightly in New York State" --From the NY Fed: Empire State Manufacturing Survey Manufacturing firms in New York State reported that business activity expanded only slightly. The general business conditions index fell five points to 3.7, its third consecutive monthly reading below 10, suggesting that growth has remained quite a bit slower so far this year than it was for most of 2018. The index for number of employees climbed ten points to 13.8, pointing to an increase in employment levels, though the average workweek index turned negative for the first time since 2016. This was below the consensus forecast.

Small Business Hiring Suggests We May See More Weak Employment Data - Last week we were presented with a fairly cold employment report with the number of job gains being lowest in 18 months and one of the lowest readings in the last decade. The problem is not necessarily the one weak employment report – which did come with at least some bright spots including a lower overall unemployment rate – but the fact that the data has been unquestionably weak across a number of economic indicators from employment to manufacturing activity to durable goods orders (an indicator of capex intentions).In this type of environment, it becomes harder and harder to give bad data a “pass” as a one off statistic. This is especially true when we start to see weak data points being confirmed by more forward looking data, and that is exactly what we saw today in the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) survey.Specifically, it was the small business hiring plans component that caught our attention. It came in at the lowest level in about a year and was a continuation of the sharp drop seen in the January report. This is important because the one year change in the NFIB hiring plans indicator tends to lead year over year changes in both the unemployment rate and initial claims by about four months.

BLS: Job Openings Increased to 7.6 Million in January --Notes: In January there were 7.581 million job openings, and, according to the January Employment report, there were 6.535 million unemployed. So, for the eleventh consecutive month, there were more job openings than people unemployed. Also note that the number of job openings has exceeded the number of hires since January 2015 (4 years).From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover SummaryThe number of job openings was little changed at 7.6 million on the last business day of January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.8 million and 5.6 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate was little changed at 1.1 percent. ...The number of quits was little changed in January at 3.5 million. The quits rate was 2.3 percent. The quits level was little changed for total private but increased for governmentThe following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers.

US Job Opening Soar To All Time High- 1.3 Million More Than Unemployed Workers -  The Fed's dovish U-turn appears in jeopardy again.  After a modest slowdown in job openings which started in September and continued through November, today's JOLTS report - Janet Yellen's favorite labor market indicator - for the month of January  showed an unprecedented surge in job openings across most categories at the start of 2019, with the total number soaring from an upward revised 7.479 million (from 7.335 million), to an all time high 7.581 million, smashing expectations of a 7.225 million print. And thanks to the surge in job openings, this will be the 11th consecutive month in which there were more job openings then unemployed workers: considering that according to the payrolls report there were 6,235MM unemployed workers, there are now exactly 1.346 million more job openings than unemployed workers currently, (how accurate, or politically-biased the BLS data is, is another matter entirely). In other words, in an economy in which there was a perfect match between worker skills and employer needs, there would be zero unemployed people at this moment (of course, that is not the case.)  According to the BLS, job openings increased in a number of industries, with the largest increases in wholesale trade (+91,000), real estate and rental and leasing (+60,000), government (+59,000) and information (+42,000). The job openings level decreased in other services (-98,000), retail trade (-97,000), and arts, entertainment, and recreation (-40,000).Adding to the unexpectedly strong labor picture to close the year, as job openings soared, the number of total hires also increased, rising by 95K in January to just shy of an all time high, and printing at 5.801 million. The hires level was little changed for total private and for government. The number of hires was little changed in all industries and all four regions. According to the historical correlation between the number of hires and the 12 month cumulative job change, the pace of hiring right now is precisely where it should be relative to the cumulative change in hiring. Meanwhile, the so-called "take this job and shove it indicator", the quits level, also confirmed the latest labor market strength, rising by 99K to 3.490MM, and was little changed for total private but increased for government (+20,000). Quits increased in arts, entertainment, and recreation (+19,000) and in state and local government education (+17,000). Quits decreased in federal government (-6,000).Putting all this in in context

  • • Job openings have increased since a low in July 2009. They returned to the prerecession level in March 2014 and
    surpassed the prerecession peak in August 2014. There were 7.6 million open jobs on the last business day of
    January 2019.
    • Hires have increased since a low in June 2009 and have surpassed prerecession levels. In January 2019, there were
    5.8 million hires.
    • Quits have increased since a low in September 2009 and have surpassed prerecession levels. In January 2019, there
    were 3.5 million quits.
    • For most of the JOLTS history, the number of hires (measured throughout the month) has exceeded the number of
    job openings (measured only on the last business day of the month). Since January 2015, however, this relationship
    has reversed with job openings outnumbering hires in most months.
    • At the end of the most recent recession in June 2009, there were 1.1 million more hires throughout the month than
    there were job openings on the last business day of the month. In January 2019, there were 1.8 million fewer hires
    than job openings.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 229,000 -The DOL reported: In the week ending March 9, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 229,000, an increase of 6,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 223,000. The 4-week moving average was 223,750, a decrease of 2,500 from the previous week's unrevised average of 226,250. The previous week was unrevised. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

BLS: Unemployment Rates Higher in 3 states in January; Lower in 3 States -- From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary Unemployment rates were lower in January in 3 states, higher in 3 states, and stable in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today....Iowa and New Hampshire had the lowest unemployment rates in January, 2.4 percent each. The rate in Vermont (2.5 percent) set a new series low. (All state series begin in 1976.) Alaska had the highest jobless rate, 6.5 percent.   This graph shows the number of states (and D.C.) with unemployment rates at or above certain levels since January 1976.  At the worst of the great recession, there were 11 states with an unemployment rate at or above 11% (red). Currently only one state, Alaska, has an unemployment rate at or above 6% (dark blue).  Four states and the D.C. have unemployment rates above 5%; Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico and West Virginia. A total of seven states are at the series low.

Real wage growth continued to improve in February - Now that we have February’s CPI (up +0.2%), let’s update nominal and real wage growth. First, here is a graph of nominal wage growth YoY vs. consumer inflation YoY since the beginning of this expansion almost 10 years ago: First of all, why do I bother with nominal wages? Because employers don’t give out inflation-adjusted salary and wage increases. If they give you a 3% raise, it’s a 3% raise regardless of what happens to inflation. And the long term picture is that nominal wage growth decelerates coming out of recessions until unemployment (or, more likely, underemployment) falls to the point where employees gain a little bargaining power: To return to the first graph, nominal wage growth has been improving YoY since late 2012. Meanwhile CPI has been meandering around a 2% YoY average, depending on what has been happening with gas prices. Since lately these have been stagnant or down YoY, consumer inflation has waned. As a result, real wages have improved considerably in the past year, to the point where they are now exactly -3% off their peak in the early 1970’s: But because aggregate payrolls declined in February, according to the employment report, the aggregate pay that non-managerial workers took home, in real terms, declined by -0.4% in February. In real terms, this amount has increased by 28.2%, down from an increase of 28.6%, more than they earned at the worst point after the Great Recession in October 2009: Neverthelss, real wage growth in general continued to be good news. Be aware, however, that real wage growth is a long *lagging* indicator, that starts up well after a recession bottoms, and can continue even into the next recession.

Where Have All the Men Without College Degrees Gone? In the late 1960s, almost all prime-working-age men, typically defined as 25 to 54, worked—nearly 95 percent. That figure had dipped to 85 percent by 2015—a decline most acutely felt among men without college degrees. The trend of men dropping out of the labor force, particularly non-college-educated men, has been building for more than six decades. It has been a slow withdrawal, but a steady one—a flow that began with a sharp decline in opportunities for men who dropped out of high school, and grew to include those who earned a diploma but not a degree. It’s become something of a ritual to debate the value of a college degree, but as Current Population Survey data show, there has been a sharp decline in employment among non-college-educated men compared with those who have college degrees—or even those who have spent some time in college. As a recent report from the U.S. House Education Committee shows, “Two out of three jobs are filled by individuals who have at least some college education.” Economists have been working to understand the roots of the decline, and have come up with a cadre of theories: Perhaps it’s a case of insufficient wages for jobs that don’t require a degree; or maybe rising incarceration rates are the real culprit (people with criminal records have a harder time getting jobs); or it could be that more jobs that did not require a degree in the past do now.  A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that maybe it’s all of the above and then some—a complex combination of low wages for non-college-degreed jobs; incarceration rates, which are higher among men without degrees; and a sharp decline in marriage rates among less educated men, which may remove an economic incentive to work—all wrapped up into a slowly rolling ball that’s knocking more and more men out of the workforce. Sure, these issues are affecting college-educated men as well, but each of them is felt more acutely by those without degrees.

  Children in Foster Care Prey to Sex Trafficking (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children removed from unfit families and put in foster care are terrifyingly vulnerable to being trafficked, a fact that Amy Andrews knows all too well.  She spun in and out of her abusive family home into the child welfare system, starting when she was 10 years old. By 14, she was selling sex on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, working for traffickers who exploited her naivete and need for attention.  “I’m loved, I’m wanted, I’m cared for, I’m given everything I want and no one blames me,” Andrews said of being trafficked. “And I’m being sexually abused, but I can overlook that. “Nobody wanted me. This set me up to be vulnerable and needy,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. children live in foster care, prey to predator sex traffickers who may find their young victims at bus stops, shopping malls or street corners as well as on social media and online chat rooms. Often removed from abusive or negligent families, girls and boys in foster care are at high risk, said Dorchen Leidholdt, legal center director at Sanctuary for Families, which advocates for domestic violence and sex trafficking survivors. “Traffickers go for our most vulnerable, and kids who are or were in foster care are the most vulnerable children in our society,” Leidholdt told the Foundation.  “These predators know all the signs and look for them.”  Traffickers can tell that “you’re the kid who doesn’t have any family,” said Andrews, who now at age 43 works with trafficking survivors.  Having no one they trust makes children in foster care vulnerable, experts say.

Making America's Kids Smarter - It's So Easy -  A new bill under consideration would adjust the current grading scale, making a score of 85 an A and a score of 70 a B.  - The North Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that would adjust the grading scale used to grade state public schools. House Bill 145, which promotes a 15-point grading scale, passed its first reading in the House on Monday and has been referred to the Committee on Education K-12. The proposed bill would mean higher grades for lower scores by changing the grading scale as follows:
  • A: 100 to 85 percent
  • B: 84 to 70 percent
  • C: 69 to 55 percent
  • D: 54 to 40 percent
  • F: Anything below 40 percent

The old scale was a 10 point scale, meaning students would need to score a 90 for an A, 80 for a B, etc. If passed, the new grading scale would go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.

Grade-Changing Scandal- Judge Orders Baltimore City Schools To Release Documents - A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge has demanded Baltimore City Public Schools to hand over all documents Fox45 requested after Project Baltimore filed a lawsuit against the school system to get documents they believed would provide bombshell evidence of a massive grade-changing scandal. “When I saw the ruling, I was elated because I believe in accountability, and government cannot run amuck,” says Scott Marder, of Thomas & Libowitz, the attorney who represented Fox45 in this lawsuit. Zerohedge readers have been well informed about Project Baltimore's mission to uncover one of the largest grade-changing scandals possibly in the country.The story broke several years ago but has not gained national attention, yet. It all started when Project Baltimore investigated possible grade changing at Northwood Appold Community Academy II, in northeast Baltimore, in August of 2017. Baltimore City Public Schools responded with an internal investigation and found Project Baltimore's allegations were inconclusive.So, Project Baltimore, with probably the backing of the Smith family, the family who controls Sinclair Broadcast Group/Fox45 and has tens of millions of dollars invested in the city, sued the school system and won.“The purpose of a public records law is to hold government accountable. This is an example of that happening, and there needs to be more of it, particularly here with the school system,” says Marder. “It's a tragedy what's happened with our kids. When you look at the numbers, it's extraordinary.” Marder first filed the lawsuit on behalf of Fox45 about 1.5 years ago. City Schools began to slowly hand over more than 10,000 pages of documents. However, many were redacted. In February, the case went to trial. Fox45 points out that the school system regularly asks for increased operating budgets. However, classrooms citywide don't have basic supplies like paper and pencils. Most schools don't have heat or conditioning. Somehow, the school spent more than a hundred thousand dollars to fight Project Baltimore in court, a case that they knew was not winnable.

Trump proposes slashing public education by $7 billion --Taking aim squarely and unapologetically at the children of the working class, the Trump administration released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, calling for cutting education spending by over $7 billion. At the same time, the administration is asking for $5 billion to fund “scholarship funds” for private and religious schools. The administration is also asking for an extra $133 million to pursue young people who have defaulted on their student loans.The American education system is already in a shambles. In 42 states, the average teacher salary has been cut, relative to inflation, since 2010. Average class sizes have grown in 35 states. Massive teacher shortages grip every state and increasingly students are “taught” by uncertified substitutes. Lead-in-water is found in schools around the country while school infrastructure crumbles. Teacher strikes continue to escalate in the face of what has been an unrelenting bipartisan war against public education.Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are picking up from where Barack Obama and Arne Duncan left off, deepening the defunding of education and promoting privatization. Among the programs to suffer from Trump’s proposed budget are teacher training, federally subsidized student loans, after school programs for impoverished students, and summer programs in impoverished schools. Teacher training is covered by Title II funding and received about $2 billion for fiscal year 2019. These funds are allocated for teachers’ professional development programs and were initially instituted to encourage a common standard of professionalism across the United States. The Trump budget would completely eliminate these funds.  Trump has proposed stripping away Title II funds in every budget he has proposed since taking office. These cuts do more than stymie the professional development of teachers—which is in and of itself an outrage—they also endanger schools’ abilities to meet the professional development benchmarks set by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  ESSA ties grant money to professional development benchmarks and student test scores, so ending Title II funds will directly translate into further cuts especially in impoverished areas.

Indiana teachers rally against low pay, attacks on public education - On Saturday, more than a thousand Indiana teachers rallied in the state Capitol building in Indianapolis to oppose nearly two decades of declining teacher pay, cuts to public education and the growth of privatization. Like states across the country, there is growing support for a statewide walkout of teachers in Indiana, but the teachers unions and the political establishment are firmly opposed to any such actions.  The boiling over of teacher opposition in Indiana is part of a wave of teachers strikes throughout the United States and internationally against the attacks on public education and the growth of social inequality. In 2018, US teachers participated in major statewide strikes, starting with the wildcat strikes in West Virginia, which spread to Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky and other states. Since the beginning of the year, more than 75,000 teachers have carried out strikes or sickouts in Los Angeles, Denver, West Virginia, Oakland and Kentucky.  In each of these strikes, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA) and their state and local affiliates shut down the struggles without any of the fundamental issues being resolved. While each betrayal has been hailed as a “victory” by the unions and their supporters, educators in Oklahoma, Arizona and other states are discussing strike action again to confront abysmally low pay, growing classroom sizes, school privatization and other attacks on public education.

Kentucky teachers speak against attacks on public education - Teachers in the US state of Kentucky are holding discussions and seeking to find a way to press forward their fight for pension rights and the defense of public education in the face of repeated sabotage by the state and local teacher unions. A series of sickouts have shaken several districts across the state, with teachers assembling in the state capital Frankfort to oppose a raft of reactionary bills moving through the General Assembly. The first jobaction, on February 28, involved 8 districts.A second action spanned two days last week and closed schools in Louisville’s Jefferson County Public Schools—the largest district in the state—and expanded to include the surrounding counties of Oldham, Bullitt, and Meade. The initiative by Jefferson County teachers, largely organized on social media, was denounced by the Jefferson County Teachers Association. Echoing the school authorities, JCTA President Brent McKim said the job actions were hurting low-income students even though teachers in Kentucky and all over the country were taking a stand not only for themselves but their students too.The JCTA worked out a deal with the local school officials to allow three teachers per school to attend lobbying sessions at the state capital for the remaining days of the legislative session. The schools would be kept open with substitutes. This has provoked anger among Louisville teachers. One teacher posted on the school district Facebook page, “With all due respect, JCTA did not support our movement to be in Frankfort for the past two days. In fact, they discouraged and chastised us. Now that we are building momentum and putting pressure on the process, suddenly JCTA and the district want to make a deal. Folks, that is all PR to influence public opinion against us. Let’s keep moving forward. Encourage your colleagues to stand up for teachers and public education. This is our shot.”

Aiming to quash strikes, US teacher union launches campaign to prop up Democrats - As educators across the US continue to escalate strikes and protests, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has announced a well-funded public relations and lobbying campaign to ostensibly reverse “disinvestment in public schools.”The initiative’s real aim, however, is to put an end to the past year’s protests and strikes by diverting teacher opposition into impotent appeals to the very same Democrats and Republicans who have starved the public schools of funding. This is so transparent that even Education Dive, a largely apolitical news aggregator, was prompted to note, “In other words, the string of protests, rallies and walkouts is likely to end soon.”According to the March 4 announcement by the AFT, the union will roll out an aggressive “six-figure” ad campaign in 14 states under the slogan, “Fund Our Future.” As part of the effort, the well-heeled union executives will double down on lobbying and cash donations to politicians.In the last election cycle, such hand-outs to politicians and lobbyists amounted to a massive $40 million. Yet, as record numbers of teachers took to the picket lines last year, none received a penny in strike pay. Instead, the cash-strapped and embattled educators were told to use GoFundMe or fill out demeaning and lengthy forms in hope of a small contribution from the union’s coffers. Fund Our Future is deceivingly described as “supercharg[ing] the work teachers, parents and students have been doing” by formulating “a set of comprehensive demands to take to the halls of state legislatures and Congress.”

‘Math Anxiety’ Is Real, and Your Teachers Are Probably to Blame - Up until around fourth grade, I was pretty good at math. Multiplication tables were like puzzles. I tested several levels higher than my grade, but since I couldn’t jump all the way to a middle school curriculum, my teachers didn’t know what to do with me. Smart, but bored, 12-year-olds are quite unhappy kids. I have clear memories of doing math homework with my dad in middle school. I would spend hours sitting at our faux-wood kitchen table with the rubbery edges, lined paper and algebra textbooks splayed out in front of me, holding back hot, angry tears while my dad explained for the fiftieth time how to calculate simple percentages. I can still feel the way my forehead rested against that table, hiding my face in the dark of my folded arms. A new report out of the University of Cambridge, released on Thursday, provides a little vindication for my pissed-off, anxious preteen self. Looking at the experiences of a total of 2,700 primary and secondary students in the UK and Italy, the researchers found that primary and secondary school girls had higher levels of both maths anxiety and general anxiety than boys. The study also focuses on how parents and teachers shape math performance and attitudes, perhaps without even realizing it. In the same way that anxious parents can shape their children’s anxiety, math-anxious mentors can shape how kids view their own math anxiety. "Teachers, parents, brothers and sisters and classmates can all play a role in shaping a child's maths anxiety," study co-author Ros McLellan said in the press release. "Parents and teachers should also be mindful of how they may unwittingly contribute to a child's maths anxiety. Tackling their own anxieties and belief systems in maths might be the first step to helping their children or students."

Times Have Changed - Alabama Schools Training Staff To Treat Opioid Overdoses - Alabama educators are embarking on a new program to treat overdosing students amid the nation's growing opioid epidemic, according to the BBC.   "Times have changed. Kids are getting things out of their parents' cabinets. They don't have to go out on the street, and they don't know what they are taking," says Shelby County school nursing supervisor Jan Cibulski.  The new program will include teachers, coaches and administrators as opposed to only school nurses. Until the start of the year, the state - like most others - recommended school nurses administer the treatment, but now they are widening the training to other teaching staff, as the opioid epidemic spirals nationwide.The medication - naloxone - is being included in schools' standard emergency kits, alongside defibrillators and allergy-remedying Epipens.For US teaching staff, the training could become another standard procedure, like shooting drills. Florida is considering a similar initiative. -BBCThe first training courses - held at a Career Technical Educational Center (CTEC) high school in Alabama's Shelby County - will include an instructional video and life-sized dummies.  If a student appears to be overdosing, administrators are instructed to call 911 and perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, before pressing an Evzio auto-injector the size of a cigarette packet against the patient's outer thigh through their clothes for five seconds.  It takes approximately one minute for the active ingredient - naloxone hydrochloride (a.k.a. Narcan) - to bind to opioid receptors in the brain - preventing the brain from flooding with dopamine.  Once a student has been injected with Evzio, educators are trained to expect them to pop up, confused and agitated.

The mental health crisis among America’s youth is real – and staggering - The first signs of a problem started to emerge around 2014: More young people said they felt overwhelmed and depressed. College counseling centers reported sharp increases in the number of students seeking treatment for mental health issues.Even as studies were showing increases in symptoms of depression and in suicide among adolescents since 2010, some researchers called the concerns overblown and claimed there simply isn’t enough good data to reach that conclusion.The idea that there’s an epidemic in anxiety or depression among youth “is simply a myth,” psychiatrist Richard Friedman wrote in The New York Times last year. Others suggested young people were simply more willing to get help when they needed it. Or perhaps counseling centers’ outreach efforts were becoming more effective. But a new analysis of a large representative survey reinforces what I – and others – have been saying: The epidemic is all too real. In fact, the increase in mental health issues among teens and young adults is nothing short of staggering. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has surveyed over 600,000 Americans. Recent trends are startling. From 2009 to 2017, major depression among 20- to 21-year-olds more than doubled, rising from 7 percent to 15 percent. Depression surged 69 percent among 16- to 17-year-olds. Serious psychological distress, which includes feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, jumped 71 percent among 18- to 25-year-olds from 2008 to 2017. Twice as many 22- to 23-year-olds attempted suicide in 2017 compared with 2008, and 55 percent more had suicidal thoughts. The increases were more pronounced among girls and young women. By 2017, one out of five 12- to 17-year-old girls had experienced major depression in the previous year.Tragically, suicide also jumped during the period. For example, the suicide rate among 18- to 19-year-olds climbed 56 percent from 2008 to 2017. Other behaviors related to depression have also increased, including emergency department admissions for self-harm, such as cutting, as well as hospital admissions for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

Education Dept. faces 10% funding cut under Trump's 2020 budget proposal  -- President Donald Trump's budget proposal unveiled on Monday would slash funding for the U.S. Education Department by more than 10 percent. The plan, titled "A Budget for a Better America," requests $62 billion for the Department of Education, or $7.1 billion less than the agency's allowance in 2019. The budget eliminates subsidized student debt, in which interest doesn't accrue on the loans while borrowers are in school or in economic hardship. It also reduces the number of repayment plans for borrowers and scratches the popular, if challenged, public service loan forgiveness program. The plan would narrow the numerous income-driven repayment plans, which caps people's monthly bills at a percentage of their income, to just one. Under that option, students' payments would be limited to 12.5 percent of their discretionary income, compared with 10 percent now. Any remaining debt would be canceled after 15 years for undergraduate students, and 30 years for graduate students. The federal work study program, which provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, would also face cuts. Pell Grants would be expanded to cover short-term training programs, a priority of the administration. "As college remains more crucial for economic opportunity than ever before and costs continue to rise, these proposals move in the exact opposite direction that students and our economy need," said James Kvaal, the president of The Institute for College Access & Success. The public service loan forgiveness program is eliminated in the proposed budget. That program, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, allows not-for-profit and government employees to have their federal student loans canceled after 10 years of on-time payments. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that up to one-quarter of American workers could be eligible.

Strike looms for University of Illinois at Chicago graduate students --On March 19, over 1,500 graduate student workers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), represented by the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) Local 6297, are set to strike unless an agreement is reached with the university.Graduate students held an informational picket Thursday, March 14. The students have been working without a contract for five months and negotiations have been drawn out for more than a year, since March 1, 2018. The GEO and the university’s bargaining team agreed to federal mediation in December, which began on February 1, 2019. As of this writing, the GEO has held 20 bargaining negotiations with UIC. Two more bargaining meetings are planned for today and the following Monday.The university’s current contract proposal is for a pathetic $1,200 raise over the course of four years and would extend the length of the contract by one year.Of 1,014 participating GEO members, 99.5 percent voted to authorize the strike on February 13, 2019. The overwhelming strike authorization expresses the growing militancy among educators across the United States and internationally. Approximately 71,000 educators have participated in a strike or walkout across the US in just the first eight weeks of this year, some UIC’s 1,500 graduate workers are essential to the university’s operations, teaching undergraduate students and grading papers. Graduate student workers are exploited by universities and forced to live in near impoverished conditions. Nationally, stipends for funded graduate students can vary from approximately $13,000 to $34,000, at best, per school year and some require that students take no other form of paid work in addition.The current minimum wage agreed to by the GEO in the previous contract for UIC is $18,065, which is for half of a full-time position, which requires 20 hours per week of work for the nine-month school year.

Actors Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin charged in college admissions case – Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation’s most selective schools. Federal authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes. At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields, were charged. Dozens, including Huffman, the Emmy-winning star of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” were arrested by midday. “These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the results of a fraud and conspiracy investigation code-named Operation Varsity Blues. The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others. Two more of those charged – Stanford’s sailing coach and the college-admissions consultant at the very center of the scheme – pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston. Others appeared in court and were released on bail. No students were charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were unaware of what was going on. Several of the colleges involved made no mention of taking any action against the students. The scandal is certain to inflame longstanding complaints that children of the wealthy and well-connected have the inside track in college admissions – sometimes through big, timely donations from their parents – and that privilege begets privilege.

Feds uncover massive college entrance exam cheating plot -  Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among 50 people charged in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scheme, according to court documents unsealed in Boston on Tuesday. The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment. Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children's chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches and administrators to identify the applicants as athletes. "This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth, combined with fraud," U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said."There can be no separate college admission for the wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either," he said.Lelling stressed that the colleges themselves are not targets of the investigation, which is ongoing. No students were charged, and authorities said in many cases they were kept in the dark about the alleged scam. Some of the parents spent between $200,000 to $6.5 million to ensure that their children received guaranteed admission at the schools of their choice, John Bonavolonta, FBI special agent in charge, said.   Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to bolster their two daughters' chances of gaining admission to the University of Southern California, court papers say. Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, paid $15,000 to get one of their daughters unlimited time for her SAT test, prosecutors say. The plot involved students who attended or were seeking to attend Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, according to federal prosecutors. Of the 50 people charged so far, 33 are parents and nine were college coaches. The others were a mix of test administrators and the scheme's main figures, authorities said.  Prosecutors said the scam was masterminded by Singer, the founder of a for-profit college preparation business based in Newport Beach, California. Parents paid Singer $15,000 to $75,000 per test for someone else to take the SAT or ACT exams in place of their college-age sons or daughters, according to the court papers.

The college admissions scandal and the rigged system of admissions at elite universities  - On Tuesday, federal prosecutors unsealed charges against 50 individuals involved in what they described as “the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” According to federal agents, wealthy parents paid tens and hundreds of thousands, and, sometimes, millions of dollars to secure their children’s entry into top American universities. Thirty-three parents have been charged, including Manuel Henriques, CEO of Hercules Capital—a Silicon Valley hedge fund—and actress Lori Loughlin, known for her role on Full House. Several points should be made about the scandal. The first is that these crimes are only one window into an entire world of anti-democratic admissions processes in higher education. If the allegations are true, the actions constitute criminal fraud, but it exists alongside of and is nurtured by more “legal” forms of influence-buying and admissions-rigging.“Affirmative action” for the children of wealthy donors and alumni, at the expense of more qualified children, is the rule, not the exception, in the Ivy League and at similar colleges. A Harvard investigation recently found that applicants with parents or grandparents who attended the college were five times more likely to be admitted.Bribes, in the form of “donations,” are commonplace in higher education. Singer, the founder of the operation, told one parent that his operation provided a “side door in.” He explained, “The back door is through institutional advancement [millions of dollars of donations to the school’s endowment], which is 10 times as much money.” A 2017 story by the Washington Post exposed how University of Virginia officials kept wait lists for wealthy donors. “$500k. Must be on WL [wait list],” read one file.Richard Reeves, author of a book titled Dream Hoarders, wrote in the Guardian that, “The children of big donors seem to get an almost automatic admission.” He noted, “The difference between this illegal scheme and the legal ways in which money buys access is one of degree, not of kind.” The top institutions of higher education are dominated by money, with presidents and administrators paid like corporate CEOs. Significantly, at the time the scandal broke out, Olivia Jade, the daughter of Lori Laughlin, was reportedly on a cruise on a yacht owned by billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso, who is the chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Southern California. Caruso’s daughter also goes to USC.

Class-action suit filed against 8 colleges in bribery scam that snared CEOs, Felicity Huffman - A class-action civil lawsuit has been filed by two California college students against eight top universities in connection with the massive college admissions bribery scandal that has already led tofederal criminal charges earlier this week against TV stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, as well as against top business and legal executives.The suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Stanford University students Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods accuses each of the universities of being "negligent in failing to maintain adequate protocols and security measures in places to guarantee the sanctity of the college admissions process."And the suit, which claims more than $5 million in damages, says that as a result of the scheme "unqualified students found their way into the admissions rolls of highly selective universities, while those students who played by the rules and did not have college-bribing parents were denied admission."Although there are currently only two named plaintiffs in the suit, the action would ultimately include potentially thousands of students as plaintiffs, if not more, if the case is granted class-action status by a judge. Defendants in the lawsuit are Yale University, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas, Wake Forest University and Georgetown University. Federal prosecutors have said the schools were victims of the scam.

Meet The Man Behind The Largest College Admissions Scam Ever - A $25 million racketeering and money laundering conspiracy that was at the center of the "largest college admission scam ever" saw its ringleader unmasked thanks to the Wall Street Journal.  The man at the center of the scheme is 58-year-old William Rick Singer. We reported on the scandal at length yesterday. Singer is called a "self described serial entrepreneur" who appeared to have found his niche in helping young people get into college. He was the founder of the Edge College & Career Network, the institution that helped broker bribes between the uber-wealthy and prestigious colleges. According to the company’s website, his goal was to "help alleviate the anxiety of getting into college" because he “has seen first hand the stress that the college admissions and athletics recruiting process can put on a family."Following yesterday's charges, Singer pled guilty to racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. He is looking at between 15 and 19 1/2 years in prison for his crimes. During his court appearance, after a federal prosecutor ran through a number of alleged offenses committed by Singer, he confessed, saying: "Your honor, everything that [the prosecutor] said is true."He also admitted to the judge that he knew he was breaking the law and that he had done "many more" things. He detailed, at length, his entire test taking scheme, saying that he would often claim students had learning disabilities in order to help control testing sites.Singer said: "If we could ensure that, we would secure a score that would be strong enough so they could get into the schools they wanted to go to."“The only way the scheme could work was if I could control the proctor and the site coordinator,” he continued.He also admitted to bribing test administrators and bringing his own proctors for tests.  Singer told the court that the kids always thought they were taking the test, but that the proctor and the administrator knew it was fixed. “The kids thought they really took the test but the proctor and administrator knew. I’m absolutely responsible,” he said.  He explained that he arranged for students to write the answers on a separate sheet and then the proctor would bubble in the correct answers before the test was submitted. He also admitted to creating false sports profiles of students, simply stating he would "take a picture of the students face and put it on somebody else".

'There Is No Meritocracy': College Admissions Scandal Exposes Systemic Rot, Progressives Say --  The most far-reaching college admissions plot ever prosecuted, revealed on Tuesday by federal investigators, provides a window into how wealth and power operate in American society, progressives say.  The scheme involved getting the children of wealthy people into the colleges of their dreams, often by manipulating sports scholarships, disability allowances on tests, and by inflating resumes. Per Democracy Now!50 people were arrested, including 13 college coaches, for taking part in a scheme where wealthy parents paid exorbitant bribes to secure spots for their unqualified children in elite schools that included Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, UCLA, University of Southern California and Wake Forest. Prosecutors have charged 33 parents, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin; Loughlin’s husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli; and Bill McGlashan, a founder of TPG Capital, one of the largest private equity investment firms in the world.  The scope of the scandal, and the fact that it's snared well known figures, made it front page news. But for a number of politicians, journalists, and commentators, the scheme exposed a deeper, uglier truth about the lack of meritocracy in America and how power works.  "I hope it's a wake-up call for people who have bought into the system that people become wealthy because they have worked hard," Ivory Toldson, professor of counseling psychology at Howard University, told Democracy Now! in an interview Wednesday. "It's a deception that's pervasive in our society."  Toldson joined a chorus of people pointing out the rot exposed by the scheme. Twitter user @dlnodots mused on whether the people arrested Tuesday would face the same kind of consequences as black parents whose children attend out of district schools. Kelley Williams-Bolar & Tanya McDowell enrolled their children into Public School Districts in which they did not reside. They were both jailed for these crimes. Should Felicity Huffman & Lori Loughlin be held to that same standard?

The College Admissions Scandal Is A Perfect Example Of How Deeply Corrupt America Has Become -- By now you have probably heard that dozens of people have been arrested for participating in a multi-million dollar college admissions scam.  Enormous amounts of money were paid out in order to ensure that children from very wealthy families were able to get into top schools such as Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas and the University of Southern California. And as The Economic Collapse blog's Michael Snyder writes, we should certainly be disgusted by these revelations, but we shouldn’t be surprised.  Such corruption happens every single day on every single level of society in America.  At this point our nation is so far gone that it is shocking when you run into someone that actually still has some integrity. The “mastermind” behind this college admissions scam was a con man named William Rick Singer.  He had been successfully getting the kids of wealthy people into top colleges for years using “side doors”, and he probably thought that he would never get caught. But he did. There were four basic methods that Singer used to get children from wealthy families into elite schools.  The first two methods involved bribes

  • Bribing college entrance exam administrators to allow a third party to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams, in some cases by posing as actual students,’ is the first.
  • Bribing university athletic coaches and administrators to designate applicants as purported athletic recruits – regardless of their athletic abilities, and in some cases, even though they did not play the sport,’ is the second.

Because many of these kids didn’t even play the sports they were being “recruited” for, in some cases Photoshop was used to paste their faces on to the bodies of real athletesIn order to get non-athletic kids admitted to college as athletes, Singer often had to create fake profiles for them. Sometimes this involved fabricating resumes that listed them having played on elite club teams, but to finish the illusion Singer and his team would also use Photoshop to combine photos of the kids with actual athletes in the sport. The third and fourth methods that Singer used involved more direct forms of cheating

  • ‘Having a third party take classes in place of the actual students, with the understanding that the grades earned in those classes would be submitted as part of the students’ application,’ is the third.
  • The fourth was ‘submitting falsified applications for admission to universities … that, among other things, included the fraudulently obtained exam scores and class grades, and often listed fake awards and athletic activities.’

Parents In College Admission Scandal May Face Tax Fraud Charges And IRS Penalties -  The parents involved in yesterday's widely reported  college admissions scam could have even more bad news coming their way in the form of tax penalties and civil tax fraud charges, as  the parents involved in the scheme were able to take tax deductions on purported "donations" that were doubling as bribes in order to get their children into elite colleges like Stanford and Yale. The Key Worldwide Foundation has been declared a tax exempt organization and fronted/brokered many of the bribes that were paid out to University administrators. The Internal Revenue Service declared the foundation tax-exempt under code Section 501(c)(3) around 2013. If parents decided to "double dip" and write their bribes off, they could eventually be charged with tax crimes. As long as the statute of limitations has not expired, the IRS has the option to audit the parents involved in the scheme, potentially resulting in deficiency notices, according to Sam Brunson, a professor of law at Loyola University Chicago. If the IRS then finds out they took deductions on fake charitable contributions, parents could be hit with "large penalties" under "tax code Section 6601 and Section 6662, which cover interest payments and penalties for underpayment of taxes." The IRS’s audit of the charity was one of the key parts of the Federal investigation that uncovered the scandal.The IRS has the option to impose a penalty of 20% of the underpayment, on top of the original tax payment owed. Some parents that paid as much as $75,000 to the foundation could wind up having to pay an additional $15,000, plus interest. The IRS also has the option to impose penalties for civil tax fraud, according to Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a professor at the University of Notre Dame law school.The tax fraud that occurred was a key part of the government's case. One family said in court documents that they had reported charitable gifts of more than $1 million, which included a payment to the Key Worldwide Foundation. “You can send to my foundation as a donation/write off or if you have your own company we can invoice you as a business consulting fee from our profit business and you write off as an expense,” William Rick Singer is reported to have told a family in an e-mail. We recently profiled Singer as the "man behind the largest college admissions scam ever". 

Jared Kushner Shows There’s a Shady-Yet-Legal Way to Get Rich Kids Into College - Today’s news of a massive college admissions scam that has ensnared at least 40 people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, has a lot of people asking the same question: Why didn’t these rich parents just make a fat donation to the schools to get their kids admitted?It’s an age-old tradition that has resulted in many underperforming and undeserving rich kids winning admission to universities they couldn’t have gotten into on their own. And one beneficiary is currently working in the White House.As Daniel Golden reported in his 2006 book, Jared Kushner — son-in-law of Donald Trump, husband of Ivanka Trump, and son of Charles Kushner — was accepted into Harvard shortly after his father pledged $2.5 million to the school. Writing for ProPublica in 2016, Golden noted that Kushner’s high-school teachers didn’t think he was Harvard material:“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former official at The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, told me. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not.” Golden goes on to detail how he uncovered a scheme in which “the rich buy their under-achieving children’s way into elite universities with massive, tax-deductible donations.” He started with a list of the more than 400 members of Harvard’s Committee on University Resources, a group of wealthy donors who were regularly treated like royalty in Cambridge. After poring over records to determine if the children of these donors had eventually gone to Harvard, Golden found that of “the 400-plus tycoons on Harvard’s list — which included people who were childless or too young to have college-age offspring — more than half had sent at least one child to the university.”

20% Of California Community College Student Are Homeless, Study Finds -  Driven by the high costs of higher education and the absurdly high cost of living in California, a recent survey revealed a stunning figure: Nearly 20% of Community College students in America's most populous state are homeless. Whether they're sleeping in their cars, or crashing on couches, or are among the growing number of California's "unsheltered" homeless, some 19% responded to a survey of community college students saying they either didn't have a place to live, or were simply crashing or living in their vehicles. What's worse, instead of seeking out shelter in one of California's many homeless shelters (which we've heard are fantastic environments for fostering academic curiosity), many students are simply "too proud" to do this. Here's more on that study from 24/7 Wall Street:Community colleges are two-year education institutions meant to provide affordable degrees for people who have usually graduated high school but have not enrolled in schools which can give them a four-year college degree. They are often known as junior colleges. In one state, nearly 20% of the students enrolled in these schools are homeless.There are 1,167 community colleges in the U.S. according to the American Association of Community Colleges. The enrollment in these institutions is more than 12.4 million students. Almost half of all undergraduate students in the United States attend community colleges. Homelessness among students at these institutions is prevalent. In California, the number is extraordinarily large. Nineteen percent of attendees in the largest state by population are homeless. California is among the states with the most unshelterd homeless.  It also has several four-year colleges where applications are on the rise.

"I Was Assaulted In Berkeley Because I'm Conservative" by Hayden Williams - The punch I took on campus was not an isolated incident. Leftists are targeting conservative students across the country for their political beliefs.  On Feb. 19, while recruiting conservative students on campus at the University of California-Berkeley, I was assaulted by a violent leftist. A little more than a week later, I got to shake hands with the president of the United States and address an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference about why it's more important than ever to protect free speech on our college campuses. As a field representative for the Leadership Institute, I travel to campuses throughout California helping conservative clubs recruit and train new members. I've seen the intolerance and hate toward conservatives on our  campuses with my own eyes, and the only difference between what happened to me on Feb. 19 and every other day is that the event was caught on video. Conservative students across the country have suffered verbal and physical assault, social ostracism and even academic persecution for voicing their opinions on political topics. This is because young liberals believe that they are on the morally righteous side in a culture war and, in order to win, they must silence any form of dissent. Leftists and the progressives aspire to nothing less than to make it de facto impossible to be conservative in public. The United States is well on its way to achieving this goal, based on the Covington Catholic High School incident. Wearing a red hat near the Lincoln Memorial was apparently enough for the news and social media personalities to label the act provocation, and commentators worked  aggressively to "dox" the students. In their frenzy, students were even misidentified, and at least one boy and his family were allegedly harassed. By contrast, there was not a similar rush to expose the identity of the man who was caught on video assaulting me. Increasingly, leftists believe they are justified to respond to ideas disagreeable to them with open hostility and even force.  Students are commonly told now that words are literally violent and can be responded to with physical force. I don't mean verbal threats of violence or efforts to intimidate, I mean words that express ideas that the listener finds offensive or disagrees with.

It’s Magic! Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education allows Grand Canyon University to call itself non-profit while its parent company reports profit margin of 27 percent - David Halperin, the nation's best investigative reporter on the for-profit college industry, wrote an article recently on Grand Canyon University, which has been advertising lately that it is a non-profit university. Well, sorta. As Halperin explained, Betsy DeVos' Department of Education "has blessed a series of troubling deals that allow a [not-]for profit college to be 'serviced by connected for-profit companies." To what purpose?   As Halperin reported:  The non-profit school benefits from the elimination of the for-profit stigma, reduced regulations, elimination of taxation, and eligibility for more state and charitable grants. Meanwhile, the for-profit, and its owners and executives, get to siphon off a lot of the revenue, much of it from taxpayer-funded grants and loans. Thus in the fairyland world that Betsy DeVos has created, Brian Mueller wears two hats. He is president of Grand Canyon, a non-profit entity. He is also CEO of the university's parent for-profit corporation, Grand Canyon Education.  GCE trades on NASDAQ at $115 a share and reported a profit margin of 27 percent at the end of 2018.Mueller conducted an earnings call to his investors recently in which he complained about non-profit colleges warning potential students not to enroll at a for-profit college. Through DeVos' mumbo jumbo, Grand Canyon can now call itself a nonprofit college, which has boosted its enrollment. As Mueller boasted: "They see our ad & call Grand Canyon and within 72 hours everything is done. Applications filled out. Transcripts evaluated. Financial aid is done. They go to our website, they see who Grand Canyon is and say, 'this sounds good,' and they start."

Millennials Are More Than A Trillion Dollars In Debt, And Most Of Them Don't Even Own A Home  - When compared to a similar point in time, Millennials are deeper in debt than any other generation that has come before them. And the biggest reason why they are in so much debt may surprise you.  We’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s talk about the giant mountain of debt that Millennials have accumulated.  According to the New York Fed, the total amount of debt that Millennials are carrying has risen by a whopping 22 percent in just the last five yearsNew findings from the New York Federal Reserve reveal that millennials have now racked up over US$1 trillion of debt.This troubling amount of debt, an increase of over 22% in just five years, is more than any other generation in history. This situation may leave you wondering how millennials ended up in such a sorry state.Many young adults are absolutely drowning in debt, but the composition of that debt is quite different when compared to previous generations at a similar point in time.Mortgage debt and credit card debt levels are far lower for Millennials, but the level of student loan debt is far, far higherWhile the debt levels accumulated by millennials eclipse those of the previous generation, Generation X, at a similar point in time, the complexion of the debt is very different.According to a 2018 report from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, mortgage debt is about 15% lower for millennials and credit card debt among millennials was about two-thirds that of Gen X.However, student loan debt was over 300% greater.Over the last 10 years, the total amount of student loan debt in the United States has more than doubled.It is an absolutely enormous financial problem, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution.  Some politicians on the left are pledging to make college education “free” in the United States, but they never seem to explain who is going to pay for that.

YouTube Finally Shuts Down Soft-Core Channel Months After Creator Arrested For Pedophilia -- YouTube has finally gotten around to shutting down a notorious soft-core 'pedo-centric' channel months after its creator was arrested in Central Florida for molesting a 15-year-old girl in a hotel room near Walt Disney World.  UK-based Ian Rylett, 55, was arrested in August of 2018 on suspicion of molesting the teen, shortly after she signed a contract to appear on his YouTube channels - one of which was "Seven Super Girls." According to prosecutors, the contract required the girl to "remove any items of clothing as directed by management."  According to an arrest warrant obtained by BuzzFeed News, detectives were called to Rylett’s Orange County hotel room on the morning of Aug. 16, after Rylett allegedly verbally abused the girl, demanding she undress in front of him against her will and “practice wrapping her breasts down, to make them appear smaller for the video shoot.” According to the report, the girl, who is under 16, claims Rylett touched her breasts and fondled her while repeatedly making her undress, eventually attempting to forcefully remove her underwear. The arrest report also alleges that Rylett “threatened to use the contract to fine her if she did not comply with his demand.”BuzzFeed  According to prosecutors, Rylett wanted the teen's chest to look smaller so she would appear younger in the videos, according to ClickOrlando. While initially pleading not guilty in August, Rylett agreed to a plea deal on Wednesday and has been sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years of probation. He faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted.  In response, YouTube has finally shut down his operation. The channel, which has nearly three million subscribers, features videos of children and young teens performing skits in costumes, going on vacation, or doing routine activities around their homes.Over the past decade, at least six spinoff channels were created including "Seven Perfect Angels" and the flagship "Seven Super Girls."Known collectively as the SAK Channels, more than 17 million YouTube users subscribe to the videos, helping to generate more than 10 billion total video views.

‘Testicular Bill of Rights’ would restrict men’s access to Viagra and porn -- In a direct rebuke to laws designed to take away a woman’s right to control her own body, Democratic Georgia state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick has proposed new “Testicular Bill of Rights” legislation that would, among other things, require men to get permission from their sexual partners before obtaining erectile dysfunction medication and institute a 24-hour “waiting period” for men who want to buy porn or sex toys.  The proposal comes in response to HB 481, a so-called “heartbeat bill” passed by Republicans in the Georgia House last week that would effectively ban abortion in the state. Specifically, it would outlaw the procedure after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually around six weeks—before most people know they are pregnant.  In a tweet on Monday, Kendrick shared an email she wrote to her staff that outlines key elements of the legislation, which would also make men having sex without a condom an “aggravated assault” crime and force men to immediately start paying child support to their partners after six weeks and one day of pregnancy. “I’m dead serious,” Kendrick told Rolling Stone as her tweet went viral. While the lawmaker said she expects to have the legislation finalized by the end of the week, the deadline for submitting bills for this calendar year already has passed—and, as Kendrick acknowledged, “it doesn’t have a chance of passing any year.”

Walmart is so desperate to fix health care, it flies employees to top hospitals in other states for treatment -- - "Bill," an employee at Walmart, had been suffering from mild neck pain and a tremor in his hands. A local surgeon recommended spine surgery as the next course of action.Walmart decided to send him and his wife on a flight to a hospital in another state, all expenses paid, so he could get a second opinion. He saw a team of clinicians at Geisinger Medical Center, a top hospital system in Pennsylvania. They noticed a subtle shuffle in his step and diagnosed him with Parkinson's Disease.The employee avoided a painful, expensive surgery t hat he did not need. Walmart (which is self-insured) saved about $30,000 it would have paid for that surgery, and it also benefited when he went back to work after his symptoms improved. Geisinger got paid for the consult. In the end, Bill's story, which both Geisinger and Walmart shared this week with permission, was a win for everyone. But it also speaks to a larger trend: U.S. employers are getting increasingly fed up with the myriad problems with the U.S. medical system. Companies pay for about 49 percent of Americans' health care, and are facing rising costs without any real improvements in outcomes. So Walmart and its partners published a case study detailing theirapproach in Harvard Business Review, in an effort to disseminate its ideas more broadly.

I read 1,182 emergency room bills this year. Here’s what I learned.   Sarah Kliff - A $5,571 bill to sit in a waiting room, $238 eyedrops, and a $60 ibuprofen tell the story of how emergency room visits are squeezing patients.  For the past 15 months, I’ve asked Vox readers to submit emergency room bills to our database. I’ve read lots of those medical bills — 1,182 of them, to be exact.  My initial goal was to get a sense of how unpredictable and costly ER billing is across the country. There are millions of emergency room visits every year, making it one of the more frequent ways we interact with our health care system — and a good window into the health costs squeezing consumers today.I started my project focused on one specific charge: the facility fee. I found this charge for walking through an emergency room’s doors could be as low as $533 or well over $3,000, depending on which hospital a patient visited and how severe her case was. I also learned that the price of this charge had skyrocketed in recent years, increasing much faster than other medical prices for no clear reason.But given the volume and diversity of bills I received, I’ve learned so much more. I’ve read emergency room bills from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. I’ve looked at bills from big cities and from rural areas, from patients who are babies and patients who are elderly. I’ve even submitted one of my own emergency room bills for an unexpected visit this past summer. Some of the patients I read about come in for the reasons you’d expect: a car accident, pains that could indicate appendicitis or a heart attack, or because the ER was the only place open that night or weekend.  Some come in for reasons you’d never expect. Like the little girl who swallowed a coin to hide it from her sister, the 12-year-old boy who was hit by a home run ball at a professional baseball game (who, incidentally, was given a $60 ibuprofen at the local children’s hospital), and the adult who ate an entire bag of chocolate candy … without realizing it was edible marijuana.

Backlash- Hedge Fund Kicks Out Family That Makes OxyContin - As backlash against America's painkiller addiction grows, hedge fund Hildene Capital Management has cut ties with the billionaire family that controls the OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. According to The Wall Street Journal, Hildene fund manager Brett Jefferson forced the Sackler family who is invested in the $10 billion fund to start redeeming their investments. “An opioid-related tragedy affected someone with a personal relationship to me and other members of Hildene,” Jefferson said in a statement, which he said occurred in 2017. At the time, the Stamford, Conn. hedge fund donated money to an organization fighting the opioid epidemic and has since contemplated ending the firm's relationship with the Sacklers, he wrote. “Last year the weight on my conscience led me to terminate the relationship and initiate the redemption procedure,” Jefferson wrote. Hildene joins a long list of universities, museums, and nonprofits, including the New York Academy of Sciences and Columbia University, that have all questioned their relationship with the Family. The Sacklers, who control Purdue which is considering filing for bankruptcy to limit its mounting legal liabilities, have come under immense pressure amid hundreds of pages of courts documents released as part of lawsuits filed by Connecticut and Massachusetts. Connecticut and Massachusetts are the first two states to sue Purdue and Sackler family members simultaneously. Their lawsuit alleges that eight Sacklers sparked the opioid crisis with misleading marketing of OxyContin in the late 1990s, which allowed Purdue and the family to reap billions of dollars from flooding every state with highly addictive prescription drugs. 

CDC reports 228 measles cases in 12 states - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 228 cases of measles in 12 states so far this year. The CDC has identified six outbreaks, which it defines as three or mores cases, in New York, Washington, Texas, Illinois and California. The cases are linked to unvaccinated American travelers bringing measles back into the U.S. from other countries where large measles outbreaks are occurring, such as Israel and Ukraine, the CDC says. The outbreaks have renewed the focus on states with lax vaccine exemption laws. Every state requires children to have certain vaccines before entering school, but most allow exemptions for religious or personal beliefs. Public health officials blame the spread of misinformation online and on social media about the risks and efficacy of vaccines. The CDC considers the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, to be safe and effective. The number of measles cases so far in 2019 puts this year on track to surpass previous years. The CDC confirmed 372 cases of measles in 2018. The highest number of cases since 2010, when the disease was considered eliminated in the U.S., was in 2014, when 667 cases were reported.

US Navy ship has been quarantined for 2 months because of virus outbreak  - A US Navy warship deployed to the Persian Gulf has been quarantined at sea for more than two months because of a viral outbreak, a rare move the US Navy revealed Wednesday after an inquiry from CNN.A viral infection, parotitis, with symptoms similar to the mumps, has spread across the USS Fort McHenry, a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship, affecting a total of 25 sailors and Marines. Symptoms of the illness appeared for the first time in December of last year.Sick sailors were quarantined aboard the vessel and treated in the onboard medical facilities while their living areas were cleaned and disinfected. No one had to be medevaced off the ship, CNN reportedWednesday afternoon, but it's very unusual for US warships to spend more than two months at sea without a port call."None of the cases are life-threatening and all have either already made or are expected to make a full recovery," Fifth Fleet said in a statement emailed to Business Insider. Since the first case was detected at the end of last year, 24 of the 25 infected individuals have returned to duty.The US Navy told Business Insider that port calls were canceled, effectively quarantining the ship at sea while medical teams worked to get the situation under control. Exercising caution, it was determined that all of the more than 700 service members on the Fort McHenry would receive booster vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella. There have been no active cases since March 9. Viral parotitis is an infection of the saliva glands on either side of the face that's typically caused by the mumps, which can be prevented through vaccination.

US Quarantines Over 2,200 Migrants Amid Unprecedented Disease Outbreaks - As of March 7, US immigration officials have quarantined at least 2,287 migrants carrying everything from mumps to chickenpox, according to Reuters, citing an ICE official who spoke on condition of anonymity.   ICE health officials have been notified of 236 confirmed or probable cases of mumps among detainees in 51 facilities in the past 12 months, compared to no cases detected between January 2016 and February 2018. Last year, 423 detainees were determined to have influenza and 461 to have chicken pox. All three diseases are largely preventable by vaccine. –Reuters "When there is just one person who is sick, everybody pays," said 19-year-old Christian Mejia, who was put on lockdown in rural Louisiana's Pine Prairie immigration detention center along with hundreds of other detainees. According to internal emails reviewed by Reuters, outbreaks such as the one in Louisiana are difficult to manage, as immigrant detainees are often shuttled around the country, and many diseases don't necessarily show symptoms during the contagious phase. Since January, the 1,094-bed Pine Prairie facility has had 18 detainees with confirmed or probable cases of mumps compared to no cases in 2018, according to ICE. As of mid-February, 288 people were under quarantine at Pine Prairie. Mejia said his quarantine ended on Feb. 25. -ReutersDisturbingly, emails reveal that the warden at Pine Prairie decided not to quarantine 40 new arrivals from Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi, despite concerns raised by the medical staff. Warden Indalecio Ramos - who referred Reuters' outbreak-related questions to ICE and the GEO Group, which owns the facility - said in a Feb. 7 email that quarantining detainees would prevent them from attending their immigration court hearings. Two weeks later, ICE requested that Pine Prairie medical staff clear a quarantined detainee for travel, referring to him as a "high profile removal scheduled for deport." Warden Ramos wrote in an email later that day that medical staff wanted to exclude the detainee from transfer, however "ICE wants him to travel out of the country anyway ... Please ensure he leaves." An ICE spokesman said that people who have been exposed to diseases but are asymptomatic can travel, while anyone known to be contagious cannot.

EPA Proposes Use of 650,000 Pounds of Antibiotics Per Year on Citrus Fields - Advocates from public-health and environmental groups delivered more than 45,000 petition signatures to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday asking the agency to deny a proposal that would expand spraying antibiotics on citrus fields. If that proposal is approved, citrus growers could spray more than 650,000 pounds of the antibiotic streptomycin on citrus fields every year to treat the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease. Streptomycin belongs to a class of antibiotics considered critically important to human health by the World Health Organization. By contrast, people in America only use 14,000 pounds of that antibiotic class each year.  "The more you use antibiotics, the greater the risk that bacteria resistant to the drugs will flourish and spread. The bottom line is that the potential problems created by spraying massive amounts of streptomycin on citrus fields could outweigh the original problem the EPA wants to solve," Spraying antibiotics on citrus fields does not cure citrus greening disease or prevent its spread. If allowed, this would be the largest-ever use of a medically important antibiotic in plant agriculture in the U.S. The EPA has not fully considered the consequences of this unprecedented antibiotic use, especially given its limited potential for success, as laid out in by the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and U.S. PIRG.  "Spraying orange and grapefruit trees with an antibiotic we use to treat human disease is a dangerously shortsighted idea,"  "In addition to increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance, the EPA's own analysis indicates streptomycin could harm foraging mammals like rabbits and chipmunks." Recent research suggests that up to 162,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. The World Health Organization ranked antibiotic resistance among the top 10 health threats in 2019. Overusing antibiotics in any setting fuels the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.

Gaia Makes the Berserkers Insane: They Destroy Their Own Medicines - Those who Gaia would destroy she first makes insane. A recent study describes how antibiotic and pesticide resistance are exceeding “planetary boundaries”, points of no return. As I’ve written in scores of pieces, these resistance treadmills are fully deliberate effects of poison-based agriculture. In particular, the complete destruction of antibiotics as a medically effective tool is a deliberate goal of modern civilization. All civilized actions prove it.Here’s further proof from the link above: In addition, increasing efforts to fully eradicate bacteria and pests is likely to make matters worse. Instead, new strategies are needed that promote the growth of bacteria and pests that are susceptible to pesticides and antibiotics, at the expense of those with resistance……These strategies are urgently needed as complements to development of new antibiotics and pesticides.Almost all scientists and engineers are morbidly stupid. Here for the nth time going back to the 1950s we have further proof that the pesticide model of agriculture does not work. But as always the recommendation isn’t to abolish poisonism in favor of agroecology, which means to promote soil and field biodiversity which boosts beneficial organisms at the expense of pests, but to find some way to prop up poisonism just a little bit longer, to keep destroying the Earth and humanity as long as possible, to build the Tower of Babel higher. We see this everywhere. Why is civilization determined to push poisonism and ecocide to the ultimate while it ignores and denounces actual solutions? The obvious proximate answer is power and profit, the deeper answer is Dominion theology and the technocratic ideology which goes with it, and the elemental sources of these. The “civilized” have zero thought patterns beyond their fundamentalist “belief”. It’s a modern civil religion with deep roots in prior monotheism. Together those proximate and profound imperatives are against anything decentralized, low-impact, low-dependency. And therefore against anything which could work, since their system depends upon reiterated failure and disaster in order to keep accruing power, to keep metastasizing as a literal cancer on the Earth (aka “growth”). The basic evils are monoculture and commodity as such. Like all industrial agriculture these cannot be redeemed at all nor should they be.

36 Beagles Could Die if Dow Pesticide Test Isn’t Stopped, Investigation Reveals -- Thirty-six beagles are in danger of being euthanized at the end of a pesticide test by Dow AgroSciences, theHumane Society of the United States (HSUS) revealed Tuesday. The beagles' potential fate was only one of several shocking revelations uncovered by an almost 100-day HSUS investigation into the testing of beagles and hounds at Charles River Laboratories in Michigan. "The disturbing findings at this facility are sadly not unique. Experiments are happening at hundreds of laboratories each year throughout the country, with more than 60,000 dogs suffering. But that does not have to be the fate for these 36 beagles," HSUS President and CEO Kitty Block said in the press release. The beagles are being used to test a new Dow fungicide called Adavelt®. They are being force-fed the fungicide via gelatin capsules for one year, and will be killed in July 2019 to assess damage unless the test is stopped. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used to require that fungicide be tested on dogs for one year, but abandoned the requirement a decade ago after scientists said it did not give useful information, HSUS explained in the investigation report. However, the test is still technically required by Brazil's Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária (ANVISA), which is why Dow told HSUS they were conducting it.

Our Own Government Is Quietly Funding Bird Flu Research That Could End Up Killing Us All - Back in 2014, due to safety concerns, the government suspended dangerous research that could make the bird flu virus more easily transmitted to humans. It was a wise decision, but unfortunately, short-lived.In February, Science Magazine revealed a troubling discovery: Last year, a U.S. government review panel decided to let the research resume. They actually want scientists to figure out how to make the avian flu more likely to kill us all and what’s more, they’re not telling us why.Do they want a pandemic? Because this is how you get a pandemic. Anyone who’s read a book like The Stand knows this is how you get a pandemic. Not only did the government approve the experiments, but they are also paying for them.Here are additional details from The New York Times:Two research teams, in Wisconsin and the Netherlands, have been told by the Department of Health and Human Services that their work is eligible for research funding from the United States government. The Wisconsin group was notified in October, and the Dutch group in January, a spokeswoman for H.H.S. said in an email.Despite requests from The New York Times on Thursday and Friday, officials from H.H.S. did not explain why they had not announced their decisions on the two labs at the time they were made.Spokeswomen for H.H.S. and the National Institutes of Health said the decision to lift the moratorium had already been announced in December 2017 when N.I.H. disclosed that the studies would be allowed, but only after newly created expert panels judged each proposal to be safe and scientifically sound. (source) The lack of information about the decision and how it was reached have provoked outrage from many scientists. They oppose the research because they say it could create mutant viruses that might cause deadly pandemics if they were unleashed by lab accidents or terrorism.

Picky Brits Won’t Eat US Chicken — Should You? - US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson caused uproar there last weekend when he called the European Union (EU) a “museum of agriculture.” He urged the British public to embrace modern, US farming practices — currently banned in the EU as unsafe — to secure a trade deal once the UK leaves the EU. Former UK Agriculture Minister George Eustace responded angrily to Johnson’s suggestion that the UK  should let its food standards slip. He called US legislation on animal welfare “woefully deficient,” and wrote that “there is a general resistance to even acknowledging the existence of sentience in farm animals,” an attitude which he characterized as “quite extraordinary.” At the heart of the disagreement is the way chicken meat is disinfected with chlorinated water once it has been slaughtered, and the practise of injecting cattle with hormones. The sale of hormonally-treated beef is banned in the UK, and chlorine is not used to clean chicken.  Johnson doubled down on his defense of US agriculture practices later in the week, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today program, “If I had my choice between chicken that was clean and safe and that didn’t have poisons on it I would take the one that had been cleaned sufficiently. He went on to say “most Americans would feel that our food is safe, and cost effective and humane.”  But if the meat was treated better in the first place it wouldn’t need to be treated with chemicals at the end of the process, according to a British scientist. Erik Millstone  says that if animals weren’t kept in such crowded conditions in the first place, the opportunity for infection to pass between animals would be reduced, and with it the need for antibiotic injections.  “Over the last 10 years the use of antibiotics in livestock in the US has approximately doubled, where in the European Union it has approximately halved,” he said.

FDA Puts U.S. Consumers at 'Serious Risk' by Allowing GE Salmon 'Frankenfish' Imports - The Trump administration has lifted a ban on importing genetically engineered or GE salmon, which critics have long called "Frankenfish," in a move that consumer advocates charge "runs counter to sound science and market demand."The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the decision on Friday, more than three years afterapproving GE salmon as the first biotech animal authorized for commercial sale and consumption in the U.S.That approval as well as the agency's repeal of the import alert are major wins for the biotech industry — and have come despite concerns repeatedly raised by environmental and public health advocates about the threats to wild salmon populations and consumers.As Politico reported:"The alert was put in place after a spending bill provision backed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) blocked the fish from entering commerce in the U.S. until FDA finalized labeling guidelines that would inform consumers the product was genetically modified.FDA on Friday said it no longer needs to finalize those labeling guidelines because a 2016 law requiring the disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients nationwide applies to the salmon, essentially taking the product outside of FDA's purview." The Trump administration's guidelines for the GE or GMO labeling law, released last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have been described by critics as "a disaster." As Common Dreams reported in December, "To make the disclosure, food producers have four options: text, a friendly-looking symbol, an electronic or digital link, or a text message." "USDA's new guidelines don't require adequate mandatory labeling, don't require calling the fish 'genetically engineered,' and don't help consumers know what kind of fish they are buying," George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement on Monday.

 Scientists Call For Global Moratorium On Gene Editing of Embryos --  Leading scientists have called for a global moratorium on the use of powerful DNA editing tools to make genetically modified children.The move is intended to send a clear signal to maverick researchers, and the scientific community more broadly, that any attempt to rewrite the DNA of sperm, eggs or embryos destined for live births is not acceptable.Beyond a formal freeze on any such work, the experts want countries to register and declare any plans that scientists may put forward in the future, and have these discussed through an international body, potentially run by the World Health Organisation.Alongside technical debates about the possible benefits of creating genetically modified babies, the scientists said no decisions should be made to go ahead without broad public support. “What we want to see are wise and open decisions,” said Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We want to make sure that countries don’t do things secretly, that we declare what we’re thinking, discuss it openly, and be prepared for debate and disagreement.” Lander, who co-chaired Barack Obama’s council of advisors on science and technology, calls for the moratorium with 16 other experts in the journal Nature. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Feng Zhang, who helped discover and develop the most common gene editing tool, Crispr, contributed to the article.  Crispr, or to give it its full name, Crispr-Cas9, allows scientists to precisely target and edit pieces of the genome. Crispr is a guide molecule made of RNA, that allows a specific site of interest on the DNA double helix to be targeted. The RNA molecule is attached to Cas9, a bacterial enzyme that works as a pair of "molecular scissors" to cut the DNA at the exact point required. This allows scientists to cut, paste and delete single letters of genetic code.

 Zika, dengue, and yellow fever are about to get much worse - Climate change, urbanization, and changes in human populations have driven many beloved species to the brink of extinction. But one of the deadliest animals in the world — the mosquito — is thriving. Around 700,000 people die every year from mosquito-borne disease. The biggest culprit is malaria, but other mosquito-borne diseases, like dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika, have proliferated wildly in recent years, and now make up a substantial share of the global burden of mosquito-borne disease. By some estimates, the number of dengue infections has increased 30-fold in the past 30 years.   And a new study in Nature Microbiology suggests that things will only get worse. Using statistical mapping techniques, they model how two disease-carrying mosquitos, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, have spread over the last 30 years, and predict how they’ll spread over the next 30. The results are alarming. These species of mosquito — which carry infectious diseases including Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever, though not malaria — are expected to spread throughout most of the United States and Europe, exposing hundreds of millions of people to these diseases. “Overall,” the study finds, “our predicted expansions will see Ae. aegypti invading an estimated 19.96 million km by 2050 (19.91–23.45 million depending on the climate and urbanization scenarios), placing an estimated 49.13% (48.23–58.10%) of the world’s population at risk of arbovirus transmission.” The expanding range of disease-transmitting mosquitos is a significant source of harms from climate change. These diseases largely have low mortality, but serious quality-of-life costs (in the case of Zika, brain damage in fetuses). It’s not clear that most countries are ready to address the public health challenge.

California Parents Want Cell Phone Tower Taken Down Because Kids Just Keep Getting Cancer -- Could this be one of the reasons why cancer rates are steadily rising all over the world?  The radiation that we are constantly being bombarded with by the cell phone industry is one of the greatest environmental scandals in history, and yet the environmental movement is almost completely silent about this crisis.  As you will see below, scientific study after scientific study has linked cell phone use to cancer, and yet nothing is being done.  Instead, the big cell phone corporations are about to roll out their ultra-powerful 5G network nationwide, and that is just going to make this health crisis much worse. Perhaps you are skeptical that cell phone radiation is a major threat. Well, if your kid developed a life threatening case of cancer your attitude would probably change quite quickly.  In northern California, parents are fighting like mad to have a cell phone tower removed after a fourth child at a single elementary school was diagnosed with cancerA fourth child has been diagnosed with cancer at a San Joaquin County elementary school, and parents believe it’s because of radiation caused by a cell phone tower.The towers are spread throughout the community, but it’s this particular one that parents say needs to go.“We had a doctor tell us that it’s 100 percent environmental, the kind of tumor that he has,” said Monica Ferrulli.So far the school district is not budging.  Perhaps it has something to do with the $2,000 a month that they are getting from the phone company. Future generations are going to look back in horror at how self-destructive we were.  All the science tells us that cell phone radiation is dangerous, and yet we just can’t help ourselves.

U.S. minorities consume less but suffer more from pollution: study (Reuters) - U.S. air pollution is disproportionately caused by white consumers, while African-Americans and Hispanics are burdened most by the emissions, a peer-reviewed study showed on Monday. On average, African-Americans are exposed to about 56 percent more fine particulate matter pollution than is caused by their consumption of goods and services, said the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Hispanics, on average, bear a burden of 63 percent excess exposure, it said. Whites, on the other hand, experience a “pollution advantage,” meaning they are exposed to 17 percent less pollution than is caused by their consumption. The study was the first to quantify what it called “pollution inequity” and to track it over time. Particulate matter pollution has a wide variety of sources including coal-fired power plants, agriculture, road dust and industry. Blacks and Hispanics bear a higher proportion of the pollution because of where most of them live, compared with where most white people live, said the study, which tapped census data. The problem occurs across the country, not just in industrial areas alongside major cities like Houston and New York, it said. The study was paid for in part by a five-year grant that included money from federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and was launched when Barack Obama was president. Both racial minorities and whites have benefited from clean air regulations, the study found, with fine particulate pollution falling about 50 percent on average between 2003 and 2015. But the pollution inequity remains stubborn, it said. Public-health advocates and environmentalists say the Trump administration’s push to unravel regulations on power plants, industry and vehicles while pursuing increased drilling and mining will make air pollution worse. 

First-of-Its-Kind Study Finds Racial Gap Between Who Causes Air Pollution and Who Breathes It - Studies have long shown that minority communities in the U.S.are disproportionately exposed to harmful pollution. But a study published Monday reveals a new level of environmental injustice: they are also less likely to contribute to it.  The first-of-its-kind study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that black and Hispanic Americans breathe in large amounts of dangerous air pollution that is mainly caused by the actions of non-Hispanic whites.  "Even though minorities are contributing less to the overall problem of air pollution, they are affected by it more," study co-author and University of Minnesota engineering professor Jason Hill, who is white, told USA Today. "Is it fair (that) I create more pollution and somebody else is disproportionately affected by it?" The study focused on the creation of and exposure to particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), a dangerous form of air pollution that kills more than 100,000 Americans each year from heart disease, lung cancer and other ailments. It found that white Americans have a "pollution advantage," that is, they are exposed to about 17 percent less air pollution than their consumption causes. Black and Hispanic Americans, on the other hand, have a "pollution burden." Black Americans are exposed to 56 percent more air pollution than their consumption generates, and Hispanic Americans are exposed to 63 percent more, a University of Minnesota press release republished by ScienceDaily explained. To track which groups were responsible for and exposed to what pollution, the research team, which included scientists from the University of Minnesota and University of Washington, looked at a wide variety of data. This included, according to NPR:

  • 1. Where different polluters, like coal plants or large-scale agriculture, emitted pollution.
  • 2. Which racial groups lived near different pollution sources.
  • 3. How many early deaths each year were caused by each polluter.
  • 4. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing how much different groups spend in certain sectors of the economy like food, energy or entertainment.
  • 5. Bureau of Economic Analysis data tracing items consumed back to their source, where the pollution was originally emitted.

The disparity between how much White Americans contributed to pollution vs. Black and Hispanic Americans didn't come down to particular consumption choices, study lead author and University of Washington postdoctoral researcher Christopher Tessum told NPR. Whites just spent more across the board.

Air pollution deaths are double previous estimates, finds research - The number of early deaths caused by air pollution is double previous estimates, according to research, meaning toxic air is killing more people than tobacco smoking.The scientists used new data to estimate that nearly 800,000 people die prematurely each year in Europe because of dirty air, and that each life is cut short by an average of more than two years. The health damage caused by air pollution in Europe is higher than the global average. Its dense population and poor air results in exposure that is among the highest in the world.The new research, published in the European Heart Journal, indicates that while air pollution hits the lungs first, its impact via the bloodstream on heart disease and strokes is responsible for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases.  (Graph of early deaths and contributing diseases) The analysis builds on research published in September and confirms that calculation of 8.8m early deaths a year from outdoor air pollution around the world, double previous estimates. “To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking,” said Prof Thomas Münzel at the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany and one of the scientists behind the new study. “Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not.”

Blame Wood-Burning Stoves for Winter Air Pollution and Health Threats - The World Health Organization has ranked air pollution and climate change as the top health threat for 2019. One in nine deaths around the world are due to air pollution. In Canada, air pollution kills nine times more people than automobile accidents. My own research shows that in rural British Columbia the main source of winter air pollution is residential wood burning, and that it is mostly being ignored and rarely monitored by government. Wood smoke may smell good, but it is not good for you. The main threat comes from the cocktail of tiny particles and droplets that are about 2.5 microns in diameter (also called PM2.5). Due to their size, they easily work their way into our lungs, bloodstream, brain and other organs, triggering asthma attacks, allergic responses, heart attacks and stroke.Chronic exposure to PM2.5 is linked to heart disease, lung cancer in non-smokers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Type II diabetes and dementia.Wood smoke affects everyone, but children are especially vulnerable in part because their respiratory systems are under development. Pregnant women exposed to wood smoke may have children with smaller lungs, impaired immune systems, decreased thyroid function and changes to brain structure that may contribute to difficulties with self control. Children who are hospitalized for lower respiratory tract infectionsare more likely to have a wood stove in the house, although other factors may also play a role.The elderly are also at risk. A recent study of people living in BC, in Kamloops, Prince George, Courtenay and the Comox Valley, showed that wood stove pollution significantly increased the rate of heart attacks in people over 65.And that nice smell? It comes from benzene, a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) and acrolein. With the dozens of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in wood smoke, it's inconsistent for governments to ban smoking and vaping in public places while ignoring the smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces.

Toxic chemicals are poisoning communities, and those affected say EPA isn’t doing enough to stop it — When Hope Grosse was growing up in Warminster, Pennsylvania, she rarely thought about her home’s proximity to the Naval Air Warfare Center nearby, and how that might impact the safety of the water she drank and bathed in daily.  Now 53 years old, Grosse was diagnosed with stage four cancer at age 25, shortly after her father died from brain cancer. The cause, she is certain, was the presence of chemicals found in the water, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of man-made chemicals that are toxic to humans and can increase the risk of cancer, among other health risks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been under mounting pressure to regulate and restrict the use of PFAS, which can be found in everything from non-stick pans to firefighting foam. But impacted communities say the government hasn’t done enough, something they worry reflects the Trump administration’s ties to the chemical industry.  “The EPA’s basically saying ‘yeah, we’re going to do it,’ but…,”  Grosse’s frustration came hours after the House Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on the environment held a hearing to address PFAS contamination and regulation. Both Reps. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) referenced Grosse’s story specifically during the hearing. “Ms. Grosse’s father died of cancer at 52 years of age, and her sister suffered from ovarian cysts, lupus, fibromyalgia, and abdominal aneurysms. [Grosse] worries that she has unwittingly exposed her own children to these toxic chemicals,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who submitted Grosse’s testimony for the record. The government and industries alike have been aware of the dangers posed by PFAS for years, but as awareness grows, so too has the expectation that something be done to protect the public. Recent crises — including when two Michigan communities were forced to drink bottled water after alarmingly high PFAS levels were detected last summer — have prompted outrage across the country. But the federal government has yet to step in and regulate the chemicals, which include PFOA, PFOS, and GenX, among others.

PFAS Contamination, the New Flint at Military Bases and Again in Michigan - In parts of Livingston and Oakland counties, the people have been warned not to eat the fish from the Huron River and Kent, Strawberry, Zukey, Gallagher, Loon, Whitewood, Base Line and Portage lakes as well as Hubbell Pond due to the fish being contaminated with PFAS and similar chemicals coming from industries. In 2016, Michigan started to tell people about the impact of PFAS and how dangerous the PFAS and PFOAs are.PFAS/PFOA are part of a class of man-made chemicals used in many industrial and consumer products to make the products resist heat, stains, water, and grease. Product Examples include: Teflon® cookware, waterproofing fabric and coating on fast food wrappers. Former Army reservist Spc. Mark Favors, his relatives, and family have lived around Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base for years drinking and bathing-in base and off-base water for years. The level of PFAS and PFOA on base around Peterson Air Force Base has been established at 79 to 88,400 parts per trillion on-base wells and 79 to 7,910 parts per trillion in public and private drinking wells off base. It was not until the EPA published its 70 parts per trillion guidelines did the DOD claim it began to understandhow harmful exposure could be and voluntarily took action. Spc. Mark Favors does not buy the excuse. The issue has been explored in-depth by the Colorado Springs Gazette, which produced a timeline dating back to the first concerns about the foam used to fight fires in 1962. Fort Carson stopped using the firefighting foam in 1991 stating, “Firefighting operations that use AFFF must be replaced with nonhazardous substitutes.”  In Michigan, it will take a Flint-sized emergency before it begins to take aggressive action with businesses dumping contaminated water in company drainage pipes going to water reclamation plants.  Fifty year old Mark Favors can count at least 16 relatives from around the area who have been diagnosed with cancer; 10 have died. Six of those relatives have died since 2012, including his father at age 69 and two cousins, ages 38 and 54.

Banned pesticides and industrial chemicals found flowing from Tijuana into San Diego - There may be more in the sewage-tainted water that regularly spills over the border from Tijuana than many San Diegans realize. The cross-border pollution also contains potentially dangerous industrial and agricultural chemicals, according to a draft report compiled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that was circulated to officials throughout the region on Wednesday. The agency has been conducting water-quality testing since early 2018 in the canyons that empty into the Tijuana River Valley, where agents regularly chase down illegal crossers. Along with high levels of bacteria from human waste, the testing found carcinogenic chemicals — such as the banned pesticide DDT and dangerous industrial compounds, such as hexavalent chromium. “This is some horrible stuff,” said Christopher Harris, who has worked as a border agent in San Diego for more than two decades and is the spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613. “This is affecting not just the border agents, but everyone who recreates down there.” A number of the agents have suffered chemical burns and rashes after coming in contact with the polluted water, Harris said. “You’ve created one giant chemical waste dump in the Tijuana River Valley.” The extent of the pollution has yet to be fully documented. Levels for any one contaminant were not dramatically high, according to water quality officials. But the list contained more than two dozen potentially dangerous substances, from uranium to the internationally banned pesticide Aldrin. “Just one chemical by itself maybe it’s OK, but all together that hasn’t been evaluated, said Helen Yu, a water resource control engineer with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. “Mostly for human health it’s pathogens in human waste that are most concerning,” she added.

 The Real Elitists Who Look Down on Trump Voters - West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette has a daily feature titled “Boil Water Advisories” that updates residents on where such advisories have been issued. That is likely a result of West Virginia’s water crisis.The state’s Department of Environmental Protection released a proposal to update about 60 water quality standards, based on recommendations from the Obama administration’s EPA, that would have reduced known carcinogens in rivers and streams. When the state legislature began consideration of the proposal, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association (dominated by Dow Chemical), objected. They argue that the EPA encourages states to incorporate state-specific science, and that because West Virginians are heavier, their bodies can handle more pollutants, and that because they drink less water, they are less exposed to the pollutants. They have commissioned a worker to gather that state-specific information. I found that hard to believe. Would a lobbying group actual claim that West Virginia’s residents aren’t in need of safe drinking water because they are overweight and drink less water? As an environmental health professor at West Virginia University School of Public Health pointed out, “any amount of a carcinogen can be cancer-causing, and heavier bodies may already have other problems, like inflammation, that increase risk for cancer.” I would suggest that the real “elites” who are looking down their noses at the Trump voters of West Virginia are those manufacturing companies producing chemical products that contaminate their water supply while telling them that, because they’re so fat and don’t drink enough water, they can handle being exposed to carcinogens. That also applies to any politician who does their bidding. If that makes me an elitist…so be it.

Pollution Panic Strikes US Cities As Officials Face Consequences of China's Waste Blockade - Beginning in Feb 2017, as part of China’s broader “National Sword” campaign, the largest buyer of recyclables from the US, banned 24 types of solid waste from being imported and placed tougher restrictions on the ones it continues to accept.  The move left the recycling industry and authorities in a number of US cities struggling with the disposal of plastic, paper and glass trash, and as RT reports, US officials say it creates pollution, negatively impacting the health of residents.“Communities around trash incinerators have experienced elevated levels of certain cancers,” environmental activist Mike Ewall told Ruptly video agency in Chester, outside Philadelphia, where a large incinerator is located.It burns around 200 tons of recyclable materials every day. Ewall noted that burning trash releases “28 times more dioxin pollution” than burning coal, emitting “the most toxic chemicals known to science,” like mercury and lead.The residents complain that the incinerator affects house prices as well. “It destroyed the sense of community, because people that were here moved. You cannot sell the house. It has destroyed the foundations,” local activist Zulene Mayfield told Ruptly. Finally, some have suggested Beijing’s move to crack down on waste imports may be part of the ongoing trade war with Washington: “I have to take off my hat to China: it’s a very clever trade move,” Jeffrey Tucker, the editorial director at the American Institute for Economic Research, told RT, adding that Beijing “would never admit that this is part of the trade war.” For some context, U.S. plastic waste exports to China plummeted by 92 percent between the first part of 2017 and the first part of 2018.   "It’s a way of putting a huge tariff or a blockade on the worst of American exports to China. If it is a tactic, it’s a brilliant one."

India follows China’s lead, bans plastic waste imports - It has been just over a year since China banned imports of foreign plastic waste, and now India has followed in its footsteps. Effective March 1, all imports of foreign solid plastic waste and scrap have been banned. The move is meant to "close the gap between waste generation and recycling capacity," and to help keep the country on track for its goal to phase out all single-use plastics by 2020. India produces nearly 26,000 tons of plastic waste daily and an estimated 40 percent of that remains uncollected, due to inadequate recycling facilities, so it makes sense that the country hardly needs more inputs.There were already some prohibitions in place, limiting plastic imports to companies in Special Economic Zones (SEZs), while allowing certain businesses to procure resources from abroad. But as the Economic Times reported, "The provision of partial ban was misused by many companies on the pretext of being in an SEZ."  India had begun taking in greater quantities of plastic following China's ban, but now that will shift to other, less regulated countries in southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. All of these have experienced a drastic increase in plastics imports in the past year. The Independent said that Malaysia is now receiving three times the trash it used to, Vietnam's imports have increased by 50 percent, and the amount of Thailand has gone up fifty-fold.  "After China's announcement that it would no longer accept 'foreign garbage', environment secretary Michael Gove said the UK had to 'stop offshoring our dirt' and deal with its plastic waste at home. But at the time, India was mentioned as one destination for plastic rubbish as a 'short term' alternative destination to China." Clearly that short-term solution has come to an end – and the Western nations that are accustomed to shipping their waste to distant corners of the Earth appear no closer to managing the detritus of their own lives. For the time being Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand appear content to continue receiving it (although that stance is mostly official, and being challenged by enraged citizens whose health and wellbeing are being affected by the increased pollution), but that's not going to last.

India Bans Plastics Waste Imports, While Fossil Fuel Plastics Pushers in US and China Ramp Up to Party On --Jerri-lynn Scofield - India last week banned imports of plastics waste for recycling. This move will exacerbate the worldwide recycling crisis. Regular readers know that China in 2017 stopped importing plastics waste for recycling, diverting waste exports to other Asian countries, principally India, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, which have found their recycling capacity overwhelmed – resulting in more illegal disposal, and fouling of oceans and other places (see Waste Watch: US Dumps Plastic Rubbish in Southeast Asia). Skyrocketing plastic waste imports – which increased four-fold from 2016-17 through 2017-18 – are compounding  India’s own waste disposal problems. According to The Wire, India Imposes Complete Ban on Solid Plastic Waste Imports: In January, it was reported that India’s plastic imports had increased from 12,000 tonnes in 2016-17 FY to 48,000 in the 2017-18 FY. While India has recycles a higher percentage of its plastic waste than most countries, 44% of its plastic waste is still not recycled. The rising imports only made matters worse. The environment ministry admitted as much, when the “huge gap between waste generation and recycling capacity” in the country was attributed as one reason for the complete ban. Officials said India’s “commitment to completely phase out single-use plastic by 2022” was another reason for the new amendments. The countries that produce plastics waste have been unable to increase their domestic recycling capacity enough to meet their demand, and this failure has in turn collapsed prices for recyclables. Cities have slowed recycling programs or halted them completely (see this February article in the Guardian, ‘Moment of reckoning’: US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports) for some further details. Now, it cannot be denied that India faces its own huge waste disposal issues. But the country has yet to embrace a throwaway culture. This is in part a consequence of its lower per capita income and widespread poverty. Seeing this as a glass half-full rather than one half-empty, that means in India there’s less heavy lifting to do to get people to waste less. And this in turn means that the design of a sustainable future Indian waste policy won’t rely unduly on the recycling fairy – the Siren call by which too many advanced countries, IMHO, have been seduced.

The World’s Recycling Is in Chaos. Here’s What Has to Happen - Wired - It has been a year since China jammed the works of recycling programs around the world by essentially shutting down what had been the industry’s biggest market. China’s National Sword policy, enacted in January 2018, banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for that nation’s recycling processors, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past quarter century. The move was an effort to halt a deluge of soiled and contaminated materials that was overwhelming Chinese processing facilities and leaving the country with yet another environmental problem—and this one not of its own making. In the year since, China’s plastic imports have plummeted by 99 percent, leading to a major global shift in where and how materials tossed in the recycling bin are being processed. While the glut of plastics is the main concern, China’s imports of mixed paper have also dropped by a third. Recycled aluminum and glass are less affected by the ban. Globally, more plastics are now ending up in landfills, incinerators, or likely littering the environment as rising costs to haul away recyclable materials increasingly render the practice unprofitable. In England, more than half a million more tons of plastics and other household garbage were burned last year. Australia’s recycling industry is facing a crisis as the country struggles to handle the 1.3 million-ton stockpile of recyclable waste it had previously shipped to China. Across the United States, local governments and recycling processors are scrambling to find new markets. Communities from Douglas County, Oregon, to Hancock, Maine, have curtailed collections or halted their recycling programs entirely, which means that many residents are simply tossing plastic and paper into the trash. Some places, like Minneapolis, have stopped accepting black plastics and rigid No. 6 plastics like disposable cups. Others, like Philadelphia, are now burning the bulk of their recyclables at a waste-to-energy plant, raising concerns about air pollution. The recycling crisis triggered by China’s ban could have an upside, experts say, if it leads to better solutions for managing the world’s waste, such as expanding processing capacities in North America and Europe, and spurring manufacturers to make their products more easily recyclable. Above all, experts say it should be a wake-up call to the world on the need to sharply cut down on single-use plastics.

Bomb cyclone breaks records, brings blizzard conditions to the Plains - A powerful storm the National Weather Service says is "of historic proportions" has stranded hundreds of people after intensifying into a raging blizzard across the Plains, bringing hurricane-force wind gusts, widespread flooding and white-out conditions to multiple states from Colorado to the Dakotas.  This storm's strength and rate of intensification is unusual for the Plains states, with low pressure records likely to be challenged or broken in multiple locations. (In general, the lower the air pressure, the stronger the storm.) The minimal central pressure may hit the low 970s or upper 960s millibars Wednesday when it peaks in eastern Colorado or western Kansas, threatening March and all-time state records. So far, the minimum pressure of 971 millibars recorded in Colorado would be a new state record if it is confirmed. The storm is bringing air and road travel to a screeching halt from Dallas to North Dakota, with blizzard conditions and winds gusting upwards of 80 mph forecast for a vast stretch of real estate. Major airline hubs, including Denver, Dallas and Chicago, are seeing impacts from this storm, leading to delays and cancellations, the FAA warns. In Denver, for example, visibility was reduced to essentially zero in heavy snow along with winds gusting to 75 mph, effectively shutting down the airport.   This particular storm has intensified so rapidly that it qualifies as a "bomb cyclone," a non-technical moniker applied to storms that undergo a process known as bombogenesis, through which their minimum central air pressure drops by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. Typically, rapidly deepening, non-tropical storms such as this tend to occur over oceans, where the contrast between air masses and availability of moisture is maximized.  Already on Wednesday morning, at least one all-time low pressure record was set, in Pueblo, Colorado.

 Winter Storm Called A 'Bomb Cyclone' Paralyzes Central U.S. –   An intense winter storm — a "bomb cyclone" of snow and wind — has stranded drivers and shut down interstates in the Rockies and Plains regions of the U.S. Colorado's National Guard said Thursday that it has now rescued 75 people and two dogs, after checking on 148 vehicles stuck in the storm. The winter storm has been linked to at least one death. The Colorado State Patrol says Cpl. Daniel Groves, 52, died on Interstate 76 after being struck by a Volvo whose driver lost control. Groves had gotten out of his patrol car to check on another vehicle that had slid off the road, police said.   Hours earlier, the Colorado State Patrol had reiterated its calls for people to keep off the roads and stay home if at all possible, warning of the risk of accidents.   Many state agencies are making that plea again Thursday, with blizzard conditions predicted over parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Minnesota. The National Weather Service says the intense weather might have peaked — but isn't letting up yet.  "Travel will remain difficult and life threatening across these areas, with improving conditions Thursday night into Friday as the storm pushes farther off to the northeast," the National Weather Service says.  "All state offices will be closed today," South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced, citing forecasters' warnings of intense winds. In Sioux Falls, S.D., the eponymous falls were raging Wednesday and Thursday, and floodwaters forced dozens of road closures. The city posted a video of the extensive flooding, urging people to stay away from the high waters.   "Interstate 90 in western South Dakota is closed for more than 200 miles," South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Gary Ellenbolt reports for NPR from the city of Aberdeen.

Historic blizzard blasts 100mph winds across central US, turns deadly - A monster winter storm that slammed the Rockies into the Central Plains contributed to the death of a Colorado State Patrol corporal on Wednesday, officials report.  The 'bomb cyclone' packed blizzard conditions, tropical storm-force winds, and hazardous travel.  The National Weather Service deemed the storm a "cyclone of historic proportions." As the blizzard developed, heavy snow lashed northern Colorado, including Denver, western Nebraska, eastern Wyoming, central South Dakota, and southeastern North Dakota. The storm strengthened over the High Plains on Wednesday with the rate of intensification resulting in bombogenesis, which occurs when the barometric pressure rapidly plummets, crashing more than the 0.71 of an inch threshold in a 24-hour period. The rare weather phenomenon is often referred to as a "bomb cyclone."  National Weather Service (NWS) offices logged roughly 350 wind gusts reports of 50 mph or more during a 24 hour period.Some locations were hit with tropical storm-force winds. The NWS has received more than 92 reports of damage. "There have been gusts to near 100 mph with the snow in Colorado Springs, Colo.," AccuWeather Dave Samuhel said. Airlines canceled almost 2,000 flights and delayed another 2,700 due to the wind and severe weather."The powerful winds also led to structural damage, widespread tree damage, power outages and difficult driving conditions," Samuhel said.  A portion of the above corridor was expected to receive 12-18 inches of snow with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 26 inches possible in some places by the time the storm is finished. Indeed, some places in Colorado reported more than a foot of snowfall by late afternoon, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Many places are under water from Nebraska to Wisconsin, as major flooding engulfs the region - While a historically snowy winter begins to wind down across parts of the Plains and Midwest, what threatens to be an equally historic spring flood season is now underway. From Nebraska to Wisconsin, as well as up and down rivers in the Plains and Midwest, over 10 million people are under flood warnings into the weekend in the wake of this week’s “bomb cyclone.” Some of the most significant flooding thus far has hit eastern Nebraska. “Widespread and extremely dangerous flooding will continue today and tonight,” the National Weather Service office in Omaha wrote in an update Friday morning. Since issuing that statement, the Weather Service itself has had to evacuate because of a dike failure on the Platte River. For Reference. The National Weather Service in Omaha (@NWSOmaha) is located in Valley #Nebraska near the Platte River. They are Evacuating due to Flooding. @NWSHastings is taking over operations. FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY in progress. The NWS OAX radar is being shut down #NEwx — James Sinko (@JamesSinko) March 15, 2019   In northeast Nebraska, the city of Norfolk remains under a large-scale evacuation on its east side. Flooding there is caused by rivers like the Elkhorn rising to near-record levels and breaching levees in some spots. reported that one-third of the city of 24,000 was evacuated. Water in that location is now subsiding, but only after a portion of the city was submerged. Columbus, Neb., which sits at the meeting point of the Platte and Loup rivers in southeastern parts of the state has also been particularly hard hit. A farmer was killed there when his tractor was swept away while attempting to help rescue others from floodwaters. Several others are missing in the region. Major ice jams on both rivers near Columbus led to a flash flood emergency in the area on Thursday. Officials were planning to place coal ash on the ice to help it melt and allow the rivers to recede once the natural and temporary dams were removed, but the jams broke up on their own before that plan was set into motion. In recent days, as the “bomb cyclone” dispensed heavy rainfall, flooding focused on creeks and streams and small to intermediate-size rivers. Through the weekend, the most significant flooding is forecast to shift to the larger rivers in the region.

US just sloshed through the wettest winter on record (AP) — Federal meteorologists say this winter was America’s wettest on record.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that from December to February, what it calls winter, the Lower 48 states got 9.01 inches of rain and snow, which is 2.22 inches more than the 20th century normal. It surpassed the 1997-1998 winter by 0.02 inches.Record or almost record rain and snow fell in the West, Tennessee Valley and parts of the Great Lakes. Last month was the second wettest February on record.Despite some bone-chilling outbreaks, winter in the Lower 48 was 1.2 degrees warmer than the 20th century average. February was 1.8 degrees cooler than normal.University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles says increasing precipitation is a sign of climate change. Records date back to 1895.

FCC to auction off wireless spectrum that could interfere with vital weather data, rejecting requests from U.S. House and science agencies The Federal Communications Commission intends to move ahead with a plan to auction off wireless radio frequencies that scientists say could harm critical satellite data used in weather forecasting.The FCC said the auction, scheduled Thursday, will proceed despite protests from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, as well as two committees in the U.S. House.For months, the FCC, supporting the interests of advancing 5G wireless technology, has sparred with NOAA and NASA, which have fought to protect the wireless radio frequencies or “spectrum” along and adjacent to frequencies weather data is passed. Last week, the agencies reached an impasse when the FCC rejected a NOAA and NASA requests for further deliberation on spectrum policy.  But FCC spokesman Brian Hart told The Washington Post in an email that the auction would proceed.“[Thursday’s] 24 GHz auction is an important step towards securing American leadership in 5G,” he said. “While our nation’s international competitors would undoubtedly be pleased if we delayed this auction of greenfield spectrum at the last minute, the FCC will move forward as planned so that our nation can win the race to 5G and the American people can quickly enjoy the benefits of the next generation of wireless connectivity.”The Appropriations Committee letter had stressed that a delay “is necessary to allow for further review of potential interference to adjacent band uses that are critical for national security as well as the protection of American lives and property.”It explained that the NOAA “uses the 23.6-24 GHz spectrum band for microwave sensor-based remote s ensing of atmospheric levels of water vapor, which is the single most impactful data stream for accurately forecasting weather. This data is used by NOAA’s National Weather Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Defense (DOD), in addition to the broader international weather community.”

Montana just endured one of the nation’s most exceptional cold spells on record - There's a kind of cold that's legitimately dangerous. It can causes frostbite in minutes to unexposed skin. In parts of the Lower 48 states, such extreme cold is not uncommon, for a few days to at most a week. But over the entire month of February and even into March, such exceptional, life-threatening cold never departed parts of Montana. Temperatures averaging 20 to 30 degrees below normal gripped huge areas in the state, as well as parts of the Dakotas.  These places are normally cold but this chill was unlike anything seen in the contiguous United States in decades, for both its intensity and its duration.  The February temperature departures from normal were stunning. Several major climate locations averaged 27 to 28 degrees below normal, which were the most extreme in the Lower 48 for a full month since January 1969, according to Alaska-based climatologist Brian Brettschneider.  Great Falls, Montana, was at the heart of it. The mercury didn't rise above zero on 11 days and dropped to zero or below on 24 nights. Only the first day of the month topped freezing. Its average February temperature finished 27.5 degrees below normal. The punishing and unrelenting cold continued into March. On March 3, the low temperature tanked to a bone-chilling minus-32 in Great Falls. Combined with a high of minus-8, the day finished a whopping 50 degrees below normal. The city concluded its longest stretch on record below freezing on March 7.  "For February 3rd through March 4th, Great Falls, MT averaged 32.3F below normal," Sam Lillo, a PhD student in meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, recently tweeted. While the cold in February was remarkable for its persistence, the brutal Arctic blast to begin March delivered the most intensity. Almost two dozen official stations in Montana broke monthly records during the early-month Arctic invasion, with widespread readings in the minus-30s to minus-40s. An all-time record state low for March of minus-46 was also likely established. Icing on a cake long frozen.

 Ruined crops, salty soil: How rising seas are poisoning North Carolina’s farmland — The salty patches were small, at first — scattered spots where soybeans wouldn’t grow, where grass withered and died, exposing expanses of bare, brown earth. But lately those barren patches have grown. On dry days, the salt precipitates out of the mud and the crystals make the soil sparkle in the sunlight.  “It’s been getting worse,” the farmer tells East Carolina University hydrogeologist Alex Manda, who drove out to this corner of coastal North Carolina with a group of graduate students to figure out what’s poisoning Pugh’s land — and whether anything can be done to stop it. Of climate change’s many plagues — drought, insects, fires, floods — saltwater intrusion in particular sounds almost like a biblical curse. Rising seas, sinking earth and extreme weather are conspiring to cause salt from the ocean to contaminate aquifers and turn formerly fertile fields barren. A 2016 study in the journal Science predicted that 9 percent of the U.S. coastline is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion — a percentage likely to grow as the world continues to warm. Scientists are just beginning to assess the potential effect on agriculture, Manda said, and it’s not yet clear how much can be mitigated. “We spend a lot of time and money to try to prevent salt,” Pugh says. “I worry what the future is. If it keeps getting worse, will it be worth farming?” If farmers in coastal areas have any hope of protecting their land — and their livelihoods — the first step is to disentangle the complex web of causes that can send ocean water seeping into the ground beneath their feet. Although Pugh and Gibbs demur when asked what they think is behind the recent disasters, ­science suggests that climate change plays a major role. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that sea levels near Pamlico Sound are rising at a rate of 4.4 millimeters per year — equivalent to nearly 1.5 feet over the next century. Other research has shown that warmer oceans make Atlantic hurricanes wetter, slower and more intense, resulting in more catastrophic storms like Florence.

A Nearly $1 Trillion California Flood Likely to Occur Within 40 Years - The odds of a 1-in-200-year flood in California costing nearly $1 trillion (4% of U.S. GDP) are steadily rising due to climate change, with a greater than 50% chance of one occurring in the next 40 years. That’s the startling conclusion of a paper(open access) published in 2018 by a team led by Daniel Swain (University of California, Los Angeles, press release here). One dramatic example of the type of damage such a storm could potentially cause is the failure of the Whittier Narrows Dam on the San Gabriel River in the Los Angeles metro area, which could flood up to 1 million people in the metropolitan Los Angeles area. Storms capable of causing a $1 trillion flood in California have hit multiple times in the past, so it is only a matter of time before one occurs again. The most recent one occurred back in the winter of 1861 – 1862. A 45-day period of torrential rains from multiple storms carrying a strong “atmospheric river” (AR) of tropical moisture impacted the state, turning California’s Central Valley into a lake 300 miles long and over 20 miles wide. The resulting floods put downtown Sacramento under 10+ feet of water, forcing movement of the state capital to San Francisco. Sediment research has found that six storms even more severe than the 1861 – 1862 storm hit California in the years 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418, and 1605 AD. If a storm with an equivalent amount of precipitation were to hit California now, it might do $900 billion (2019 dollars) in damage, according to a 2011 study by the USGS called the “ARkStorm Scenario”  The storm they modeled could flood up to 25% of all buildings in the state, breach approximately 50 levees, and force the evacuation of 1.5 million people.

Sick Marine Animals Turning Up on California Beaches in Droves -- As winter rains have poured down, trash has flowed onto area beaches. And amid the detritus has been an even more troubling discovery: scores of sickened or dead marine mammals.  Orange County beaches have been inundated with sick seals, sea lions and other marine mammals, as well as dead dolphins. Rescues of unhealthy marine mammals have nearly tripled for this time of year in Orange County, according to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which this week took in its 41st animal since the year began. The number of sick marine mammals becoming stranded in L.A. County beaches is slightly higher than usual, with 44 being cared for by the Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles, said veterinarian Lauren Palmer. “It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind,” said Krysta Higuchi, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. “We’re going through fish, funds and medical supplies faster than we expected. It is a strain on all of us here.”  The center says it’s normal for the number of stranded animals to go up near the end of March, but this year the organization has rescued three elephant seals and a large number of sea lions much earlier than usual, and most are 8-month-old pups.  Sea lion pups are typically beached either because their mothers are unhealthy and cannot properly feed them, or they were strong enough to wean early and then are unable to find food on their own, said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The rescued pups have been dry, malnourished and emaciated, weighing half as much as they should, the center said. Though the exact reason for the increase in the number of strandings this year is unknown, Higuchi said it could be tied to warmer ocean waters caused by an El Niño weather pattern or excess stormwater runoff from this winter’s rains.

More marine heat waves threaten fish and corals – study (Reuters) - The frequency of ocean heat waves has surged more than 50 percent since the early 20th century in a threat to fish, corals and other marine life stoked by global warming, an international study showed on Monday. Abrupt local spikes in temperatures, far less researched than heat waves on land, add to pressures on marine life such as over-fishing and plastic pollution, they wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change. Around the world's oceans, the number of days of marine heat waves per year rose 54 percent in the period 1987-2016 from 1925-54, according to the scientists in Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Spain and the United States. "Extreme temperature events may be one of the most important stresses on the oceans in coming decades," lead author Dan Smale of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom told Reuters. "Whether it's seaweeds or corals, fish, seabirds or mammals, you can detect the adverse effects of marine heat waves," he said. Marine heat waves, defined as at least five days with temperatures far above average, are caused by heat from blazing sunshine and by shifting warm currents. Among impacts, a 2011 marine heat wave off western Australia killed abalone stocks and a 2012 heat wave off the eastern United States drove lobster stocks north towards Canada. Many tropical corals have suffered from harmful "bleachings" in recent years. The scientists said marine heat waves were "emerging as forceful agents of disturbance" that could "restructure entire marine ecosystems", disrupting livelihoods and food supplies for millions of people. Most previous studies about climate change in the oceans have focused on a gradual rise in average temperatures, which hit a new record annual high in 2018, forcing fish to swim towards the poles or into the cooler depths. Heat waves often have natural causes but the report said "there is growing confidence that the observed intensification is due to human activities", led by the burning of fossil fuels.

Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal - The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”. The damage caused in these hotspots is also harmful for humanity, which relies on the oceans for oxygen, food, storm protection and the removal of climate-warming carbon dioxide the atmosphere, they say. Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature of the oceans, but the new research is the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more. The research found heatwaves are becoming more frequent, prolonged and severe, with the number of heatwave days tripling in the last couple of years studied. In the longer term, the number of heatwave days jumped by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with the period of 1925 to 1954. As heatwaves have increased, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs have been lost. These foundation species are critical to life in the ocean. They provide shelter and food to many others, but have been hit on coasts from California to Australia to Spain. “You have heatwave-induced wildfires that take out huge areas of forest, but this is happening underwater as well,” said Dan Smale at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK, who led the research published in Nature Climate Change. “You see the kelp and seagrasses dying in front of you. Within weeks or months they are just gone, along hundreds of kilometres of coastline.” As well as quantifying the increase in heatwaves, the team analysed 116 research papers on eight well-studied marine heatwaves, such as the record-breaking “Ningaloo Niño” that hit Australia in 2011 and the hot “blob” that persisted in the north-east Pacific from 2013 to 2016. “They have adverse impacts on a wide range of organisms, from plankton to invertebrates, to fish, mammals and seabirds,” Smale said. 

Whole thing is unraveling'- climate change reshaping Australia's forests - Australia’s forests are being reshaped by climate change as droughts, heatwaves, rising temperatures and bushfires drive ecosystems towards collapse, ecologists have told Guardian Australia. Trees are dying, canopies are getting thinner and the rate that plants produce seeds is falling. Ecologists have long predicted that climate change would have major consequences for Australia’s forests. Now they believe those impacts are unfolding.  “The whole thing is unravelling,” says Prof David Bowman, who studies the impacts of climate change and fire on trees at the University of Tasmania. “Most people have no idea that it’s even happening. The system is trying to tell you that if you don’t pay attention then the whole thing will implode. We have to get a grip on climate change.”  According to the 2018 State of the Climate Report, produced by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, large parts of the country are experiencing increases in weather patterns favourable to fires. The report found that rainfall has dropped in the south-east and south-west of the country, temperatures have warmed by an average of 1C, and a “shift to a warmer climate in Australia is accompanied by more extreme daily heat events”.  Dr Joe Fontaine, an ecologist at Murdoch University,  has studied one large shrub species – the south-western native Hooker’s banksia – and found seed production has “halved in the last 30 years”, which was “definitely a climate-driven problem with increased drought”. Last spring, Fontaine and colleagues inspected an area 300km north of Perth where the banksias had been hit by fire several years earlier. He wanted to know if they could cope with fire on top of the area’s long-term reduction in rainfall. “At this stage, years after fire, those plants should be recovering and really going for it,” he says. “Except instead these banksias were dead and falling over left and right. The young plants were dying too – this area was losing all their young vigorous plants. With more bushfire, this species is at real risk of being wiped off the map.”

2018 was California’s worst year of fire ever, federal report confirms - No state had it worse with wildfires last year than California, a federal report released this week confirmed. According to the National Interagency Coordination Center’s year-end statistical roundup, more than 1.8 million acres of California was burned by wildland fires in 2018, surpassing the previous year’s total of 1.3 million, officials said. “That’s the highest in the recorded history of California,” said Scott McLean, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 100 people were killed and 17,000 homes and 700 businesses were destroyed in a state where fires are considered one of the annual seasons. Crews responded to more than 8,000 fires last year. “It’s a surprise it’s that amount, but in a sense because of what I’ve seen over the last year, no it’s not,” McLean said. “It’s what we’ve been living through.” The last time California saw the most acres burned of any state in the nation was 2003, when a series of blazes killed dozens and scorched more than 750,000 acres in a matter of weeks. Last year’s Carr fire in Shasta and Trinity counties killed eight people and burned 230,000 acres in late July while at the same time, the Mendocino Complex fire — a pair of blazes in Lake and Mendocino Counties — blackened 459,000 acres and killed one firefighter. The latter was also the largest fire in state history. Then in early November, the Woolsey fire broke out in Ventura and Los Angeles counties while thousands of Northern California residents in Paradise were fleeing for their lives from the Camp fire, a fast-moving firestorm that killed 85 people and erupted the same day. Those two fires burned a combined 250,000 acres and destroyed most of the homes that were lost in California last year. About half the acres burned in the state in 2018 were on federal land with the rest on a mix of private, county and state lands, the report said. California accounted for 21% of all acres burned in the United States last year. Firefighters said the most devastating blazes had the most extreme behavior — wind-driven ember storms that created spot fires far beyond defensive lines and, in the case of the Carr fire, a “fire tornado” that ignited objects lifted into the air.

US eases land restrictions meant to protect bird in West -- (AP) — The Trump administration on Friday finalized changes to sweeping federal land use plans for the West, easing restrictions on energy companies and other industries in a way officials said would still protect a struggling bird species. The changes by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will guide future efforts to conserve greater sage grouse, ground-dwelling birds that range across portions of 11 Western states. Environmentalists said the widely-anticipated move will undermine protections for the chicken-sized grouse. It would allow more oil and gas drilling, mining and other activities that can disrupt grouse breeding grounds. But the changes secured key backing from Democratic and Republican governors in affected states, bolstering the administration’s position that revisions were needed to plans crafted under former President Barack Obama. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement that the changes marked “a shift away from planning toward active conservation and landscape management.” The birds are known for an elaborate mating ritual in which males fan their tails and puff out yellow air sacs in their chests as they strut around breeding grounds known as leks. Their numbers have plummeted due to energy development, disease and other factors. Opponents are expected to challenge the changes in court. Brian Rutledge with the Audubon Society said the revisions will make it harder to stop the long-term decline of sage grouse by giving oil and gas companies access to crucial grouse habitat. “It’s a free for all, based on prioritizing fossil fuel extraction over any other use of the federal landscape,” Rutledge said. 

Chimpanzee Culture Is Disappearing Thanks to Climate Change, Study Finds - Common chimpanzee behaviours, like stripping the leaves from a twig and using it to fish for termites, are becoming more rare according to new research that suggests that human activity is wearing down chimpanzee culture. Culture, in the animal sense, being the diversity of behaviour and the sharing of knowledge between individuals. A study published on Thursday in the journal Science revealed an 88 percent decline on average in the number of behaviours a chimpanzee will show when they’re living near areas with lots of people, or roads, or without forest cover. Chimpanzees might be more cautious about cracking nuts loudly using stones, for example, for fear of attracting the attention of poachers. Similarly, declining chimpanzee numbers mean there are fewer individuals to show others how to, say, get water using moss.The findings are frighteningly robust. Researchers catalogued 31 different behaviours (such as making cushions out of leaves or cooling down in a nearby cave) in 144 social groups. The study spanned the entire geographic range of wild chimpanzees, from Guinea in Western Africa to Southern Sudan in the east and Angola in the south. “We weren’t surprised that the human impact was having a negative effect but we were surprised by the degree,” primate researcher Ammie Kalan told Motherboard over the phone.

 1,700+ Species Now at Risk From Human Action, Researchers Report -The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a meter high (approximately 3.3 feet) at the shoulders so you couldn't miss it. Except that you could.  That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals' chances of survival dwindle rapidly.  So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges. Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers. These include many that underwrite the provision of food, medicine, fabric for the world's cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilization is founded.

‘Almost certain extinction’- 1,200 species under severe threat across world - More than 1,200 species globally face threats to their survival in more than 90% of their habitat and “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention, according to new research. Scientists working with Australia’s University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have mapped threats faced by 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians to determine which parts of a species’ habitat range are most affected by known drivers of biodiversity loss. The project is from the same team of researchers that found just five countries are responsible for 70% of the world’s remaining wilderness. The new research, published in PLOS Biology, maps “hotspots” where species are most affected by threats such as agriculture, urbanisation, night lighting, roads, rail, waterways and population density, and “coolspots” that provide refuge from these threats. The team looked only at threats that were known to affect a species within its habitat range and found that for the majority of wildlife studied, intrusions were “extensive” across most habitat, “severely limiting the area within which species can survive”. They said most concerning was their finding that 1,237 species – nearly a quarter of the animals assessed – were affected by threats across more than 90% of their distribution. The situation was worse for 395 species, or 7%, which were found to be affected by at least one relevant threat across their entire habitat range. “These results are very alarming and that’s because the threats we’ve mapped are specific to the species,” said James Allan, a University of Queensland post-doctoral researcher and the study’s lead author. “They’re the primary causes of the species’ decline and the reason they are threatened with extinction. Where a threat overlaps with a species, we know that species will continue to decline.”

Only 10 Vaquita Porpoises Remain in the World, Scientists Announce - Scientists announced Thursday that only 10 vaquita porpoises likely remain in the world and that the animal's extinction is virtually assured without bold and immediate action.The vaquita, the world's smallest and most endangered cetacean, is found only in Mexico's northern Gulf of California. The release of the new vaquita estimate comes just two days after reports of the possible first vaquita mortality of 2019. More details are expected in the coming days. Thursday's announcement from the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita also calls on Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to end all gillnet fishing and adopt a "zero tolerance" policy of enforcement in the vaquita's small remaining habitat. The committee is an international team of scientific experts assembled in 1996 to assist in vaquita recovery efforts. "One of Earth's most incredible creatures is about to be wiped off the planet forever," said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Yet Mexico has only made paper promises to protect these porpoises from deadly nets, without enforcement on the water. Time is running out for President Lopez Obrador to stop all gillnet fishing and save the vaquita."   The vaquita faces a single threat: entanglement in illegal gillnets set for shrimp and various fish species, including endangered totoaba. Totoaba swim bladders are illegally exported by organized criminal syndicates from Mexico to China, where they are highly valued for their perceived medicinal properties.  Despite efforts in Mexico to curb gillnet fishing of shrimp and other fish and efforts in China to reduce demand for totoaba, the vaquita's population dropped 50 percent in 2018, leaving an estimate of around 10 remaining vaquita, with no more than 22 and perhaps as few as six. In 2017, in the face of international pressure, Mexico banned the use of most gillnets within the vaquita's range, but enforcement has been lacking. For example, during the 2018 illegal totoaba fishing season, nearly 400 active totoaba gillnets were documented in a small portion of the vaquita's range, and gillnets continue to be found within the vaquita refuge. Recent violence against conservationists in the region has limited critically important net removal efforts.

Endangered species face 'disaster' under Trump administration -  Bald eagles are often held up alongside American alligators and whooping cranes as examples of the great species revivals that have taken place in the 45 years since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) arrived to stem the bleeding of American wildlife. “It’s been remarkable in pulling back some species from the brink,” Seabird McKeon, an ecologist at St Mary’s College of Maryland, said of the ESA. Many conservationists now fret this progress is at risk of being reversed as the Trump administration looks to refashion endangered species protections in order to ease conditions for industry, particularly those involved in oil and gas. Along the way, some species may risk being pushed close to extinction.  “The Trump administration has been a disaster for endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The stated intent is to expand oil and gas drilling. It is quite possible we will lose species because of the hostility and callousness shown by this administration.”  The ESA currently lists more than 1,600 species as being at risk, with listed species afforded protections in their habitat that can stymie activities such as building construction, hunting and mining. This approach has so far proved relatively successful, with just 1% of listed species ever becoming extinct. Significant elements of the protections are being picked apart, however. In July, the Trump administration proposed ending the practice of providing the same protections to species whether they be endangered or the less serious designation of threatened. The administration also wants economic impacts to be considered when species listings are decided, with species removed from the list more easily. Separately, the administration announced it will no longer pursue people or businesses for the unintentional killing of birds, such as when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wiped out up to a million birds in 2010. 

 Trump’s 2020 Budget Calls for $8.6 Billion to Build Ecologically Devastating Border Wall - President Donald Trump's 2020 budget calls for $8.6 billion in funding for his proposed border wall, NPR reported Monday, signaling that Trump is intent on a project that environmental groups say would be devastating to borderland communities and wildlife and that he is willing to keep fighting Congress to get it.A funding battle with Congress at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 over $5.7 billion for the project led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, which caused "irreparable" damage to some of the country's most beloved national parks."President Trump hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall, which he promised would be paid for by Mexico," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statementSunday. "The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson."Other potential public health and environmental impacts of Trump's 2020 budget include a 15 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a 31 percent cut to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The news also comes days after the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife released an interactive story map showing exactly how Trump's wall would impact the nature and communities of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) in Texas. The map acts in lieu of an environmental impact statement, which the Trump administration has refused to conduct, Defenders of Wildlife said in a press release about the map. "The Lower Rio Grande Valley has become ground zero for the Trump administration in its pursuit of a border wall that will destroy precious landscapes and communities," President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement. "This region is home to some of the most biodiverse habitat in the United States and is crucial to the survival of endangered species like the ocelot." The LRGV is home to more than 700 species of vertebrate, 300 species of butterfly, more than 300 bird species and at least 18 threatened or endangered species. There are already 115 miles of concrete or steel barrier along the Texas / Mexico border, and Congress has earmarked enough funds in 2018 and 2019 to build 88 more miles of concrete and steel wall in the LRGV. The Trump administration has issued legal waivers for 35 miles of wall and contracts for 14 miles, and the wall construction would seal off parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Defenders of Wildlife said.

Trump’s 2020 Budget Would Cut EPA Funding by 31% --President Donald Trump released his budget for fiscal year 2020 on Monday, to a general outcry from environmental groups who say it underfunds key programs and agencies.  EcoWatch has already reported on its biggest ask — $8.6 billion in funding for a border wall that would threaten borderland wildlife and communities — but the budget has been equally criticized for what it would cut, including a 31 percent decrease in funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a nine to 14 percent decrease for the Department of the Interior (DOI). Here are some of the programs the president would like to ax.

  • 1. Endangered Species Funding: The budget for adding new species to the endangered species list would be cut by about 50 percent, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said, while funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service overall would fall by 16 percent compared to 2019 levels.
  • 2. The Land and Water Conservation Fund: The popular Land and Water Conservation Fund uses money from offshore oil and gas drilling to create national parks, wildlife refuges and protected areas. It was re-authorized in a bipartisan public lands bill that Trump is expected to sign, yet his budget would reduce its funds by 95 percent, the Huffington Post reported.
  • 3. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Among the many potential EPA cuts, the Trump administration wants to massively reduce funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which works to restore wetlands and improve water quality. The budget wants to cut $270 million of $300 million in funding, but the Detroit Free Press notes this plan is unlikely to pass Congress because it is popular with both Republicans and Democrats representing Midwestern states.
  • 4. Climate Change Prevention and Research: Many plans to study or deal with climate change would see cuts, Pacific Standard reported. Those include a 90 percent funding decrease for the EPA's Atmospheric Protection Program, which reports on greenhouse gasses, and a 70 percent funding decrease for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Trump officially nominates David Bernhardt, a veteran lobbyist, to run Interior - More than a month after President Trump signaled he would pick David Bernhardt to run the Interior Department, he finally made the selection official Friday. Bernhardt, 49, has guided the department as acting secretary since Jan. 2, when Ryan Zinke resigned amid multiple ethics probes. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee can now begin the process of preparing for Bernhardt’s nomination hearing. If confirmed, the Colorado native would be well positioned to roll back even more of the Obama-era conservation policies he has worked to unravel since rejoining Interior. “David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!” Trump tweeted Feb. 4. Bernhardt is a former Capitol Hill staffer who served as Interior’s top lawyer under President George W. Bush, and set out to master law and policy in a bid to advance conservative agendas. But as a former partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, he has so many potential conflicts of interest at Interior that he has said he carries a small card listing them all. He has had to recuse himself from “particular matters” directly affecting 26 former clients to conform with the Trump administration’s ethics pledge. The Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group, said Bernhardt’s past as a lobbyist makes him “the most conflicted” choice of all of Trump’s nominees based on the number of people he represented “with business before the department he would be running.” 

Resource extraction responsible for half world’s carbon emissions - Extractive industries are responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions and more than 80% of biodiversity loss, according to the most comprehensive environmental tally undertaken of mining and farming. While this is crucial for food, fuel and minerals, the study by UN Environment warns the increasing material weight of the world’s economies is putting a more dangerous level of stress on the climate and natural life-support systems than previously thought. Resources are being extracted from the planet three times faster than in 1970, even though the population has only doubled in that time, according to the Global Resources Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Tuesday. Each year, the world consumes more than 92b tonnes of materials – biomass (mostly food), metals, fossil fuels and minerals – and this figure is growing at the rate of 3.2% per year. Since 1970, extraction of of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased from 6bn tonnes to 15bn tonnes, metals have risen by 2.7% a year, other minerals (particularly sand and gravel for concrete) have surged nearly fivefold from 9bn to 44bn tonnes, and biomass harvests have gone up from 9bn to 24bn tonnes. Up until 2000, this was a huge boost to the global economy, but since then there has been a diminishing rate of return as resources become more expensive to extract and the environmental costs become harder to ignore. 

Rain Is Triggering More Melting on the Greenland Ice Sheet, Including in Winter -- A new analysis of satellite and weather data shows that melting associated with rain in Greenland doubled in the summers and tripled in the winters from 1988 to 2012 as temperatures rose , scientists write in a study published Thursday in The Cryosphere, a journal of the European Geosciences Union. The total precipitation over the ice sheet didn't change over the study period, but more of it fell as rain, the study found. The scientists estimated that almost a third of the total runoff measured was triggered by rainfall.They also found that melting events triggered by rain lasted longer, lengthening from an average of two days to three in the summer, and from two days to five in the winter.The findings could help explain some of the increase in Greenland's meltwater runoff and show how global warming feedback loops can intensify the impact. Recent research published in the journal Naturefound meltwater runoff from the ice sheet had increased 50 percent since the start of the industrial era and is continuing to accelerate.                         

Sharp rise in Arctic temperatures now inevitable – UN -- Sharp and potentially devastating temperature rises of 3C to 5C in the Arctic are now inevitable even if the world succeeds in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement, research has found.Winter temperatures at the north pole are likely to rise by at least 3C above pre-industrial levels by mid-century, and there could be further rises to between 5C and 9C above the recent average for the region, according to the UN. Such changes would result in rapidly melting ice and permafrost, leading to sea level rises and potentially to even more destructive levels of warming. Scientists fear Arctic heating could trigger a climate “tipping point” as melting permafrost releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, which in turn could create a runaway warming effect.“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, the acting executive director of UN Environment. “We have the science. Now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought.”The findings, presented at the UN Environment assembly in Nairobi on Wednesday, give a stark picture of one of the planet’s most sensitive regions and one that is key to the fate of the world’s climate.Last year’s stark warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, setting out the dramatic impacts of 1.5C of global warming, did not include the impacts of potential tipping points such as melting permafrost. If melting permafrost triggers a tipping point, the likely results would be global temperature rises well in excess of the 2C set as the limit of safety under the Paris agreement. Nearly half of Arctic permafrost could be lost even if global carbon emissions are held within the Paris agreement limits, according to the UN study.

UN Report Warns 'Locked In' Arctic Temperature Spikes Will Unleash Global Sea Level Rise -- A new United Nations report warns that winter temperatures in the Arctic are still "locked in" to rise 3-5°C by 2050 and 5-9°C by 2080—with devastating consequences for the region and global sea levels—even if the international community cuts planet-warming emissions in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.  Global Linkages: A Graphic Look at the Changing Arctic (pdf) features maps and graphics about climate change, pollution prevention, and biodiversity conservation in the region. While the visual aids have an Arctic focus, they draw connections between what happens in the Arctic and the rest of the world.  Even if the world were to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, winter temperatures in the Arctic would rise 3-5°C by 2050 & 5-9°C by 2080 devastating the region & unleashing sea level rises worldwide. #UNEA4 #ClimateAction  — UN Environment (@UNEnvironment) March 14, 2019  The report was prepared by U.N. Environment (UNEP) and the Norwegian foundation GRID-Arendal, in close consultation with the Arctic Council. It is a product of the UNEP's Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6), a comprehensive assessment released Wednesday, as U.N. Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) is held in Nairobi, Kenya.   Both Global Linkages and the GEO-6 underscore the vital importance of policymakers pursuing a coordinated global effort to drive down greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). As the report points out, "even if we stopped all emissions overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic will still increase by 4 to 5°C compared to the late twentieth century."  While human-generated GHGs boost temperatures on a global scale, warming occurs faster in the Arctic. That's because of a phenomenon called Arctic or polar amplification—which, the report explains, "causes higher temperatures near the poles compared to the planetary average because of a combination of feedback processes." Rising temperatures, along with ocean acidification, pollution, and thawing permafrost threaten the Arctic—and the more than four million people who inhabit it, including 10 percent who are Indigenous. But, as UNEP acting executive director Joyce Msuya noted Wednesday, "What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic."

 New York City climate-change plan proposes adding land to Manhattan - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to protect Manhattan from climate change by expanding the island’s southern shore to keep rising seas at bay. The US$10-billion plan would extend Manhattan Island by as much as 150 metres into the East River by using materials, such as sand or concrete rubble, to build an elevated landscape. Lower Manhattan is a transportation hub for the city and a global financial centre that flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The project would help to protect the area from what could become daily floods on some streets by 2100, city officials said during a 14 March press conference, citing their assessment of climate-change risks. New York City will seek federal and state funding to finance the project, which will be difficult, de Blasio said. He added that the city would seek private investments to pay for the expansion if necessary. Such funds could come with strings attached ― such as an agreement to develop property on any newly created land. The project would also need to meet environmental regulations that protect freshwater resources and ecosystems. The plan has potential if it’s designed as a true buffer zone rather than as a real-estate opportunity, says Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey. The buffer zone could be constructed as a kind of green space with parks, he says. The project would build on an existing $500-million effort to fortify the current shoreline, which is itself an extension of the island constructed using sand and landfill materials.

Trump’s rollbacks would increase CO2 emissions by more than 200 million tons annually, report finds - The Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to weaken or dismantle climate efforts would increase CO2 emissions by more than 200 million tons annually, taking a severe toll on public health, according to a new report released Tuesday by the nonpartisan State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University’s (NYU) law school. Sectors responsible for nearly half of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are benefiting from rollbacks and weakened regulations at the expense of U.S. residents, according to the report. But state attorneys general across the country have played a key role in countering the the president’s quest to repeal or weaken several key environmental regulations. “Donald Trump ran for president saying he was going to be a change agent and unfortunately he has. He has become an agent of climate change,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh during a Tuesday press conference to discuss the report and long-term impacts of the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks. “He has targeted fossil fuels not to decrease their emissions or their threat to society but to increase their emissions — it’s extraordinarily dangerous.” Advertisement

Greenpeace Calls BS After Trump Cites 'Paid Lobbyist' Masquerading as Co-Founder to Peddle Climate Denial - President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to boost "Greenpeace co-founder" Patrick Moore's claim on "Fox & Friends" that the climate crisis is "not only fake news, it's fake science."  But as Greenpeace USA quickly noted in response to the president's tweet, Patrick Moore is a "paid lobbyist" for major polluting industries — and he's not even a co-founder of Greenpeace. "Patrick Moore was not a co-founder of Greenpeace. He does not represent Greenpeace," the group wrote on Twitter. "He is a paid lobbyist, not an independent source. His statements about [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and the Green New Deal have nothing to do with our positions. During his "Fox & Friends" appearance, Moore — who became president of Greenpeace Canada in 1977 and left in 1986 — called the Green New Deal "a silly plan" and said climate change is "not dangerous." "Yes, of course climate change is real, it's been happening since the beginning of time, but it's not dangerous and it's not made by people," Moore said. "Climate change is a perfectly natural phenomenon."

Meet the women deciding not to have kids because of climate change -  --Shortly after Blythe Pepino decided that she wanted to have children, she realized that the idea of bringing kids into a world affected by climate change was making her uncomfortable.  “I got to that point in my life where a lot of my friends were having kids and it suddenly seemed like a beautiful idea to me. And that happened to coexist with my becoming much more aware of the climate challenge.”  Pepino, a 29-year-old musician, started bringing up the idea with other women in environmental advocacy groups. “I said, ‘You’re around my age: What are you thinking about kids?'” she says. “I was able to ask that question to a few people, and I was really surprised that there were a lot of people who were saying, ‘I haven’t talked about this to anyone, but I’m really questioning it.'”  She started a Facebook group called #Birthstrike to make the idea public; within a few days, 90 women had joined. While some may be partly motivated by the fact that the choice limits carbon emissions–one recent study found that not having children is one of the most effective ways to limit your personal carbon footprint–the underlying motivation was wanting to avoid bringing a child into a world where they may suffer. “Our main focus is the fact that we’re too afraid really to bring a kid into that future,” Pepino says. After Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez recently suggested that some young Americans feel the same way, a survey found that 38% of 18- to 29-year-old Americans believe that a couple should consider the risks of climate change before deciding to have kids. “I can’t have a child unless I am seriously, seriously convinced that we are on a different path,” one member of Birthstrike, 22-year-old Alice Brown, says in a video about the group.

Want to Help Fight Climate Change? Have More Children - Tyler Cowen -Fear of climate change is justified. It is not, however, a reason not to have children. That’s because those kids of yours are more likely to be part of the solution than the problem.This view puts me at odds with millions of younger Americans; a recent online poll indicates that 38 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 say climate change should be a factor in the decision to have children. (Perhaps the most prominent member of this cohort is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently suggested on Instagram that climate change will make future lives so difficult that whether to have children is a “legitimate question.”) There is even a Facebook group, called BirthStrike, for people who have decided not to have children because of climate change.To put those worries out of mind, ask yourself a simple question: Is the remedy for climate change, to the extent we find one, more likely to come from North America or New Zealand?  Obviously, the wealthier and more populous America is a more likely source of technological innovation, even though it is also a more significant source of greenhouse gases. So if you think progress in this fight is possible at all, you ought to be betting on the more populous nations. By having more children, you are making your nation more populous — thus boosting its capacity to solve the problem.

Adults won’t take climate change seriously. So we, the youth, are forced to strike - We, the youth of America, are fed up with decades of inaction on climate change. On Friday, March 15, young people like us across the United States will strike from school. We strike to bring attention to the millions of our generation who will most suffer the consequences of increased global temperatures, rising seas, and extreme weather. But this isn’t a message only to America. It’s a message from the world, to the world, as students indozens of countries on every continent will be striking together for the first time. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has pumped greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere. Thirty years ago, climate scientist James Hansenwarned Congress about climate change. Now, according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global temperature rise, we have only 11 years to prevent even worse effects of climate change. And that is why we strike. We strike to support the Green New Deal. Outrage has swept across the United States over the proposed legislation. Some balk at the cost of transitioning the country to renewable energy, while others recognize its far greater benefit to society as a whole. The Green New Deal is an investment in our future—and the future of generations beyond us—that will provide jobs, critical new infrastructure and most importantly, the drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions essential to limit global warming. And that is why we strike. To many people, the Green New Deal seems like a radical, dangerous idea. That same sentiment was felt in 1933, when Robber-barons, ordinary citizens, and many in between were enraged by the policies enacted by the New Deal. But Even for its detractors, Roosevelt’s New Deal ended up working out quite well. The United States led the world’s economy throughout the many decades since. The changes proposed in the Green New Deal will help ensure our entire species has the opportunity to thrive in the decades (and centuries) to come. As the original New Deal was to the declining US economy, the Green New Deal is to our changing climate. And that is why we strike.

Fridays for Future: Students hold international climate change protests - A global school strike against climate change inaction is underway. Protests have taken place or will do so in more than 100 countries, all following the example of one young Swedish climate activist. Schoolchildren across the world are joining the global Fridays for Future protests, demanding global leaders take action on climate change. The movement, started by 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg, is expected to see children, their parents and their supporters take to the streets in 1,500 cities in more than 100 countries. The eastern Australian city of Melbourne saw one of the largest protests in the country.In New Zealand, one of the other countries where the protests kicked off, strike organizers said they were pleased after a meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Climate Change Minister James Shaw, saying they believed their government would take positive steps."But this is a crisis and we need to start treating it as such," they said in a statement.  A march in Christchurch, New Zealand was cut short by a lockdown after shootings at two local mosques. Participating students were confirmed to be safe, Mayor Lianne Dalziel told the New Zealand site Newshub. DW's Kate Brady was at the protest in the German capital, Berlin, and tweeted about one banner that cited actor Channing Tatum as an example of "hotness", but warned rather of the kind of heat caused by climate warming.The protesters in Berlin, who included, for the first time, parents and scientists, planned to make a stop in front of Chancellor Angela Merkel's office. Several other German cities have also seen similar rallies.

 Global Climate Strike- School students around the world protest climate inaction - In Tel Aviv, hundreds of students have gathered to protest what they say is the Israeli government's failure to cut emissions and switch to renewable energy sources. "We fear that drought and extreme weather conditions will destroy our economy because when temperature rises the need for water will increase and also the lack (of) water multiplies. Low income families will struggle to pay for water," Michael Bäcklund, one of the strike's main organizers, tells CNN.In cities across India, school students joined climate strikes. Vidit Baya, head of the Fridays for Future movement in India, tells CNN that India is already suffering from the impacts of climate change. "In 2018, severe floods affected the coastal state of Kerala killing hundreds and injuring thousands. It is suspected that a 2 degrees Celsius rise in world’s temperature will make India’s monsoon ever more unpredictable," he says. "Rising sea levels will impact agriculture and degrade groundwater quality," according to Baya.Thousands of young people have gathered in Luxembourg City, singing, dancing and listening to speeches. “We strike to express our dissatisfaction with current large-scale inaction on climate change,” says Zelie Guisset, from Youth for Climate Luxembourg. “To show we are gravely concerned about the world we will live our future lives in. To demand that treating the climate crisis as the crisis it is. Hoping that our strike will urge and pressure politicians or other people in power to take the urgent action needed to solve this climate crisis. “It is heartening to see our young people taking a stand and reminding us that it is their generation who will be left to face the worst effects of climate change if we don't act quickly to cut carbon emissions,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “It is truly inspiring to see young people demanding urgent climate action. It is our responsibility as adults and political leaders, to learn from you and deliver the future you want and the future you can trust in,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who joined the march in Paris.

Student-Led Climate Strikes Happening in 130+ Countries --  "We are unstoppable. Another world is possible."That was the message of the youth-led School Strike for Climate movement on Friday as hundreds of thousands of students across the globe walked out of class and flooded the streets to demand immediate action against the ecological crisis, which threatens to render the planet uninhabitable for future generations. With events planned in more than 130 countries on every continent, the strikes are expected to be one of the largest global climate demonstrations in history — and they come at a time when the scientific community has never been more clear about the necessity of urgent and ambitious action.Organizers estimate that millions of people will participate in strikes throughout the world."Politicians have responded with indifference to our crippling summer of record heat, bushfires, and floods. It's no wonder so many came out in support today," Nosrat Fareha a 16-year-old climate activist from Western Sydney, said as more than 150,000 students and adult supporters poured into the streets of Australia on Friday. "There's no time to stand by and wait for the bold action we need," Fareha added.

Scenes From the Worldwide Student Climate Strike Rolling Stone (21 captioned photos from around the world)

Greta Thunberg—Swedish Teen who Inspired School Climate Strikes—Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize - Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who jump started the climate strike movement, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The news comes as Thunberg is helping to organize a massive global school strike March 15 that is expected to involve 1,659 towns or cities in 105 countries, The Guardian reported. "We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change it will be the cause of wars, conflict and refugees," Norwegian Socialist MP Freddy André Øvstegård said, The Guardian reported. "Greta Thunberg has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace." Øvstegård was one of three members of members of Norway's Socialist Left Party to nominate Thunberg, The Associated Press reported. Peace Prize nominations can come from anyone who meets the criteria, including national government officials, former winners and some academics. Nominations for the 2019 prize were due by February 1, and the winner will be announced in October and awarded in December. There are 301 nominations for the 2019 prize, including 223 individuals and 78 groups, according to the Nobel Prize website.  If Thunberg won, the 16-year-old would be the youngest winner ever and the second after 2007 co-winners former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be honored for work on climate change, New Scientist reported. The current youngest winner is Malala Yousafzai, who was awarded the prize at age 17 in 2014. "Honoured and very grateful for this nomination," Thunberg said in a tweet.

Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal is not going over well at one of the year's biggest energy gatherings -One of the threads running through a major energy conference in Houston is how oil and gas companies can cut their carbon footprint and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.Just don't ask about New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal.The freshman Congress member's sweeping proposal to overhaul the U.S. economy and transition to clean energy is predictably unpopular among energy executives. But even beyond the C-suite, energy thought leaders assembling at CERAWeek by IHS Markit in Houston are largely dismissing the Green New Deal as unrealistic, unworkable and politically divisive.Instead, the climate talks at CERAWeek have largely focused on the kind of bottom-up, market-oriented solutions that Ocasio-Cortez dismisses as too conservative. Those conversations have largely overshadowed the Green New Deal, which calls for generating 100 percent of the nation's electric power from renewable sources and largely phasing oil out of the transportation sector in just 10 years. "I think one of the reasons why you're not hearing a lot about it is because it's so unrealistic," said Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry's biggest trade group.  "When talking about the Green New Deal, I think for most of our members, yes, they take it seriously from a public relations perspective, but you look at what it actually means, and more than anything, it's a plan to have a plan right now." Yet the oil and gas industry is not the only part of the energy world casting doubt on the Green New Deal in Houston this week. Former Energy Department officials Ernest Moniz and Andy Karsner penned an op-ed for CNBC on Mondayarguing for a "Green Real Deal." They warned that the "magical thinking" inherent in both climate change denial and "demonstrably impractical, short-term, feel-good solutions" threaten to derail climate progress. They argue for low-carbon solutions that Ocasio-Cortez dismisses or marginalizes, like pairing natural gas-fired power with wind and solar farms, deploying advanced nuclear reactors and advancing technology to capture and store carbon emissions.The biggest problem with the Green New Deal is that it puts Washington D.C. is at the center of greening the economy, said Karsner, the assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy under George W. Bush. In his view, that sort of top-down approach threatens to dilute the momentum that's already under way in pockets of the U.S., where people are creating solutions that address the specific ways climate change affects them.

If America can find $716bn for the military, it can fund the Green New Deal - At long last the political debate in the world’s richest country is vibrant with proposals that would help the most vulnerable in our society. And what do we hear in response? A growing chorus of naysayers.“Just pipe dreams” – that’s how the Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson referred to proposals for guaranteed jobs, Medicare for All, universal childcare, and the Green New Deal.Like many other pundits and politicians, Samuelson says we can’t afford such luxuries. Taxing the rich wouldn’t raise enough money. We’d have no choice but to resort to deficit spending.Funny how some politicians have no qualms about ballooning the deficit with tax cuts for the rich but balk at investing in the long-term health of our people and communities. Just as peculiar: the fact that military spending cuts are virtually never mentioned as an option for freeing up funds for social good instead of war.This year the US military budget is $716bn – and boy is it ripe for slashing. That military budget represents about 53 cents of every discretionary dollar in the federal budget – and it’s one of the biggest reasons that people so often throw up their hands and shake their heads when they think about funding innovative ways to end poverty.They don’t need to throw up their hands, though. The politicians and pundits should just start listening to children.When young organizers from the Sunrise Movement recently challenged Senator Dianne Feinstein to support a Green New Deal, she told them “there’s no money to pay for it”. She probably didn’t expect those eight- and 10- and 11-year-old kids to respond immediately: “Yes, there is, there’s tons of money going to the military.” Feinstein responded condescendingly that the military does “important things” with that money. Our never-ending wars say otherwise.

AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’ – The AFL-CIO, the national arm for U.S. labor unions, offered a critical assessment of the Green New Deal, warning that the ambitious plan to combat climate change could adversely affect U.S. workers.In a letter last week to Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the lawmakers who introduced a resolution last month detailing the key components of their plan, members of the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee said it could not support a proposal that did not address their concerns.“We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered,” wrote Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.The Green New Deal resolution, as proposed by Markey and Ocasio-Cortez, calls for the federal government to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions with a “fair and just transition” for all communities and workers, including by creating millions of high-wage jobs, health care and housing for all, a sustainable environment and enormous infrastructure investments. The proposal would make sweeping changes and expand the government’s reach into the economy, and it almost certainly would require tax increases or large-scale deficit spending.

Of Course We Can Pay for a Green New Deal, but We Can’t Escape Hard Choices -- Thanks to the formidable advocacy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the idea of a Green New Deal has attracted widespread attention on both sides of the Atlantic. Billed as a “new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II”, it is perhaps unsurprising that critics have focused on the price tag.  In response, many Green New Deal proponents cite the ideas of Modern Monetary Theory (‘MMT’). Although MMT has been quietly growing in prominence for many years, the school of thought’s association with the Green New Deal has propelled it into the limelight. MMT holds that ‘money is a creature of the state’, and that a sovereign government with its own currency and central bank faces no financial constraints on spending. Other limits do exist – most notably inflation, but also political and administrative constraints – but money itself is no object.  MMT scholars contend that the Green New Deal is a perfect opportunity to mobilise underused resources through deficit spending, simultaneously transforming the economy and improving living standards. They pour scorn on those who argue that ‘we can’t afford’ a green transition. As Robert Hockett, a professor at Cornell University, has argued: “where were the ‘pay-fors’ for Bush’s $5 trillion wars and tax cuts, or for last year’s $2 trillion tax giveaway to billionaires?” MMT also recognises the links between climate change and inequality, and suggests that a smarter approach to public spending can combat both. In particular, a ‘job guarantee’, whereby the public sector will employ anyone willing and able to work at a fixed wage, alleviating unemployment and insecure work, is associated with several prominent MMT thinkers. But while MMT offers an empowering narrative, its insights must be accompanied by some pragmatism. A successful green transition will require much more than increased government spending, and there is no escaping hard choices.

What America needs is a 'Green Real Deal': Obama/Bush energy policymakers say - The Green New Deal has sparked a timely impassioned national conversation on the imperative of addressing climate-change risks to our economy, environment and security and the associated needs of disadvantaged communities.The mission is clear: Action is urgently needed to set and follow high-impact pathways to a low-carbon future. We must, however, strive for a broader public consensus that respects local differences and allows all citizens equal opportunity to build a prosperous, fair, safe and secure low-carbon future.We should first dispel any question about the gravity of addressing climate change. The accelerated pace of change is significantly stressing the world's natural, social and economic systems. We are already paying the price — extreme weather, forest fires, drought, sea-level rise and coastal storm intensity are all high-cost leading indicators.The price tag for inaction promises to get much higher, and the transformation to a low-carbon energy will inevitably stretch to mid-century and beyond. Those who can least afford it — the poorest Americans and the world's developing countries — will be economically hit worst and first and continue to pay the steepest price unless the rate of investment and innovation is accelerated and extended into all parts of our country.The need for urgency and the disparate impacts of inaction underscores the dangers of magical thinking at either extreme. Climate deniers, as well as those with demonstrably impractical, short-term, feel-good solutions are moving us sideways when forward motion is essential.The urgent need to act now on climate requires focus and prioritization. It is time to do the hard work of forging a broadly acceptable and practical plan to transform the energy system. A wise and just transition to a low-carbon economy, moving as fast as is technically and socially possible, must minimize stranded physical assets as well as stranded workers and communities. It will be based on practicality, not ideology. In other words, it had to be a Green REAL Deal to achieve real results. So what are the features of a Green Real Deal? Increased energy efficiency across all economic sectors, a very low-carbon electricity system and the electrification of buildings, transportation and industry to the extent that is practical are key. All of this is happening, and the pace must be quickened through policy and markets.

Talk to 'Green New Deal' backers, BP CEO tells oil industry (Reuters) - The oil industry should engage with proponents of the “Green New Deal,” a Democratic initiative seeking to radically reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said on Tuesday. Dudley made the rare foray into U.S. politics in a keynote speech at the largest U.S. annual gathering of the oil and natural gas sector in Houston, urging peers to engage with young people or lose the trust of society. “We need to demonstrate that we share the common goal of a low-carbon future and that we are in action toward it,” Dudley said in the speech at the CERAWeek conference by IHS Markit. Burning of oil and gas accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change, rising sea levels and severe storms. Energy companies including BP have increased their investments in renewable energies such as solar and wind in recent years as they look for a new business model in a world seeking to reduce carbon emissions. But U.S. rivals Exxon Mobil and Chevron have made fewer investments in clean energy in recent years, drawing growing pressure from investors and climate activists. “Our focus has to be on developing an energy system that is cleaner, better and kinder to the planet,” Dudley, a U.S. citizen, said. “But we can only fully play our part if we have the trust of society and the confidence of our shareholders. That means engaging more with the young people who will take to the streets on Friday,” he said, referring to scheduled protests in more than 70 countries where kids plan to skip school to demand more action on climate change. “It means improving the dialogue we have with policymakers around the world, including those behind the Green New Deal,” Dudley said. 

Trump Energy Secretary Rick Perry 'absolutely' would talk with Ocasio-Cortez about Green New Deal - Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Wednesday that he would "absolutely" have a conversation with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., about the Green New Deal.  "I think having a conversation about the Green New Deal is a good thing — and to do it in a thoughtful and a polite and a respectful way," Perry said during a panel at CERAWeek by IHS Markit.Ocasio-Cortez has so far only released a broad sketch of the Green New Deal, not a full policy blueprint. Its goals include generating 100 percent of U.S. electric power from renewable sources, slashing greenhouse gas emissions and largely phasing oil out of the transportation sector — all within 10 years."Just because someone doesn't agree with what I believe in, or I don't agree with their take, doesn't mean we don't need to continue to have a conversation," Perry said. "I think it's wise to have those."Perry's stance on the firebrand freshman lawmaker's ambitious policy proposal clashes with comments made by other members of his administration — including his boss, President Donald Trump, who appointed Perry to the role. Trump has attacked the Green New Deal as a threat to U.S. industries and Americans' liberties.

There Really, Really Isn’t a Silver Bullet for Climate Change by Robinson Meyer - Most Americans, as far as pollsters can tell, want the United States to honor its commitment under the Paris Agreement on climate change.  That will be hard. To make the Paris goal, the U.S. would have to cut carbon by 2.6 percent every year for the next seven years. And it has simply never cut its emissions that fast in such a sustained way before. Writing in New York, center-right commentator Andrew Sullivan argued that the United States should undertake “a massive nuclear energy program” as a “radically moderate answer to climate change.” Unlike renewables, nuclear power doesn’t cease to work when the sun sets or when the wind stops blowing. It is already technologically feasible, and it’s been quickly scaled up in the past. The ambition of a nuclear expansion could match that of the Green New Deal, except with all the twiddly socialism bits removed. To his credit, Sullivan’s case for nuclear power includes long lists of its drawbacks. New nuclear plants are very expensive to build. Nuclear accidents, while extremely rare, are extremely expensive to remediate (if they can be remediated at all). But because the well-being of humanity is in jeopardy, these cons should bow to the pros, Sullivan says. After all, he asserts, nuclear power “can potentially meet all our energy demands.” But you can’t put a nuclear reactor in a tractor-trailer or a steel plant. Nuclear can only reduce emissions from the power sector, and “the energy system is bigger than just electricity,” says Sam Ori, the executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “While I think nuclear has real potential as a means to decarbonizing electricity, you still have a lot of sectors to worry about.” In fact, electricity makes up a smaller and smaller part of the climate problem

 The Revolution Has No Hollywood Ending - Caitlin Johnstone - After struggling against our own self-destructive tendencies throughout the entirety of recorded history, humanity is now at a point where that struggle is probably going to be resolved, one way or another, within the lifetime of most people reading this. The movie about this struggle has been written with one of two possible endings. In the first, we are unable to overcome our self-destructive tendencies, and the last of our species dies by radiation poisoning or choking on the dust of an uninhabitable planet. In the second, we evolve beyond our self-destructive tendencies and move into a healthy relationship with our minds, our ecosystem, and each other. Neither of these two endings would work in a Hollywood blockbuster. In the first, humanity dies off not with a bang but with a whimper as a result of nuclear fallout or climate collapse. In the second, conflict and drama as we know it will cease to exist as we pull up and away from the self-destructive patterns which brought us to this point. We’ll either keep along this same destructive trajectory and meet its inevitable end very soon, or we’ll deviate from that trajectory into something wildly different. In either case, there is no kissing the girl while the credits roll, no coolly striding away from the explosion, and no spin-kicking the bad guy off a cliff into lava after uttering a short, memorable line. I say this because it seems like a lot of people are kind of hoping for a Hollywood ending in some way. People are hoping that Donald Trump gets arrested for conspiring with Russia and dragged off in chains and everything goes back to normal. People are hoping that President Trump drains the swamp, locks up Hillary Clinton, arrests most of Capitol Hill for child molestation, and destroys the Deep State. People are hoping there’s a violent revolution which restores individual sovereignty to the citizenry. People are hoping there’s a peaceful people’s revolution which ousts the ruling class and replaces the status quo with whatever their personal favored strain of leftism is. Everyone’s subconsciously looking for some big, momentous climax where the Good Guys are vindicated and the Bad Guys are brought to justice. And it just isn’t going to go down like that.

Scientists: maybe if we only dim the sun a little it won’t backfire horribly - When it comes to geoengineering the planet to cool the climate, there’s rightfully a lot of hesitation. Blocking incoming sunlight might seem like a quick fix to rising temperatures, but doing so could quickly tie up humanity in a decades-long project with alarming side effects like shifting precipitation patterns and changes in hurricane season.  Which is what makes a new paper released on Monday in Nature Climate Change so alluring. It shows that undertaking half measures to block the sun could end up providing the benefit of a cooler planet without many of the adverse impacts on other parts of the climate system. The results suggest there could be a role for geoengineering to play in saving us from a climate catastrophe, though it’s hardly the last word on what that role could be, or even if it’s worth the risk. And there are a few important caveats showing that there’s still a lot of research needed on the topic.Most research on geoengineering has focused on how humans could offset all the global warming associated with greenhouse gas pollution. The new study takes a different path, though. Using high resolution climate models, researchers first doubled the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They then used the models to reduce incoming sunlight enough to offset half of the warming associate with the rise in carbon pollution. Basically it’s like two steps forward, one step back.They then looked at geoengineering’s impact not just on temperature but precipitation, evaporation, and tropical cyclones. Precipitation and evaporation are crucial components of the hydrological cycle that humanity relies on for drinking water, agriculture, and more while cyclones can cause massive amounts of damage and suffering. Climate change is already causing more heavy downpours and could be playing a role in increasing hurricane intensity (and is likely to keep doing so in the future).The new findings show, though, that using a geoengineering half measure could reduce temperature and moderate the adverse impacts on the hydrological cycle associated with both climate change and full-on geoengineering. According to the study, tropical cyclone intensity would be reduced as well.

Proposal For United Nations To Study Climate-Cooling Technologies Rejected (Thomson Reuters) - A push to launch a high-level study of potentially risky technological fixes to curb climate change was abandoned on Thursday at a U.N. environmental conference in Nairobi, as countries including the United States raised objections. “From our perspective, that’s a huge disappointment,” said Franz Xaver Perrez, environmental ambassador for Switzerland, which had proposed the U.N. assessment with the backing of 11 other governments. “Some of these technologies could have huge impacts at a global scale - and if things have that dimension, there may also be a need for multilateral controls,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Kenya. “Geoengineering” technologies, which are gaining prominence as international efforts to curb climate-changing emissions fall short, aim to pull carbon out of the atmosphere or block some of the sun’s warmth to cool the Earth. They could help fend off some of the worst impacts of runaway climate change, including worsening storms and heatwaves, backers say. But opponents argue the emerging technologies pose huge potential risks to people and nature, and could undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not least because many are backed by fossil-fuel interests. Rapidly slashing emissions - mainly by switching to greener power and preserving forests - remains the cheapest and safest way to fend off worsening droughts, floods, storms and other impacts of global warming, scientists say. Observers at the U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi said the Swiss-backed proposal was rejected in part because it called for a “precautionary principle” approach to geoengineering the climate. That principle says great care must be taken in starting activities that have unclear risks for human health or the environment. The United States, Saudi Arabia and Brazil were among the strongest opponents of the U.N. environmental body taking up consideration of geoengineering technologies, with Japan also expressing reservations, meeting participants said.

 A Matter of Particular Concern- India’s Transition From Biomass Burning - One of the centerpieces of the Modi government’s platform has been addressing air pollution, but his efforts to ameliorate the matter have reportedly fallen short. According to the latest dataon air pollution, seven of the ten most polluted cities globally are in India’s Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP)—home to over half of the country’s population. One of the most common metrics used for air pollution is the concentration of suspended particulate matter that have a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). Various factors contribute to poor air quality, but one culprit, residential energy use, has been identified as a primary contributor to emissions in the IGP. Last year, a study using recent data on PM2.5 concentrations found that residential biomass burning causes as much as 90 percent of the annual anthropogenic PM2.5 emissions in the IGP. The residential energy emissions come primarily from the 78 percent of people who burn biomass (usually in the form of agricultural residues, fuel wood, and dung cake) for cooking and heating, as it is the most affordable energy source for low-income households. Carcinogens from biomass burning contribute to an array ofhealth issues, including respiratory and heart diseases, cancer, and stroke, all of which are central to India’s increasing burden of noncommunicable diseases. One New Delhi chest surgeon found that half his lung cancer patients are nonsmokers; when he started practicing thirty years ago, 80–90 percent of such patients were smokers. For many, breathing has become the new smoking.

Trump Administration Cuts Clean Energy Programs Again in 2020 Budget Request - The Trump administration’s budget for fiscal year 2020 again proposes eliminating programs that fund renewable energy, including the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and the Department of Energy’s loan programs. The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) would receive $696 million under the request, a significant reduction of the approximately $2.4 billion ultimately approved in the 2019 budget.  The White House proposed similar cuts in last year's budget request, including the elimination for ARPA-E and the loan program. The latest numbers still need final approval from Congress, which has continued to fund these programs even as the administration has repeatedly asked to slash them.  Still, President Trump's budget points to his administration’s energy-related priorities. This year the administration highlighted energy and national security along with investments in research and development, especially for new nuclear and fossil technologies, but also for “next-generation” clean energy technologies.   The administration’s total request for DOE sits at $31.7 billion, 11 percent lower than the 2019 budget Congress settled on. That request includes $2.3 billion for early-stage research and development, including a $158 million effort called the Advanced Energy Storage Initiative led by EERE and the Office of Electricity. DOE said the budget was meant to “reprioritize away” from older technologies to focus on “breakthrough technologies.”   In addition to the storage initiative, the budget includes research and development on what the administration calls high-efficiency, low-emissions modular coal plants as well as small, modular nuclear reactors.  As DOE looks to coal R&D, much of the U.S.’ current generation coal fleet is facing retirement or being used less often. The federal Energy Information Administration in December highlighted a 39-year low in coal consumption. And though officials underscored their focus on innovation, even repeating an agency refrain that storage is the “holy grail,” they also said the work of ARPA-E is duplicative. Last year, Congress funded that program at $366 million.

Plans unveiled for 349-mile renewable power line through northern Iowa — A development firm has announced its plans to construct a 349-mile underground power line to move renewable energy generated in rural Iowa to Chicago and eastern cities. Direct Connect Development Co. on Monday announced the SOO Green Renewable Rail project, which would build a high-voltage direct current line along existing railroads from Mason City to Plano, Ill. The proposed route cuts across Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Chickasaw, Winneshiek, Allamakee and Clayton counties in Iowa and runs through Charles City, New Hampton and Calmar. “The successful deployment of this HVDC technology along railroads will create a market segment that doesn’t exist today, and DC DevCo believes that the SOO Green project will set the standard regarding how transmission lines are developed and constructed in the U.S.,” company CEO Trey Ward, said in a news release. SOO Green is touted as the first project to use underground construction along rail lines. Most of the route is along a Canadian Pacific-owned railroad. Company officials said the underground construction technique for the 2,100-megawatt line will “limit impacts to the environment by boring under sensitive habitat, limiting the impact on birds and other endangered species.” “Building SOO Green underground and utilizing an existing railroad right of way will also limit impacts to neighboring landowners,” the company added.

 Cracks Found in Nuclear Reactor That Could Lead to Full Evacuation of Edinburgh and Glasgow - The two reactors at Hunterston B nuclear power plant near Ardrossan are 43 years old - the oldest in Europe. They're already well beyond their operating lifetimes, which have twice been extended by EDF Energy, and they're scheduled to close down for good in 2023. However, there's a serious safety fault in the reactors. The fault is known as keyway root-cracking: where the graphite moderator cores in the reactors develop cracks leading to instabilities that could lead to a major nuclear accident: which would lead to a large swathe of Scotland's central belt having to be evacuated. "In the very worst case the hot graphite core could become exposed to air and ignite leading to radioactive contamination of...the metropolitan areas of Glasgow and Edinburgh." The reactors have been closed since October 2018 as a result, but owners EDF Energy are currently making a case for turning them back on, with help from trade union GMB. Although the probability of a meltdown is still low, the consequences could be incredibly severe. In such an event, both Glasgow and Edinburgh would need to be entirely evacuated due to radioactive contamination. According to Dr Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, and Dr David Toke, Reader in Energy Policy at the University of Aberdeen, the two reactors definitely should not be restarted. Speaking about the cracks in the barrels, they say: "This is a serious matter because if an untoward incident were to occur – for example an earth tremor, gas excursion, steam surge, sudden outage, or sudden depressurisation, the barrels could become dislodged and/or misaligned. "These events could in turn lead to large emissions of radioactive gases. Further, if hot spots were to occur and if nuclear fuel were to react with the graphite moderator they could lead to explosions inside the reactor core.

Fukushima- current state of the clean-up - Eight years have passed since a tsunami smashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, sparking a meltdown and the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl. Eight years on, the disaster zone remains a huge building site with the immediate danger cleared but an immensely difficult clean-up job still looming. The clean-up operation is progressing at a painstakingly slow pace. Robotic arms have recently been employed to successfully pick up pebble-sized pieces of radioactive fuel at the bottom of reactor two, one of three that melted down after the 2011 quake and tsunami. This is the first step to prepare the extremely delicate task of extracting the fuel that will not begin in earnest until 2021 at the earliest, the government and the TEPCO operator have said. Another problem is the fuel pools in reactors one, two and three. The pool in reactor one is covered in rubble which needs to be removed "with extreme care," explained Akira Ono, head of the TEPCO subsidiary in charge of decommissioning. Removing fuel from the pools in reactors one and two will not start until 2023. As for reactor three, the operation to remove fuel should have started this month but it was delayed "due to various problems", admitted Ono. Contaminated water still poses a huge problem for Fukushima operators. The water comes in three forms: residual water from the tsunami; water used to cool the reactors, and precipitation as well as groundwater. All water needs to be pumped, purified and stored.An ice wall stretching 1.5 kilometres and located 30 metres underground is designed to block underground water from nearby mountains from flowing into the shattered complex.  The operators are winning the battle against contaminated water, Ono insisted, but non-profits like Greenpeace disagree. "It has gone down to 220 cubic metres on average per day in 2017/18 compared to 470 cubic metres four years ago," he said.Around 1.12 million cubic metres are stored onsite but the maximum of 1.37 million cubic metres will be reached at the end of 2020. The water is purified by a decontamination system that eliminates all radioactive elements with the exception of tritium. Experts are still trying to work out what to do with this tritium-contaminated water. "There are several possible solutions (injecting it into deep pockets in the Earth, dumping it at sea, evaporating it) being examined by an expert working group but we have not yet decided anything," As for solid radioactive waste, TEPCO plans to store 750,000 cubic metres of waste at the site until 2029—some of which is radioactive.

China’s nuclear reactor building spree - Chinese officials say the humming economy means that no fewer than eight nuclear reactors of the million-kilowatt class must enter service each year to help keep the nation’s electricity supply in pace with demand, while not adding more pollutants to the already fragile environment. China Nuclear Power Engineering Co Ltd general manager Liu Wei told reporters that China would see its total power consumption reach 10.5 trillion kilowatts by 2030, of which the share of clean energy must be no less than 45%, according to the national imperative. Beijing’s drive to phase out filthy coal-burning power generation heralds a nuclear bonanza, and Liu said China would need to launch eight high-capacity power units annually over the next decade to bring the share of nuclear generation in the total energy mix to 10%, a level in line with the global average. China’s total nuclear power installation capacity will reach 58 gigawatts by 2020. It currently has 46 nuclear reactors in operation, all in its well-off coastal provinces, with more than 20 new reactors being built. Currently, the average construction period for each reactor is only 60 months. The southern province of Guangdong alone has 16 reactors in operation, making Guangdong, China’s largest provincial economy as measured by annual gross domestic product, home to one of the world’s largest clusters of nuclear reactors. Some observers, nonetheless, are worried that hastened safety and rushed environmental assessments, trials of domestically developed technologies – some of which are premature – as well as China’s obsessive state control of information in the event of an incident, all mean that danger could be lurking beneath the big domes of the nation’s rapidly expanding array of powerful reactors. 

Customers would pay millions to rescue Pa. nuclear reactors, including some that are already profitable -- Pennsylvania electric customers would pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year in subsidies to the state’s nuclear industry — about $5 more per month for a typical household, by one estimate — under a draft nuclear rescue bill widely circulated in Harrisburg. The long-awaited legislation, which proponents say is still undergoing revisions before it is formally unveiled, would direct a massive infusion of ratepayer funds to the state’s nine reactors. The owners of three reactors have announced their imminent retirement if they do not receive subsidies that they say would put the plants on equal footing with other zero-emission power generators, such as wind and solar. But some of the state’s reactors are not in immediate danger of closure. The state’s most profitable nuclear plant, the twin-unit Limerick Generating Station in Montgomery County, is projected to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in the next few years, without a subsidy. Supporters say the proposal would correct “market flaws” by including nuclear energy into the state’s 2004 Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (AEPS), which mandates that 18 percent of all power sold in the state be derived from alternative energy sources by 2021. The draft proposal would create a new category of zero-emission power reserved largely for nuclear producers, that would supply 50 percent of the state’s electricity demand.

Pennsylvania lawmaker: State crafted nuke subsidy bill after DOE said not to wait for bailout - Pennsylvania state Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, R, introduced a bipartisan bill on Monday to provide subsidies for nuclear generators, similar to a draft version leaked in FebruaryHouse Bill 11 seeks to the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS), to include all carbon-free generators of electricity. Mehaffie told Utility Dive he unveiled the bill after Department of Energy (DOE) staffers told him to prioritize state solutions to nuclear retirements, rather than wait for federal action.  The push to support nuclear comes ahead of a June deadline for Exelon's Three Mile Island (TMI) to decide whether to move ahead with the next round of refueling. Plant owners indicated that TMI would close in September 2019, and could begin shutdown procedures this summer if no support bill is passed. Mehaffie's bill is part of a continuing trend of states taking the lead on nuclear retirements in the face of inaction from the federal government. New York, Illinois and New Jersey all have similar policies for their in-state nukes. Last year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a proposal from DOE that would have provided cost recovery for at-risk coal and nuclear plants, like those in Pennsylvania. A subsequent plan to use the DOE's emergency authority to keep the plants open stalled at the White House due to legal concerns.

Ohio Weighs a Nuclear Plant Bailout at FirstEnergy's Urging. - The powerful utility FirstEnergy has been pushing nuclear subsidies for years. It spent big in the last election and won a power shift in the legislature. A plan to have Ohio taxpayers bail out the state's two struggling nuclear power plants was a non-starter in the legislature just a few months ago. Now, it's a high priority.What happened? New state lawmakers, many of whom owe their elections in large part to a powerful backer with a vested interest in fossil fuels and nuclear power.FirstEnergy, the Akron-based utility that long owned the Ohio nuclear plants, spent heavily in Republican legislative primaries. The company and its allies backed the winners in enough races to get its preferred candidates into top positions.FirstEnergy's aggressive strategy has broad implications for Ohio's energy future. It has been a leading adversary of policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency, while at the same time seeking state and federal bailouts for its older nuclear and coal plants. It was among those urging the Trump administration to use emergency powers to provide financial support to uncompetitive fossil fuels plants that otherwise might close. The next few months may now show the extent to which the company's agenda has become the state of Ohio's agenda.

Utica Shale Production Reaches Record in Q4 - – Production of oil and gas from Utica shale wells in Ohio continues to hit new records, according to the latest results released Monday by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. ODNR reported that energy companies drilling across the state yielded 663.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas during the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2018, or a 31.9% increase versus the same period a year ago. Production during the fourth quarter was also better than the previous three-month period, according to ODNR records. Energy companies reported 605.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas during the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2018. Oil production increased year-over-year by 38.5% during the fourth quarter, ODNR said. The agency reported that Utica shale wells yielded 5.8 million barrels of oil during the period, compared with 4.19 million barrels a year ago. During the third quarter, Utica wells in the state pumped out 5.54 million barrels of oil. The latest report from ODNR lists 2,241 Utica shale wells that produced either oil or gas during the quarter. The average amount of natural gas produced per well stood at 296.088 million cubic feet. The average amount of oil produced per well during the quarter was 2,593 barrels, according to ODNR. Most of the production is centered in the southeastern tier of the oil and gas play, where geological pressure is strongest. Eclipse Resources I LP’s Yellow Rose A 2H well in Monroe County produced the most natural gas of any single well in the Utica, eliciting 3.789 billion cubic feet of gas over 92 days. Another Eclipse well – the Outlaw A 1H in Guernsey County – produced more oil than any other well active in the Utica. That well produced 181,579 barrels of oil over a 92-day period.  Natural gas production in Mahoning and Trumbull counties was negligible during the quarter, according to ODNR’s report. Nine wells operating in Mahoning County produced just 333.749 million cubic feet during the quarter, while wells in Trumbull County yielded 99.381 million cubic feet.

Economics professor discovers concerning effects for oil and gas boomtowns - -- Oil and gas "boomtowns," such as Ohio's Belmont County, may be bearing the costs of drilling without reaping all of its benefits, according to a newly published paper by Dr. Amanda Weinstein, assistant professor of economics at The University of Akron.Weinstein, along with coauthors Mark Partridge and Alexandra Tsvetkova from The Ohio State University, researched the flow of money in energy boomtowns across the country. They discovered that $1 out of every $5 in earnings leaks out of the counties where boomtowns are seated, as commuting workers take their earnings back home with them or spend it in nearby counties. For example, just a short drive from Belmont County, across the Ohio-West Virginia border, is a casino that draws in some of those earnings."This limits the ability of this energy boom to lift the living standards of the residents in drilling counties," said Weinstein. "It increases concerns that the counties bearing the brunt of the costs associated with drilling, from higher infrastructure costs to potential environmental costs, are not reaping all of the benefits of drilling." Additionally, Weinstein found that the earnings benefits of drilling vary substantially across the nation. "While some drilling counties, such as Williams County, N.D., are experiencing simultaneous growth in other industries, counties like Belmont are more likely to experience some crowding out of other industries as the energy industry grows," she said. Weinstein's findings were published recently in the Journal of Resource Policy, in a paper titled "Follow the money: Aggregate, sectoral and spatial effects of an energy boom on local earnings."

Ohio Supreme Court Decisions Have Columbus Fracking Opponents Eyeing May Ballot – WOSU - Last year, the Franklin County Board of Elections denied the "Community Bill of Rights" a place on the November ballot, arguing the proposal appeared to conflict with state law. Bill Lyons, one of the organizers pushing for the ballot measure, argues that recent Ohio Supreme Court rulings undercut the board's ability to intervene. “They basically have struck down that ruling that they used against us to not allow our initiative to go on the November ballot,” Lyons says.The cases have to do with two Toledo proposals. In particular,the court determined elections boards have “no legal authority to review the substance of a proposed charter amendment and has no discretion to block the measure from the ballot based on an assessment of its suitability.” During the August hearing for the Columbus fracking ban, Franklin County elections board member Brad Sinnot acknowledged he and other members were caught between a rock and a hard place. “The instruction given to us by the General Assembly is one that a board of elections is ill-equipped to follow,” he said. “It’s an instruction to perform a highly technical and complicated legal analysis relative to among other things, the home rule provisions of Ohio’s constitution.” Sinnot, one of the board’s two Republican members, voted to keep the proposal off the ballot. Organizers lodged a formal protest at the time, but the board's decision stood. Lyons and others plan to ask Columbus City Council to re-submit their measure for the May ballot on Monday.

  'It's going to be a scar'- Residents list grievances with proposed Duke pipeline in Hamilton County - Natalie Smith fears Duke Energy's proposed pipeline would scar her community.The Reading resident attended a town hall meeting Wednesday evening that was organized by NOPE, or Neighbors Opposing Pipeline Extension. Smith and at least 100 others listened as various stakeholders and activists spoke at the Evendale Recreation Center."It's going to be a scar right down the middle of the city," Smith said after the meeting.Elizabeth Rueve-Miller, a NOPE member, lamented that the Ohio Power Siting Board does not consider human safety during its approval process for new pipelines. An evidentiary hearing is set for early next month, after which the OPSB may decide whether to grant Duke's proposal. "It's irresponsible and is a threat to the safety of our communities," Rueve-Miller said of the pipeline. The NOPE website has an interactive map featuring a "burn zone" in the event of an explosion. Sally Thelen, a Duke spokeswoman, emphasized that the company currently safely operates about 200 miles of high-pressure, large-diameter line. Those lines run near shopping malls, schools and hospitals. The proposed pipeline is "not unprecedented," Thelen said. "I'm very confident that as a company we are able to construct, operate and maintain this type of pipeline." But opponents disagree, citing the densely populated areas the proposed line would cross. Duke has proposed two lines that run along a preferred and alternate route through central Hamilton County. Haynes Goddard, a retired economics professor at the University of Cincinnati, said Duke's pipeline would be placed in an area of maximum impact due to its proximity to houses and people.

Equitrans Midstream's unit to buy gas pipeline assets for $1.03 billion - (Reuters) - U.S. pipeline operator Equitrans Midstream Corp’s unit on Thursday signed a deal worth $1.03 billion to take control of two pipelines that connect the Marcellus and Utica shale basins, the nation’s biggest gas producing region. The unit, EQM Midstream Partners LP, will buy a 60 percent stake in Eureka Midstream Holdings LLC and whole of Hornet Midstream Holdings LLC, from a fund managed by Morgan Stanley. EQM will pay $860 million in cash and assume $170 million of debt, as part of the deal. Gas companies have been betting heavily on pipeline infrastructure in the Utica and Marcellus shale basins, which span across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, after a resurgence in drilling activity over the last few years led to tight pipeline capacity. Eureka Midstream is a 190-mile gathering pipeline system in Ohio and West Virginia that services both Utica and Marcellus production, while Hornet Midstream is a 15-mile, high-pressure gathering system in West Virginia that connects to Eureka system.   “These assets will complement EQM’s basin-leading gathering and transmission system, allowing us to continue being the low-cost provider for gas transportation and, increasingly, for water handling as well” EQM Chief Executive Officer Thomas Karam said.

New warnings on plastic's health risks as fracking industry promotes new 'plastics belt' build-out – A new report traces the life cycle of plastic from the moment an oil and gas well is drilled to the time plastic trash breaks down in the environment, finding “distinct risks to human health” at every stage.Virtually all plastic – 99 percent of it, according to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) report– comes from fossil fuels. And a growing slice comes from fracked oil and gas wells and the natural gas liquids (NGLs) they produce.The report concluded that plastics bring toxic or carcinogenic health risks to people at every stage.“Until we confront the impacts of the full plastic lifecycle, the current piecemeal approach to addressing the plastic pollution crisis will not succeed,” the report concludes. “At every stage of its life cycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from both exposure to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals.” People can be sickened not only when plastics are produced, in other words, but also while plastic is actively used by consumers and then again after it’s thrown out, where plastic trash often breaks down into smaller and smaller bits that can contaminate the food chain and make its way into people’s bodies. The scope of the risks requires an international response, the center said.“Both the supply chains and the impacts of plastic cross and re-cross borders, continents, and oceans,” said David Azoulay, the center’s Director of Environmental Health. “No country can effectively protect its citizens from those impacts on its own, and no global instrument exists today to fully address the toxic life cycle of plastics.”In the U.S., however, a major push is underway – and attracting hundreds of billions in investment, both foreign and domestic – to move in the opposite direction and produce more plastics and other petrochemicals. The goal? To create new demand from industry for the raw materials produced by fracked shale wells.

The Toxic Consequences of America's Plastics Boom - - A beach at sunset.. A long line of dump trucks idles at the edge of the waves, each full of plastic—bags and milk jugs and floss containers, hair clips, shrink wrap, fake ferns, toys, and spatulas. Every minute, one of the trucks lifts its bed and deposits a load of trash into the sea.  The dump trucks aren’t real, but the trash is. No one knows exactly how much plastic leaks into the oceans every year, but one dump truck per minute—8 million tons per year—is a midrange estimate. Plastic waste usually begins its journey on land, where only 9 percent of it is recycled. The rest is thrown away, burned, or buried, left to wash into streams and rivers or to blow out to sea. Once in the ocean, the plastic drifts or sinks. The sun and the waves break it down into tiny particles that resemble plankton. Birds and fish and other sea creatures eat it and begin to starve. One analysis predicts that by 2050, the plastic in the oceans will outweigh the fish. Some of the trash winds up in one of five current systems in the oceans known as gyres, where it forms a slowly circulating plastic soup. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of these zones, spanning an area twice the size of Texas between Hawaii and California, a merry-go-round of the remains of global consumption. Researchers have found small plastic shards and large objects in the gyre: hard hats and Game Boys and milk crates and enormous tangles of fishing nets, all swirling in a smog of microplastics. Often inaccurately described as a solid island, the garbage patch has become a potent symbol of the world’s plastic problem, alongside viral photos of a sea horse clutching a Q-tip, a sea turtle with a straw wedged deep in its nostril, and a dead adolescent albatross with a stomach full of jewel-like plastic shards.. Even the corporations that produce plastics have grown alarmed. In January, dozens of companies including Dow, ExxonMobil, Chevron Phillips, and Formosa Plastics Corporation announced the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, with an initial commitment of $1 billion to fund recycling and cleanup. But those same petrochemical giants are about to make the plastic problem worse. Companies are investing $65 billion to dramatically expand plastics production in the United States, and more than 333 petrochemical projects are underway or newly completed, including brand-new facilities, expansions of existing plants, vast networks of pipelines, and shipping infrastructure.

Fracking in Pennsylvania is too close to residents for safety: Study - – Regulations on how close fracking facilities can be to buildings and homes in Pennsylvania are too lax to adequately protect public health, according to a new study.The study, undertaken by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP) and published last week in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, asked a panel of 18 experts— including healthcare providers, public health practitioners, environmental advocates, researchers and scientists—to compare minimum setback requirements against emerging research about the health impacts of fracking.Unconventional oil and gas operations include hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—in which a high pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand are injected into wells to release oil or gas—and its related infrastructure, like well pads and natural gas compressor stations.Currently, horizontally drilled well pads are required to be at least 500 feet away from the nearest occupied building in Pennsylvania. For natural gas compressor stations and processing plants, the minimum goes up to 750 feet, but those minimums can be waived by property owners, and some fracking facilities operate within 300 feet of occupied buildings in residential areas in the state. Of the 18 experts the study consulted, 16 concluded that, in order to protect public health, the setback distance for a fracking facility, such as a well pad or compressor station, should be at least one-quarter mile (1,320 feet) from the nearest occupied building.

How Injected Microbes Persist in Hydraulically Fractured Shale - A boon to natural gas production, hydraulic fracturing or fracking introduces surface microbes thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface. How do they survive? Could they be harnessed to increase energy output? Scientists brought these microbes into the laboratory. They found that the amino acid glycine betaine protects the microbes. It also serves as an energy source for a specific community of microorganisms that become adapted to life in fractured shale. Sixty percent of U.S. natural gas comes from hydraulically fractured shales. These shales are located primarily in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. As engineers inject water and chemical additives into the ground, microbes hitch a ride. The microbes can affect the efficiency of gas and oil production, increase methane formation, corrode equipment, and “sour” the field. A greater understanding of the metabolism of these microbes will help scientists develop strategies to manage them and possibly increase gas production. The team re-created a shale microbial community in the laboratory. This allowed them to measure microbial activity and fluid chemistry under temperature and pressure conditions similar to those underground. They confirmed their results by comparing the laboratory re-created communities with more than 40 real-world samples from five fracturing wells in the Appalachian Basin. . Based on these data, the team used regression-based modeling to identify key indicators of microbial activity and predict conditions underground. By scaling results from the laboratory to the field, they discovered mechanisms behind critical biogeochemical reactions, including ways to increase gas production. Scientists could harness this knowledge to increase energy yields and improve management practices in hydraulically fractured shales. They could also apply such knowledge to protein-rich microbial ecosystems like soils to predict emission of potent gases.

Pennsylvania DEP reaches settlement with companies to plug abandoned wells in region - The state Department of Environmental Protection reached a settlement with two oil and gas companies over plugging abandoned wells, including hundreds around Southwestern Pennsylvania. The consent order and agreement with Diversified Gas & Oil Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., and Alliance Petroleum Co. — an Ohio company Diversified bought last year — addresses well-plugging violations in 23 counties overall. “This agreement is a win for the commonwealth because it ensures that over 1,400 oil and gas wells are properly maintained or plugged and that these operators, not Pennsylvania citizens, bear the full cost of operating or plugging them,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said.In July 2018, DEP issued orders to Alliance, XTO Energy Inc. and CNX Gas Company to plug 1,058 abandoned oil and gas wells across the state — based on required self-reporting of well production data. Those wells, along with wells that Diversified reported as non-producing, make up the approximately 1,400 wells addressed in the consent order, DEP said.Alliance, XTO and CNX appealed DEP’s orders to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, which triggered settlement negotiations. Diversified officials could not be reached for comment.The Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act requires owners and operators to plug wells upon abandonment, which it defines as a well that “has not been used to produce, extract or inject any gas, petroleum or other liquid within the preceding 12 months.”Alliance, XTO and CNX self-reported conventional wells that did not produce oil or gas during the 2017 calendar year, DEP said.“We noticed that some of these companies were transferring large numbers of conventional wells and … that in these transfers there are a lot of non-producing wells, which we would consider abandoned,” said DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley. “This agreement allows those transfers to move forward but makes sure that Diversified and Alliance are properly inventorying what they have and are on a schedule to plug or produce the wells that they have.”Diversified and Alliance have agreed to a $7 million surety bond for the wells covered by the settlement, plus an additional $20,000-$30,000 bond for each abandoned or non-producing oil and gas well acquired in the future, DEP said. Under current law, conventional oil and gas operators are required to secure $25,000 of blanket bonding to cover all of their wells, which in the case of the two companies amounts to bonding of approximately $2 per well, DEP said.

Delaware County, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Launch Joint Investigation Involving Mariner East Pipeline  (CBS) — The Delaware County district attorney and Pennsylvania’s attorney general have teamed up for an investigation involving the Mariner East Pipeline. The joint investigation is regarding allegations of criminal misconduct by several entities, including Energy Transfer LP and Sunoco Logistics partners. BREAKING: Delaware Co. DA, Pa. Attorney General are “conducting a joint investigation regarding allegations of criminal misconduct by Energy Transfer LP, Sunoco Logistics Partners, and related corporate entities, involving….. Mariner East 1, 2, and 2X pipelines.” @CBSPhilly   “There is no question that the pipeline poses certain concerns and risks to our residents, and as District Attorney, I am working to do everything possible within my power to ensure the safety of residents. At this time, we are thoroughly reviewing the evidence available to us, working with the Attorney General’s Office, and seeking action within our jurisdictional boundaries. We want residents to know that we have heard their concerns, and we are willing to hear any new concerns that they may have about the pipeline by contacting my Office,” said Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland. “Due to the fact that the pipeline spans over 17 different counties in Pennsylvania, we sought assistance from our partners in law enforcement, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. As this remains an open and active investigation, the details available for disclosure are very limited, as is the case in any of investigation.” The exact focus of the investigation remains unclear.

State attorney general, Delaware County district attorney launch criminal investigation into Sunoco, Energy Transfer -  Delaware County’s district attorney and the Pennsylvania attorney general have launched a joint criminal investigation into the pipeline company Energy Transfer LP and Sunoco Logistics Partners, responding to increased opposition to the Mariner East pipeline project in the Philadelphia suburbs.A spokesperson for Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Delaware County DA Katayoun Copeland requested assistance with the probe, which involves alleged criminal misconduct in building the Mariner East 1, 2, and 2x pipelines through the county. The lines carry, or will carry, natural gas liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to an export facility in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.Shapiro announced the probe on Twitter:    In a statement, Copeland said the pipeline “poses certain concerns and risks” to residents.“At this time, we are thoroughly reviewing the evidence available to us, working with the Attorney General’s Office, and seeking action within our jurisdictional boundaries,” Copeland said. “We want residents to know that we have heard their concerns, and we are willing to hear any new concerns that they may have about the pipeline by contacting my Office.”Copeland said her office has received formal complaints from residents including members of Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety and the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, grassroots groups created to oppose the 350-mile project. She thanked the groups “and other residents for taking the time to meet with us and sharing their concerns and formal complaints.”Copeland’s announcement follows a similar probe by the Chester County District Attorney’s office, which has impaneled a grand jury.Residents says the natural gas liquids lines, which transport propane, butane and ethane, pose a risk of explosion in a densely populated region. Sunoco’s pipeline construction has resulted in dozens of drilling mud spills across the state, contaminated drinking water wells, and dangerous sinkholes in Chester County. Last September, a separate Energy Transfer natural gas liquids pipeline exploded in Beaver County just days after coming online. The fire burned one house to the ground.The Department of Environmental Protection has issued more than 80 violations, halted construction at times along the route, and fined the company $12.6 million. The company has also faced shutdowns of the Mariner East 1 line after construction of the parallel Mariner East 2 line led to sinkholes in Chester County.

Pennsylvania accounts for 25 percent of US natural-gas power generation - In 2018, Pennsylvania accounted for 25 percent of growth in natural-gas power generation, 4.4 gigawatts, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Nineteen natural-gas power generation projects in Pennsylvania are either under development, under construction or were recently brought online. These projects are the result of $12.6 billion in private capital investment and collectively will generate more than 16,700 megawatts of power. Two plants recently brought online are Invenergy’s Lackawanna Energy Center, outside of Scranton, and Tenaska’s Westmoreland Generating Station in Westmoreland County. The plants locally source natural gas and generate energy for more than 2 million homes. The average household using natural-gas power saves $1,100–$2,200 annually, according to Marcellus Shale Coalition. Natural gas also reduces harmful air pollutants, the group said. Of the electric generating plants installed nationwide in 2018, more than 60 percent were fueled by domestic natural gas. Nationwide last year, nearly 90 percent of the 19.3 gigawatts of the natural-gas-fired capacity added were from combined-cycle generators. The generators are the most efficient method of generating power from natural gas.

Appalachia gas production increase affects gas flow - The 2019 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO2019) reference case shows continued growth of US natural gas production in the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio region from the Marcellus and Utica formations, resulting in increases of natural gas being transported to the Eastern Midwest and, ultimately, into the South Central region, which includes the Gulf Coast and Texas. While the South Central region itself contains shale plays that produce natural gas, such as the Wolfcamp in the Permian Basin and the Haynesville, natural gas consumption in the region outpaces production in the reference case, requiring additional supplies of natural gas from other regions to meet growing demand both within the region and for liquefaction facilities that would export natural gas to other countries.Total US dry natural gas production across most AEO2019 cases is driven by continued development of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in the East region. In the AEO2019 reference case, dry natural gas production reaches nearly 120 billion ft3/d by 2050, compared with 75 billion ft3/d in 2017.Dry shale natural gas production in the East accounts for over half of this growth as production more than doubles during the projection period from 24 billion ft3/d in 2017 to 50 billion ft3/d in 2050 in the reference case. This forecast growth is driven by technological advancements and improvements in industry practices, which lower production costs and increase the volume of oil and natural gas recovery per well. In the reference case, these advancements have a significant cumulative effect on plays that extend over wide areas that have large undeveloped resources, such as the Marcellus and Utica. Although historically a net supplier of natural gas to other US markets, the South Central region’s forecast demand growth outpaces its production growth throughout the AEO2019 projection period. Growing US LNG export volumes are the main contributor to this growth as US LNG export capacity is expected to double from 5 billion ft3/d to 11 billion ft3/d by the end of 2020.

Prices Have Rare Inside Week As Bullish Near-Term Weather Is Offset By The Impending End Of Winter - Highlights of the Natural Gas Summary and Outlook for the week ending March 8, 2019 follow. The full report is available at the link below.

  • Price Action: The April contract rose 0.6 cents (0.2%) to $2.865 on an 8.4 cent range ($2.896/$2.812).
  • Price Outlook: The market recorded a rare inside week as bullish weather forecasts provided support with the looming end of winter and falling demand limited the upside. Of the 1,001 weeks since 2000, only 96 have witnessed inside weeks while 114 have witnessed both a new high and new weekly low. There have only been 4 instances with 2 consecutive inside weeks and with this week’s miniscule 8.4 cent range, another inside is highly improbable. The CFTC data is finally current after the government shutdown. CFTC data indicated a 35,988 contract increase in the managed money net long position as longs added and shorts covered. Total open interest rose 22,418 to 3.178 million as of March 05. Aggregated CME futures open interest rose to 1.194 million as of March 08. The current weather forecast is now cooler than 8 of the last 10 years. Pipeline data indicates total flows to Cheniere’s Sabine Pass export facility were at 4.0 bcf. Cove Point is net exporting 0.8 bcf. Corpus Christi is exporting 0.665 bcf. Cameron is exporting 0.000 bcf.
  • Weekly Storage: US working gas storage for the week ending March 1 indicated a withdrawal of (149) bcf. Working gas inventories fell to 1,390 bcf. Current inventories fall (235)bcf (-14.5%) below last year and fall (482) bcf (-25.8%) below the 5-year average.
  • Supply Trends: Total supply fell (0.5)bcf/d to 83.4 bcf/d. US production fell. Canadian imports rose. LNG imports fell. LNG exports rose. Mexican exports rose. The US Baker Hughes rig count fell (11). Oil activity decreased (9). Natural gas activity decreased (2). The total US rig count now stands at 1,027 .The Canadian rig count fell (22) to 189. Thus, the total North American rig count fell (33) to 1,216 and now trails last year by (41). The higher efficiency US horizontal rig count fell (7) to 904 and rises +56 above last year.
  • Demand Trends: Total demand fell (3.7) bcf/d to +104.8 bcf/d. Power demand fell. Industrial demand fell. Res/Comm demand fell. Electricity demand fell (2,501) gigawatt-hrs to 76,183 which exceeds last year by +4,458 (6.2%) and exceeds the 5-year average by 553 (0.7%%).
  • Nuclear Generation: Nuclear generation fell (2,918)MW in the reference week to 88,626 MW. This is (1,827) MW lower than last year and +74 MW higher than the 5-year average. Recent output was at 86,623 MW.

The heating season has begun. With a forecast through March 22 the 2018/19 total cooling index is at (2,786) compared to (2,515) for 2017/18, (2,187) for 2016/17, (2,419) for 2015/16, (2,667) for 2014/15, (2,944) for 2013/14, (2,685) for 2012/13 and (2,422) for 2011/12.

US Northwest gas and power prices spike amid cold snap – Platts podcast - Natural gas prices at the Sumas hub in the Pacific Northwest reached a record high on March 1. On the same day, power prices at Mid-Columbia hub in the Northwest soared to an 18-year high.In this podcast, senior natural gas pricing specialist Veda Chowdhury and senior power pricing specialist Kelli Ainsworthtalk with senior natural gas pricing specialist John Delapp about the supply-and-demand factors that boosted natural gas and power prices to these historic levels.

Warmer Weather Forecasts And Weaker Balances Send Natural Gas Prices Lower - It was a solid down day for natural gas prices today, with the April contract finishing down just over 3% on the day.  The weakness was felt along the entire natural gas strip, though was more pronounced in the front month contracts.   Back on Friday, we took a "slightly bearish" stance in our afternoon update, citing risk of moderating weather forecasts helping to ease low storage concerns.  This worked out quite well, as forecast GWDD totals for the next couple of weeks were roughly 15-20 GWDDs lower than Friday's forecasts.  With balances already weakening, less weather demand means less natural gas burned, and allows the market to be more comfortable with storage levels.  CPC's forecasts show, in map form, a notable day over day change in the warmer direction.  hile the pattern can still be described as "variable" rather than "warm", there are signs that warm may begin to win out toward the end of the month into April, as seen in the latest CFSv2 April forecast.

U.S. storage of working natural gas decreased dramatically last week: EIA - (Xinhua) -- Working natural gas storage in the contiguous United States was 1,186 billion cubic feet (about 33.6 billion cubic meters) as of March 8, a net decrease of 204 billion cubic feet from the previous week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a report on Thursday. The natural gas storage decreased by 23.2 percent from this time last year, or 32.4 percent below the five-year average, according to EIA's Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report. Net withdrawal of 206 billion cubic feet for the lower 48 states last week was the largest value ever reported for March in the EIA's Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report. According to EIA, the larger-than-normal withdrawals from storage were driven by the return of cold temperatures throughout large portions of the Lower 48 states, which increased heating demand for natural gas Working natural gas is defined as the amount of natural gas stored underground that can be withdrawn for use.

Natural Gas Futures Take Hit After Somewhat Bearish EIA Storage Report - The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Thursday reported a 204 Bcf withdrawal from U.S. gas stocks, on the low side of survey ranges, and the news ate into early morning gains in the natural gas futures market.The 204 Bcf pull for the week ended March 8 -- a week that saw unseasonably frigid temperatures and elevated prices in the cash market -- is bullish compared to the five-year average 99 Bcf withdrawal and last year’s 88 Bcf pull. But market observers had been looking for a hefty withdrawal from this week’s EIA report. Major surveys had pointed to a withdrawal in the 208-210 Bcf range, and some estimates approached 220 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA financial weekly index futures had settled on a pull of 205 Bcf, while NGI’s model had predicted a 222 Bcf withdrawal.The April Nymex futures contract had been trading a few cents higher early Thursday, up around $2.840-2.850. As the final number crossed trading screens at 10:30 a.m. ET, the front month quickly shed a couple pennies, trading as low as $2.826. By 11 a.m. ET, April was back up to around $2.840, 2.0 cents higher versus Wednesday’s settle. Bespoke Weather Services had been looking for a 209 Bcf pull and viewed this week’s EIA report as neutral.“Weekly data continues to be noisy, as last week’s draw was 6 Bcf larger than our expectation while this week’s was 5 Bcf smaller, indicating we continue to have a strong read of balance on a two-week rolling basis,” Bespoke said. “Though the number was slightly bearish to the market consensus we saw risk to the bearish side and still saw a very significant salt draw that can keep a bid under day-ahead cash.“This keeps us from seeing the number as all that bearish, though following the significant cold last week we should see significant loosening in future numbers as we look to just barely dip below 1.1 Tcf. The market has been bid up on worries of stagnant production and a large draw, and now one of those worries can be put behind us.”Total working gas in underground storage stood at 1,186 Bcf as of March 8, 359 Bcf (23.2%) below year-ago inventories and 569 Bcf (32.4%) below the five-year average. By region, EIA reported a 51 Bcf withdrawal in the Midwest, with the East pulling 49 Bcf from stockpiles. The Pacific saw a 10 Bcf pull for the week, while 7 Bcf was withdrawn in the Mountain region. The South Central saw 88 Bcf pulled from stocks, including 51 Bcf from salt and 37 Bcf from nonsalt, according to EIA.

April Gas Trends Lower On Milder End Of March And Loosening Supply/Demand Balances - The April natural gas contract settled down over 2% today as weather forecasts trended unimpressive through the day with balances doing little to support prices and cash trading weakly ahead of a weekend with one of the last cold shots of the season. The April contract led the whole curve lower after it led the way higher yesterday.  We were all over this for clients, with our sentiment in our Afternoon Update yesterday turning bearish.  Our Morning Update also outlined the bearish risks to natural gas prices we saw through the day, highlighting a test of $2.8 likely "into early next week" following the gap fill we were watching at $2.856.  This came despite some slightly colder trends on overnight weather model guidance.  Then afternoon weather model guidance moderated further, keeping the front of the natural gas curve under pressure (images courtesy of Tropical Tidbits).  This came as we saw little in daily balance data to indicate prices were likely to bounce back, as Canadian imports were seen recovering a bit too despite lower production the last few days.

Pinelands Commission says South Jersey Gas pipeline approval void— The Pinelands Commission has notified South Jersey Gas its approval to build a pipeline from Maurice River Township to Upper Township is void, now that the B.L. England electric plant will not repower with natural gas. “We sent a letter to South Jersey Gas saying, ‘Hi, because of the fact that B.L. England is no longer part of the application, as far as we are concerned, the application is no longer valid,’” Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg said at Friday’s commission meeting. A South Jersey Gas representative was unavailable for comment Saturday. “Our court date has been pushed back to June. We have to remain vigilant because RC Holdings can sell this plant to another natural gas power company,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, one of the groups suing to stop the pipeline. “South Jersey Gas can also come back with another application. That’s why it is so critical that Gov. Murphy move ahead with new appointments to the Pinelands Commission and place a moratorium on all fossil-fuel infrastructure projects.” Commissioners said they would discuss the litigation, and motions filed in the case, during closed session. South Jersey Gas has said there is still a need for a new pipeline to provide a second route for gas to get to about 140,000 customers in Cape May and parts of Atlantic County, now served by only one transmission line. But Wittenberg’s letter made it clear SJ Gas will need to make a new application for any new or amended project through the Pinelands.

'Monumental step backwards' – the $1bn gas pipeline project dividing New York - A battle is erupting over a proposed gas pipeline on the doorstep of New York City, with environmental groups claiming the project is unnecessary and would lock in planet-warming emissions for decades to come. Energy company Williams, based in Oklahoma, plans to build a 23-mile-long underwater pipeline through New York’s lower bay to bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York. The $1bn project would link existing infrastructure in New Jersey, to the Rockaways in the New York borough of Queens. Pipeline proponents argue the project is needed to allow thousands more New Yorkers to switch from oil to gas for their heating but environmental groups are marshaling a growing protest movement to pressure Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, to block the development. “This pipeline would incentivize reliance on gas, which is way more carbon-intensive than renewables,” said Robert Wood, a campaigner at, a climate advocacy group. “It would be a nightmare happening, not in a rural area, but right here in New York City.” A draft of a study commissioned by disputes many of the assertions made by Williams and National Grid, the utility that will be the sole customer for the gas. According to the analysis, New York is already well on its way to eliminating the dirtiest types of oil, a carbon-heavy fuel, for heating and the state’s power operators are forecasting a drop in electricity use due to efficiency improvements. 

Exclusive: Rhode Island Governor Nixed Agency Critiques of LNG Facility, Silencing Health and Justice Concerns - Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, squashed a letter by her own state health agency, which raised serious concerns about a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in a densely populated Providence neighborhood. Documents obtained by DeSmog show that last summer Raimondo nixed a letter by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) critical of National Grid’s Fields Point Liquefaction project right before it was to be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).FERC approved the project three months later. According to the internal documents, obtained from RIDOH through an open records request, in June last year several health department staff members began crafting a letter in response to the publication of FERC’s environmental assessment for the project. The assessment, which was carried out by a contractor supervised by FERC but paid for by National Grid, concluded that the project will “not significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” A final draft of the RIDOH letter, which was to be signed by its Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, was ready for submission to FERC in late July. The letter detailed various critiques of FERC’s assessment, from its fairly narrow scope under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the ignoring of vulnerable communities, to public safety concerns and different scenarios for explosions. Earlier drafts discussed issues relating to climate change and environmental justice, which did not make it into the final product. “[T]he residents of the area feel disenfranchised and believe that their voices and health do not matter to government,” the letter warned, adding that the project “continues that historical pattern of discounting the voices of the people that live in the region and sets a precedent that may lead to additional, more concerning, projects in the future.” But the letter was never sent.

West Virginia lawmakers pass bills to expedite natural gas output, transport — Legislation West Virginia lawmakers passed in their recently concluded legislative session is expected to encourage the construction of distribution pipeline systems in underserved areas of the state, as well as to give a tax break to production from low-producing gas wells. Among the bills passed during the session, which closed Saturday, was House Bill 2661, which allows natural gas utilities to provide incentivizes for gas drilling "where dependable, lower-priced supplies of natural gas are not readily available." The legislation, which awaits the signature of Governor Jim Justice, will help encourage the utilities to build new gas gathering systems in areas of the state "where there haven't been wells drilled in the last several years," Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of West Virginia, said Monday in an interview. HB 2661 was just one of several pieces of legislation that the lawmakers passed, which are expected to help increase the state's output of gas, Burd said. Gas production in the state has increased rapidly since the middle part of the current decade as producers began to tap into the deep liquids-rich Utica Shale formation, as well as the shallower Marcellus. Production grew from about 2.24 Bcf/d as of January 1, 2014, to about 4.54 Bcf/d currently, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data. Production in the state is projected to continue to ramp up over the next five years, topping 7 Bcf/d by 2024, according to Platts Analytics. Another bill IOGA WV favored for passage was HB 2673, which increases the exemption from severance tax for marginally producing wells. Under current law, only wells producing 5 Mcf/d are exempted from paying the 5% severance tax, based on total production. HB 2673 raised that level of production eligible for exemption to 60 Mcf/d from 5 Mcf/d. For those affected wells, the severance tax will be replaced by a well plugging 2.5% tax, with funds going to the plugging of abandoned and orphaned wells for which no responsible owner can be found.

Student Reporters in West Virginia Find Atlantic Coast Pipeline Offers Only Two Dozen Permanent Jobs - It’s hard for anyone to miss a “help wanted” sign like this: “13,000 Union Workers Needed for Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project.” That’s how the website Oilfield Job Shop described the opportunities created by the $7 billion Atlantic Coast pipeline, planned to carry shale gas 605 miles from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina. Its builders, a group led by Dominion Energy, say all told, the project will support 17,000 jobs — no small amount of work anywhere, but especially in parts of West Virginia where the economy has long relied on coal mining. So, when high school students working with PBS NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs in Morgantown, West Virginia, set out to find out what “opportunity” looks like in 2019, they quickly zoomed in on pipeline jobs. The students were particularly interested in the kinds of jobs that could let workers stay in or near their hometown, a small city (population: 138,000) on the banks of the Monongahela River in north-central West Virginia.  Earlier reporting by a different PBS project revealed that the 17,000 jobs advertised for the Atlantic Coast pipeline didn’t stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, that number is based on an estimate that re-counts the exact same position each year. “In other words, if someone was hired for a job that lasted for six years, that would count as six cumulative jobs,” Community Idea Stations reported. It added that during an average year, the pipeline would directly employ 1,556 workers (and the projections then added in a nearly equal number of spin-off jobs, also multiplied by six years). At no point, in other words, was the pipeline project hiring 13,000 union workers at one time. “It was trouble finding out how many jobs the pipeline would create,” another SRL reporter, Kyle Shaw, told DeSmog.  So, they went to the source, interviewing Dominion’s Brittany Moody, lead engineer for the Atlantic Coast pipeline. “I’m thinking in the low 20’s range for permanent employees,” she tells Student Reporting Labs in a roughly six-minute video report produced by the students.

The fight for the Atlantic Coast & Mountain Valley pipelines (Forbes), Two proposed long-haul natural gas transportation projects—the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP)—are now in peril. That’s the result of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia in late February.The court didn’t just reject U.S. Forest Service permits for the ACP to cross the Appalachian Trail. They ruled the Forest Service lacks the authority to permit any pipeline crossing the A.T., without an act of Congress. If that stands, it invites a fresh challenge to the MVP project, which is also attempting to transport gas from Appalachia to the Southeast US.The ACP’s lead developer and 48 percent owner Dominion Energy(D) will file an appeal with the US Supreme Court "in the next 90 days." If that fails, management will have to decide whether to seek an unlikely exemption from Congress, substantially re-route the pipeline or cancel the project entirely. Prior to its defeat at the Fourth Circuit, Dominion had announced a plan to separately construct the "Supply Header" portion of the ACP, a pipeline system stretching from central to southeastern Virginia and then to southeastern North Carolina. That portion now has a projected commercial in-service date of end-year 2020 at a cost of $650 to $700 million and could conceivably be filled with gas from other sources.The rest of ACP is now projected to enter service in "early 2021." That’s a timetable management believes will allow for a court or legislative remedy, though probably not substantive re-routing. The total project cost including Supply Header is now $7.25 to $7.75 billion, up from an estimate of $6 to $6.5 billion in early November.MVP’s proposed route is considerably shorter, bringing gas from the Marcellus Shale of West Virginia into southern and western Virginia. According to lead developer EQM Midstream (EQM), the project is 70 percent complete, but work has been suspended, boosting expected cost to $4.6 billion. The company has filed an amicus brief at the Fourth Circuit in support of the ACP partners. That leaves two big questions for investors. First, is it still likely these pipelines will eventually enter service? Second, how exposed are the owners to further cost overruns, and to the worst case that these projects are abandoned and written off?

US Official Reveals Atlantic Drilling Plan, Hails Trump's Distractions - "Revealed: Interior department official says he is ‘thrilled’ by Trump’s ‘knack for keeping the attention of the media and public focused somewhere else’" "A top US official told a group of fossil fuel industry leaders that the Trump administration will soon issue a proposal making large portions of the Atlantic available for oil and gas development, and said that it is easier to work on such priorities because Donald Trump is skilled at sowing “absolutely thrilling” distractions, according to records of a meeting obtained by the Guardian.Joe Balash, the assistant secretary for land and minerals management, was speaking to companies in the oil exploration business at a meeting of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, or IAGC, last month. “One of the things that I have found absolutely thrilling in working for this administration,” said Balash,“is the president has a knack for keeping the attention of the media and the public focused somewhere else while we do all the work that needs to be done on behalf of the American people.”"Jimmy Tobias reports for the Guardian March 14, 2019.

'Fracking' Ban Advances In The Florida Senate Amid Concerns — A move to ban “fracking” in Florida advanced Monday in the Senate with some oil-drilling protections for the Everglades, but not more comprehensive language sought by environmentalists. The Senate Agriculture Committee voted 3-2 along party lines to approve a measure (SPB 7064) by Chairman Ben Albritton that would meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting large volumes of fluids into rock formations at a “high rate” of pressure to help release natural gas and oil. Sen. Doug Broxson, a Gulf Breeze Republican who voted for the proposal, expressed concern that the ban could impact the industry. Broxson noted that while the fracking technique has not been employed in the state, Florida has long had oil drilling in parts of the Panhandle and Southwest Florida.  “Florida has very limited resources as far as what is in the ground,” Broxson said. “What we’ve done is safe and responsible. And let’s don’t do anything to interrupt what we’ve done right for the last 60 years.” While adamantly opposed to fracking, environmentalists have opposed Albritton’s bill because it doesn’t address a technique called “matrix acidizing.”The acidizing technique utilizes many of the same chemicals as used in hydraulic fracking, but it dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid. Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, said by not prohibiting the acidizing technique, as well as hydraulic fracturing, the proposal continues to be a “risky proposition” for the state’s fragile ecosystem. “I don’t understand why we are taking chances, Oklahoma has, as we heard last week, has fracking going on and for the first time in their history they’ve got 2,000 earthquakes between the years 2015 and 2017,” Rader said. “I know there is a little bit of debate that it is due to fracking or not, but the majority of the debate believes that it is.”

Environmentalists sue U.S. to block Gulf of Mexico energy lease sale - Three environmental groups on Wednesday sued the U.S. government over its plan to sell leases next week for offshore oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico, saying they want a court order blocking the sales.  The planned sales violate the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act because they rely on “arbitrary environmental analyses,” according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Healthy Gulf, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.  To read the full story on WestlawNext Practitioner Insights, click here:

Underwater Mudslides Are the Biggest Threat to Offshore Drilling, and Energy Companies Aren’t Ready for Them - Ian MacDonald - Like generals planning for the last war, oil company managers and government inspectors tend to believe that because they survived the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, they are ready for all contingencies. Today they are expanding drilling into deeper and deeper waters, and the Trump administration is opening more offshore areas to production.In fact, however, the worst-case scenario for an oil spill catastrophe is not losing control of a single well, as occurred in the BP disaster. Much more damage would be done if one or more of the thousand or so production platforms that now blanket the Gulf of Mexico were destroyed without warning by a deep-sea mudslide.Instead of one damaged wellhead, a mudslide would leave a tangled mess of pipes buried under a giant mass of sediments. It would be impossible to stop the discharge with caps or plugs, and there would be little hope of completing dozens of relief wells to stop discharge from damaged wells. Oil might flow for decades. This scenario has already occurred, and we are seeing the results at a well off Louisiana, owned by Taylor Energy, that has been leaking oil since 2004. Based on this disaster and my 30 years of experience studying deep-sea oil and gas seeps, I believe that regulators and energy companies should be doing much more to prevent such catastrophes at other sites.

British, French buyers to receive commercial cargoes from Cheniere Sabine Pass starting August: company — Cheniere Energy will begin making commercial deliveries in August under long-term offtake contracts with Britain's Centrica and France's Total now that it has achieved substantial completion of its fifth train at its Sabine Pass LNG export terminal in Louisiana, the company said Friday. The biggest US LNG exporter has been ramping up service at Sabine Pass and its terminal near Corpus Christi, Texas, while also developing a mid-scale expansion and a new feedgas pipeline amid increased competition for domestic liquefaction services. The number of US export terminals in operation is expected to double by the end of this year, and more than a dozen new liquefaction projects are actively being developed. Cheniere, for its part, has been aggressively pursuing new long-term supply agreements with buyers in Europe and Asia, in an effort to solidify its market position. Cheniere is currently operating five trains at Sabine Pass and is nearing a final investment decision on a sixth train there. At its Texas facility, it is operating one train and building two more. On March 4, the company announced that substantial completion of Train 1 at Corpus Christi had been achieved, and with that milestone it said that it would begin commercial deliveries from the Texas terminal in June to Spain 's Endesa and Indonesia 's PT Pertamina under long-term agreements. Those contracts were signed in 2013 and 2014. Two 20-year agreements that were signed with Endesa called for the Spanish electric utility to buy a total of approximately 2.25 million mt/year of LNG upon commencement of service from Cheniere's Texas facility. Two 20-year agreements signed with state-owned oil and gas company PT Pertamina of Indonesia encompassed approximately 1.52 million mt/of LNG from Corpus Christi trains 1 and 2. In a statement Friday announcing substantial completion of Train 5 at Sabine Pass, Cheniere said that commissioning had been completed that that contractor Bechtel had turned over care, custody and control of the unit.

Cheniere says LNG exports to China could double its size, but trade war needs to end - Cheniere Energy CEO Jack Fusco said his company could ultimately double its size from Chinese demand, but the current trade rhetoric between the U.S. and China needs to come to an end.U.S. liquified natural gas exports are a part of the trade discussions between the U.S. and China, and both countries see it as an area for expansion. Cheniere Energy is expected to be a winner once a trade deal is concluded.LNG is a form of natural gas that is super-chilled and turned into a liquid for transport by sea. Cheniere has been a pioneer in the industry, and its Sabine Pass on the Gulf Coast was the first U.S. LNG export facility in the lower 48 states."I'm not going to speak about our commercial negotiations. China, as we've talked about, has been a real focal point for the company. We are dedicated to that market. We've sent over 60 tankers to China so far from our facility at Sabine Pass," he said in an interview with CNBC. "We've got a strong relationship with the counterparties in China, and we're expecting good things to happen there."Fusco said at lower levels the trade dealings with China are good, but at higher levels the trade talks have ramped up tensions."At the lower levels, we don't see much change. There's two willing counterparties trying to talk about terms. ... At the upper level, though, there's some tension, and I think until the tension gets smoothed out ... it's going to be rocky and it's going to be lumpy. And we're just going to have to be patient."Greater Asia demand also is growing. "Asia grew last year a whole Cheniere in size, so more than 30 million tons of LNG just in growth alone was attributable to Asia. So we're not only focused on China but we're focused on Asia more broadly," Fusco said. But he sees the most potential impact from China. The country is working to build out its infrastructure for the next four to five decades and gets natural gas via pipeline from Russia, LNG shipments and from its own drilling.

US will soon threaten to topple Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil exporter: IEA --The U.S. will start exporting more oil than Russia and threaten to unseat Saudi Arabia as the world's top exporter by 2024, according to the International Energy Agency. The forecast from IEA comes just weeks after the U.S. exported a record 3.6 million barrels per day of crude oil. The country also exports about 5 million bpd of petroleum products, including refined fuels like gasoline. Those shipments will surge in the coming years as crude production from the nation's shale fields continues to boom, IEA says in its annual five-year oil outlook. The Paris-based adviser to oil consumers and producers sees U.S. crude output — already at a record 12 million bpd — growing by another 4 million bpd through 2024."The second wave of the U.S. shale revolution is coming," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement. "It will see the United States account for 70% of the rise in global oil production and some 75% of the expansion in LNG trade over the next five years. This will shake up international oil and gas trade flows, with profound implications for the geopolitics of energy."The U.S. topped the Saudis and Russians to become the world's biggest oil producer in 2018. Pulling ahead of them in the export market would further erode their influence in the oil market.  Saudi Arabia and Russia have formed an alliance in recent years, coordinating oil production among OPEC and other oil producing countries. The so-called OPEC+ alliance has capped output for much of the last two years, helping to boost oil prices after a punishing downturn.  Most of the output growth from OPEC over the next five years will come from Iraq, IEA says. The group thinks the country will be the world's third biggest source of new supply, helping to offset production declines in Iran and Venezuela. The world will need that supply, in IEA's view. The group sees no signs that growing oil demand will peak in the coming years. It forecasts the world's appetite for oil will increase at an average 1.2 million bpd over the next five years, roughly in line with recent growth trends.

Oil shale boom will keep rocking crude prices as US moves closer to becoming net exporter - The U.S., now the world's largest oil producer, is playing the role of disruptor in the global energy market. Production has grown to a record 12.1 million barrels a day, eclipsing both Russia and Saudi Arabia in the past year. Exports have exceeded 3 million barrels a day, overtaking many OPEC nations. The implications are significant for both the U.S. and the oil market, which has seen huge price swings in just the past six months alone."Within the next two or three years, the U.S. will be a net exporter. By the end of the year, the U.S. will be producing 13 million barrels a day. This growth is a seismic event for the U.S. economy at this scale. U.S. oil production is 2.5 times what it was in 2008," said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit.U.S. shale has posed a dilemma for OPEC as it has grown in spurts over the past decade, creating supply imbalances by pumping more when prices rise and cutting back as they drop. To battle the glut created by U.S. drillers, Russia formed an alliance with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the OPEC members, and together they have actively tried to either reduce or add supply to the market. But unlike those producers, U.S. production is driven by companies responding to market forces and that adds to the volatility in the world oil market."It's really become such a huge story in terms of U.S. production, but also because of our policy. The U.S. is a swing producer but it's also through policy that we've taken 1.6 million barrels off the market," said Helima Croft, global head of commodities strategy at RBC. "We've been really lucky we've had the U.S. producers. That's where the U.S. currently plays a role in helping out the market. Trump talks to the Saudis. Trump sanctions Venezuela. He's really active in the market. Have we had a U.S. president be this consequential in the oil market, in terms of intervention?" Trump's policy has added to oil market volatility. When sanctions were announced on Iran last year, the U.S. said there would be no waivers for its customers. That sent oil prices higher. Yet, the U.S. did grant waivers to India and others during the fall, and that sent oil prices reeling. Iran exports are now about 1.1 million barrels a day, down from about 2.5 million in the spring. The waivers granted for those customers are up for review in May, so if they are not extended, more Iranian oil could come off the market.

US oil and gas rig count rises on week to 1086: S&P Global Platts Analytics  --The US oil and natural gas rig count ticked up one on the week to a net 1,086 Thursday, adding another bit of odd behavior to what has generally been a downward trend since November, according to the latest S&P Global Platts Analytics data.Oil rigs accounted for the gain, as the number of oil rigs rose by a net nine to 865, while the number of gas rigs dropped by eight to 217. "The decline in rigs is in line with the general guidance trend of rig reductions, although a number of producers have indicated that more rigs could be added if crude prices continue to improve," Platts Analytics analyst Sami Yahya said. The US rig count has been dropping more or less steadily since its recent peak of 1,233 last November. But in the last five weeks it has been erratic, dropping 20 rigs one week in mid-February and then rising 20 rigs another week later in the month. Click here for full-size graphic While the main focus of many producers remained production growth, operators could more than likely achieve that goal even with fewer rigs because of abundant drilled but uncompleted wells, especially in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, Yahya said. Rig movements this week occurred in most of the nine large unconventional plays. The SCOOP-STACK in Oklahoma had the largest changes this week, up five to 93 rigs.  Other rig movements were smaller. The dry Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Williston Basin in North Dakota/Montana each rose two rigs to 42 and 62, respectively, while the Permian Basin was up one rig to 463. Areas that lost rigs this week were the Haynesville Shale in Northwest Louisiana/East Texas, down three to 63; the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the wet Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale largely in Ohio, each down by one rig. That left the Eagle Ford with 88 rigs, the wet Marcellus with 26 and the Utica with 15 rigs.The Denver-Julesburg Basin of Colorado was unchanged this week at 27 rigs. US permits overall were down by 106 this week to a total of 1,416. Largest moves were seen in the Denver-Julesburg, up by 61 permits to 155; SCOOP-STACK, up by 17 permits to 41; and the Permian, down 31 permits from the previous week to 172. One big reason for the recently declining rig count is that operators are increasingly more efficient and able to produce more oil using fewer rigs. Perhaps the most noteworthy industry feature of the 2014-2018 period is the continued growth in US oil and gas production, despite a dwindling rig count,

Drillers are cutting billions of dollars in spending, raising questions about US oil output -- The shale drillers behind booming U.S. oil and natural gas output have survived a bevy of challenges in recent years, from a historic oil price downturn to an effort by OPEC to wash them out of the market with a flood of cheap crude.Now, with U.S. output at all-time highs near 12 million barrels per day, the industry is facing a new obstacle: how to keep growing output amid a wave of belt-tightening that is cutting billions of dollars from capital budgets.Publicly traded shale drillers emerged from the 2014-2016 downturn with a new mandate from investors to get their finances in order and start generating value for shareholders. For years, drillers have spent more cash than they generated, borrowing heavily to snap up acreage and increase their output at seemingly any cost.The latest round of quarterly earnings reports shows many shale drillers are cutting spending to meet investors' demands. That is translating into lower expectations for oil and gas output from the companies, which rely on advanced drilling methods like hydraulic fracturing to free oil and gas from shale rock formations.But even with these frackers now pursuing the elusive goal of drilling at a profit, forecasters expect another blockbuster year for U.S. output. After surging by 1.6 million barrels per day last year, making the U.S. the world's biggest producer, average annual American output is poised to grow by more than 1.4 million bpd in 2019, according to the Department of Energy.

Exxon, Chevron planning big expansions in shale drilling, a move which could shake up the industry - Big oil is getting even bigger in shale, and that could speed up a shakeout among independents and force more mergers and joint ventures.Last week, both Exxon Mobil and Chevron said they would boost their growth in the Permian basin substantially."All those companies [the majors] have demonstrated multi-decades history of delivering well on larger projects," said Nathan Strik, energy utilities sector leader at Fidelity.Exxon expects to boost production to 1 million barrels a day in five years in the 75,000 square mile area that runs through West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Chevron expects to more than double its output to 900,000 barrels a day in four years.The contrast between those major producers, who can realize profits even when oil prices are low, and some others in the oil patch was a topic of discussion at the industry's annual IHS Markit CERAweek conference."I do think it raises the bar..I think what we've seen in shale is the benefits of scale are real," said Strik. The industry, punished by the stock market, has been under pressure by shareholders to cut costs and boost stock prices. Companies have cut back sharply on capital expenditures.

Will U.S. Supermajors Form A New Oil Cartel? -- The ambitious shale growth plans of the U.S. supermajors could in the future allow them to control so much of U.S. shale oil production that they could also control the price of the U.S. light tight oil going to foreign markets in an ‘OPEC of their own kind,’ quoted John Kilduff, founding partner at Again Capital, as saying.  If the U.S. supermajors, such as Exxon and Chevron, end up controlling a lot of the U.S. shale production with their plans to significantly boost Permian production, and if smaller shale players bleed cash and decide to sell acreage and operations to Big Oil, then supermajors could be the ones determining the price of light crude oil, according to Kilduff. Exxon and Chevron both announced increased targets for their Permian production last week. Chevron now sees its Permian unconventional net oil-equivalent production rising to 600,000 bpd by the end of 2020, and to 900,000 bpd by the end of 2023. Exxon revised up its Permian growth plans to produce more than 1 million oil-equivalent barrels per day by as early as 2024, which would be an increase of almost 80 percent.The shale game is now a ‘scale game’, as Chevron Chairman and CEO Michael Wirth told CNBC last week after the company announced its latest Permian growth targets.“With the majors going into the Permian to do roll-outs, the independents there are getting squeezed by the banks, which want them to cough out more money or get out,”’s Barani Krishnan quoted Kilduff as saying.  According to Rystad Energy, the players with large-scale operations and acreage positions could get average returns of 20 percent in three years in the Wolfcamp A in the Permian Delaware, for example, even if WTI Midland oil price is at $45 a barrel. But smaller operators could struggle because of higher drilling, completion, operation, and transportation costs. “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,” Rystad Energy senior partner Per Magnus Nysveen said last month. “Size matters, even more so when drilling for shale oil in the Permian Basin,” Nysveen added.

Fracking 2.0 Was a Financial Disaster, Will Fracking 3.0 Be Different? - Two years ago, the U.S.fracking industry was trying to recover from the crash in the price of oil. Shale companies were promoting the idea that fracking was viable even at low oil prices (despite losing money when oil prices were high). At the time, no one was making money fracking with the business-as-usual approach, but then the Wall Street Journal published a story claiming all of this was about to change because the industry had a trump card — and that was technology. Today, frackers are again relying on technology as a financial savior, but this time, they are looking to Microsoft. As ExxonMobil embarks on an ambitious move into fracking in the Permian oil fields of West Texas, it has announced a partnership with Microsoft to use cloud technology to analyze oil field data and optimize operations. Exxon claims the move could generate “billions in net cash flow.”   In March 2017, the Wall Street Journal ran an article with the headline, “Fracking 2.0: Shale Drillers Pioneer New Ways to Profit in Era of Cheap Oil,” which detailed the ways the shale industry expected technology could help it finally deliver profits. The article mentioned “longer, supersize wells” and said, “The promise of this new phase is potentially as significant as the original revolution.”  The article highlighted EOG Resources (as in, Enron Oil and Gas), a company often touted as the “Apple of oil,” and quoted the company’s chief information officer saying that technology advances allowed its employees to work at the “speed of thought.”  It also reported that Chesapeake Energy was betting on these new supersize wells as part of its “turnaround strategy.” Chesapeake needed to “turnaround” from losing money and move in the direction of profits. But supersized wells weren’t the only solution for keeping shale drillers from losing more money. Another was more wells per drilling pad. A year ago shale company Encana announced plans for “cube development,” in which it would drill 64 wells on one gargantuan drilling site in the Permian oil fields of West Texas. The same thing was happening in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, where top natural gas producer EQTCorporation had plans for drilling 40 wells per pad.   As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported at the time, the higher number of wells per pad required “creative geometry,” which “ensures that the wells don’t crowd each other underground.” EQT did indeed drill the longest wells but also lost a lot of money in the process. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The decision to drill some of the longest horizontal wells ever in shale rocks turned into a costly misstep costing hundreds of millions of dollars.”

 Striking it Rich: Money managers get more, children get less - San Antonio Express-News -- Second of four parts -- A little more than a decade ago, lawmakers gave an obscure board the power to invest the state's oil and gas revenue — money designated to benefit Texas schoolchildren — with outside fund managers. Then fracking boomed, pumping billions in royalties into the coffers of the Texas School Land Board. Big-name businessmen showed up quickly, hoping to be chosen to handle the investments and to gather the fees that came with the duty.And the campaign contributions flowed. Big donors received lucrative partnership agreements. Investment managers charged hundreds of millions in fees. Lines were blurred, and in some instances, crossed.Since the land board started investing with outside fund managers on behalf of the state's K-12 endowment in 2006, it has committed or invested nearly $3.7 billion with companies run by friends, business associates or campaign donors. Those donors together have given more than $1.4 million since 2006 to board members or elected officials with the power to appoint them, a Houston Chronicle investigation reveals. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has recused himself four times since he took office in 2015, citing “personal relationships.” And they've since charged the fund more than $218 million in fees, records show. While the fees climbed during the past decade, the amount of money the $44 billion Texas Permanent School Fund sends to schools has declined, in real dollars, compared with the two decades prior. Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat from Austin, said it's time to reassess how the school fund is managed. "Without the right oversight, the PSF is ripe for conflicts of interest," she said. "We have a responsibility for due diligence here."

Oil and Gas Industry Warns Against Proposed New Mexico Fracking Moratorium - With the oil and natural gas sector pumping record amounts of revenue into the state's economy, a freshman member of New Mexico's legislature has proposed a four-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), Senate Bill (SB) 459, which would surely mean a hit for that economy. The proposal is being pushed by environmentalists and members of the Navajo Nation's Counselor (NM) Chapter House. It would stop state permits for fracking and impose new reporting requirements on state agencies overseeing oil and gas activities that have ramped up in both the San Juan and Permian basins. Officials at the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) have told lawmakers that SB 459 would be a "disaster" for New Mexico and lacks facts or science to support it.Advocates of the bill argue that  regulations were not a priority under former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over the last eight years. They say the public health and environmental impacts of fracking need to be examined more closely now that newly elected Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has taken office. The measure is currently in the Senate Conservation Committee.Under the proposal, the Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department would stop issuing hydraulic fracturing permits and be one of seven agencies required to report annually to the governor and legislative committees about the impacts of fracking. The other agencies would include the Departments of Agriculture, Environment, Health, and Indian Affairs, along with the Workers Compensation Administration and the State Engineer's Office.  Democratic state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque is one of the bill’s sponsors. She is new to the state legislature having been recently appointed by Lujan Grisham to fill a vacancy.NMOGA's spokesperson Robert McEntyre has complained that the backers of SB 459 did not seek input from the oil and gas industry, nor individual communities. He claims that fracking has been well studied in the state.

Judge upholds Line 5 tunnel law despite 'constitutional defect' – A Michigan judge has struck down a "constitutional defect" but otherwise upheld a recent state law that created a new authority to oversee construction of a Mackinac Straits tunnel poised to house a replacement for Enbridge's controversial Line 5 oil and gas pipeline. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borrello on Friday rejected a request to invalidate the law because of a provision creating six-year terms for members of the new authority. Instead, Borrello ruled that members can only serve for four years, the maximum allowed under the Michigan Constitution. "The unconstitutional length of the term of office does not affect the authority of otherwise validly appointed board members," Borrello said of the law, approved in December by the Republican-led Legislature and signed into law during the final weeks of former Gov. Rick Snyder's tenure. The ruling appears to answer one of six questions that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to review as part of a request for a formal legal opinion that could still invalidate the law in whole or part. Republicans made “critical mistakes” in drafting the law late last year, Whitmer said Friday during a community event at Northeast Elementary School in Jackson. Snyder and legislative Republicans “pushed through” the controversial measure before Whitmer took office, “because they know that I don’t support keeping that pipeline in the water" while the tunnel is built, the governor said. “Like anything, when you rush, you make mistakes, and the last governor and the Legislature, I believe, made some critical mistakes,” Whitmer added.

Colorado election officials toss campaign finance complaint against anti-fracking group --State election officials on Friday dismissed a campaign finance complaint that had been lodged against Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112.In its decision, the elections division of the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office wrote that Colorado Rising did submit an erroneous report about the origins of a $170,000 donation it received in October. But the agency said the error was “not an intentional falsification of contributor information” but a simple mistake.“Upon learning of the error, the respondent took immediate steps to correct the information,” the decision reads.  Charles Heatherly, a Republican, filed the complaint in January alleging Colorado Rising incorrectly reported a $170,000 campaign contribution from the Sergey Brin Family Foundation, which was started by Google’s founder. After first reporting the money as a contribution from the foundation, Colorado Rising later amended its report to say that the money came from ProgressNow Colorado, a political advocacy organization that supports liberal causes. The complaint said Colorado Rising attempted to obfuscate the source of the funds by filing multiple amended campaign finance reports showing the money coming from a changing list of contributors.But the elections division said that the Sergey Brin Family Foundation had noted in an Oct. 17 letter to ProgressNow Colorado that its $170,000 contribution was for “general operating support,” making no mention of Prop 112.

Colorado Senate gives final approval to oil and gas reform bill - The Colorado State Senate on Wednesday gave its final approval along party lines to a bill that will dramatically reform the way oil and gas businesses are regulated. The legislation, Senate Bill 181, is one of the most hotly debated issues in front of the General Assembly this year. Wednesday’s final vote followed a day-long debate. Before the bill goes to Gov. Jared Polis for his signature, the state House, which is considered far more liberal than the Senate, must debate the bill as well. Among the changes, the bill would make is changing the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to protect public health and safety. Supporters of the bill also say the bill will ensure more local control over oil and gas regulations. Republican state Sen. John Cooke of Weld County, which has more extraction operations than any other part of the state, said the bill flies in the face of local control. “If we opt out, we have to follow the same rules,” Cooke said, pointing out that local governments can’t write less restrictive rules, only stricter ones. “That’s not local control.” Other Republicans spoke out against the possible financial impact the bill could have for oil and gas workers, communities that are heavily dependent on oil and gas, as well as the state’s own coffers.

Fossil Fuels Choke Denver With Air Quality Three Times Worse Than Beijing's - Today from downtown Denver, the peaks of the Rocky Mountain foothills were barely visible through the brown cloud of pollution that covered the region with an unhealthy level of fine particulate matter. At six p.m., Denver’s air quality index measured 162, an unhealthy level more than three times worse than the moderate rating of 51 now in Beijing. The pollution triggered health warnings across the northern Front Range.  Colorado’s “brown cloud” is an increasingly frequent reminder of the Denver-Boulder metro’s car dependency and the impact of the state’s oil and gas production, which the industry projects will generate $12.5 billion in revenue this year.  Kyle Clark, a 9 News anchor, reported that 30 to 40 percent of ozone levels — a related form of pollution that is not responsible for the brown cloud — result from the state’s oil and gas industry. Traffic generates similar levels, he tweeted.  He also pointed out the irony of today’s extreme air quality problems with the intense oil and gas industry lobbying that happened at the state capitol today as legislators considered sweeping environmental reforms. Reducing car dependency could help the region achieve clearer air, and Denver has plans to do exactly that. But the city is better at setting goals than achieving them. In Denver’s Mobility Action Plan, officials set a strategic goal of reducing single occupancy vehicle commutes from 73 percent of trips to 50 percent.The city plans to supplement current bus service with a high-frequency transit network. The proposal is part of the long-term planning process known as Denveright, which will be finalized later this year.But there are no concrete plans for the city to come up with the funding needed to provide the improved transit service promised in the plans.

Companies decry ‘valve turners’ who shut down pipelines (AP) — As Enbridge prepared to move climate-damaging tar sands crude through a 40-year-old pipeline in eastern Canada in 2015, environmentalists and indigenous peoples including Vanessa Gray thought about what happened in Michigan just five years earlier: Another of the company’s lines had burst, sending oil into a river in one of the largest spills in U.S. history. With that in mind, Gray and others decided they needed to do more than just speak out. In December 2015, three activists from Montreal entered Enbridge property near the Quebec-Ontario border and turned an above-ground emergency pipeline shut-off valve. About two weeks later, Gray and two others did the same at a different site, drawing even more attention because authorities levied charges that could have landed them in prison for life. They ended up with no jail time and accomplished their goal of raising awareness. “I hope it inspires others,” Gray, 26, a member of an Ojibwe tribe, said in a recent interview. It already has, by activists in the U.S. who believe fossil fuels are precipitating a global warming crisis. Just last month four activists targeted an Enbridge oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. But pipeline companies say so-called valve turners are dangerous — to themselves and the public — and many energy industry officials and advocates say they should be treated as domestic terrorists. Several states are considering increasing fines and prison terms for such incidents and holding associated organizations legally accountable as well. “When environmental groups go out to cause physical harm or to harm infrastructure, in my mind that is domestic terrorism.” said Alan Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association. “  To Michael Foster, it’s a wake-up call to a world quickly approaching “a life-or-death moment.” “We must stop the flow of fossil fuels as a society,” said the mental health counselor from Seattle who spent six months in jail for turning a pipeline shut-off valve in North Dakota in October 2016.   Foster was part of a loose-knit group of 11 climate change activists who dubbed themselves Climate Direct Action and simultaneously turned shut-off valves on five pipelines in North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Washington state that carry Canadian tar sands crude into the U.S. “We were committed to nonviolence. We were committed to safety and making sure no communities were impacted or damage occurred. We weren’t interested in damaging equipment,”

 Can Bakken producers finally put a lid on gas flaring? -  Producers in the Bakken and the rest of North Dakota flared record volumes of natural gas in the fourth quarter of 2018 — an average of more than 520 MMcf/d, or about 20% of total production — far exceeding the state’s current 12% flaring target. What happened? For one, crude oil production in the play took off; for another, the gas-to-oil ratio at the lease continued to increase. And while some new gas processing capacity came online last year to reduce the need for flaring, the pace of the additions was too slow to keep up with the Bakken’s rising gas output. The good news is that 2019 will bring more incremental processing capacity to North Dakota than any year to date. Today, we discuss recent setbacks on the flaring-control front and the prospects for things getting better later this year. Bringing gas flaring under control in the Bakken in the Shale Era has been akin to breaking in a wild horse: Just when you start to think you’ve accomplished the task at hand, the bronco’s bucking again and you’re holding on for dear life. As we said a while back in There’s a Fire in the Night, producers in western North Dakota have been struggling for the better part of this decade to process and pipe out an increasing share of the gas they produce — and to reduce the share of gas they need to flare off. Back in 2011 and again in 2014, as much as 37% of the state’s produced gas was being burned off due to a lack of processing and pipeline takeaway capacity. That spurred the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) to require producers to file a “gas capture plan” (GCP) with their drilling permits and to put in place flaring limits. The new rules limit flaring to one year after a well’s first production, by which time producers will have to either connect the well to a gas gathering pipeline, cap it, or link it to an electrical generator or a compression or liquefaction system that consumes at least 75% of the gas onsite. Regulators also set targets for reducing the share of produced gas that is burned off statewide: flaring no more than 26% of total gas production by November 2014, 23% by January 2015, 20% by April 2016, 15% by November 2016, 12% by November 2018 and 9% by November 2020.

 13K gallons of brine spilled, recovered at Dunn County well (AP) — An equipment problem is being blamed for the spill of about 13,000 gallons of saltwater at an oil and gas well in Dunn County.The state Oil and Gas Division says Bruin E&P Operating reported Monday that 310 barrels of brine had spilled the previous day at a well about 15 miles north of Dunn Center, due to a valve or piping connection leak. Brine, or saltwater, is a byproduct of energy production. All of the spilled saltwater was contained on site and recovered. A state inspector went to the site and will monitor any additional cleanup.

Corps fights tribal request for more pipeline study records - (AP) — Federal officials who permitted the Dakota Access oil pipeline are turning over some documents sought by American Indian tribes suing over the project, but said a request for dozens more records is vague and overly broad and should be rejected by a federal judge.Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which built the pipeline that’s now moving North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois, also implored U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on Monday to deny the tribal request, saying it’s meritless and will “inject needless delay into a case that already has seen more than its fair share.”The tribal lawsuit has lingered since July 2016. Boasberg in June 2017 ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers “largely complied” with environmental law when permitting the $3.8 billion pipeline, but he ordered more study on tribal impacts. The Corps in August 2018 said more than a year of study had substantiated its earlier determination that the pipeline doesn’t pose a higher risk of adverse impacts to minorities.The agency last month turned over to the tribes documents it used in making that determination. The Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Yankton and Oglala Sioux are challenging the Corps assertion and accused the agency of withholding about 50 documents .  Justice Department attorney Amarveer Brar, who’s representing the Corps, in a response filed Monday said the tribes are trying to “add a broad array of documents to the record, most of which were not directly or indirectly considered by the Corps.” The agency does plan to provide eight additional records, but many other tribal requests are “non-specific” or “based purely on speculation,” Brar said. Some of the records the tribes allege are missing from the official record relate to the pipeline’s crossing beneath the Lake Oahe reservoir on the Missouri River in the Dakotas, which the tribes rely on for drinking water, fishing and religious practices.

Exxon asks EPA to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas - ExxonMobil Corp., the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions of methane from all new and existing oil and gas wells across the country, according to a letter obtained by Axios. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is the primary component of natural gas and is sometimes purposefully or inadvertently leaked in the production and transport of the fuel, as well as when drilling for oil. The EPA has been slow in its approach toward rolling back Obama-era methane rules, in part due to industry divisions. Through its subsidiary XTO Energy, Exxon is one of America’s biggest producers of natural gas. It has two reasons to back such a regulation.

  1. Exxon is facing pressure from investors and lawsuits over climate change. By calling for regulations, it’s an attempt to show Exxon wants gas to be as clean as possible, even if those regulations never happen. “We believe the correct mix of policies and reasonable regulations help reduce emissions, further supporting the benefits of natural gas in the energy mix,” writes Gantt Walton, vice president in Exxon’s Washington office, in the letter sent as part of the regulatory process.
  2. As a massive global company, Exxon is positioned to benefit financially over smaller companies. It can easily afford pollution-control equipment that others have a harder time obtaining.

This is a subtle escalation in Exxon’s positioning on this issue. The company has previously said it backs federal methane regulations, but — until now —had not gone as far as to ask the EPA to do so in writing. It’s also significant that Exxon is asking the agency to regulate methane emissions from existing wells, which would affect hundreds of thousands of wells. Under Trump, the EPA is very unlikely to do this. President Obama’s EPA had started the initial groundwork for such a rule, but didn’t get far before Trump took over. This letter is in response to a technical rollback EPA is undertaking. The agency is expected to propose a broader rollback of the rules soon.

America's emergence as an energy powerhouse gives it a key lever in global trade talks - The rise of the United States as the world's top oil and gas producer and now growing exporter puts energy at the center of U.S. trade negotiations — as a lever and a potential source of friction.The International Energy Agency said Monday the U.S. should surpass Russia as an oil exporter in three years and challenge Saudi Arabia for the top spot within five as U.S. oil output continues to grow.That, together with the expected growth in U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, is expected to turn the United States into the world's biggest exporter of energy.Increased sales of U.S. energy are a significant part of trade negotiations between Beijing and Washington. Since the United States resumed oil exports in early 2016, China has been a major importer of U.S. oil and at times, has been the largest. China also imports U.S. LNG and is expected to increase its purchases even more. "It's a big positive in U.S. trade talks with China. Until matters are resolved, it's a source of friction. it's also part of the equation in the European gas market," said Dan Yergin, IHS Markit vice chairman.

4.3 magnitude earthquake shakes central Alberta near Rocky Mountain House - A 4.3 magnitude earthquake hit west of Red Deer early Sunday morning, almost a week after a similar incident in the same area. Information posted by Natural Resources Canada states the earthquake happened around 4 a.m. 32 km northwest of Rocky Mountain House, at a depth of 10 kilometres. “It was a shallow event. It was felt by local residents,” said Dr. Honn Kao, a research scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada. “According to our recordings, we do not expect any particular damage.” “We have already spoken to the AER about this particular event and they are currently investigating to see if there’s any industrial activity around in that area,” Kao added. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) confirmed it is looking into the incident. Spokesperson Cara Tobin said the AER has heard reports but has not been able to identify one way or the other if the earthquake was induced.   Sunday’s quake comes on the heels on a 4.6 magnitude earthquake last Monday near Sylvan Lake and Red Deer. AER said Vesta Energy Ltd. contacted the regulator on March 4 at 6:20 a.m. saying that seismic activity was detected due to hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) at the site. AER said that Vesta had shut down fracking right away.

Total amount of oil spilled in St. Lazare train crash reduced: TSB - Investigators have reduced their tally of how much oil spilled when a Canadian National freight train derailed last month on a western Manitoba ranch. Earlier this month, the Transportation Safety Board said at least one million litres of petroleum crude was released Feb. 16 when 37 tanker cars went off the tracks near the small community of St. Lazare. On Friday, the board revised that number down to 820,000 litres. Investigators say the oil spilled from at least 14 of the derailed tanker cars and most of the crude was contained in a low-lying area near the tracks. The board says it has finished its work at the site and seven of the damaged tanker cars will undergo further analysis, including a review of some parts by its engineering lab in Ottawa. The train, with 108 petroleum crude oil cars, was heading east in the early morning at an estimated 79 km/h when an emergency brake was applied. 

Exxon Hits the Brakes on $1.9B Project -- Exxon Mobil Corp. is delaying a C$2.6 billion ($1.9 billion) oil-sands project in Canada by at least a year as the nation’s energy industry grapples with a shortage of pipeline space and government-mandated production cuts. Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, Imperial Oil Ltd., had originally planned to bring the 75,000-barrel-a-day Aspen project online in 2022, but is now slowing the pace of development at the site in northern Alberta. Any decision to resume normal activity will depend on future government actions and general market conditions, Imperial said Friday. The delay is another blow to Canada’s oil-sands industry, which suffered from record low prices last year after a wave of new production overwhelmed the region’s pipeline capacity. That spurred the government of Alberta, where most oil-sands projects are located, to mandate production cuts to drain a glut of crude in storage and revive prices. The move also reflects Exxon’s increased focus on projects off Guyana’s coast and in the Permian Basin in Texas. The company last week increased its target for Permian production to 1 million barrels a day by 2024 and expanded its estimate for the size of its Guyana discovery to 5.5 billion barrels. New RisksImperial, which owns refineries that were benefiting from the cheaper feedstock, has been one of the loudest critics of the curtailment policy and cited the plan again in its explanation for the Aspen delay. “We cannot invest billions of dollars on behalf of our shareholders given the uncertainty in the current business environment,” Imperial Chief Executive Officer Rich Kruger said in a statement. “That said, our goal is to ensure the work we do this year will enable us to effectively and efficiently resume planned activity levels when the time is right.” 

 Mexico may still utilize hydraulic fracturing - Mexico has not ruled out utilizing hydraulic fracturing when drilling for oil and natural gas, despite earlier pledges to prohibit the practice, energy minster Rocio Nahle said.“We have gas reserves that can be obtained by fracking, and we are walking that path, analyzing new technology,” Nahle said in Mexico City Tuesday, Argus reported. Recently seated President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said repeatedly his administration will not allow fracking hydraulic fracturing to be used to produce oil and natural gas because of environmental concerns,Kallanish Energy reports. Lawmakers in the Mexican senate have also called for a ban on the practice, Argus reported.But as domestic natural gas production has declined, less expensive imports by pipeline from the U.S. now account for more than half of Mexico’s natural gas needs, Kallanish Energy understands.Mexico’s state-owned Pemex has used fracking in roughly 22% of all wells developed in conventional resources. The company has said it could produce up to 60 billion barrels of oil-equivalent (Bboe) from unconventional plays, mainly located in northern Mexico’s Burgos Basin, across the Rio Grande River just south of the Eagle Ford shale play. The drop in crude production has also caused a reduction in associated gas production. Mexico imported roughly 4.9 Bcf/d of natural gas in September, the highest level in three years, according to the latest information from the energy ministry.How Mexico plans to develop its unconventional resources remains unclear as the country’s first-ever shale auction, originally scheduled for February, was canceled in December, with Pemex having pledged to refocus its efforts on shallow Gulf of Mexico production. Lopez Obrador has pledged to increase oil production to 2.6 million barrels per day (Mmbpd) by 2024, and raise gas production by 50%. While no further upstream auctions will be held for three years, Argus reported Nahle confirmed Tuesday private-sector companies are welcome in Mexico as long as they increase production under existing contracts. And while the government plans to reduce its dependence on natural gas imports, Nahle said the government is interested in building new pipelines.

Fracking the World: Despite Climate Risks, Fracking Is Going Global -  The U.S. exported a record 3.6 million barrels per day of oil in February. This oil is the result of the American fracking boom — and as a report from Oil Change International recently noted — its continued growth is undermining global efforts to limit climate change. The Energy Information Administration predicts U.S. oil production will increase again in 2019 to record levels, largely driven by fracking in the Permian shale in Texas and New Mexico. And the U.S. is not alone in trying to maximize oil and gas production. Despite the financial failures of the U.S. fracking industry, international efforts to duplicate the American fracking story are ramping up across the globe.  The CEO of Saudi Arabian state oil company Aramco recently dismissed the idea that global demand for oil will decrease anytime soon and urged the oil industry to “push back on exaggerated theories like peak oil demand.” But Saudi Aramco also is gearing up for a shopping spree of natural gas assets, including big investments in the U.S., and increasing gas production via fracking in its own shale fields. Aramco is deeply invested in keeping the world hungry for more oil and gas. As a major importer of oil and natural gas, it is no surprise that China is trying to exploit its own shale formations, which are rich with oil and gas. China is estimated to have the largest shale gas reserves of any country. However, China’s shale formations present different challenges than those in the U.S., including gas deposits at significantly greater depths. China's national oil and gas companies are making gains in fracking and lowering costs to produce gas but are still only producing a small fraction of the gas of U.S. frackers. In addition to technical challenges, China also faces local opposition in regions where fracking is occurring. One county in China's Sichuan province recently suspended fracking efforts after an earthquake killed two people. The event resulted in massive public protests against fracking, which protesters blame for the earthquakes.  Fracking has also been blamed for earthquakes in the United Kingdom and Canada.The Chinese government insists that the earthquakes are unrelated to fracking activity, and points out the Sichuan region is known for earthquakes, including a devastating 2008 quake that killed an estimated nearly 90,000 people.  To complicate matters, China has plans to test a brand-new fracking technology to access gas deposits at extreme depths, where the pressures required are too great for current hydraulic fracturing techniques. This approach, never before tried outside a lab, involves detonating a device deep underground to fracture the impermeable shale rock and release gas deposits. 

No culprit yet in Port of Spain oil spill - The culprit/s responsible for an oil spill which contaminated the Port of Spain harbour on March 12, 2019, have not yet been identified. Minister of Works and Transport, Rohan Sinanan, said during a post-Cabinet briefing on March 14, 2019, that oil samples from vessels in the area at that time have been submitted to the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) for testing and analysis. “At this point in time the source of the oil spill would not have been found however the EMA, Min and Maritime services were in contact with the IMA and they are conducting samples of vessels in the area." Sinanan said the IMA took samples of oil from the spill and the vessels that were in the port at the time, and assured the public that those found culpable would be held accountable. “At this point in time they have not been able to ascertain the source of the spill but they are pursuing all avenues to ensure that the vessel the oil would have spilled from would be held accountable,” he said. Environmental NGO Fishermen and Friends of the Sea said sources reported that the oil appeared to come from a nearby industrial barge. The NGO called for more stringent law enforcement regarding dumping of contaminants into Trinidad and Tobago's waters. "Because our Laws are poorly regulated and enforced it is much cheaper to dump waste oil rather than to treat and dispose of it properly. Regularly there are deliberate discharges of oil into our marine waters, (often at our Ports) and even though the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is called upon to investigate these disasters, the culprits are never held accountable."

Blackout Shuts Down Venezuela’s Oil Exports - Venezuela suffered a sweeping blackout last week, which threatens to cut off oil exports from the country. U.S. sanctions have already severely impacted oil operations, leaving cargoes stranded off the coast as well as leaving ships idling in the Gulf of Mexico unable to complete sales to U.S. buyers. However, Venezuela has entered a dangerous new phase, with an electricity blackout gripping most of the country.Argus Media reported on Sunday that Venezuela’s main oil export terminal and its heavy crude processing complex in Jose are shut down. “Three heavy crude upgraders and a blending operation that national oil company PDVSA operates with foreign minority partners, as well as petrochemical plants run by Pequiven in Jose, are suspended,” sources told Argus. These projects include the PetroPiar joint venture with Chevron, the PetroMonagas with Rosneft, and the PetroCedeno with Total and Equinor. Combined, the projects ostensibly have a capacity of 450,000 bpd.The joint ventures had weathered the multi-year economic and political crisis better than some of PDVSA’s operations, but now nothing is immune to a widespread blackout. New York Times journalist Anatoly Kurmanaev posted on a twitter a rather dire analysis of the blackout. He said that some of the evidence suggests that the blackout may have been the result of damage to turbines at a hydroelectric complex, which he said is “a scary thought” because if they are damaged, “they will be very hard to replace or repair” due to a lack of money or skilled people. So, while Venezuela has suffered from repeated blackouts in recent years, this one might be much more serious. The government’s lack of explanation has only fed fears that the situation is acute. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed a cyberattack by the U.S. while American officials deny involvement.

Fracking could nearly triple Colombia oil and gas reserves-minister (Reuters) - At least five companies are interested in six fracking blocs in Colombia, and use of the technique could nearly triple the country’s reserves of crude and gas, the energy minister said. Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Parex and state-run oil company Ecopetrol are among those seeking to operate in the six blocs, Mines and Energy Minister Maria Fernanda Suarez said in an interview late on Thursday, without identifying the fifth company. An expert commission convened by the government to study the use of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, recommended strict monitoring of three pilot projects to determine whether the technique should be widely used. Suarez said she and the environment ministry will study the final recommendations and that while no specific law to allow fracking is required for the use of the technique to go ahead, further regulations are needed. “Most important is that the only regulation that’s in force refers to the exploration phase, in Colombia we still haven’t developed any regulation for the production phase,” she said. Fracking breaks up rock formations with pressurized liquid. Its use is credited for booming oil and gas production in the United States, but environmental activists have blamed it for water pollution. Some local communities and many environmentalists in Colombia oppose the technology. Other companies from the United States and Argentina may also be interested in the blocs, Suarez added. Use of fracking could nearly triple the country’s crude and gas reserves, she said. “We have 5.7 years of crude reserves and 11 years of gas reserves. Our estimates say that with unconventional deposits we could have 30 years of gas and 15 years of crude.” 

CERAWeek: Brazil's Petrobras aims to become natural gas powerhouse — Petrobras is looking to become a natural gas powerhouse, a market that is relatively undeveloped in Brazil, the company's CEO Roberto Castello Branco said Tuesday at CeraWeek by IHS Markit. The state-owned company is working with the government to make conditions to create an open and competitive natural gas market in Brazil, he added. "Natural gas can put Brazil into the path of prosperity while protecting its environment," Branco said. There is an exciting opportunity to transition Brazil's transportation cargo fleet from diesel to compressed natural gas, he added. Branco said that Petrobras has an opportunity to become a relevant LNG player, something it will pursue. "I do not doubt that LNG will become a global commodity like oil," he added. Transporting gas onshore has become a major challenge for upstream operators in Brazil's deepwater regions. This is a challenge that will require cooperation among the oil and gas industry in Brazil, Equinor and BP executives said earlier Tuesday at the conference. Branco said Petrobras would focus on value creation under his leadership. Capital implementation on the most productive investments will be crucial, he added. "We will focus on assets where Petrobras can extract the maximum [profits] as natural owners," Branco said, adding the company will focus on Brazi's pre-salt assets. Petrobras will recede from mature fields, conventional onshore and offshore as well as midstream and downstream segments. Branco will also seek to bring discipline to Petrobras by turning it into a low-cost producer with low debt levels. With this discipline, the company will be able to have large returns with high oil prices and ensure its survival when those prices decrease, Branco said. The company plans to sell over $26.9 billion in assets over 2019-2023 to improve its balance sheet, which had over $70 billion in debt last year. Petrobras has a goal to increase its production to 2.8 million boe/d this year, 170,000 boe/d more than in 2018, Bronco said.

 Fracking could cut Britain's gas imports to zero by early 2030s (Reuters) - Fracking Britain’s shale gas reserves could cut the country’s imports of gas to zero by the early 2030s, an industry group said on Monday. Britain currently imports more than half of its gas via pipelines from continental Europe and Norway and through shipments of liquefied natural gas from countries such as Russia, the United States and Qatar. Environmental groups strongly oppose the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves extracting gas from rocks by breaking them up with water and chemicals at high pressure. But the British government, keen to cut Britain’s reliance on imports as North Sea gas supplies dry up, last year gave Cuadrilla permission to frack two wells at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire. Industry group United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas on Monday published updated forecasts for the county’s shale gas potential in the wake of recent data from Cuadrilla’s sites. The forecasts for well productivity were increased by 72 percent to 5.5 billion cubic feet (bcf) per lateral well, compared with estimates made in 2013 by Britain’s Institute of Directors. One hundred fracking well pad sites, each with 40 lateral wells could produce almost 1,400 bcf a year by the early 2030s, equivalent to the gas use of 35 million homes, the industry association report said. This would be more than the country needs as it has around 27 million households. But fracking companies say the industry is unlikely to take off in Britain under current regulations, which halt fracking activity if a seismic event of magnitude 0.5 or above is detected. Cuadrilla, currently the only company to have fracked for gas in Britain, had to halt operations several times last year due to seismic events which exceeded the limit. British chemical manufacturer Ineos, which has the largest shale gas license acreage in Britain, has called the current rules unworkable.

Dutch Feb Groningen natural gas output falls 23% on month — Natural gas production in February at the giant low-calorie Groningen field in the Netherlands fell by 23% on the month, registering its lowest monthly drop in four months as warm temperatures and healthy supplies kept a lid on heating demand, data from operator NAM showed Monday. N The Groningen February production of 1.57 Bcm places Gas Year 2018's current cumulative gas production at the field at 8.29 Bcm. The production quota for the current gas year, being at 19.4 Bcm, will allow for a maximum output of 1.59 Bcm/month for the remainder of GY-18. A production cap has been put in place to prevent earthquakes linked to gas extraction at the field. The Dutch government plans to phase out gas extraction at Groningen completely by 2030. The significant ramping up in send-out at the Dutch Gate LNG terminal in February has allowed production to fall on the year at Groningen. Lower Asian pricing on warm weather and a ramp-up in nuclear capacity largely contributed to favoring LNG economics in Continental Europe in February. LNG send-out at Gate surged to 486 million cu m in February, compared with just 41 million cu m a year earlier, data from S&P Global Platts Analytics showed. Production at two of Groningen's four fields has ceased. In March 2018, production ceased at Loppersum, while output at Eemskanall ended in April 2018. The production at Groningen's two remaining active areas -- Oost and Zuidwest -- have both eased in February. Oost's production fell 19% on the month to 1.144 Bcm. Production at Zuidwest meanwhile fell 11% on the month down to 427 million cu m.The rapid decline in pr oduction of L-cal gas from Groningen will continue to make the Netherlands increasingly dependent on LNG and pipeline gas imports from Norway and Russia.

Gas finds in East Mediterranean spark partnership between Israel and rival nations --On Jan. 14, 2019, a group of countries met in Cairo. The buzzing city had hosted many international events in the past, but this one had a special twist. For the first time ever, the Cypriot, Egyptian, Greek, Israeli, Italian, Jordanian and Palestinian Ministers of Energy met to discuss the establishment of the East Med Gas Forum, a platform for energy collaboration and partnership that could eventually take the form of an international organization. But what caused this special meeting in the first place? After all, such a gathering in the Eastern Mediterranean, where high tensions and religious, political and national rivalries were the norm, would have been unthinkable a mere few years ago. And yet, quietly but surely, the countries have been utilizing energy diplomacy to align interests and foster long-lasting relations with each other, essential elements for the much sought-after regional stability and peace.Their goal: to create a regional gas market, ensure supply and demand, optimize resource development, cut infrastructure costs, offer competitive prices and improve trade relations.Discoveries of natural gas are not uncommon in the Eastern Mediterranean basin. As a matter of fact, there have been plenty over the past few decades, albeit confined close to the Nile Delta. The "Tamar" discovery offshore Israel in 2009 changed the scene and initiated the emergence of what some geologists call the Nile Delta Cone, a vast area extending northeast and northwest of the river's banks. And it appears the Nile has been pretty busy over the past few million years.A number of world gas discoveries offshore Cyprus, Egypt and Israel have propelled the Eastern Mediterranean into the global energy stage. In the meantime, other countries in the region, such as Greece and Lebanon, are lining up with their own exploration plans. Unsurprisingly, these developments have increased the stakes for everyone involved. To put the numbers into perspective, since 2009 East Med discoveries amount to around 2,100 billion cubic meters of natural gas, including the latest big find offshore Cyprus, at Glaucus-1 well, announced a few days ago by ExxonMobil. By comparison, EU consumption in 2017 — the region's closest major gas market — was around 410 billion cubic meters.

The Easy Money In European Natural Gas Is Gone - At the end of last winter’s heating season, it was an unusually cold spell that upended European natural gas markets, with storage levels falling below average and prices firming up as demand shot up. At the end of this winter’s heating season, it is the unusually mild weather in most of Western Europe for most of the winter that has driven natural gas prices down and left supplies higher than the seasonal average.The summer gas futures at the Dutch TTF hub have declined by 16 percent so far this year and have been trading lately around the lowest in 10 months. The winter gas futures contract, however, has dropped by just one third of the decline in the summer contract, according to data from ICE Endex compiled by Bloomberg.    So the discount of the Dutch summer natural gas futures to the winter contract widened to the biggest since 2011 as of early March. Typically, such a wide spread would mean that one of the most common European gas trades—buying cheaper gas futures in the summer to sell in the winter—would be the most profitable in eight years.However, traders are unable to take full advantage of the wide winter-summer spread because several factors have combined this winter season to create a perfect storm in the European natural gas markets. These factors are higher stockpiles than usual, limited available storage capacity as most of it is booked out amid declining overall capacity, and increased liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments to Europe as Asian LNG spot prices continue to tumble. First, unlike last year’s winter, this winter has been unusually mild in many parts in Western Europe. This has led to lower natural gas demand and lower withdrawal from storage—a stark contrast compared to the 2018 winter. The cold spell in Europe at the end of February and early March of 2018 led to record withdrawals in the first quarter of 2018, and storage levels dropped to 18 percent of capacity—well below the five-year range—the European Commission (EC) said in its Q1 Quarterly Reporton European gas markets. By the end of the winter season, natural gas stock levels dropped below 10 percent of capacity in countries such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, where high gas demand from the UK contributed to strong withdrawals.  Before the 2019 winter season began, the European market was tight amid higher demand in the summer’s heat wave, while natural gas stockpiles were still lower than usual after the winter of 2018, one of the coldest winters in the past decade.  But the 2019 winter has been quite a different story. The UK, for example, registered its warmest February on record, with daily maximum temperatures the highest on record dating back to 1910, according to the UK’s Met Office. Due to the warmer winter, natural gas stockpiles across Europe are now higher than the typical levels for this time of the year. What’s left of the storage capacity is nearly “sold out”, according to analysts who spoke to Bloomberg.

Norway plans to expand Arctic oil exploration areas. Norway’s government is proposing to expand the area that will be offered for oil and gas exploration in the 2019 licensing round of acreage in mature areas, Petroleum and Energy Minister Kjell-Børge Freiberg said on Thursday.Norway plans to include a total of 90 new blocks in the so-called APA annual licensing round this year, including 48 blocks in the Barents Sea, 37 blocks in the Norwegian Sea, and five blocks in the North Sea, Freiberg said.   “It’s important to maintain the positive development in exploration activity in the Barents Sea. I hope this will lead to robust field development solutions and increased value creation in the north,” Reuters quoted Freiberg s saying in a statement.There has been opposition to the extension of the acreage under the APA licensing round from politicians of the opposition and from environmentalists, who have argued that those licensing rounds with additional blocks are being used to expand exploration to beyond the scope of those rounds—that is mature and well-explored areas.   In the 2018 APA licensing round, Norway awarded 83 production licenses—a record number of awards for such rounds.

France tries to contain oil spill off Atlantic Coast (AP) -- French authorities are working to contain an oil spill off the Atlantic Coast after an Italian tanker sank following a fire. French and British rescue teams saved all 27 people aboard the Grande America after it sank Tuesday, according to a French government statement. Images released Thursday by the French navy showed flames and plumes of black smoke spewing from the ship as it listed sharply. The regional maritime authority says the ship has since leaked oil over an area of about 10 kilometers (6 miles) long and one kilometer wide. A French cleanup ship was expected in the area Thursday. France has also reached out to the European Maritime Security Agency for help. The ship sank about 330 kilometers (200 miles) west of the French city of La Rochelle. 

France- Brittany coast threatened by oil spill after cargo ship sinks - French authorities have said an Italian cargo ship that sank in the Atlantic was transporting 45 containers of "dangerous materials." The Italian-registered ship had also been carrying some 2,200 tons of fuel.French authorities are rushing to stop an oil spill from reaching the country's west coast after an Italian-registered cargo ship sank in the Bay of Biscay. Although the government's initial statement only said there had been "dangerous materials" on board the ill-fated Grande America, local officials told French news agency Agence France-Presse that the vessel was leaking oil. The ship had been en route from Hamburg to Casablanca, carrying 2,000 vehicles and 2,200 tons of fuel, when a fire broke out late Sunday. The 26 crew members and single passenger were forced to abandon ship and were rescued by Britain's Royal Navy. The lifeboat was "bobbing around like a cork in a bathtub," HMS Argyll officer Lieutenant Commander Dave Tetchner was quoted as saying in a news story on the Royal Navy's website. "The conditions were horrendous — the vessels were rolling at 30 degrees, which made it extremely hairy getting the sailors safely on board," he said. The drifting ship, still in flames, finally sank on Tuesday about 180 nautical miles (333 kilometers) west of France.

Solomons laws cant cope with oil spill – PM - Solomon Islands environmental laws are inadequate for dealing with disasters like the Rennell oil spill, the country's prime minister says. The Solomon Star reported it took almost a month for a response to the shipwrecked MV Solomon Trader to get underway. Mr Hou said by that time the ship, which grounded on a reef while loading bauxite in the middle of a storm, had been leaking oil into the ocean for over a fortnight. Existing legislation does not provide for emergency action in such an event, Mr Hou said. A review of the country's environmental and mining laws is needed, he said. Any new laws should include liability provisions to ensure companies involved in accidents are held responsible and are required to take action immediately, the prime minister added.

 Salvors succeed in containing Solomon Trader spill - A successful salvage operation over the weekend has finally staunched the flow of bunker fuel from a grounded bulker in a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Solomon Islands. The 1994-built Hong Kong-flagged Solomon Trader, insured by Korea P&I, ran aground on February 5 while loading bauxite in bad weather off Rennell Island. Its anchor dragged and the ship became lodged on a reef near the world’s largest raised coral atoll. The ship, declared a total constructive loss, is owned by Hong Kong owner, King Trader. A delay in commencing salvage operations had seen nearly 100 tons of bunker fuel spill from the ship, washing up on nearby shores. Work began on Friday to pump the fuel from the ruptured tank into a secure container. It was then transferred to a barge over the weekend. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority also set up up a four-tonne dynamic boom system over the weekend brought from Brisbane to start cleaning up the oil that has already spilled into the sea. Other AMSA vessels also arrived on the scene on Sunday and locals ashore tell Splash that the worst of the spill now appears to be over. Of added concern is the high amount of toxic bauxite in the sea, which locals claim came in the wake of the ship grounding, two contracted barges (pictured below) dumped their cargoes onto the reef. Local newspaper Solomon Star reported over the weekend that the Marine Protected Area (MPA) at Lavangu Bay on Rennell Island where the ship grounded has been “completely destroyed” by spilled oil. “One cannot see anything inside the MPA as the water turns black from the oil and kills all the marine life inside the protected area,” an official from the Solomon Islands Maritime Authority told the local newspaper.

Solomon Islands oil spill worse than first thought, say owners of Hong Kong-flagged tanker, as three-mile-long slick threatens Unesco World Heritage site - The oil spill from a Hong Kong-flagged tanker that is threatening to destroy marine life at a Unesco World Heritage site in the Solomon Islands is worse than first thought, its owner King Trader has said. Bulk carrier MV Solomon Trader ran aground a month ago during bad weather near the remote Rennell Island in the South Pacific, home to the world’s largest raised coral atoll. So far, more than 70 tonnes of oil has been dumped into the ocean, causing a three-mile slick in Kangava Bay which experts said was likely to cause long-term damage to the local ecosystem. The ship ran into difficulties on February 5, while loading a cargo of bauxite, the ore used to make aluminium. In a statement on Thursday the vessel’s insurer said the spill might be more serious than expected.“Although initial estimates indicated that some 70 tonnes of oil entered the water, it’s now believed that the escaped amount is higher, something that will be clarified as the response progresses,” Korea Protection and Indemnity Club, and King Trader, said. “The majority of escaped oil drifted into the open ocean where it was naturally degraded by wave action, water temperatures and evaporation,” they added. The vessel’s owner said earlier it was transferring the remaining 600 tonnes on the vessel to safer tanks. As of Thursday, less than half of the remaining fuel oil – about 230 tonnes – had been transferred to a tank barge towed from Vanuatu. The 225-metre vessel carried about 700 tonnes of fuel on board before the accident. Hong Kong’s Marine Department said it was already in contact with the vessel’s owner about containing the spill, which sparked global concerns over the environmental disaster. The Australian government has sent specialised equipment and crew to help clean up the mess. “The department has urged the shipowner to take all actions to minimise the pollution impact to the environment,” the department’s spokeswoman said.

China experiences a fracking boom, and all the problems that go with it — The first earthquake struck this small farming village in Sichuan Province before dawn on Feb. 24. There were two more the next day.Sichuan is naturally prone to earthquakes, including a major one in 2008 that killed nearly 70,000 people, but to the rattled villagers of Gaoshan, the cause of these tremors was human-made.  “The drilling,” Yu Zhenghua said as she tearfully surveyed her damaged home, still officially uninhabitable five days later.The drilling Ms. Yu referred to was hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The technology, which has revolutionized the production of natural gas and oil in the United States, has created a boom in China, too, and with it many of the controversies that have dogged the practice elsewhere. In the hours after the quakes, thousands of residents converged outside the main government building in Rong County to protest widespread fracking in the rolling hills, and jostled with security guards along a sliding metal gate and dispersed only after officials announced they had suspended fracking operations of a regional subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, the country’s largest oil and gas producer. China, like the United States and other countries, has embraced the fracking revolution in hopes of weaning itself from its dependence on foreign energy sources. But the public fury that unexpectedly boiled over in Gaoshan underscores the social and environmental challenges the country must overcome — even in a tightly controlled political system.  The three earthquakes killed two people and wounded 13. More than 20,000 homes in three villages suffered damage and nine collapsed completely, according to a statement by the county. About 1,600 people were displaced, forced to move in with relatives or to live temporarily in 470 blue tents distributed by the authorities. The suspension of operations — which remains in effect — stilled 15 sites in the area affected by the quakes, pending a survey by officials from Sichuan Province, according to an official for the Rong County government, Huang Jing.

Saudi oil minister says US, China driving oil demand, but not enough for an April OPEC policy change - Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday that China and the U.S. would lead healthy global demand for oil this year but that it would be too early to change OPEC+ output policy at the group's next meeting in April. OPEC and its allies will meet in Vienna on April 17-18 and another gathering is scheduled for June 25-26. On Jan. 1, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, along with Russia and other non-members — the OPEC+ alliance — began new production cuts to avoid a supply glut that threatened to soften prices. The group agreed to reduce supply by 1.2 million barrels per day for six months. OPEC's share is 800,000 bpd, to be delivered by 11 members — all except Iran, Libya and Venezuela, which are exempt from cuts. The baseline for the reduction was in most cases their output in October 2018.

Venezuela, Iran may be crushed by sanctions, but oil market has not been -- The sanctioning of two OPEC members by the Trump administration has caused some ripples in the oil market, but not the type of shortages or pain for consumers that might have occurred. One big reason is that U.S. production continues to grow, and for the barrels lost, more are coming on line. U.S. output is now at 12.1 million barrels a day, up more than 1 million from this time last year, and IHS Markit expects it to be 13 million by the end of the year. That has given the United States more muscle and flexibility when it comes to sanctions. Saudi Arabia, OPEC and Russia initially agreed last spring to add more oil to the market to make up for limited Iranian output, but even with Iran's exports down by 1.4 million barrels a day, there is no shortage. The Trump administration surprised the market in the fall by granting some countries waivers to continue with Iranian oil purchases, after threatening that all barrels would be kept from the market. The price of oil then fell sharply after that October announcement, and OPEC and non-OPEC producers have reversed course and are now pulling barrels from the market. "Trump is yelling at OPEC, but Trump's been the most effective cutter" in barrels on the world market, said Helima Croft, RBC head of global commodities strategy. "He has made sure OPEC's made its quota by sanctioning Iran and Venezuela." She said 1.6 million barrels a day have been removed from the market, and President Donald Trump could choose to remove even more from Iran's exports when waivers come up for renewal in May. "Everyone is trying to figure out what's going on with the next round of Iran waivers," Croft said. India, for instance, is purchasing about 300,000 barrels a day from Iran and is seeking to extend its waiver, according to Reuters. "Trump was the disruptor in chief in the market. He really was, if you look at where some of the biggest losses were," Croft said.

US sees room to be more aggressive on sanctions and take Iran oil exports to zero --A high-ranking State Department official said a well-supplied world oil market helps the U.S. maintain, or even tighten, sanctions on both Iran and Venezuela without causing an oil price spike.However, Brian Hook, the State Department Representative for Iran, would not comment on whether the U.S.will continue to make exceptions for buyers of Iran's oil.That is one of the most critical questions in the global oil market. The U.S. will decide by May 8 whether to continue making exemptions for certain buyers of Iranian crude. In October it exempted eight countries from the sanctions that went into place last November. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reemphasized his policy of driving Iran's oil exports to "zero" when he spoke at the annual IHS Markit CERAWeek energy conference in Houston on Tuesday.On Wednesday, Hook said the fact that forecasts show more supply than demand for 2019 should help the U.S. be more aggressive in its efforts to take Iran's exports to zero barrels. He said Iran is currently exporting from somewhere under 1 million to 1.1 million barrels a day."Last year when we did our waivers it was a tight and fragile market, but we were able to successfully balance our interests," he told reporters after an appearance before gathering of industry officials. "There are projections that supply will exceed demand, but those are projections. But we will continue to balance our national security and our economic interests," Hook said. The forecast that Hook referenced shows that supply would exceed demand globally this year by 400,000 barrels.  Industry officials are acutely interested in the amount of oil the U.S. can remove from the market since they were taken by surprise last October when the U.S. exempted certain buyers after threatening to remove all Iranian crude. That helped send oil prices tanking, and West Texas Intermediate lost more than 40 percent before bottoming in late December.

Analysis: Dueling US oil sanctions give India unexpected leverage  — By asking India this week to cut its Venezuelan crude oil imports, the US may be showing its willingness to ease Iran sanctions enforcement for the world's No. 3 oil consumer.  India needs both Iranian and Venezuelan oil to run its refineries, but Iranian crude has the advantage of being closer, less expensive and potentially more reliable as Venezuela's infrastructure collapses. The US is using sanctions against Tehran and Caracas to clamp down on both countries' oil exports to exert economic pressure. For major importer India, the two US policies have collided, likely making it impossible for diplomats to talk about one without addressing the other. India may point to a sharp drop in its Iranian imports, its potential room to cut Venezuelan imports and its increasing reliance on US crude in negotiating for further Iran sanctions relief in May, analysts said. Iranian shipments to India have dropped to around 270,000 b/d so far in 2019, from a 2018 average of 517,823 b/d, according to data from Platts trade flow software cFlow. The 2018 imports rose from 461,977 b/d in 2017 as the Trump administration geared up to reinstate sanctions along with Iran providing freight discounts to Indian refiners. Venezuelan shipments to India, however, have remained relatively steady despite the exporter's escalating crisis. India imported 296,356 b/d year to date, compared with 285,255 b/d in 2018 and 334,997 b/d in 2017, according to cFlow data. Increasingly steep Iran Heavy discounts are likely designed to keep Indian refiners interested, and at the possible expense of similar grades. On a delivered basis into West Coast India, Iran Heavy has held a $6.20/b discount to Venezuelan Mesa and a near-$7/b discount to the US medium sour benchmark Mars so far in March, according to S&P Global Platts calculations. This is a far cry from the near-parity sellers of Mars and Mesa enjoyed as recently as June and July. Venezuelan Mesa is similar in quality to Iran Heavy and Mars, albeit slightly less sour, and offers similar refining economics, in particular for coking on the US Gulf Coast, according to calculations based on Platts prices and Turner, Mason & Co. yield formulas. India's state-owned refiners are heavily reliant on Iranian oil, while the country's two private refiners, Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy, are significant buyers of Venezuelan crude.

OPEC, long a villain in America's eyes, is now trying to flip the script - For many Americans, OPEC is the villain of the oil market, a secretive cabal whose members enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of the world by withholding petroleum and driving up the cost of the precious resource. This week, the group's chief representative suggested that OPEC itself bears some responsibility for that perception — if only because it has neglected to tell its own story. "We have been operating in silos for too long, and this is not good practice in today's globalized world," OPEC Secretary Mohammed Barkindo told reporters gathered in Houston for CERAWeek by IHS Markit, one of the year's biggest energy conferences. The key message is that OPEC is a stabilizing force in a volatile oil market prone to a destructive cycle of boom and bust. By opening the taps or throttling back supply, OPEC can keep oil flows and crude prices at sustainable levels — not too high to hurt consumers, but not too low to choke off necessary investment in future supply. Turning around OPEC's image in the U.S. would be difficult at any time. Many Americans still view the group through the lens of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, when the Middle East-dominated group cut off oil supplies in retaliation for the West's support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. More recently, President Donald Trump has reinforced that perception. Throughout the past year, he has regularly taken to Twitter to blame OPEC for rising oil prices. At last year's United Nations General Assembly, he told the nations of the world that OPEC is ripping them off. Those barbs have heightened concerns about anti-OPEC legislation advancing in Congress, injecting a urgency into Barkindo's project to reframe its role in the global market. The legislation, the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, would give the U.S. Justice Department authority to sue OPEC for coordinating output. Cutting production to drain oversupply and boosting output in times of scarcity are OPEC's main levers for balancing the market and adjusting prices, so the NOPEC legislation represents something of an existential crisis for the group.

 BP CEO: Anti-OPEC legislation in Congress would create big risk of oil booms and busts --BP CEO Bob Dudley said OPEC plays a critical role in stabilizing world oil prices and NOPEC legislation under discussion in the House would have serious and unpredictable consequences for the world oil market. The No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, or NOPEC, would make it illegal under U.S. law for foreign nations to work together to limit fossil fuel supplies and set prices. It would authorize the Justice Department to sue oil-producing nations for antitrust violations, by removing their sovereign immunity protections."I think the idea of opening global litigation against the OPEC countries has enormous unpredictable, unintentional consequences," said Dudley in response to a question at the annual IHS Markit CERAWeek annual energy conference in Houston. The legislation brought up in the House Judiciary Committee was a hot topic of discussion at CERAWeek. "I think reason will prevail," Dudley said. A bipartisan group of Congressmen on the House Judiciary Committee cleared the bill for a full House vote. Before it could become law, it would have to pass the House, the Senate and then be signed into law by President Donald Trump."The role of OPEC in my view has kept the price of oil within a reasonable fairway for producers and consumers and I think that's the important role OPEC will continue to play," he told CNBC. "Otherwise you'll end up with enormous overproduction and crashes in the price. Then it will come back up and then it will soar because there's been underinvestment. I think that's the essential role that OPEC plays."Others in the industry agree that the bill would be damaging. "If that happens, it's a risk to anyone with assets in the U.S.," said David Goldwyn, chairman of the energy advisory board at the Atlantic Council. OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said he hopes the voices that oppose the legislation in both U.S. political parties are heard. He said the legislation would be bad for the industry and the U.S., which is the home of free markets.

OPEC Threatens To Kill U.S. Shale -  The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will once again become a nemesis for U.S. shale if the U.S. Congress passes a bill dubbed NOPEC, or No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, Bloomberg reported this week, citing sources present at a meeting between a senior OPEC official and U.S. bankers. The oil minister of the UAE, Suhail al-Mazrouei, reportedly told lenders at the meeting that if the bill was made into law that made OPEC members liable to U.S. anti-cartel legislation, the group, which is to all intents and purposes indeed a cartel, would break up and every member would boost production to its maximum.  This would be a repeat of what happened in 2013 and 2014, and ultimately led to another oil price crash like the one that saw Brent crude and WTI sink below US$30 a barrel. As a result, a lot of U.S. shale-focused, debt-dependent producers would go under. Bankers who provide the debt financing that shale producers need are the natural target for opponents of the NOPEC bill. Banks got burned during the 2014 crisis and are still recovering and regaining their trust in the industry. Purse strings are being loosened as WTI climbs closer to US$60 a barrel, but lenders are certainly aware that this is to a large extent the result of OPEC action: the cartel is cutting production again and the effect on prices is becoming increasingly visible. Indeed, if OPEC starts pumping again at maximum capacity, even without Iran and Venezuela, and with continued outages in Libya, it would pressure prices significantly, especially if Russia joins in. After all, its state oil companies have been itching to start pumping more. The NOPEC legislation has little chance of becoming a law. It is not the first attempt by U.S. legislators to make OPEC liable for its cartel behavior, and none of the others made it to a law. However, Al-Mazrouei’s not too subtle threat highlights the weakest point of U.S. shale: the industry’s dependence on borrowed money.  Shale, as Total’s chief executive put it in a 2018 interview with Bloomberg, is very capital-intensive. The returns can be appealing if you’re drilling and fracking in a sweet spot in the shale patch. They can also be improved by making everything more efficient but ultimately you’d need quite a lot of cash to continue drilling and fracking, despite all the praise about the decline in production costs across shale plays.

Oil rises as OPEC output cuts look set to continue while US drilling activity slumps -- Oil prices rose on Monday, lifted by comments from Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih that an end to OPEC-led supply cuts was unlikely before June and a report showing a fall U.S. drilling activity. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $56.81 per barrel, up 74 cents, or 1.3 percent from their last close. Brent crude futures were at $66.61 per barrel, up 87 cents, or 1.3 percent.Despite the gains, markets were somewhat held back after U.S. employment data raised concerns that an economic slowdown in Asia and Europe was spilling into the United States, where growth has so far still been healthy."Downward revisions in global growth forecasts by OECD and ECB have capped bullish gains," said Benjamin Lu of Singapore-based brokerage Phillip Futures.In a further sign of a slowdown, China's auto sales fell 14 percent in February from the same month a year earlier, the country's biggest auto industry association said on Monday, the eighth straight monthly drop in the world's largest car market.New energy vehicle sales, in contrast, rose 54 percent year-on-year in February, the report said.Despite this, oil markets have generally been supported this year by ongoing supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-affiliated allies like Russia - known as the OPEC+ alliance. OPEC+ has pledged to cut 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in crude supply since the start of the year to tighten markets and prop up prices.The group will meet in Vienna on April 17-18, with another gathering scheduled for June 25-26, to discuss supply policy. Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih told Reuters on Sunday it would be too early to change OPEC+ output policy at the group's meeting in April.

Oil gains 1 percent as Saudi minister stands by OPEC output cuts - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose more than 1 percent on Monday, lifted by comments from Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih that an end to OPEC-led supply cuts was unlikely before June. Brent crude futures were up 84 cents, or 1.28 percent, to settle at $66.58 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 72 cents, or 1.28 percent, to settle at $56.79 a barrel, a 1.28 percent. Falih told Reuters on Sunday it would be too early to change a production curb pact agreed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia before the group’s meeting in June. “The Saudis continue to take a proactive approach to get supply and demand in better balance,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston. Oil markets have been supported this year by the ongoing supply cuts by the group called OPEC+, which has pledged to cut 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in crude supply since the start of the year to prop up prices. The group will meet on April 17-18, with another gathering scheduled for June 25-26, to discuss supply policy. OPEC is expected to review global oil demand and supply balance as the group maintains production cuts during the April meeting, a senior Gulf oil official said on Monday. “We want to see commercial stocks down,” the official said on the sidelines of IHS Markit’s CERAWeek energy conference. The official added that global crude and oil products stocks should fall back to a five-year average, a target the group had set to drain a global oil glut. In addition, a Saudi official said the country planned to cut crude oil exports in April to below 7 million barrels per day. Prices were also buoyed by U.S. energy services firm Baker Hughes’ latest weekly report showing the number of rigs drilling for new oil production in the United States fell by nine to 834. But the Paris-based International Energy Agency said in an outlook on Monday that crude output in the United States will rise nearly 2.8 million bpd to 13.7 million bpd in 2024 from about 11 million bpd in 2018.

Oil Prices Inch Higher On Venezuelan Crude Crisis - Oil started off the week with strong gains, largely due severe disruptions in Venezuela from a widespread blackout. WTI and Brent rose to a two-week high. Saudi Arabia plans to keep oil production below 10 mb/d in April, extending its deeper-than-required cuts for another month. The move highlights Riyadh’s desire to rapidly drain inventories and boost prices.  A widespread electricity blackout in Venezuela disrupted oil operations, impacting both production and exports. Data is opaque at this time, but Venezuela’s oil exports could be headed for a freefall. Energy Aspects estimates output may have temporarily plunged to as low as 500,000 bpd, or half the output level from January.  Due to U.S. sanctions, Citgo and Valero are trying to send back oil cargoes to Venezuela. In total, more than 6 million barrels of oil are in limbo, Reuters reports.   American officials are pressuring India to stop importing oil from Venezuela. “We say you should not be helping this regime. You should be on the side of the Venezuelan people,” Elliott Abrams, Trump’s point man on Venezuela, told Reuters in an interview. The U.S. has sent signals that it is considering “secondary sanctions,” in which it would target foreign banks who do business with Venezuela. A similar approach has been crucial in increasing pressure on countries not to do business with Iran.  The oil and gas sector is suffering from a “crisis of confidence,” according to Equinor CEO Eldar Sætre. Climate change and society’s lack of trust in the industry on environmental issues poses a long-term threat. "We are collectively not doing enough," Sætre said. He called on others to lower emissions and become more transparent. Equinor, for instance, invests heavily in renewable energy. The Wall Street Journal also reports that BP’s CEO Bob Dudley will voice similar concerns in a speech Tuesday evening.

Oil prices rise on OPEC supply cuts and healthy demand - Oil rose to around $67 a barrel on Tuesday, supported by Saudi Arabia's plan for further voluntary supply curbs in April and by a cut in oil exports from Venezuela due to a power outage. Saudi Arabia, seeking to drain a supply glut and support prices, plans in April to keep its oil output well below the level required of it as part of an OPEC-led supply cutting deal, a Saudi official said on Monday.Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose by 62 cents to $67.20 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude added 71 cents to $57.50."This shows Saudi Arabia's resolve to keep the oil market balanced by keeping oil supply tight," said Carsten Fritsch, analyst at Commerzbank."Additional buoyancy has come from news that the massive power outage in Venezuela is also hampering the country's oil exports."Crude has rallied this year after the Organizaton of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, returned to supply cuts as of Jan. 1.Saudi Arabia has voluntarily cut its supply by more than the deal requires and in April will keep output "well below" 10 million bpd, the Saudi official said - below the 10.311 million bpd that the kingdom had agreed to pump. "We see a tightening underlying physical crude balance as a key pillar of support for outright prices at this point in the year," said analysts at JBC Energy in a report. A host of involuntary supply curbs in OPEC members caused by unrest in Libya, and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, have also helped to boost prices.Venezuela's state-run oil firm PDVSA has been unable to resume crude exports from its primary port since a power outage last week, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.Offsetting these developments is the surge in U.S. supply, which the International Energy Agency said on Monday would continue to 2024, probably requiring OPEC and its allies to keep up their policy of market management.

Oil scores back-to-back session gains as signs of supply crunch linger - Crude-oil futures settled higher for a second straight session on Tuesday, giving up an earlier move toward 2019 highs. Signs of a supply crunch lingered and traders assessed the latest monthly U.S. government price and output forecasts and allowed recent comments from energy officials to hold. Prices were briefly poised to settle at their highest since November, on the back of tightening Venezuelan supplies and signs that OPEC would continue cutting output into the second half of the year. News that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is “looking at more [output] cuts in the near-term took us higher late last Friday” and into Tuesday morning, said John Caruso, senior market strategist at RJO Futures. However, “I think you’ve got some profits being booked” ahead of the supply reports from the American Petroleum Institute late Tuesday and Energy Information Administration early Wednesday, he said. For WTI, there’s “strong overhead resistance” at $57.90. April West Texas Intermediate crude rose 8 cents, or 0.1%, to settle at $56.87 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday after trading as high as $57.55. There was a brief delay to some energy futures price settlements on Nymex Tuesday, with Matt Stroud, a CME Group spokesman, citing “a technical issue.” Global benchmark May Brent crude gained 9 cents, or 0.1%, to $66.67 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, following a high at $67.39.

Oil firms as Saudis trim exports and US output forecast is reduced - Oil prices rose on Wednesday, buoyed by a large U.S. inventories drawdown and as sanctions stall exports from Venezuela. International Brent crude oil futures were at $67.37 a barrel, up 70 cents, or 1.05 percent, from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were at $57.99 per barrel, up $1.12, or 2 percent — building on their strong gains from earlier in the day. The Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that U.S. crude inventories fell by 3.9 million barrels last week. The data came after the American Petroleum Institute also said Tuesday that U.S. crude stocks had fallen in the previous week.Oil prices have been pushed up this year by supply cuts led by the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday that the production-curbing agreement would likely last until at least June. Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, indicated on Monday that it would cut April exports.Markets have been further tightened by U.S. sanctions against oil exports from OPEC members Iran and Venezuela.Venezuela's worst blackout on record has left most of the country without power for six days, with hospitals struggling to keep equipment running, food rotting in the tropical heat and exports from the country's main oil terminal stranded. "Failures in the electrical system ... (are) likely to accelerate the loss of 700,000 barrels per day" in oil supply, Barclays bank said.

WTI Hits 4-Month Highs, Tops $58 After Surprise Crude Draw, Production Cut - Crude rose for a third day after API reported an unexpected drop in U.S. stockpiles just as planned cuts and disruptions to OPEC output are tightening supply.While OPEC nations like Saudi Arabia press on with planned production curbs, crises in fellow members Venezuela and Iran are also removing barrels from the market.Additionally, the EIA in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook trimmed American crude output this year to 12.3 million barrels a day -- 110,000 barrels lower than it had forecast previously. API:

  • Crude -2.58mm (+3.00mm exp)
  • Cushing -1.06mm
  • Gasoline -5.85mm
  • Distillates +195k


  • Crude -3.86mm (+3.00mm exp)
  • Cushing -672k
  • Gasoline -4.62mm
  • Distillates+383k

DOE confirmed API's surprise crude draw (-3.86mm vs +3.00mm exp) and gasoline stocks tumbled further... Even more notable, US crude production dropped in the last week, tracking the lagged oil rig count...

Oil prices settle at a 4-month high as U.S. crude and gasoline supplies drop - Oil futures rallied Wednesday to settle at their highest level since November as weekly data revealed a surprise decline in U.S. crude stockpiles and a bigger-than-expected drop in gasoline inventories. April West Texas Intermediate crude rose $1.39, or 2.4%, to end at $58.26 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, near the session’s high of $58.44. Prices front-month contract haven’t traded or settled at levels this high since mid-November, according to FactSet data. May Brent crude gained 88 cents, or 1.3%, to $67.55 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, the highest finish for the international benchmark in about four months.The Energy Information Administration on Wednesday reported that U.S. crude supplies fell by 3.9 million barrels for the week ended March 8. That ran counter to expectations for a climb of 3.3 million barrels expected by analysts polled by S&P Global Platts. The American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday had reported a 2.6 million barrel decline.“Stymied net imports and refinery runs clambering above the 16 million barrel-per-day mark has been enough to yield a second draw to crude inventories in three weeks,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData.  The EIA also reported that total domestic crude production inched down from record territory, down 100,000 barrels to 12 million barrels a day. “Gasoline inventories drew strongly, now down more than 12 million barrels—or 5%—in four weeks, while distillate inventories ticked higher as implied demand slipped last week,” said Smith.

 Oil hits 4-month highs, Brent reaches $68 on tighter supply - Brent and West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures reached four-months highs on Thursday, as a production curb agreement by OPEC and its partners along with U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela tightened global supplies. An unexpected dip in U.S. crude oil inventories and production also supported prices, traders said. Brent crude oil futures hit a 2019-peak of $68.14 per barrel on Thursday before easing modestly to $67.05 by 0840 GMT, up 50 cents or 0.74 percent from Wednesday's close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $58.62 per barrel, up 36 cents, or 0.62 percent, from their last settlement. "With OPEC's cuts in full-swing ... persistent supply issues and a deteriorating picture on Venezuela, oil is looking well supported," said Jasper Lawler, head of research at futures brokerage London Capital Group. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-aligned producers including Russia have been withholding oil supply since the start of the year to tighten global markets and prop up crude prices. In Venezuela, oil production and exports have been disrupted by a political and economic crisis that has caused massive blackouts and supply shortages, while Washington has barred U.S. companies from doing business with the Venezuelan government, including state-owned oil firm PDVSA. Adding to the turmoil, two storage tanks exploded at a heavy-crude upgrading project in eastern Venezuela on Wednesday, according to an oil industry source and a legislator. In the Middle East, the United States aims to cut Iran's crude exports by about 20 percent to below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from May by requiring importing countries to reduce purchases to avoid U.S. sanctions, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Meanwhile, a weekly report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said U.S. commercial crude oil inventories fell last week as refineries hiked output.

Oil Prices Surge To Multi-Month Highs -- Oil prices have surged to their highest level in months, with WTI rising above $58 per barrel and Brent trading north of $67. The instability in Venezuela and the growing evidence of a slowdown in U.S. shale have pushed prices up.  Weekly figures show that U.S. oil production dipped to 12 mb/d last week, down from 12.1 mb/d the week before. The figures are just estimates, and are rounded off to the nearest 100,000 bpd, but they at least offer an indication that the explosive growth could be slowing down.. Opposition leader and self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, is working on overhauling the country’s oil sector if he gains power. The proposal would include weakening PDVSA and allowing a vastly larger role for private sector companies. The reforms would resemble those of Mexico over the past few years and would amount to a historic change, although for now, Guiado is still struggling to gain power.  OPEC reduced production by 221,000 bpd in February, a more modest reduction than in prior months. Most of the reductions came from Venezuela, which saw output drop by 142,000 bpd. Meanwhile, OPEC estimated that OECD inventories rose by 22 million barrels in January, or 19 million barrels above the five-year average.  The IEA said that although the crisis in Venezuela is disrupting the oil market, the OPEC+ production cuts have rebuilt spare capacity, providing a “supply cushion” that can offset the turmoil. “Much of this spare capacity is composed of crude oil similar in quality to Venezuela’s exports,” the IEA said. “Therefore, in the event of a major loss of supply from Venezuela, the potential means of avoiding serious disruption to the oil market is theoretically at hand.” The Trump administration’s lead envoy on Iran sanctions, Brian Hook, said that waivers granted to eight countries importing Iranian oil could be extended, as long as they demonstrate reductions in purchases. The U.S. is aiming to get Iran’s oil exports below 1 mb/d, a reduction of roughly 20 percent from current levels, but a far cry from “zero.” Higher oil prices are constraining the Trump team. “He has made it very clear that we need to have a campaign of maximum economic pressure ... but he also doesn't want to shock oil markets, he wants to ensure a well-supplied and stable oil market,” Hook said, referring to Trump.

U.S. oil prices up a 4th straight session, but global prices fall from 2019 highs - Oil futures split ways on Thursday, with U.S. prices up a fourth straight session after recent data revealed a weekly decline in domestic supplies, but global prices ending lower in the wake of a reported delay in the U.S.-China trade discussions and a slowdown in OPEC output cuts. April West Texas Intermediate crude rose 35 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $58.61 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, logging a fourth straight session climb. It settled at its highest since mid-November, according to FactSet data. May Brent crude, meanwhile, edged down by 32 cents, or 0.5%, to $67.23 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. It settled at a four-month high a day earlier. The headline draw in U.S. oil supplies reported Wednesday “was correctly digested as positive but the underlying reasons for the draw were the real bullish development,” said Tyler Richey, co-editor of the Sevens Report. “Domestic crude oil production slipped for the first time this year ... meanwhile, net imports remained suppressed,” with U.S. sanctions on Venezuela being the primary driver of the import decline. On Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. crude supplies unexpectedly fell by 3.9 million barrels for the week ended March 8. The EIA also reported that total domestic crude production inched down from record territory, down 100,000 barrels to 12 million barrels a day. Meanwhile, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, in a monthly report released Thursday, said output by its members fell in February, though at a significantly reduced rate than the month prior and well-below the group’s pledge to the market.

 Oil prices stable amid sanctions and OPEC cuts, but economic concerns drag -- U.S. crude futures briefly hit a 2019 high on Friday but later retreated along with benchmark Brent oil as worries about the global economy and robust U.S. production put a brake on prices. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were down 48 cents at $58.13 per barrel at 1355 GMT, having hit their highest so far this year at $58.95.Brent crude oil futures were at $66.51 per barrel, down 72 cents from their last settlement, and below their 2019 peak of $68.14 reached on Thursday."The market is still torn between economic concerns and high U.S. oil production on one hand and remarkable OPEC+ compliance on the other. The latter is greatly aided by unplanned cuts in production," PVM oil broker Stephen Brennock said.The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed last year to cut production, partly in response to increased U.S. shale output.OPEC+ ministers will meet on April 17-18 to decide production policy."If OPEC+ decide to extend (cuts) ... we expect that inventories will continue to draw through at least Q3," U.S. investment bank Jefferies said.The International Energy Agency said on Friday that the market could show a modest surplus in the first quarter of 2019 before flipping into a deficit in the second quarter by about 0.5 million barrels per day (bpd).It said a comfortable supply cushion by OPEC could prevent any price rally in case of possible disruptions and that non-OPEC oil output growth led by the United States should ensure demand is met. Preventing oil from rising further have been concerns that an economic slowdown that has gripped large parts of Asia and Europe will dent growth in fuel demand.

Oil prices pull back from 2019 highs as weak U.S. data breaks 4-day rally - Oil prices turned lower on Friday as weak data out of the U.S. prompted traders to take profits after a four-day rally. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 36 cents, or 0.61%, at $58.25 a barrel by 10:35 AM ET (14:35 GMT), pulling off $58.95, its highest level of the year. Meanwhile, Brent crude futures, the benchmark for oil prices outside the U.S., traded down 59 cents, or 0.88%, to $66.64. Manufacturing activity in the New York area fell unexpectedly in March, hitting its lowest level since 2017, while U.S. manufacturing production also registered a surprise decline, falling for a second consecutive month in February. The weaker data adds to other soft reports ranging from retail sales to housing, suggesting that the American economy lost significant momentum early in the first quarter. With signs of a slowdown in the global economy, there are marked concerns that a breakdown in trade negotiations between the U.S. and China could lessen demand from the world’s two largest oil importers. Even with Friday’s disappointing data, oil remained on track for a solid week of gains. A barrel of West Texas is up 3.5% since the week-ago close on signs that OPEC-led production cuts are working to constrain the supply glut. In fact, the International Energy Agency forecast on Friday that demand would increase, leading to a potential supply deficit as soon as the second quarter of this year. In other energy trading, gasoline futures fell 0.90% to $1.8329 a gallon by 10:38 AM ET (14:38 GMT), while heating oil dropped 0.91% to $1.9669 a gallon. Lastly, natural gas futures declined 1.23% to $2.820 per million British thermal unit.

 Oil finishes with a loss, but U.S. prices mark sharpest weekly rise in a month - Crude-oil futures finished lower on Friday, with U.S. prices pulling back after four days of consecutive gains that prompted crude to tally its best weekly gain in about a month, amid growing signs of tightening global supplies.April West Texas Intermediate crude  shed 9 cents, or 0.2%, to settle at $58.52 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after settling at its highest level since mid-November on Thursday. WTI tallied a weekly gain of about 4.4% based on the most-active contracts, which marked its sharpest weekly rise since the period ended Feb. 15, according to Dow Jones Market Data. May Brent crude meanwhile, lost 7 cents, or 0.1%, to $67.16 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, with the contract up 2.2% for the week. On Friday, the International Energy Agency said output from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries had fallen by 240,000 barrels a day last month, to 30.68 million barrels day, its lowest level in four years. The IEA cited losses in Venezuela, and lower output from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It left its forecast for global oil demand growth in 2019 unchanged at 1.4 million barrels a day.The IEA report came a day after OPEC released its own monthly oil-market report showing a similar decline for February, though the report also highlighted that by OPEC’s member production fell at a significantly reduced rate than the month prior and well-below the group’s pledge to the market.Over the weekend, the OPEC, non-OPEC Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee will gather in Baku, Azerbaijan, with an official meeting scheduled for Monday to review compliance with production cuts.Some market participants worry that the cartel might act to further push prices higher.

Pompeo enlists US energy conglomerates for global oil war - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered an extraordinary speech this week to a conference attended by representatives of the major US energy conglomerates in which he appealed to “Big Oil” to play an increasingly direct role in the drive by US imperialism for global dominance and the preparation for war on every continent. Speaking Tuesday at the annual CERAWeek conference in Houston, Texas which brings together US oil and gas company executives, representatives of OPEC and US government officials, Pompeo stressed that the steep growth in US energy production, driven by what industry insiders describe as the “shale revolution,” has provided Washington with a potent weapon to use against its global rivals.The growth in energy production, with the US surpassing both Russia and Saudi Arabia as the largest crude oil producer late last year, and estimates that US exports will exceed those of Russia in the next three years and those of Saudi Arabia in the next five, is seen by the US ruling elite as a means of exerting its hegemony on a worldwide scale. Pompeo’s speech provided a blunt description of US predatory aims across the planet that involve the interests of the American-based energy conglomerates. His attempts to present this as some kind of moral crusade were laughable. Countries targeted by US imperialism, he claimed, were “using their energy for malign ends, and not to promote prosperity in the way we do here in the West. They don’t have the values of freedom and liberty, or the rule of law that we do, and they’re using their energy to destroy ours.” The “prosperity” promoted by Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and other US-based energy conglomerates is that of their CEOs and major capitalist investors. Their values of “freedom and liberty” and “rule of law” extend just as far as their freedom to exploit the planet’s energy reserves at will and to impose the rules dictated by the US government to protect their interests.Pompeo went on to link the interests of “Big Oil” to the multiple geostrategic conflicts between US imperialism and its global and regional rivals. He stressed that US energy production and export was crucial to countering a series of “bad actors.” “We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the NordStream II project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to the expansion of a natural gas pipeline linking Russia to Central Europe.  This pitch for promoting US energy dominance in Europe came as the Pentagon announced that it is preparing to develop and test new low-flying intermediate-range nuclear missiles beginning in August, after the formal expiration of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) between the US and Russia, torn up by the Trump administration last month.

Saudi Arabia Has Become the World’s Top Arms Buyer  — Most reports on international arms sales focus on the biggest sellers. That inevitably means the United States, the largest exporter by far in the growing market. You can’t have sales without buyers, however, and that side of the equation centers heavily on the Middle East.Middle Eastern countries now buy more than a third of all global arms. The biggest customer not just in the Middle East but in the world, is Saudi Arabia, whose purchases have soared 192% over a five year period.Locked in an endless war in Yemen, and always looking toward a war with Iran, Saudi Arabia has seen its military spending soar in recent years. Recent estimates have put Saudi Arabia at the third costliest military on Earth, behind on the US and China, and ahead of Russia.Unlike the US, China, or Russia, however, Saudi Arabia lacks a huge decades-old military-industrial complex to make all their weapons of war. Instead, the Saudis are pouring into overseas contracts, buying vast amounts of arms from the US and Britain. The Saudis show no sign of slowing down on this, but it isn’t clear how sustainable this is either. Already, Saudi war crimes are fueling a lot of calls to rethink arms sales to them. On top of that, the Saudis are spending 10% of their annual GDP on a mostly-imported military, which is a heavy burden for their economy to bear.

Andrew Bacevich: The U.S.-Saudi Relationship Is a Principal Source of Instability in the Middle East (Democracy Now! video & transcript) We look at a number of recent developments in U.S.-Saudi relations, a day after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing for retired four-star general John Abizaid to become U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. On Monday, the Trump administration gave a private briefing to senators on the investigation into the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. Senators slammed the briefing for providing no new information. Meanwhile, The New York Times has revealed new details about the jailing and torture of a doctor with U.S. citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Walid Fitaihi is a Harvard-trained doctor who has been jailed without charge since 2017. We speak with Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and Vietnam War veteran, author and professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University, and William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

Saudi Arabia says Jamal Khashoggi's killers have been 'brought to justice' and insists they were 'not subjected to torture' - but refuses to name them or reveal their punishment - Saudi Arabia has claimed Jamal Khashoggi's killers have been 'brought to justice' after describing the murder as a 'heinous crime' and 'unfortunate accident'. The head of the Kingdom's human rights commission refused to name any of those it said was involved - but insisted they had not been subjected to torture. Saudi Arabia was 'horrified' by the writer's killing in Istanbul in October last year but will continue to reject any international role in the probe, Bandar bin Mohammed Al-Aiban told the UN Human Rights Council. Those accused of the 'heinous crime' and 'unfortunate accident' at its Istanbul consulate had attended three hearings so far with their lawyers present, he said. Saudi Arabia has claimed Jamal Khashoggi's killers have been 'brought to justice' after describing the murder as a 'heinous crime' and 'unfortunate accident' 'Therefore what is being conveyed by certain media regarding the need for us to internationalise some of these matters is something we do not accept because such demands amount to interference in our domestic affairs and in our domestic judicial system,' he told the Geneva forum. Last month, a UN human rights expert said Khashoggi was murdered in a a 'brutal and premeditated killing' carried out by Saudi officials. Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, made her assessment after visiting Turkey. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate. His remains have not been found and it is feared his body could have been dissolved in acid after being cut into pieces by a Saudi hit squad. Callamard said that Saudi Arabia undermined Turkey's efforts to investigate the death and that the killing was carried out 'by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia'.  

Immediate Action to Dismantle Terror Infrastructure Required- India to Saudi Arabia -In a clear reference to Pakistan, India on Friday conveyed to Saudi Arabia that that “immediate, irreversible and verifiable action” to dismantle terror infrastructure is essential to fight the menace of terrorism. This was conveyed during a meeting between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Saudi state minister for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir, who made a 4.5-hour visit to India days after his trip to Islamabad. Sources, however, said there was no offer, either earlier or now, from the Saudi side to mediate the de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. Jubeir held extensive talks with Swaraj here with a focus on deepening cooperation to combat terrorism. It is learnt that the recent tensions triggered by the Pulwama attack and India’s subsequent airstrike on a terrorist training camp in Pakistan also came up during the meeting. “They (Swaraj and Jubeir) took note of significant developments after the visit of His Royal Highness (Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman) to India. EAM reiterated that an immediate irreversible and verifiable action to dismantle terror infrastructure is essential to fight the menace of terror,” a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement said, without naming Pakistan or the post-Pulwama tensions between India and Pakistan. During his visit, Jubeir also called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed bilateral issues, officials said. “The Prime Minister thanked the leadership of Saudi Arabia for expressing full solidarity with India in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” the MEA said. 

Seven Things Saudi Women Still Can't Do, Despite Driving Ban Lift - In a decree issued in September 2017, Saudi King Salman ruled that women would be allowed to drive cars in 2018, a move which ended the kingdom’s status as the only country in the world where it was forbidden. Saudi’s law against women drivers was one of many controversial laws presenting a web of restrictions to women. Saudi women are required to get permission from a male family member, sometimes even a younger brother, for some of the most important decisions of her life. And whilst they are now allowed to drive, here is a list of things Saudi women still can’t do:

  • 1. Eat freely in public. As part of the kingdom’s dress code, women are required to wear a face veil. This, whilst selectively enforced, means that wherever it is, women must then eat under their face veil.
  • 2. Dress ‘for beauty’.  They must cover their hair and bodies. The kingdom’s dress code requires women to wear an “abaya,” a dress-like full length cloak.
  • 3. Freely socialise with non-relative males. Women are not free to socialise with men outside of their immediate families, and can even be imprisoned for committing such an offence.
  • 4. Marry whomever they like.  There are rulings against Saudi marrying non-Muslim, Shia, or atheist men.
  • 5. Travel.  Travelling without a male guardian’s permission is prohibited.
  • 6. Open a bank account.  In Saudi Arabia, women still need their husband’s permission before they are allowed to open a bank account.
  • 7. Get a job. Although the government no longer requires a woman to have a guardian’s permission in order to work, many employers still demand the permission before hiring.

The struggle for greater women’s rights in the kingdom has been a difficult one, with activists arrested for defying the driving ban last year. In recent months, a model was arrested for wearing a short skirt.

Libya's Gaddafi 2.0 Eyes Military Takeover Of Tripoli, Could Rattle Global Oil Markets - Libya is coming apart again though of course it was never put back together in the first place after NATO's regime change war to topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 in the first place. Since then it's been a jihadist wasteland of three, or at times up to four, competing governments vying for control of land and resources.  And now, as Bloomberg reports this week "Libya’s most powerful warlord has his sights on the capital" of Tripoli and "even his international backers are nervous." Who are Khalifa Haftar's international backers? He was for a couple decades believed to be on the CIA's payroll while living in suburban Virginia outside Washington, D.C. in exile during Gaddafi's rule. He's also financed by the UAE and quickly emerged as a main player collecting the spoils in the aftermath of the US-French-NATO bombing campaign in support of the rebels.  Based in Libya's oil-rich east, Haftar's militia has already captured much of the country's oil resources, especially after a successful blitz to take much of the south this year.And now he reportedly has his eye on the capital of Tripoli in the west home to the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and Libya's state-run National Oil Corporation, which when combined with small subsidiaries under its direction accounts for some 70% of the country's oil output. But has an increasingly powerful Haftar gone rogue, outside the bounds of his international political and financial backers? Or is he actually the external brokers' "solution" to impose order after years of post-Gaddafi chaos? Are we witnessing the rise of Libya's new strongman a Gaddafi 2.0 who will be amendable to western and gulf interests?  Bloomberg reports the growing alarm of his international backers:Alarmed, international powers are clamoring to avert a military showdown that could rattle global oil markets and sow further chaos in a divided country already struggling to defeat Islamic State and stem the flow of migrants toward Europe.The UAE has reportedly tried to intervene with Haftar, urging him to put on the brakes and negotiate a power sharing situation, but to no avail. 

Iran's Rouhani Makes First Ever Visit To Iraq To Bypass Unjust US Sanctions - What Iran is billing as President Hassan Rouhani's first "historic" and landmark visit to Iraq, both the United States and Israel are seeing as a provocative move to solidify Iran's influence over Baghdad. Just prior to arriving in Iraq Monday, Rouhani said on state television that his country is determined to "strengthen its brotherly ties" with neighboring Iraq. It's expected that the the three-day visit will result in a wide range of economic deals in fields such as energy, transport, and agriculture; however, as Israel's Haaretz writes based on a Reuters report:The visit is a strong message to the United States and its regional allies that Iran still dominates Baghdad, a key arena for rising tension between Washington and Tehran.Reuters further noted that Shi'ite Iran will is using the official visit to gain all the trade and energy export deals it can as Tehran suffers amidst US-led international sanctions, and as it continues to demand more concrete action from Europe in the wake of last year's US pullout of the JCPOA nuclear deal. "We are very much interested to expand our ties with Iraq, particularly our transport cooperation," Rohani said at Tehran's Mehrabad airport. "We have important projects that will be discussed during this visit." Crucially, a senior Iranian official who is accompanying Rohani on the trip told Reuters: Iraq is another channel for Iran to bypass America's unjust sanctions imposed on Iran. This trip will provide opportunities for Iran's economy.Rouhani was welcomed and escorted by Iraqi President Barham Salih and Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Hakim after the Iranian president touched down in Baghdad on Monday. The official itinerary begins with a visit to a Shia shrine in the Iraqi capital. The timing of Rouhani's visit is further interesting in light of the US-led coalition's anti-ISIL campaign, which is fast wrapping up just across the border in Syria's Baghouz.

Iran Holds Massive Drone Drills Called Way To Jerusalem In Persian Gulf - Iran unveiled that it launched a massive drone exercise to showcase its military and technological prowess on Thursday. Given that it involves some 50 Iranian-made drones and is officially named "Way to Jerusalem" exercises (or "Towards al-Quds 1"), it has been met with alarm in Israel especially considering many were armed drones operating along key choke points in the Persian Gulf. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) described the military drills as Iran's largest exercise of its kind to date, and occurred mostly near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. State-run Fars and Tasnim news agencies described the operation as including, “for the first time, 50 Iranian drones on the RQ-170 [US Sentinel] model operated with a number of assault and combat drones." According to Iranian defense officials, including IRGC Ground Force commander Maj.-Gen. Golam Ali Rashid, who helped command the operation, the drone "offensive operation" saw UAVs operate simultaneously at distances of more than 1,000 km away from each other (about 620 miles) and struck remote targets with “high precision.” Gen. Rashid told state sources that contrary to the western perception that the Iranian Republic is failing in technological advancement, instead “today we are witnessing the strongest maneuvers of the IRGC’s Aerospace Forces.” He bragged that enemies would be “humiliated and feel shame,” according to state media. 

Qatar's trade surplus hit $52 billion last year, minister says - Qatar's trade surplus reached $52 billion in 2018, the country's Minister of Commerce and Industry said Sunday.More than 20 months after the economic and diplomatic blockade enacted by its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar is endeavoring to tell the world that business is carrying on as usual.The tiny gas-rich monarchy has expanded its trade relations after the blockade effectively cut its access to an estimated 60 percent of the goods it imported.The countries who implemented the blockade charge Qatar of supporting terrorism, which the Qataris strongly deny.Speaking at a forum on Qatar-Pakistan trade, Minister Ali Al Kuwari said trade between the two countries grew over 230 percent in 2018 to $2.6 billion, Reuters reported Sunday. Trade with Iran and Turkey has also increased, while Doha is pursuing partnerships with Western countries, including an open skies agreement with the EU which will be the first between the bloc and any Gulf Cooperation Council state.The blockade has had an impact on air travel, shipping and trade routes and media, among other sectors. However, the economic impact of the blockade has been seen as short-lived, the International Monetary Fund said last May. This is helped by the fact that Qatar is the world's top exported of liquefied natural gas. The IMF forecasts 3.1 percent growth in 2019 for the country of 2.6 million, up from 2.4 percent last year.

US Airstrikes Kill at Least 50, Mostly Civilians, in Eastern Syria  — Amid talk of a never-ending exodus of civilians from underground in the Syrian village of Baghouz, the Kurdish SDF is waiting on a final push into the last ISIS-held village. The US, however, is not so patient.On Monday, US warplanes attacked Baghouz, killing at least 50 people. Details on what the intended target was is unclear, but the reports suggest that the dead were mostly women and children.The attack came after the latest deadline set by the SDF for ISIS to surrender passed on Sunday, but with many thousands having left the village in the past few days, the SDF seemed fine just extending the deadline and getting more people out. In the past few months, US airstrikes backing the SDF offensive have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. With thousands of civilians still believed to be in Baghouz, the US strikes are undermining the SDF’s effort to convince them to leave, by showing that those who try to leave may be targeted.

CIA Is Conspiring With ISIS, Turning Syrian Refugee Camps Into ISIS Hotbeds The CIA is conspiring with ISIS commanders in northeastern Syria supplying them with fake documents and then transferring them to Iraq, according to reports in Turkish pro-government media.  About 2,000 ISIS members were questioned in the areas of Kesra, Buseira, al-Omar and Suwayr in Deir Ezzor province and at least 140 of them then received fake documents. Some of the questioned terrorists were then moved to the camps of al-Hol, Hasakah and Rukban, which are controlled by US-backed forces. The CIA also reportedly created a special facility near Abu Khashab with the same purpose. Israeli, French and British special services are reportedly involved.An interesting observation is that the media of the country, which in the previous years of war, used to conspire with ISIS allowing its foreign recruits to enter Syria and buying smuggled oil from the terrorists, has now become one of the most active exposers of the alleged US ties with ISIS elements.Another issue often raised in Turkish media is the poor humanitarian situation in the refugee camps controlled by US-backed forces. These reports come in the course of other revelations. According to the International Rescue Committee, about 100 people, mostly children, died in combat zones or in the al-Hol camp controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces just recently.In its turn, the Russian Defense Ministry released a series of satellite images revealing the horrifying conditions in the al-Rukban camp. The imagery released on March 12 shows at least 670 graves, many of them fresh, close to the camp’s living area. The tents and light constructions used to settle refugees are also located in a close proximity to large waste deposits. A joint statement by the Russian and Syrian Joint Coordination Committees for Repatriation of Syrian Refugees said that refugees in al-Rukban are suffering from a lack of water, food, medication and warm clothing, which is especially important during winter. According to the statement, members of the US-backed armed group Maghawir al-Thawra disrupt water deliveries to the camp, using this as a bargaining chip for blackmailing and profiteering purposes.

Syria Notifies Israel It Will Attack If IDF Doesn't Leave Golan Heights - In a surprising and provocative ultimatum, Syria has notified Israel through United Nations diplomatic channels that it is prepared to go to war if Israel does not leave the Golan Heights.  Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad reportedly sent the message through the head of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), Christine Lund, this past week, according to a World Israel News report and later picked up other major Israeli sources, including The Jerusalem Post. “Syria will attack Israel if it does not leave the Golan Heights,” Mikdad told the UN representative.   Mikdad further warned Lund that Syria will respond with force should Israel continue its attacks on Syria, which have occurred more than a dozen times over the past year, but which seem to have recently paused following Russia's announced delivery of the advanced S-300 anti-air missile defense system to Damascus late last year.   “We will not hesitate to confront Israel,” Syria's Mekdad said. “We are also not scared away by its [Israel’s] supporters who are helping to perpetuate the occupation of the Golan,” he added.Damascus' firm warning appears a response to a controversial bill recently under renewed consideration by US Congress, co-sponsored by Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, and Democratic Rep. Mike Gallagher, which aims to give formal US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights region.Meanwhile, multiple Israeli political leaders have responded to Syria's historic claim to the Israeli-occupied Golan and willingness to go to war over it. While speaking on a visit to the Golan Heights, Blue and White party politicians Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya'alon vowed, "It is ours and it will stay ours" certainly a dominant sentiment that cuts across Israeli party lines. "We will increase the numbers of residents in the Golan, sending a resounding message to all - we will never relinquish the Golan Heights," Gantz said, according to The Jerusalem Post. "We will enlist the support of the US and the international community to promote Israel's interests on our northern border," he added.  This comes after last month the Syrian Army solidified its hold over its side of the occupied Golan after last year defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS groups who had held the Quneitra area for years prior during the Syrian war.

 US drops 'Israeli-occupied' designation from Golan Heights - The United States no longer refers to the Golan Heights as an "Israeli-occupied" territory in its latest annual human rights report, published on Wednesday, though the State Department insists the wording change doesn't mean a policy change. The report now calls the area the "Israeli-controlled Golan Heights". When asked about the change on such a sensitive Middle East subject, a senior US official told reporters in Washington: "There's no change in our outlook or our policy vis-a-vis these territories and the need for a negotiated settlement there." "This, by the way, is not a human rights issue, it's a legal status issue," said Michael Kozak of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. "What we try to do is to report on the human rights situation in those territories, and so you're just trying to find the way of describing the place that you're reporting on," he said. "And 'occupied territory' has a legal meaning to it; I think what they tried to do is to shift more to just a geographic description." Another semantic change that appeared in last year's report showed up again this year, with a section titled "Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza," instead of its previous "Israel and the Occupied Territories" heading. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the US dropping the term “occupation” from the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Syrian Golan Heights is "a continuation of the hostile approach of the American administration toward our Palestinian people and is contrary to all UN resolutions." He stressed, "These American titles will not change the fact that the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 and the occupied Arab Golan are territories under Israeli occupation in accordance with UN resolutions and international law,"

Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is ‘not a state of all its citizens’ Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel is “not a state of all its citizens”, in a reference to the country’s Arab population. In comments on Instagram, the prime minister went on to say all citizens, including Arabs, had equal rights, but he referred to a deeply controversial law passed last year declaring Israel the nation state of the Jewish people. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” he wrote in response to criticism from an Israeli actor, Rotem Sela. “According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it. “As you wrote, there is no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel. They have equal rights like all of us and the Likud government has invested more in the Arab sector than any other government,” he said of his rightwing party. As the comments caused waves in Israel, Netanyahu again spoke of the issue at the start of a cabinet meeting. He called Israel a “Jewish, democratic state” with equal rights, but “the nation state not of all its citizens but only of the Jewish people”. Netanyahu has been accused of demonising Israeli Arabs, who make up about 17% of the population, in an attempt to boost rightwing turnout in elections due on 9 April. He has continually warned that his opponents will receive the support of Arab parties and that they will make significant concessions to the Palestinians. Netanyahu, under threat of indictment for corruption, is facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff, and Yair Lapid, an ex-finance minister.

71% of Israeli Jews find Israeli control over the Palestinians as immoral - A new survey by the Van Leer Institute, in cooperation with the Citizens Accord Forum and the Shaharit Institute, revealed on Thursday that 71% of the Jewish public in Israel thinks there is a moral problem with Israel's control over the Palestinians. Moreover, 78% of Israeli Jews think that control over the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria is not good for Israel. The survey, which was presented under the headline "Religious Faith, Peace and Coexistence," examined the Israeli public's stands regarding peace and the control of Israel over Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. Despite the high percentage who claim that control of the Palestinians is not good for Israel, only 12% think it should be stopped immediately, while the majority of the public (66%) thinks that there is no alternative at present. The poll also showed that 78% of the Jewish public and 93% of the Arab public in Israel agree that peace with people of other faiths is an important value in their religion, and 51% of the Jews and 72% of the Arabs agree that religious leaders representing different religions in the region should take part in making decisions related to peace. "The fact that different groups in Israeli society - Jews and Arabs - do not connect to the well-known liberal peace discourse does not mean that they do not have a value-based approach to peace," said Dr. Eilon Schwartz, head of the Shaharit institute.

Erdogan Calls Netanyahu a Tyrant Who Massacred Palestinian Babies - – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday accused Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being a “tyrant” who “massacred” Palestinian babies, in the latest exchange between the two leaders, AFP reported. “Hey Netanyahu, behave yourself. You are a tyrant, you are a tyrant who massacred 7-year-old Palestinian children,” Erdoğan told a rally in response to the Israeli leader branding him a “dictator.” Turkey and Israel have tense relations, and Erdoğan, who sees himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, is a vocal critic of Israeli policies. Erdoğan’s remarks came after unrest near the Temple Mount, also known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, on Tuesday. Palestinians threw a firebomb at an Israeli police post at a site revered by Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem, and Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including one, troops said attacked them with a knife, Euronews reported. Netanyahu’s office responded to Erdoğan with a statement. “Turkey’s dictator Erdogan attacks Israel’s democracy while Turkish journalists and judges fill his prisons,” it read. “What a joke!”

US Warplanes Accidentally Obliterate Allied Afghan Military Base-  In the latest bizarre story to come out of the US "endless war" in Afghanistan, American warplanes obliterated an allied Afghan military post in an act of "self defense" on Wednesday.  The incident took place in the tribal Uruzgan province of south-central Afghanistan and reportedly began when a joint convoy of US troops and Afghan Special Forces came under fire by another unit of Afghan ground troops in what appears a major instance of accidental friendly fire resulting in a devastating two dozen total casualties on the Afghan side.  The incident is under investigation, but US mission spokesman Bob Purtiman appeared to excuse US actions in a statement on Thursday: "We are operating in a complex environment where enemy fighters do not wear uniforms and use stolen military vehicles to attack government forces," he said.  American forces indicate they came under attack by an unknown entity. US planes flying overhead then destroyed the Afghan army post (described by the Pentagon as a "checkpoint"), which killed at least six soldiers and wounded nine others at the small base which housed a total of 17. The US side reported no deaths or injuries, though the Pentagon would likely not release such information until a full investigation is concluded.  The US Department of Defense confirmed the incident on Wednesday, which it described as a mistaken "example of the fog of war". Pentagon Spokesperson Sgt. First Class Debra Richardson told The New York Times: “The U.S. conducted a precision self-defense airstrike on people who were firing at a partnered U.S.-Afghan force.”.

(Urgent)- YouTube terminates Middle East Observer after almost 10 years online -- After almost 10 years online, over 250 videos, almost 13,000 subscribers, and about 8 million total video views, YouTube has terminated the Middle East Observer (MEO) channel on its platform.Although perhaps MEO became best known for its video translations of regional political actors such as Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, its work was certainly not limited to that. Middle East Observer sought to provide its viewers with reliable English translations on politics, religion, and culture from the Middle East more broadly, with a particular focus on media from key states such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The termination of MEO’s channel came after several months of seemingly routine ‘violation’ emails sent to us by YouTube, the taking down of various videos of ours (most of which were uploaded several years ago) and the imposition of ‘channel strikes’ accompanied by emails about how we could better uphold its rather vague and in many ways hegemonic ‘Community Guidelines’. We gradually realised that no matter what measures we took, it would not satisfy YouTube’s ‘Guidelines’, as the platform’s architecture and policies increasingly moved towards the censorship of alternative news and views. This censorship process against MEO began several years earlier, when YouTube deactivated our ability to monetise the absolute majority of our videos, classifying them as “Non-advertiser friendly”.   To bypass reliance on YouTube advertising revenue, we tried various options over the years, the last of which being an up-until-now successful experience on Patreon (here’s our page), where after only a few months 17 of our global viewers/readers joined the highly flexible crowd sourcing platform to fund our work and keep it going. Truly without their support we would not have been able to continue producing translations consistently (by all means support us to help us expand our work too). Nevertheless, we believe that the termination of our channel today is a great blow to the coverage on YouTube of voices, news, and perspectives found on Arab and Islamic media that are rarely covered – or even purposefully silenced – by Western mainstream media. YouTube’s message today is clear: the production, uploading, and viewing of genuinely critical and alternative ideas and viewpoints is not welcome.

Business groups concerned over China’s new law - It was hailed as a benchmark piece of legislation but China’s new foreign investment law failed to impress business groups. As the National People’s Congress wrapped up in Beijing on Friday, Premier Li Keqiang pledged again to protect overseas companies operating in the world’s second-largest economy. Fast-tracked for approval at the annual session of the rubber-stamp parliament, the law comes into effect on January 1, 2020. Key points include eliminating forced technology transfer, as well as protecting Chinese joint-venture partners against “illegal government interference.” Both issues have been raised during detailed talks between Beijing and Washington in a move to avert an escalation in the 10-month long trade war.“If opening up measures are being spoken of, then, of course, they will be honored,” Li told a media conference.Still, concerns exist in the international business community.Tim Stratford, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, pointed out that the vague language in the legislation allowed local governments to expropriate investments that “harm the public interest.”He also highlighted the inability of foreign firms to appeal against the outcome of national security reviews.“[The changes] only address a small slice of the overall set of concerns our members have about the uneven playing field foreign companies encounter in China.”During the past 12 months, Washington has pressed Beijing to end policies it argues have handed domestic companies an unfair advantage.These include state subsidies, limited access for foreign companies in various sectors, which are commonly known as “negative lists,” and theft of intellectual property.“The addition of language imposing criminal penalties for sharing sensitive foreign company information adopts a much tougher deterrent against counterfeiting and IP theft and will offer new avenues for the enforcement of IP protection,” Jacob Parker, the vice-president of the US-China Business Council in Beijing, told Reuters.But he added that “while the language on criminal liability is positive, it will be difficult to enforce.”

China database lists 'breedready' status of 1.8 million women -- An open database in China contains the personal information of more than 1.8 million women, including their phone numbers, addresses, and something called “BreedReady” status, according to a researcher. Victor Gevers, a Dutch internet expert from the non-profit group GDI.Foundation, found the insecure data cache while searching for open databases in China. He posted a series of screenshots of it over the weekend. The youngest girl in this database is 15y old. The youngest woman with BreedReady:"1" status is 18y. The average age is a bit above 32y, and the most aged woman with a BR:1 is 39 and with a BR:0 is 95y. All are single [89%], divorced [10%] or widow[1%]. About 82% lives in 北京市.  The database, whose server is in China, included fields labeled in English for sex, age, education, marital status, as well as a column titled “BreedReady”, which could be a poor translation of Chinese terms to describe whether a woman has children or is of child-bearing age, observers noted. It was taken down late on Monday afternoon local time, according to Gevers. The data breach is alarming in the context of official concerns over China’s falling birthrates. Women rights advocates and critics of China’s use of strict family planning rules worry about how far the government will go to encourage more women to have children. It is not clear whether the database is related to a dating app, a government registry, or another organisation or company. Gevers, who also identified a database maintained by a surveillance company tracking at least 2.5 million residents in Xinjiang, said he was still taking samples and working on verifying the data.

Brookings Says China Overstated Size Of Its Economy By 12% - Since China managed to weather the fallout from the financial crisis without registering much of a slowdown in its "official" GDP figures, playing "guess the real growth rate" has become one of the most popular parlor games among the professional economist set. Whereas the stakes are much higher for academics on the mainland (one of whom was censored and threatened by government thugs after speculating that GDP growth on the mainland might be closer to 2%), researchers at American think tanks have freely offered estimates ranging from 2% to 4% (which, admittedly, would still put China well ahead of the US). But as investors and economists once again cast a wary eye toward China as signs of flagging growth are once again threatening to sink the whole world into a recession, a team of researchers from the Brookings Institute has published a carefully researched paper detailing the exact mechanism by which authorities in Beijing inflate the country's GDP figures, while estimating that China's economy is roughly 12% smaller than the official figures would suggest. Brookings published the paper on Thursday, just two days after Party leaders at the annual National Party Congress lowered their economic growth forecast to between 6% and 6.5% of GDP.Though the paper focused on the period between 2008 and 2016, it's the latest evidence that China's economic slowdown has been more severe than believed, and that the growth rate from last year - China's worst since the early 1990s - might, in reality, be just under 6% (compared with 6.6%). According to Brookings, much of the manipulation in Chinese official government statistics takes place at the local level. In what the FT described as "a legacy of Maoist state planning", authorities in Beijing hand down growth targets to local officials, who use it to goalseek the official statistics they hand back. "China’s national accounts are based on data collected by local governments. However, since local governments are rewarded for meeting growth and investment targets, they have an incentive to skew local statistics. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) adjusts the data provided by local governments to calculate GDP at the national level," the study's authors said. Evidence of this is relatively obvious: Year after year, the sum total of China's provincial growth figures is larger than the unadjusted national figures reported by Beijing. Though central authorities accused three provinces of doctoring their data back in 2017, authorities have done little else to discourage the practice.

I’d side with rich China over fickle US: Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad - If forced to take sides in the high-stakes geopolitical rivalry and trade war between the United States and China, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad would prefer the economic largesse of Beijing. He pointed to the current state of unpredictability of the American superpower as a negative factor when asked about the impact of Sino-American tensions on other, smaller nations in the region. In a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post focused on his Southeast Asian nation’s foreign policy, Mahathir said Malaysia’s strong ties with China were not “static” over time or issues. Rather, the overarching goal must be to find ways of working with the rising power rather than to let fears about its ascent cloud the government’s judgment. In particular, he said Malaysia would not be swayed by Western scaremongering that the Chinese telecom firm Huawei was involved in spying. “When China was poor, we were frightened of China. When China is rich, we are also frightened of China,” he said. “I think we have to find some way to deal with China.” In the past, China exported communism to the region, including Malaysia, and was now spreading its influence through economic might.

Malaysia: schools closed after hundreds poisoned by toxic waste dumped in river - More than 100 schools in Malaysia have been closed after the dumping of toxic waste into a river caused hundreds of people to fall ill, including many children, authorities said. A lorry is believed to have dumped the waste in southern Johor state last week, sending hazardous fumes across a wide area and causing those affected to display symptoms of poisoning such as nausea and vomiting. More than 500 people, many of them school pupils, have received medical treatment after inhaling the fumes, with more than 160 admitted to hospital, according to official news agency Bernama. It was unclear what type of poisonous gas had been emitted near the industrial town of Pasir Gudang.Education Minister Maszlee Malik initially ordered the closure of 43 schools in the area Wednesday, but later announced that figure had more than doubled.  “The ministry of education has decided to close all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang area immediately,” he said in a statement.

Millions of Myanmar farmers face arrest under ‘disastrous’ land law – Millions of Myanmar's farmers face arrest and eviction after the deadline for applications for permits to remain on their land expired on Tuesday. The permits are necessary due to a controversial law amended by the country's parliament in September. It requires those occupying or using land legally considered vacant, fallow or virgin to apply for a permit to use it for 30 years or face eviction and up to two years in jail. The government classifies about 50 million acres – a third of Myanmar's total land area – as vacant, fallow, or virgin land. According to Human Rights Watch, the law creates incentives for authorities to seize lands that have been passed down for generations through informal land tenure practices. By challenging local practices, the law also invites private companies to stake competing claims and raises the potential for land conflicts. "Township officials, land department officers, and their cronies are about to have a field day of land grabbing," Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson told dpa. In her presentation to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, Yanghee Lee, the human rights special rapporteur for Myanmar, said the law failed to recognize the inability of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people to stake their claims before the deadline. "With land insecurity central to the cycle of conflict, poverty and denial of rights, [the law] has the potential to be disastrous," Lee added.

 Christchurch mosques shooting- 49 killed in New Zealand attacks - At least 49 people were killed and 20 seriously injured in mass shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch Friday, in a carefully planned and unprecedented atrocity that shocked the usually peaceful nation. The attack was unleashed at lunchtime local time Friday, when mosques were full of worshippers. Footage of the massacre was streamed live online, and a rambling manifesto laced with white supremacist references was published just before the shootings unfolded.Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the horror as a terrorist attack, saying it was perpetrated by suspects with "extremist views" that had no place in her country or the wider world. It was one of the New Zealand's "darkest days," she said in a press conference Friday. Authorities said that every law enforcement resource in the country was mobilized after the attack.Three people were arrested in connection with the shootings. A 28-year-old man was charged with murder and will appear in court Saturday morning local time. Two others were arrested on suspicion of possession of firearms. Police were investigating their ties to the incident, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that at least one of those arrested is Australian. The atrocity was the work of an "extremist right-wing, violent terrorist," he said.Police were not searching for any other suspects in connection with the attack but stressed the investigation remained fluid. None of those arrested in connection with the attacks had been on any security watch lists prior to the attack. A total of 48 people, including young children with gunshot wounds, were taken to hospital.

 A Mass Murder of, and for, the Internet – NYT - Before entering a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, the site of one of the deadliest mass murders in the country’s history, a gunman paused to endorse a YouTube star in a video that appeared to capture the shooting. “Remember, lads, subscribe to PewDiePie,” he said.To an untrained eye, this would have seemed like a bizarre detour. But the people watching the video stream recognized it as something entirely different: a meme. Like many of the things done before the attack on Friday — like the posting of a 74-page manifesto that named a specific internet figure — the PewDiePie endorsement served two purposes. For followers of the killer’s videostream, it was a kind of satirical Easter egg. “Subscribe to PewDiePie,” which began as a grass-roots online attempt to keep the popular YouTube entertainer from being dethroned as the site’s most-followed account, has morphed into a kind of all-purpose cultural bat signal for the young and internet-absorbed.   For everyone else, it was a booby trap, a joke designed to ensnare unsuspecting people and members of the media into taking it too literally. The goal, if there was one, may have been to pull a popular internet figure into a fractious blame game and inflame political tensions everywhere. The details that have emerged about the Christchurch shooting — at least 49 were killed in an attack on two mosques — are horrifying. But a surprising thing about it is how unmistakably online the violence was, and how aware the shooter on the videostream appears to have been about how his act would be viewed and interpreted by distinct internet subcultures.In some ways, it felt like a first — an internet-native mass shooting, conceived and produced entirely within the irony-soaked discourse of modern extremism.The attack was teased on Twitter, announced on the online message board 8chan and broadcast live on Facebook. The footage was then replayed endlessly on YouTube, Twitter and Reddit, as the platforms scrambled to take down the clips nearly as fast as new copies popped up to replace them. In a statement on Twitter, Facebook said it had “quickly removed both the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video,” and was taking down instances of praise or support for the shooting. YouTube said it was “working vigilantly to remove any violent footage” of the attack. Reddit said in a statement that it was taking down “content containing links to the video stream or manifesto.”Even the language used to describe the attack before the fact framed it as an act of internet activism. In a post on 8chan, the shooting was referred to as a “real life effort post.” An image was titled “screw your optics,” a reference to a line posted by the man accused in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that later became a kind of catchphrase among neo-Nazis. And the manifesto — a wordy mixture of white nationalist boilerplate, fascist declarations and references to obscure internet jokes — seems to have been written from the bottom of an algorithmic rabbit hole.

Burkina Faso - the country where it’s too dangerous to go to school  -Desks and chairs are piled up in the corner of a school with no children. On the blackboard, the date has been written down: 15 December 2018. The headteacher says the school just outside the town of Foubé in northern Burkina Faso, which the BBC visited in March, had closed after an attack by armed men in the area. "A lot of schools have been torched. Teachers have been attacked and some even killed," says Samuel Sawadogo, explaining that most of his staff fled in the wake of the raid. "When a teacher is killed, no-one does anything - so we have to save ourselves." In the three areas affected by an upsurge in violence in Burkina Faso, 1,111 out of 2,869 schools have closed in recent months. These regions - the North, the Sahel and the East - are in the north of the country that borders Mali and Niger where jihadist militants have operated for several years. In the province of Soum, in Sahel Region, 352 schools are now closed. More than 150,000 children are affected by these closures - a staggering number in a country where education is already an issue. In 2016, only 57.9% of children finished primary school. Mr Sawadogo says the security forces have failed to protect the community, but he remains hopeful that his school will be able to reopen soon. A visit to various schools in different areas paints a complex picture: the reasons why they close or why they are empty vary. Some schools, especially in the Sahel province, are directly targeted by Islamist militants, who are against Western education. Others, like the one in Foubé, are closed by teachers worried that they will be targets. A number of schools are open but empty because parents are scared their children will be attacked on their way to class. Parents often withdraw their children from schools fearing attack. 

Algeria’s antiquities museum looted during massive protest - After a mostly peaceful protest on Friday by hundreds of thousands of Algerians the museum of antiquities and a primary sdchool in the capital Algiers were set on fire. Some of the museum's artifacts were looted - the culture ministry said criminals and not the protesters were to blame. The protesters want their ailing and absent eighty two year old president to step down. But Abdelaziz Bouteflika insists he'll stand for a fifth term in power, even though he remains in hospital in Geneva for unspecified medical treatment. His only concession, that he'll stand down after just a year if he wins the election in April. On Thursday he issued his first warning to protesters, saying the unrest, now entering its third week, could create chaos in the oil- and natural gas-producing North African country. Algerians, desperate for jobs and angry at unemployment, corruption and an elderly elite seen as out of touch with the young, have taken to the streets since Feb. 22 The protesters have made every effort to demonstrate peacefully - many of them remember the brutal civil war in the nineties which killed two hundred thousand people. Some clashes between youths and police broke out on Friday evening and state media said 110 protesters and 112 policemen had been hurt in the unrest. There were also protests in Paris and other French cities. President Bouteflika's government is run by members of the National Liberation Front party or FLN. They're dominated by aging veterans of the independence war against France which ended in 1962.

Algeria shuts universities as rallies pile pressure on Bouteflika - Universities across Algeria will close two weeks before a scheduled holiday, authorities have announced, in an apparent attempt to defuse student-led protests against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is seeking a fifth term in office. The Ministry of Higher Education's decision on Saturday came a day after tens of thousands of demonstrators packed the centre of Algiers to challenge the ailing leader's 20-year rule in the biggest rallies the capital has seen in decades. Without giving a reason for the move, the ministry said in a decree that the spring break would be brought forward by 10 days - now to run from Sunday to April 4. Students have been at the heart of the mass protests - which began on February 22 - to denounce the 82-year-old Bouteflika's plans to extend his rule in an April 18 election. Teachers and students at several universities have gone on strike, while others had vowed to begin striking on Sunday. While Friday's rallies in Algiers and elsewhere were mostly calm, police reportedly used tear gas in several areas of the capital, including to block the road to the presidential palace. State media also said security forces had detained 195 protesters, citing offences including looting as grounds for the arrests. Bouteflika has been in Geneva, Switzerland, for the past two weeks for what his office has termed "routine medical tests". The president, who is confined to a wheelchair, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, prompting critics to question whether he is being used as a puppet candidate by a faction of civilian and military figures. On Thursday, he issued his first warning to protesters, saying their movement - now entering its third week - could create chaos in the oil- and natural gas-producing North African country. Bouteflika has offered to limit his term after the election and has vowed to change the "system" that runs the country. The promises, however, have failed to quell public anger, galvanising discontent among different sectors, particularly students and other young people.

Venezuela’s Maduro thanks military for defeating ‘coup’ - Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro has praised the armed forces for staying loyal to him and defeating a "coup" led by the US and opposition leader Juan Guaidó. During a rally, Mr Maduro also blamed Venezuela's widespread power cuts on "cyber attacks" by the opposition. His remarks came during a day of protests in the country by pro-government and opposition groups. In the capital Caracas, some supporters of Mr Guaidó scuffled with police. Mr Maduro has retained the support of the military and close allies including Russia and China since Mr Guaidó declared himself interim president on 23 January. Speaking outside the Miraflores presidential palace, Mr Maduro referred to Mr Guaidó as "a clown and a puppet" of the US. "They invited the armed forces to carry out a military coup and their reply was clear - they have defeated the coup plotters," he said. President Maduro has repeatedly accused Mr Guaidó of trying to mount a coup against him with the help of "US imperialists" Meanwhile, police were out in force during an opposition march in the city. Some protesters pushed against police in riot gear shouting "murderers" and officers responded by firing pepper spray at them. Addressing the rally, Mr Guaidó announced he would embark on a tour of the country and summon all his supporters to attend a mass protest in Caracas "very soon". "We are going to come, all of Venezuela to Caracas, because we need all of them united," he said. Mr Guaidó, who leads the opposition-controlled National Assembly, has been recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries.

Venezuela Suffers Major Power Outages After Alleged Cyber Attack  — An electricity blackout has affected most of Venezuela for several days after an alleged cyber attack crashed the country’s main electricity generator, the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant in Bolivar State, commonly known as the Guri Dam. Starting around 5 PM on Thursday, the outage affected 70 percent of the country, with only several eastern states unaffected. By Saturday morning, power had been restored to most of Caracas and to central states such as Miranda, Aragua and Carabobo, when a second major outage took place as a result of a renewed cyberattack, according to Venezuelan authorities. As of Sunday evening, power has been restored to most of the capital and to parts of the western states of Tachira and Barinas. According to on the ground testimonies on social media, various other states, including Merida and Zulia, have not had power since Thursday. On Saturday, President Maduro told crowds at the end of a pro-government rally that a large scale attack against the country’s electric infrastructure had taken place on Thursday afternoon. He pointed the finger at the US, stressing the high level of sophistication of the alleged aggression and adding that efforts to restore power were set back by a new cyber attack on Saturday morning.  Maduro announced that he was ordering a massive distribution of food and drinkable water starting Monday, as well as efforts to secure the normal functioning of hospitals. Water Minister Evelyn Vazquez announced on Sunday that water tanks were being deployed while the water pumping system was getting up to speed. On Friday, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez told press that a cyberattack had taken place against the “Ardas” computerized system of the Guri Dam, targeting 3 of the 5 generators and forcing the dam’s turbines to stop. He added that Venezuela would present evidence of the attack to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and to other international bodies.

Venezuela – Three Total Blackouts In Three Days – Government Presumes U.S. Cyberattack  -Venezuela currently experiences multiple total outages of its electricity network. It is quite possible or even likely that the U.S. is causing these incidents. But it is not certain. Shit happens and so do long blackouts: The Northeast blackout of 2003 was a widespread power outage throughout parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario on August 14, 2003, beginning just after 4:10 p.m. EDT.  When the northeast blackout happened no one blamed President Bush or socialism for the outage.  Bringing an electricity grid back into full and balanced operation is quite difficult because power generation and consumption must always be balanced. Restoration can only be done gradually. It is a complicate process and takes time. The Guri Dam hydro electric power station produces up to 10,235 megawatt. It provides 70-80% of all electricity used in Venezuela. On Thursday afternoon local time the Guri Dam system failed: @netblocks - 22:04 utc - 7 Mar 2019Urgent: Network measurements show extraordinary nationwide impact as #Venezuela is knocked offline amid power outages from 8:55 PM UTC  (4:55 PM VET); incident ongoing #7Mar #SinLuz ...The blackout affected 18 out of 23 states in Venezuela with some 25 million people. It took 24 hours for some power to come back.  It would have taken another day or two for the network to again reach full capacity. But today another total outage happened: @netblocks - 16:10 utc - 9 Mar 2019  Urgent: Second national power outage detected across #Venezuela; real-time data shows 96% of country now offline #SinLuz #ApagonNacional #9Mar .. The graph shows a total of three outages over now three days. The last incident might have been caused as a side effect of a previous outage, by recovery attempts or by a separate sabotage act: Reports and videos of an explosion at the SIDOR steel company hydroelectric sub-station in Puerto Ordaz, Guayana started to circulate on social media shortly after the latest disruption was detected, indicating a cause for the new outage.

Venezuela’s Guaido calls for massive protest as blackout drags on (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday called on citizens nationwide to travel to the capital Caracas for a protest against socialist President Nicolas Maduro, as the country’s worst blackout in decades dragged on for a third day. Addressing supporters in southwestern Caracas, Guaido - the leader of the opposition-run congress who invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January - said Maduro’s government “has no way to solve the electricity crisis that they themselves created.” “All of Venezuela, to Caracas!” Guaido yelled while standing atop a bridge, without saying when the planned protest would be held. “The days ahead will be difficult, thanks to the regime.” Activists had scuffled with police and troops ahead of the rally, meant to pressure Maduro amid the blackout, which the governing Socialist Party called an act of U.S.-sponsored sabotage but opposition critics derided as the result of two decades of mismanagement and corruption. Dozens of demonstrators attempted to walk along an avenue in Caracas but were moved onto the sidewalk by police in riot gear, leading them to shout at the officers and push on their riot shields. One woman was sprayed with pepper spray, according to a local broadcaster. 

Dozens Reported Dead In Venezuela After Mass Blackout Reaches Four Days  - Much of Venezuela is still in the dark now four days running after the worst blackout on modern record in Latin America enveloped the country last Thursday evening. And as of Saturday, Reuters reported at least 17 deaths at hospitals across the country attributable to the power outage, given many hospitals are now for days completely reliant on back-up generators to keep life saving ventilators and other medical devices going. Other reports have claimed multiple dozens of deaths across the country, especially in hospital neonatal units.  Embattled socialist president Nicolas Maduro has continued to blame the crisis on an act of "sabotage" by the United States at the Guri hydroelectric dam, for which he's mobilized troops to protect the national electricity system for the duration of the power outage. However, most analysts agree the electrical grid mass failure is the result of generally failing infrastructure after years of underinvestment and neglect.  Following claims made through state TV social media of an "electricity war" being waged by the US and the Venezuelan foreign-backed opposition, Maduro stated on Twitter Sunday: “The national electrical system has been subject to multiple cyberattacks,” and he added, “However, we are making huge efforts to restore stable and definitive supply in the coming hours.” Over a weekend in which most major cities and towns remained in darkness and without internet, problems compounded as Venezuela's already aging and mismanaged infrastructure continues to collapse in a domino effect of crises precipitated by the electrical grid mass failure, including endangerment to hospital patients on ventilators and other medical devices, shuttered businesses, and cash-only transactions, which remains difficult given the essentially worthless value of the local bolivar.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says power recovery will come ‘little by little’ - In a televised address Monday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the recovery from power outages will be "little by little," adding the outage was an "electronic coup" carried out by "criminal minds." Maduro blamed the US for attacking the power structure, saying the "imperialist government of the United States ordered this attack," but offered no proof for the claim. School and work in the country will be suspended for another 48 hours, Maduro said Monday. "It isn't easy," he said, congratulating the people of Venezuela, and added the country will "recover slowly." He admitted large parts of the country "aren't stabilized" and warned "more attacks" could be on the way. "We are on the right side of history," he said. "We are on the way to a great victory from the greatest blow ever delivered to Venezuela." Meanwhile, Venezuela's National Assembly approved a request Monday from opposition leader Juan Guaido to respond to the widespread outages with a "national state of emergency." The decree will allow the National Assembly to seek international cooperation or foreign intervention. Guaido told CNN's Patrick Oppmann in a weekend interview this could include military intervention. US officials say all options are on the table with Venezuela, but military intervention is not likely at this point.

Venezuelan parliament declares state of emergency over power outage - Venezuela's National Assembly has declared a state of emergency over power outage on most of its territory at the request of opposition leader Juan Guaido, AFP reported on Monday. "The state of emergency is declared in all parts of the country because of the catastrophic situation that resulted from interruptions in power supply," AFP quoted the parliament's resolution as saying. Guaido earlier submitted a request to the National Assembly to declare a state of emergency in the country for 30 days over power outages. The draft decree proposed by Guaido also tasks "Venezuela's Armed Forces with mobilizing all resources necessary for adequate protection of facilities and employees of [state energy company] Corpoelec." On March 7, at least 20 out of 23 Venezuelan states were left without electricity. Venezuela's state energy company Corpoelec said that the blackout was caused by an accident at the Simon Bolivar hydroelectric power station. Maduro blamed "US imperialism" for the accident. The US State Department denied any involvement. More:

Venezuela- Electricity Recovery Continues as US Withdraws Diplomatic Staff - Venezuelan authorities continue working to bring back online the electric grid following a massive outage that started on Thursday, March 7.  According to on-the-ground testimonies and official sources, power finally began to reach Venezuela’s western states, including Merida and Zulia, on Monday night, around 96 hours after the blackout started. Electricity has now been restored at least in some areas of every state, with authorities urging citizens to avoid using heavy usage devices while efforts to restore the whole grid continue. President Nicolas Maduro gave a televised address on Tuesday evening, offering more details about the alleged attack against the country’s electrical infrastructure. According to Maduro, both the computerized system in the Guri Dam, on Thursday afternoon, and the central electrical “brain” in Caracas, on Saturday morning, suffered cyber attacks, while recovery was delayed by physical attacks against transmission lines and electrical substations.  Maduro claimed that the attacks were directed from Chicago and Houston and that more evidence would be presented soon. The Venezuelan president had announced on Monday that two arrests were made in connection to alleged acts of sabotage against the communications system in the Guri Dam.Venezuela’s electrical grid has suffered from poor maintenance and sabotage in recent years, with infrastructure strained by under-investment and Washington’s economic sanctions further compounding difficulties.The extended power outage saw episodes of lootings take place, especially in the Zulia capital of Maracaibo. Food warehouses, supermarkets and a shopping mall were targeted according to reports and footage on social media. Isolated episodes of protests and lootings were also reported in other cities, including some sectors of Caracas. A video spread on social media appeared to show a violent confrontation in the eastern city of Maturin in which a National Guardsman was shot dead. While electricity has been gradually restored, public transportation and other services have yet to be reactivated, with the government suspending work and school activities until Wednesday.

Guaidó Signals Foreign Intervention in Venezuela as US Withdraws Diplomats (CD) — Concerns over the Trump administration’s increasingly hostile policy in Venezuela grew Tuesday after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the U.S. was withdrawing all diplomatic personnel from the country. Pompeo cited the “deteriorating situation” in Venezuela that escalated in January after the U.S. recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as “interim president,” rebuking President Nicolas Maduro and coordinating efforts to overthrow the elected government.Pompeo announces US pulling out all diplomats from #Venezuela — Josh Lederman (@JoshNBCNews) March 12, 2019The presence of embassy staff in Venezuela is a "constraint" on US policy? That sounds very regime changey to me. Buckle up just in case. — HawaiiDelilah™ (@HawaiiDelilah) March 12, 2019 Meanwhile, Guaidó told Fox News on Monday that he plans to invoke Venezuela’s constitutional Article 187, which he claimed “allows for an outside country to cooperate or to assist Venezuela in this sense.” “As we’ve stated in this article of our Constitution, which empowers me, as the person in charge, to employ whatever measures are necessary to enact this cooperation and this assistance for Venezuela,” Guaidó told Fox anchor Trish Regan.Both Guaido’s escalated rhetoric and Pompeo’s move came days before a planned rally outside the White House, where thousands of Americans are expected to protest a potential military invasion and regime change in Venezuela.Most recently, a power outage that has gone on for five days has led the U.S. to accuse Maduro of failing to run his country effectively—even amid reports in the New York Times that the sanctions the U.S. has imposed in recent weeks are to blame for the blackouts, as Venezuela’s access to fuel for power plant operations has been cut off.

Mexico’s leftist president creates new style of government (AP) — Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s first 100 days in office have combined a compulsive shedding of presidential trappings with a dizzying array of policy initiatives, and a series of missteps haven’t even dented his soaring approval ratings. Lopez Obrador has answered more questions from the press, flown in more economy-class flights, posed for more selfies with admiring citizens and visited more genuinely risky areas with little or no security than several combined decades of his predecessors. He’s also surprised many by maintaining a cordial relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, helping contain Central American migrant caravans while resisting U.S. efforts to oust the leftist government of Venezuela. The folksy perennial candidate took office Dec. 1 and by the end of his first month in office, Lopez Obrador’s approval rating surpassed 80 percent. He has taken full advantage of that mandate to move quickly on many fronts — perhaps too many. “Sometimes the speed of the issues he is putting on the agenda is such that an issue they put out in the morning is displaced by another in the afternoon.” Before Lopez Obrador had even taken office he held a referendum on the partially constructed $13 billion Mexico City airport. He used the resulting vote as a green light to cancel a project he had campaigned against. During his first month in office, Lopez Obrador launched a military assault on the country’s fuel theft gangs, dividing the security of Mexico’s critical pipelines and refineries between the army and the navy. The hastily planned offensive created gas shortages across the country, but somehow didn’t dampen his popularity. This month, he overrode complaints by human rights campaigners and got the Congress and state legislatures to approve constitutional reforms creating a heavily militarized National Guard that he touts as the key to getting control of Mexico’s runaway violence. 

Canada’s no-sex, no-money scandal could topple Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — There’s no money, no sex and nothing illegal happened. This is what passes for a scandal in Canada.President Trump has been engulfed in allegations involving possible collusion with Russia and secret payments to buy the silence of a porn star.Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a controversy that seems trivial by comparison, but it could topple him in elections later this year.Two high-profile women ministers in Trudeau’s Cabinet, including Canada’s first indigenous justice minister, resigned in protest, and his top aide and best friend quit, too.The former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, says Trudeau and senior members of his government pressured her in a case involving a major Canadian engineering company accused of corruption related to its business dealings in Libya.Trudeau reportedly leaned on the attorney general to instruct prosecutors to reach the equivalent of plea deal, which would avoid a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, because he felt that jobs were at stake. “People south of the border would be astonished to think that this is the type of scandal that they have in Canada,”  Many countries would be jealous of a scandal that went no further than a prime minster asking another minister to do something she is legally entitled to do, Goldenberg said.

 Global Economy Hits Its Weakest Spell Since Financial Crisis - The global economy’s sharp loss of speed through 2018 has left the pace of expansion the weakest since the global financial crisis a decade ago, according to Bloomberg Economics. Its new GDP tracker puts world growth at 2.1 percent on a quarter-on-quarter annualized basis, down from about 4 percent in the middle of last year. While there’s a chance that the economy may find a foothold and arrest the slowdown, “the risk is that downward momentum will be self-sustaining,” say economists Dan Hanson and Tom Orlik. The reasons for hope? The Federal Reserve’s decision to pause its interest-rate hikes, a U.S.-China trade truce and the fading of the shocks that battered Europe in 2018 could mean stabilization is around the corner. Other central banks have also stepped up, with the European Central Bank last week announcing new measures to help the economy through the current weakness. But the global economy is not out of the woods. The OECD’s latest composite leading indicator -- published Monday -- indicates easing momentum in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and the euro area as a whole, including Germany and Italy. There are, however, signs of stabilization in China. Despite the gloom, ECB policy makers have been keen to put a brave face on the deterioration, pushing the view the euro zone is experiencing a slowdown, not a recession. “We are still seeing robust economic growth, although it’s less strong than before,” Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published Monday. “It will take longer for inflation to reach our objective, but it will get there. We are reacting to the developments we have seen so far.”

Economists Cut Global Growth Forecast In Half, Admit Slowdown “Has Taken Us By Surprise” - Bloomberg economics' global GDP tracker has been downgraded to its slowest pace since the financial crisis, with world economic growth slumping to 2.1% on a quarterly basis. That's down from 4% in the middle of last year. And while there's a chance that a US-China trade deal, the Fed's "pause", and a fading of the pressures plaguing Europe might stave off a global recession, Bloomberg economists Dan Hanson and Tom Orlik said the risks appear to be tilted toward the downside. "The risk is that the downward momentum will be self-sustaining."“The cyclical upswing that took hold of the global economy in mid-2017 was never going to last. Even so, the extent of the slowdown since late last year has surprised many economists, including us.”To be sure, the economists aren't the only ones lowering their outlook on global growth. Last week, the OECD joined the IMF in slashing its 2019 growth forecast, cutting its projection for aggregate global growth to just 1%, just over half of its previous outlook of 1.8%.While Draghi's gloomy outlook and decision to push back the timeline for ECB rate cuts last week sent a shock through markets, some ECB officials are apparently still desperately trying to reassure the world that everything is going to be just fine (despite a dearth of economic data implying the opposite).Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published Monday that "we are still seeing robust economic growth, though it's less strong than before."“It will take longer for inflation to reach our objective, but it will get there. We are reacting to the developments we have seen so far.” And although Jerome Powell said during an interview with 60 minutes last night that the US economy is "in a good place", a raft of economic data, including Friday's shockingly disappointing jobs report, would suggest otherwise.

European Parliament votes to suspend Turkey′s EU membership bid - In a nonbinding vote, the European Parliament has called for the suspension of EU accession talks with Turkey, citing violations of human rights and the rule of law. Turkey has rejected the vote as meaningless.The European Parliament has voted in favor of formally suspending EU accession talks with Turkey, citing severe political and democratic backsliding under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.   Lawmakers passed the symbolic nonbinding resolution with 370 votes in favor, 109 against, and 143 abstentions.  "The European Parliament remains seriously concerned about Turkey's poor track record in upholding human rights, the rule of law, media freedom and the fight against corruption, as well as its all-powerful presidential system," the Strasbourg-based body said in a statement late Wednesday. EU governments would have to vote by majority to end Turkey's EU accession bid, which would cut some funding programs.Kati Piri, a socialist Dutch lawmaker and EU rapporteur on Turkey, said repeated European calls for Ankara to respect fundamental rights have "fallen on deaf ears." "On top of the severe human rights violations, the dismantling of the rule of law and the fact that Turkey holds the world record for the number of journalists in jail, the recently amended constitution consolidates Erdogan's authoritarianism," Piri told the plenary.

Poland's Fort Trump A Reality- Serious Offer For Permanent US Base Negotiated - Poland's push to house a major permanent US military base dubbed last year by Polish President Andrzej Duda as "Fort Trump" is a big step closer to becoming a reality this week after top US defense officials met with Polish counterparts in Warsaw to negotiate an offer. US Defense Undersecretary for Policy John Rood led a delegation to the former Soviet satellite country and longtime east European defense ally on Wednesday to discuss the US "robust offer" to establish a permanent facility on Polish soil.  The Poles previously vowed to pay $2 billion for a base that could host a division-sized installment of US forces, which the US has called "very generous" though likely to fall short of the total cost for such a base. “We have come forward with what we think is a very serious robust offer and we’re working out some of the technicalities this very week, when we hope to have a solid foundation to work from having coming out of this meeting,” a spokesperson for Rood’s office informed the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. Though the idea of a permanent US base in Poland has been floated for years, especially after the Russian-Ukraine conflict grew hot, last September's official visit between Presidents Duda and Trump at the White House gave it real momentum.   Duda had dropped the surprising proposal during a press briefing, suggesting it could be called "Fort Trump" to which Trump grinned and appeared to nod in approval.  "I invite you to post more American military troops in Poland," Duda said, describing US presence in Poland as a "guarantor of security."

US Issues Warning About Italy Being Made Great Again Through China's 'Belt and Road' -- The U.S. National Security Council issued a direct warning to Italy last weekend for its coziness with China. The country has been considering participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), where one segment of the global economic effort aims to unite Europe with China. "Italy is a major global economy and a great investment destination. Endorsing BRI lends legitimacy to China’s predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people," tweeted the US National Security Council. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte believes otherwise. Conte has overruled the foreign ministry and joined right-wing Eurosceptics in his push for closer cooperation with China. “With all the necessary precautions, Italy’s accession to a new silk route represents an opportunity for our country,” Conte said Friday.  President Xi Jinping is expected to travel to Italy from March 22-24, and Conte said Rome and Beijing are expected to agree to a framework deal during the state visit. Conte also announced his plan to attend an upcoming BRI summit in China.

Yellow vests protest for 17th consecutive week as Macron’s ‘grand debate’ reaches its final weeks The yellow vest movement remained steadfast on Saturday as thousands of people took to the streets across France for a 17th consecutive weekend of demonstrations. In Paris, protesters wearing pink were spotted among the usual sea of neon yellow, having turned out to denounce unemployment reforms for child-care workers. Videos posted to social media showed demonstrators clashing with police in the French capital, where water cannons and tear gas were also deployed to disperse the crowd. Demonstrations were also held in several other French cities, including Bordeaux, Lyon and Toulouse. Around 28,600 people took part in Saturday's protest, which was a drop of more than 10,000 from the week before, according to interior ministry estimates quoted by Reuters. While attendance figures in recent weeks have significantly dropped in comparison to the movement's peak of 300,000 protesters back in November, the demonstrations are still big enough to place continued pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron's attempt to appease the movement, a three-month series of nationwide town hall-style events dubbed the "grand debate," are set to end this month.

Yellow Vest week in review: March 16 to be the biggest march in months - The fundamental problem with media coverage regarding regarding the Yellow Vests is that it fails to see it as an already-permanent movement, or even a possibly-permanent one: each week must be either the biggest one yet, or the very last one. The Yellow Vests see it similarly, but differently: for them each week is the very last one, too… because they will FINALLY storm Élysée Palace (Act 16: “Insurrection”, Act 17: “Decisive Act”, and now Act 18 on March 16: “Ultimatum”.) The Yellow Vests are like the Vietcong: it’s not that they are so innately tough, it’s that they have nowhere else to go. Ask a protesting Yellow Vester and they’ll tell you: they have no money to pay their bills, much less do anything fun on the weekends… so why not go protest and enjoy what you can’t buy – camaraderie? As a journalist who has covered every medium- to major-sized protest movement in France in the last decade (and the small ones, i.e. pro-Palestine, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, etc.), I have come to deeply resent and fear the Yellow Vests. What a damned long workout they impose on us! They are marching 10-15km every Saturday, with zero consideration for TV journalists who have to carry equipment. Furthermore, why on earth do they march so damned fast?! If Guinness keeps this record, the Yellow Vests must take the crown for “protester km/h”. This is surely the legacy of the constant police attacks during the first six weeks – you can’t hit what you can’t catch. .

French customs strike delays Eurostar, airports ahead of Brexit -As French customs officers staged the sixth day of a work-to-rule strike this Saturday, airport officers joined customs workers in charge of Eurostar trains and of the Channel port of Calais, sparking travel chaos throughout the week. Eurostar trains from Paris to London were running up to two hours late, trucks were stacked up on the approaches to the Channel port of Calais and long lines were reported in airports across France on Saturday. As the Brexit deadline of March 29 approaches, French customs officers are demanding higher pay and better working conditions with actions all over France. Saturday was the first day that customs officers at airports across France joined in the work-to-rule strike. They carried out longer and more rigorous checks than usual, in a bid to demonstrate what might happen in case of a “no-deal” scenario, and if full border controls are put in place. All unions representing customs officers working at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport called for strikes until April 1, warning disruptions could be particularly intense over the weekend. Paris’s Orly, Chambéry, Grenoble and Nice Airports were also reported to be affected. At Paris’s Gare du Nord railway station, where Eurostar trains leave for London, passengers waited in long queues to board trains. “All Eurostar trains are experiencing delays of up to 2 hours from Paris Gare du Nord and Lille Europe due to industrial action by French customs until March 12,” Eurostar tweeted on Saturday. Some trains were cancelled.

EU suspending Boeing 737 MAX planes after Ethiopian Airlines crash - The European Union is suspending Boeing 737 MAX flights in Europe, joining a list of governments temporarily grounding the aircraft following Sunday’s fatal plane crash in Ethiopia. The EU’s suspension, covering 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9 planes, was set to begin at 7 p.m. UTC (3 p.m. ET) Tuesday. The move came as a raft of nations — including many individual European countries — introduced temporary suspensions Tuesday for 737 MAX aircraft after a MAX 8 flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya, crashed Sunday into a field six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board. The flight reported technical problems and asked for permission to turn back before it crashed, and investigations are underway into the cause. It’s the second time in less than six months that this model has crashed soon after takeoff. A new Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight went down in October over the Java Sea off Indonesia, killing 189 people. Before the EU’s announcement, other nations and aviation authorities announced their own bans Tuesday, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Oman, Singapore, Turkey and the UK. The UK, Oman, Singapore, Australia, Ireland and France and Norwegian Airlines suspended the whole Boeing 737 MAX range. China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iceland, Germany and the airlines LOT Polish, TUI Airways, GOL Linhas Aereas, Aeromexico, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Cayman Airways, Comair Airways, Eastar Jet, Jet Airways, Mongolian Airlines, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Lion Air and Silkair have suspended the MAX 8 model. Turkey suspended MAX 8 and 9 models. These airlines are still flying 737 MAX planes: American and Southwest airlines, Fiji Airways, Icelandair, Flydubai, Spicejet and WestJet. 

The EU Is Facing Gigantic Questions About Its Future That Are Hidden in Obscure Bank Policy Decisions --Marshall Auerback --After dramatically lowering its growth forecast for the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, announced that the ECB would keep interest rate rises on hold for at least another year, as well as resuming the bond-buying operations for the national debt of the members of the Eurozone (EZ). The latter was particularly surprising, as it marked an abrupt reversal of a policy that was discontinued at the end of last year. But the about-face points to both the ongoing structural weaknesses inherent in the single currency union, as well mounting political and economic challenges to the EU as a whole. It’s easy to understand why the European Central Bank reversed itself on quantitative easing. The surprise was that it thought it could stop in the first place. As the sole issuer of the euro, the ECB is the only entity that can credibly backstop the national debt of the EZ countries. Eliminate that backstop, and the risk of solvency raises its ugly head again (and with it, the prospect of much higher borrowing costs across the continent and a potential financial crisis). But simply buying bonds is insufficient; the prevailing austerity bias that governs single currency membership has to be eliminated as well. The former addresses the solvency issue, the latter the problem of insufficient aggregate demand in the EZ, the source of anemic growth and high unemployment. We therefore need both: ECB bond buying, coupled with a tolerance for much larger national fiscal deficits. Longer term, the Eurozone desperately requires bigger institutional change, such as the creation of a mechanism that allows for the mutualization of debt, much as Alexander Hamilton helped to establish for the United States of America, when it migrated from a system featuring a weak national authority under theArticles of Confederation (where the 13 colonies were more like 13 individual nation-states and Congress was a mere arbiter among them) to a more robust federal structure replete with a strong centralized system of debt management and taxation. In the short term, however, only the ECB can adequately accommodate this via larger bond purchases minus the conditionality of austerity. Unfortunately, additional fiscal policy stimulus has long been the rock on which European-wide policy consensus has foundered, a paralysis that has done much to stoke growing populist anti-EU sentiment across the continent. And debt mutualization is something that Berlin in particular has strongly resisted, seeing it as yet another attempt to secure backdoor bailouts for what it perceives to be the profligate Mediterranean countries.

Brexit: the next steps - Janet Daly has seen the light and is now writing that Mrs May's deal is our only way out of the EU. Brexiteers have to take it, she says. Better late than never one might say, although it would not be unfair to ask what took her so long. We came to that conclusion a while ago, having decided it was the least worst of a bunch of very bad options. Whether the MP collective has the sense to come to the same conclusion is any one's guess, although some may be influenced by Daly. There are still MPs who take their lead from what they read in the newspapers, although it's possible that they mostly take their daily propaganda sheets because they reinforce existing prejudices.  Most likely, though, it is too late. In any case only a small fraction of the collective will even read Daly, not enough to make the difference. Doubtless, the die is already cast although the outcome is unknown to us all. There was a time that we thought that on this blog we could make the difference, but now even once great newspapers seem to have little influence. One is not even sure these days what it takes to be heard. The noise level is so high and the voices so many that none of the old rules apply. And even if they did, no one is listening. I'm not even sure that the much-vaunted Facebook ads are really having any effect public opinion. Are people so gullible that they are being manipulated by something as shallow and obvious as "no deal" messages?   The point is that things have changed, and not for the better. There are those who would sneer at my complaints about a lack of influence – and there are some people who are very good at sneering. 

 Theresa May Strikes New Brexit Deal With the EU - Bloomberg - Theresa May struck a deal to revise the terms of the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union but it’s unclear whether she’s done enough to win Parliament’s support. After a chaotic day of changing plans in London, the prime minister made a last-minute decision to fly to Strasbourg, France, for late talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. More than two hours later -- at 11:40 p.m. -- the weary leaders sat down for a joint news conference to announce changes they both hope will now put an end to the tortuous negotiations that have defined the U.K.’s exit from the 28-country bloc. It remains to be seen if the new wording will convince her country’s lawmakers to sign off on the plan in a crunch vote Tuesday night. “The choice is clear: it is this deal, or Brexit may not happen at all,” Juncker said. “Let’s bring the U.K.’s withdrawal to an orderly end. We owe it to history.” When it was her turn, May appealed to Parliament -- where her own Conservative Party is bitterly divided. “Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people,” she said. With just 17 days left until the U.K.’s scheduled departure date, talks have been stuck on the same issue that has blocked progress for the past year: the backup plan intended to ensure there’s never any need for customs checks at the land border between Ireland and the U.K. Pro-Brexit politicians in May’s Tory party insist that the plan -- known as the backstop -- threatens to trap the U.K. inside the EU’s trade regime forever, because it would be impossible for Britain to leave. The backstop effectively keeps Britain in the EU’s customs union -- and therefore unable to strike free trade deals with other countries around the world, ruining a key prize for staunch Brexit supporters. After Parliament rejected the deal in a defeat of historic proportions in January, May promised to seek changes to address these concerns.

Juncker Warns ‘It Is This Deal, or Brexit May Not Happen at All’ - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker published clarifications to the Brexit deal in a letter posted to Twitter, warning “it is this deal, or #Brexit may not happen at all.” Speaking to reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May, Juncker said the EU’s goals were an “orderly” Brexit and continued peace in Ireland.

Brexit: What has Theresa May achieved? - British Prime Minister Theresa May has returned from meeting EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with what she insists are the "legally binding" changes to her Brexit deal that were requested by parliament. Three new documents were agreed with Mr Juncker last night. The first is a "joint instrument" that relates to the Withdrawal Agreement. Mrs May said it reduces the risk that the UK could be "deliberately held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely". The second is a "unilateral declaration" by the UK, which sets out "the sovereign action the UK would take to provide assurance that the backstop would only be applied temporarily". The third is a supplement to the Political Declaration "setting out commitments by the UK and the EU to expedite the negotiation and bringing into force of their future relationship". The joint instrument gives Britain the ability to suspend the backstop if the EU is deemed to have deliberately applied it indefinitely, although the UK would have to win the backing of an independent arbitration body to do so. The unilateral declaration is a statement on the record that the UK can "instigate measures" to remove itself from the backstop if talks break down. This could carry legal weight if it is lodged with the United Nations without formal objection by the EU. The supplement to the declaration states the intention that both sides will set about finding an alternative to the backstop as soon as possible.

Sterling flat after May's Brexit plan defeated; dollar lower (Reuters) - Sterling whipsawed after Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated in Parliament on Tuesday, leaving the currency unchanged on the day, while the dollar fell against the euro as U.S. consumer prices disappointed. The British Parliament rejected May’s deal to quit the European Union for a second time, deepening the country’s worst political crisis for generations, 17 days before the planned departure date. Sterling was about half a percent weaker at $1.307 after trading in a wide range over the course of the day. “The market had mostly priced in a defeat which is why the pound is not crossing key psychological levels of support against the dollar,” said Karl Schamotta, director of foreign exchange strategy and structured products at Cambridge Global Payments. “This is putting us on course for a delay in the Brexit process.” There is no obvious way forward for Britain: exiting the EU without a deal, delaying the March 29 divorce date, a snap election, or even another referendum are all now possible. May might try a third time to get parliamentary support in the hope that hardline euroskeptic lawmakers in her Conservative Party might change their minds if it becomes a choice between her withdrawal plan or Britain’s remaining in the EU. “The issue appears to be resolving itself as the plan was defeated by a narrower margin than in January,” Schamotta said. “That gives May room to negotiate further with the EU and bring forward another series of votes. This does not precipitate a no-confidence vote, or a successful no-confidence vote, in Theresa May’s government and sets the stage for the pound to rise in the coming sessions.” Also on Tuesday, the dollar was weaker against the euro after U.S. consumer price data showed that inflation remains low despite a tight labour market, bolstering the likelihood the Federal Reserve would keep interest rates unchanged.

UK MPs vote down Theresa May's Brexit deal by 391 to 242 - Lawmakers in the UK’s House of Commons have voted against Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal. The government had claimed it had secured "legally binding" changes to its withdrawal agreement with the European Union.The British Parliament has voted not to support a Brexit deal secured by Prime Minister Theresa May and EU negotiators. But opposition lawmakers, including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, had vowed to oppose it despite the EU's latest clarifications.

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered another crushing defeat. MPs voted against her latest Brexit deal by 391 to 242
  • The margin of 149 was an improvement on May's historic January defeat, when her last deal was rejected by a margin of 230.
  • Ahead of the vote, May had secured "legally binding" guarantees to the deal's Irish backstop from the EU in a bid to convince lawmakers to support her Brexit deal.
  • Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said earlier on Tuesday that although the clarifications reduce the UK's risk, it doesn't change the "legal risk" that the backstop could prevent the UK from exiting the deal.

Brexit: Chaos Visible - Yves Smith - Theresa May’s second go at getting her deal passed, where the only change of importance was the proximity of the vote to the crashout date, was like her first, an even bigger failure than anticipated. A loss of 100 seemed to be a magic number of sorts, since being ~50 votes shy seemed inevitable given the continued opposition of the ERG (aka the Ultras) and the DUP. There’s no way to pretty up a 149 vote defeat. Nevertheless, it was easy to see that May’s one trick pony of running the clock out to put pressure on the EU and Parliament had already broken down in the home stretch. Some readers were kind enough to say they’d been looking for more Brexit posts in the last week, but despite the UK press again trying to present May as sallying forth to wrest concessions from bullies in the EU, there was absolutely no way anything significant was going to happen. Even with the EU giving May a much better 11th hour fig leaf than she had any reason to expect, it still didn’t add up to much (see Richard North for a long-form discussion), her Attorney General Cox could only hand-wave that this not-precisely legally binding document would only somewhat reduce the likelihood of the UK being stuck in the Irish backstop. And that’s giving more credit to the techno-border “alternative arrangements” notion than it deserves (readers pointed out in comments that equipment would be sabotaged).One of the ironic features of Brexit is that it’s made Jean-Claude Juncker, the buffoon of the 2015 Greece bailout negotiations, look statesmanlike. And it’s not that Juncker has grown in stature but that he’s managed to get photographed next to diplomatic pygmies of the UK. In other words (to change metaphors), if you had gotten your hands on the Brexit libretto, nothing that happened in the last week was a surprise. May kept getting in the face of EU pols so as to justify having her votes so close to March 29, and also because she’s obviously bereft of any other ideas. EU officials, who had said they were not changing the Withdrawal Agreement so many times that their remarks were assuming the role of a ritual incantation, utterly predictably lived up to their word. The only surprise that that the EU was willing to offer a third set of optics, and then on the day before yesterday’s Withdrawal Agreement vote. But in another sense, the magnitude of May’s second loss isn’t surprising. Her wearing the most ginormous necklace I have ever seen her sport, and metallic to boot, looked like an effort to shield herself from an expected debacle. May having been forced into giving MPs two theoretical ways to escape a crash out and hence not be cornered into voting through her deal made it much easier to reject her pact. But note that even though the Government is supporting the motion against a “no deal” Brexit tomorrow, it’s agreed to have a “free vote”. We’ll discuss below how the Ultras have proposed a diversionary amendment; not sure it will have any impact. And we don’t just mean the vote. Do not forget that the only way out of a no deal Brexit is to revoke Article 50 or get an extension. Parliamentary feel good votes are not sufficient.

Brexit: Send in the Clowns -  Yves Smith - Just when you thought the UK’s approach couldn’t possibly become more shambolic than it has been, its leaders manage to outdo themselves.  Even though Parliament delivered the expected outcome of voting against a no deal Brexit, the process got so utterly out of control that the Government whipped against its own motion. And it probably didn’t help that May had promised MPs a free vote….  Moreover, as we’ll describe below, the amendment that caused the train to go off the rails, which provided for a more comprehensive “no deal” position than May had put forward, won by 312 to 308 despite the Government’s opposition, yet another black eye for May. And the main motion passed by a 43 vote margin…despite the Government whipping against that too. Even though the margin seems a bit thin relative to the supposed widespread antipathy for a crash out, it was still ample. Sterling went up to over 1.335 against the dollar. May has managed the difficult task of reducing her weak authority even further.  Ian Dunt walked through the train wreck of the day’s votes: Once again, the prime minister tried to pull a fast one. Instead of simply ruling out no-deal, it [the motion] added a caveat. “That this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship on 29 March 2019,” it read. So far, as expected. But then came the twist. “And notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this House and the EU ratify an agreement.”  In response, Conservative MP Caroline Spelman put down an amendment. It scrapped the caveat altogether and replaced it with the following statement: “That this House rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship”. In other words: parliament would instruct the government to rule out no-deal in all circumstances. Firmer, tougher, more comprehensive…. The government hated it….it decided to whip MPs to defeat Spelman’s contribution…[Yvette] Cooper took the challenge and put the amendment forward for a vote…. Suddenly the moderate ministers you hear so much about were in trouble. They had briefed over and over again that they’d resign rather than accept no-deal. But now there was a motion stating exactly their view…They could either keep their job or vote with their conscience. But they could not do both. It came in tight, but it passed. A total of 312 votes for the amendment versus 308 against.In an instant, the government went into meltdown. The amendment was now attached to the original motion. That meant that when MPs voted on it, they would be voting for the version which ruled out no-deal in all circumstances, not in the heavily-caveated form proposed by May. Suddenly, in a matter of seconds, Downing Street had to do a 180 degree turn. In a frenzy of chaos lasting about half an hour, it suddenly started whipping its MPs to vote against its own motion…Chaos reigned. Whips strong-armed ministers, desperately trying to hold the line. Labour MP Jess Phillips saw the prime minister enter the No lobby and told her she was a disgrace. Everything was falling apart.

Brexit: The Kindness of Strangers  - Yves Smith - The UK is rudderless as Brexit looms. Theresa May was never in control; her fundamentally wrongheaded approach to the negotiations of thinking the UK had the advantage, compounded by the massive own goal of calling snap elections, led to the EU steering the negotiations at key junctures. But May was still able to exert influence even as her authority kept eroding. She still has perhaps one play left, but even if she prevails, the UK will need to petition the EU for an extension. Ian Dunt, in a despairing post, Britain pleads to extend Article 50: This is one of our darkest hours, summed up where things stand: We are no longer in control of our own destiny….We are now at the mercy of others. This is what Brexit has done to what was, just a few years ago, one of the most powerful countries in the world…. The debate in the Commons was typically contradictory, scheming and chaotic. Remainers collapsed into an internecine battle over when to table an amendment on a People’s Vote. That was embarrassing and self-harming, with no-one coming out of it looking good. When all was said and done, it was a straight vote on the government’s motion saying it would ask for an extension of Article 50. It passed easily, by 412 votes to 202. Immediately afterwards, many commentators insisted that that was it: Britain was now officially not leaving the EU on March 29th. But they were wrong. As most readers already know, one of the amendments Dunt mentioned above, on a second referendum, failed by 334 to 85, with a remarkable 223 abstentions. Recall that whenever the EU has discussed the possibility of the UK getting an extension, officials have consistently stressed that the UK needs to give a reason, and a second referendum was often an example. Even though Jeremy Corbyn said he was all for another referendum after whipping against it, EU leaders are likely to regard the vote as dispositive until they have an awfully good reason to thin otherwise. As Politico’s morning European newsletter put it:  This was the week the U.K. parliament took all the workable options for Brexit off the table — deal as well as no deal. It was also the week MPs deprived the country and the rest of the EU of the one certainty they thought they had: That the divorce would happen at a specific point in time. So much for our updates on how many days until Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May isn’t in control any more, if she ever was. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t ever been able to change the course of Brexit. The impact of Speaker of the House John Bercow’s handling of procedures on the real world is yet to be seen. And the queen is not supposed to say or do anything. On the European end of things, the decision on what’s next is neither in the hands of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker nor Council President Donald Tusk (who on Thursday expressed his preference for a long Brexit delay, to the surprise of two EU diplomats who expected Tusk to just purdah, as everybody else does). The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said any decision was beyond his control.

Seven Cabinet ministers defy Theresa May to oppose Brexit delay as more than half of Tory MPs vote against PM More than half of Theresa May’s own MPs voted against her plan to delay Brexit as seven Cabinet ministers also defied the Prime Minister. Mrs May’s proposal to seek an extension to Article 50 was backed by 413 votes to 202 but the overwhelming majority of those who opposed her came from her own benches. Some 188 Conservative MPs voted against Mrs May’s plan amid growing fears that delaying the UK’s departure from the European Union could ultimately lead to Britain remaining in the bloc. Ultimately, the Prime Minister was reliant on the votes of Labour MPs to emerge victorious as she was largely abandoned by Tory Eurosceptics. Mrs May suffered a Cabinet revolt for a second day in a row as seven of her top team voted against her. They were: Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. Meanwhile, the Wales Secretary Alun Cairns abstained on the crunch vote, as did Julian Smith, the Chief Whip. Mr Smith who is responsible for enforcing Tory voting discipline reportedly abstained because he wanted to be viewed as impartial on the Brexit debate by the two warring wings of the Conservative Party.

The risk of a no-deal Brexit just increased again - Robert Peston - What kind of Brexit delay, if any, would the European Union’s leaders sanction, when the Prime Minister asks for one in a week’s time, at the next EU Council? Truthfully no one knows. Actually that is only half right. In the implausible event that MPs next week ratify the PM’s Brexit deal at the third time of asking, they would grant her a couple of months’ postponement of the moment we depart, so that legislative and technical preparations could be completed. Just to be clear, I don’t see how she wins. Too many Brexiter and Remainy Tory MPs hate her deal so much that they’ll never be intimidated into backing it. They will also be acutely aware that parliament risks being brought into serious disrepute if all the stale arguments that were rehearsed for hour upon mind-numbing hour during the two previous meaningful-vote debates are restated next week by the same predictable roster of characters and yet yield a different outcome. This would not be democracy gilded by the power of reason. It would be widely seen as the bankruptcy of parliament – a Commons tainted by the correct perception that MPs would be changing their minds at the last only because they would have been frightened into believing that a form of Brexit they see as bad for Britain may yet be better than an unknown alternative. So the stakes for the UK could not be higher when the PM launches Meaningful Vote 3 after the weekend. Now if I am right, and the PM loses that vote again, how would the EU react? Well my sources in EU capitals are clear and agreed on only one point. It depends utterly on whether the PM asks for something specific. For the avoidance of doubt, if she turns up and simple says “gimme a delay, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with it”, they’ll “ask her for clarity” – according to one well-placed source – and “would not take any decision at all”. She would be sent home, and invited to re-submit her request for extra time at an emergency council of EU leaders the following week. Yes, I am not making this up.

Brexit: DUP in talks with ministers ahead of third vote - Ministers have held talks with the Democratic Unionists to try to get them to back Theresa May's Brexit deal ahead of a third Commons vote on the package. The DUP are seeking further legal assurances about the deal, which has been decisively rejected by MPs twice. The PM has received a boost after Esther McVey, who quit the cabinet over Brexit policy last year, signalled she could vote for the deal next week. She said the prospect of a long Brexit delay called for "different thinking". MPs voted on Thursday to ask the EU to push the date of Brexit back from 29 March to 30 June if the Commons approves a deal by next Wednesday - allowing time for legislation to go through. However, if a deal is not agreed by then, EU leaders are contemplating a much longer delay. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay voted against the extension, despite saying in the Commons that voting for it would be in the "national interest". He told the BBC he would back a short extension to give time for legislation, but not a longer delay. "If we don't have a deal, then we should leave with no deal," he said. "That's always been my position. We shouldn't be afraid to leave with no deal."

Trump Asks UK To Drop Food And Environment Standards To Secure Post-Brexit Trade Deal - With Brexit quickly approaching, the British government has been negotiating trade deals with countries around the world with the aim of transitioning its economy away from European markets. However, initial conversations with the Trump administration have forced the United Kingdom to consider how much it is willing to sacrifice in order to make a deal . The United States negotiation objectives outline that the UK should “eliminate practices that unfairly decrease U.S. market access opportunities or distort agricultural markets to the detriment of the United States”. These practices include the ban on the sale of chlorinated chicken, genetically modified plants and hormone-injected beef, which many say will lower the UK’s more rigorous food and environmental practices and standards. The Defect Levels Handbook is responsible for controlling the maximum allowable amount of foreign bodies within market-bound produce. Maggots, insect fragments and mold are all listed as accepted foreign bodies that could be found in everyday items. For example, the Handbook allows US producers to have up to thirty insect fragments per hundred grams of peanut butter, six milligrams of rat excrement per kilo of ginger and even eleven rodent hairs per twenty-five grams of paprika.As a member of the European Union, the UK had to adhere to strict food safety and animal health regulations, which protects producers and consumers from cheaper, low-quality foodstuffs flooding the market. Despite the UK’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox being previously linked to a potential deal that would comply with the Trump administration’s demands, negotiators have continued to deny they are willing to compromise at all. While Theresa May’s government has insisted that they will keep high standards for UK farmers, it has been less clear about the standards to which imported food will be held.

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